I have been one of the lucky ones. My career started off in London in the fast-paced investment banking world with a top tier company. I had landed on a complex derivatives desk working with other equally talented people. I was fresh out of university and ready to change the world.
I was part of any and every committee – particularly related to diversity, mentoring and sponsorship – anything so I could learn and be connected. Surely all my efforts would amount to something, I thought.
More often than not, though, I looked up and asked myself: “Is this it? Is this really what I want to do?” I loved the world of numbers, new complex ideas and the rush that came with it, but I wondered how my work was making a difference in people’s lives. How did all the hours I spent in my skyscraper office impact anyone?
In 1996, I attempted to move back to Africa determined to make that difference. I walked up and down the streets of Nairobi and spoke to all manner of people. I lasted an entirety of three months and went back to London a little bit battle scarred and not so naïve.
In 2009, after I had moved on to work at Goldman Sachs, I went to Nairobi again, intending to stay for only a short holiday.
I do not even know when I made the decision not to go back to London—it was one of those “just get on with it” situations. All of a sudden, I was officially unemployed and had to think fast. I racked my brain to think of what I could do with immediate effect, and I rued the day I insisted on finance as a career, particularly because I was now in an emerging economy with high level skills honed for a sophisticated, fast moving financial machine like London or New York.
But then I remembered how clearly I felt about wanting to make a difference, and it occurred to me that I was suddenly free and could engage with anyone and any entity, be it an entrepreneur, a small roadside business or a struggling, medium-sized enterprise. That was my “Eureka” moment!
Since then I have helped all manner of people and all manner of businesses as a financial consultant. I have used my education and my skills on a micro as well as a macro level. I have taught financial modeling to the unlikeliest of clients and learned street selling from vegetable vendors. Most of all, I have touched peoples’ lives directly. That’s making a real difference.