At home doing lockdown, this MBA student pursued international learning – virtually

Nkeku Mothoa says that her biggest surprise has been that you can find yourself doing an MBA.

There is a lot of talk about how lockdown has made it possible for people to seek jobs in different destinations to the ones they are in. Slightly less is heard about people who were able to take up study opportunities in different countries, during the lockdown period. But that’s just what Nkeku Mothoa, a business manager for small business enterprises at Standard Bank, did.

While in hard lockdown, Nkeku received an email from Henley Business School, offering an MBA course in, of all places, Malta. Nkeku had already completed a B.Com in Economics through Unisa, and a PGDip through Henley, and is ultimately planning to become a chartered financial analyst to support her work as a business manager of portfolios in the R20 million range at Standard Bank, so when the Henley MBA opportunity presented itself, she thought “why not?”

The collaboration between Henley Africa and Henley Malta kicked off in March 2021, as a student exchange programme, affording students on two continents the opportunity to network and study together.

“Henley Africa students were provided an opportunity to engage with other candidates studying the same modules,” she says. She adds that Henley Africa secures many global lecturers, and she didn’t want to lose that global exposure during lockdown.

International study experience
She recalls attending a talk at the Open Day at Henley before signing up for the MBA, and a speaker told the students to be prepared for changes and challenges. The potential students were also advised to create routines early, and most importantly to remember why they were embarking on the journey. “And I kept coming back to that in 2020.”

She explains she did a little research before engaging with other candidates and that helped her because, “I had few language or cultural barriers as I learnt that people from Malta speak Maltese, French and English and so I managed to have meaningful conversations in English and French.”

She adds that, “We discussed a lot about what impact Covid-19 has had on our countries’ economies and how it has affected our business environment. We also shared how we cope with the work-from-home situation and assignments.”

Nkeku is aware of the experience she needs, the skills she requires, and the time she needs to put in to become the economist she wants to be, but she is also extremely conscious of the personal development journey that an MBA takes you on.

“My work is very technical, yes, but the MBA is really helping me become a better leader – much more self-aware – and helping me work around whatever challenges life throws at me.”

She adds that completing an MBA teaches you a lot of things in a short space of time and prepares you for a lifetime of learning. “I am enjoying fine-tuning the leader that I want to be and being nudged into shaping who I want to become. The biggest surprise is that you can find yourself in an MBA.”

She was originally introduced to Henley through her PGDip (postgraduate diploma in management practice), and seven of her eight classmates have all gone on to pursue their MBAs. “It helps to have that support, and we know each other well now, even though our weekend sessions have had to stop because of Covid-19.

She has chosen financial technology as her elective, in part, influenced by the pandemic. “In my portfolio at work I see first-hand the impact that digital has had, both in good and bad ways, and I have also seen how important it is to have a connection with clients, even if you are in a B2B space.”

When the going gets tough
There is no doubt that an MBA takes a lot of time and, in managing it, Nkeku says she has made peace with the workload.

Being a single mother and trying to juggle the MBA workload during a pandemic was not an easy thing for her and so she first acknowledged that she needed a helper. “I realised I did not have to be a superwoman.”

She gets a jump-start on her day by waking up early. “My days start early, around 5am or 6am depending on what I worked on the night before and I use this time to centre myself, then get my daughter ready for school before my work day starts.”

She says Henley is very transparent and offers massive support. “They work on being family friendly. The trick is to stay humble. I failed an assignment last year that I had to rewrite. I am deeply aware that I am a student of life: at work, at school, at home – an MBA is not going to fasttrack me into some stratosphere I am not ready for; it is preparing me for the person I am growing into.”

And will that person still be an economist on the other side of this? “I am meeting great people from different industries in the Henley network, I will use that to take advantage of women leadership opportunities that are available.”