There was a time, Brighton Mudzingwa says, when his home country, Zimbabwe,
"was seen as a beacon of hope on the African continent. It had a vibrant economy where anyone could work hard, go to a good school, and pursue a career. Many people growing up there wanted to be entrepreneurs, wanted to be part of a sustainable economic system."
But, Brighton says, "By the time I left the country in 2003, it was effectively unraveling. Agriculture was the backbone of our country. But a controversial land distribution exercise spiraled out of control, leading to declining production and reduced foreign investment. The unemployment rate rose to 70 percent; we had record levels of inflation, major shortages of petrol, long lines and empty shelves. Zimbabwe had become a basket case."
Brighton left Zimbabwe for greater opportunity in the United States, including education at an international boarding school in New Mexico and an economics degree at Harvard. "I vowed to come back better equipped to help my country." As a crucial step forward in leadership, and in response to frustration with negative perceptions of Africa, Brighton co-founded the Harvard Africa Business and Investment Club (HABIC), "an organization focused exclusively on exploring how business and investment capital can be used to propel economic development in Africa."
Unlearning old habits to acquire new leadership skills
After Harvard, Brighton focused on private equity investing in emerging markets, primarily Africa. To "fill the gaps I see in Africa," Brighton concluded he needed an MBA. "It's not just about raising capital," he says. "It's equally important to focus on the ecosystem, optimize the strategic and operational elements, and cultivate leaders."
"Coming to HBS," Brighton explains, "would allow me to expand my leadership capabilities while exposing me to a range of views, realities, and different perspectives that make successful organizations."
Sometimes, the challenges can be deeply personal. "Through my classes, I've come to realize that my future success depends on unlearning some of the things, like my strong independence and self-reliance, that have made me successful to date," says Brighton. "The section experience forces you to think critically about what you say and how you say it, and then be ever-ready to defend your position. Sometimes that means acknowledging that you're wrong; you need to assimilate the often tough feedback you get from your classmates. We grow by being part of a team. Success in my future will depend on getting the best outcomes from a collection of individuals."
Brighton plans on returning to Africa "at a critical juncture when I can have the best impact. Having passion alone is not enough—we need a practical approach. There are many talented Africans on the ground—I need to go back with a clear vision of the value I can bring."