When Abena Nyantekyi-Owusu (MBA 2021) came to HBS after seven years at GE Healthcare in Ghana, she brought with her the support of key mentors, a strong interest in technology, and trust in her intuition. All three would play a part in her career planning and decision-making process as she sought out an internship and later a full-time role, even if they weren’t always in perfect alignment.

An Opportunity for Reflection

For Nyantekyi-Owusu, the decision to spend two years at HBS was driven by a desire to pivot and a need to reflect. “The majority of my career had been in health care and I was interested in exploring a transition within infrastructure or considering a career in technology given my interest in the impact of tech on emerging markets,” she explained. “I also wanted to become a senior leader as my career progressed and this was an opportunity to be reflective about my next steps and determine the type of leader I wanted to be.”

The two-year program at HBS was particularly appealing to Nyantekyi-Owusu because of the career pivot she hoped to make. “Originally I was considering schools in Europe, but then felt drawn to HBS and the two-year program because I wanted to take chances and try new things as I refined my short- and long-term goals,” she said. With that mind, Nyantekyi-Owusu set foot in Boston ready to explore and take advantage of all HBS had to offer.

Coaching, Learning, and Intuition

As an RC, Nyantekyi-Owusu began utilizing career resources right away. “In the first couple of weeks, there were programs with CPD career coaches to help you think high-level about what you wanted from your personal and professional career, and I attended quite a few of those sessions,” she shared.

Through the assessments and programs, she consistently found herself drawn to business development and tech and felt a strong sense of direction. Speaking with alumni in the field reinforced and validated her interest, and sparked the idea of joining a startup for the summer given her background was primarily in large corporations.

The next question was around geography, and to make that decision she turned the thought process inward. “Initially I thought that I would like to have experience working in the US over the summer since in Africa having US work experience is celebrated and has a signaling effect that you’ve worked in more developed markets,“ said Nyantekyi-Owusu. “I heard this recommendation from my personal mentors as well but spending the summer in the US didn’t set me on fire. It didn’t give me that buzz. My intuition told me to look for opportunities with startups in Africa, and even though that felt like flying in the opposite direction of the advice I’d received and it gave me pause, I knew what I wanted.”

Exploring the Startup Landscape in Africa

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic found her finishing out the 2019-2020 school year in Ghana with her family, Nyantekyi-Owusu had begun exploring the startup landscape in Africa from afar. She was active in the Africa Business Club and spoke openly with her classmates about her goals.

“A classmate put me in touch with her sister who was working at OPay (a fintech company in Lagos, Nigeria) who was very generous connecting me with people in her network,” Nyantekyi-Owusu noted. Nyantekyi-Owusu also worked closely with her career coach, Phillip Andrews, to create a target list of 10 companies utilizing LinkedIn research and CB Insights. From there she found contacts and introduced herself.

While some of the conversations stalled at the beginning of the pandemic, Nyantekyi-Owusu was able to stay connected and ultimately was presented with four potential opportunities in Africa. Yet, the conversation with OPay had stuck in her mind and ultimately, she decided to pitch herself for a summer internship with the company.

“There were a lot of exciting things happening at OPay with a huge wave of funding and I wanted to contribute,” Nyantekyi-Owusu said. “They never had an intern before, but by using the HBS resources on how to propose an internship I was able to put together a pitch.” OPay was excited to bring Nyantekyi-Owusu on board into a role on the product team, a position outside of her comfort zone but one that allowed her immense opportunity to learn.

Key Learnings and Advice

Nyantekyi-Owusu’s summer experience provided her with key learnings about what she wanted to do next. Working in Africa over the summer reinforced her interest in building her career on the continent in the short to long term and she also enjoyed the exposure to the tech industry. In addition, Nyantekyi-Owusu appreciated the opportunity to be stretched in her role and be in continuous learning mode.

For her next step, Nyantekyi-Owusu went back to her process of creating a target list and sought out a company and a role that would help her combine her interests and needs. This process led her to a rotational program at American Tower where Nyantekyi-Owusu will be starting with a Boston-based rotation after graduation. “I wanted to merge my two interests of infrastructure (built through her career at GE Healthcare) and technology and when I came across American Tower and learned about their focus on emerging markets it was perfect,” she said.

Looking ahead to the future, Nyantekyi-Owusu is excited to rotate into different roles with American Tower over the next two years, with their Africa offices high on her list.

For other students seeking internships outside of the US, Nyantekyi-Owusu offers the following advice: be proactive and be patient.

“Be really proactive, but also be prepared to have conversations draw out over a little while,” she advised. “The recruiting cycle in international markets isn’t as structured as in the US and things may not move as quickly as you’d expect. It’s important not to get disheartened and to continue networking, staying involved in regional clubs, talking to your classmates, professors, and CPD, and leveraging your connections.”