Written by Monika Waber, Managing Director HR Swiss Re (slightly shortened).

On 28 November it was time again! En route to Nairobi for another Swiss Re Academy! Last year I had the privilege of hosting a Swiss Re Start Up Academy, at which I caught the Kenya ‘bug’.

Apart from being a year older (not wiser) something else was different this time round: I travelled to Nairobi to host the first Swiss Re Career Academy, which is a variation to our ‘regular’ curriculum of the Swiss Re Start Up Academy. The Start Up Academy is geared towards equipping the ‘Alumnis’ with knowledge and skills to start their own business. The Career Academy builds the second leg so to speak, that is it is designed to support the students in competing on the job market. The concept for this Academy was pitched to me by two talented students last year, during my time in Nairobi at the Start Up Academy. I thought it was a fab idea, discussed it with Gerhard Lohmann – the ‘birth father’ of our Academies – our Foundations, got support and funding! I recruited a team of fantastic colleagues to make this happen. We took a blank sheet of paper, sat on a green meadow under a blue sky (figuratively, not literally), brainstormed, put the curriculum together, designed the detail content, drew up slides, tested and trained our delivery and – almost a year and many iterations later – off we went! […]

So what did we do and experience…

Day 1 was focused on MBTI, Alumnis having a go at exploring their profile. Many of them had done this for the first time so it was fascinating of course.

Day 2 was a full day of learning about possible career paths and getting insights into the various industries in the market that may offer job opportunities. This session was a real breakthrough for us in our progressing the cause of ‘building people, building nations’… Colleagues from our external foundation Aiducation had done a stellar job in preparation of the Academy to get local company representatives engaged. However, the ‘turn up’ and the engagement of our local industry partners far exceeded my personal expectations. I was thrilled to see so many Senior Execs from very reputable companies engaged with us. The feedback from them was tremendous with many immediately indicating that they wish to continue to engage with us and expand the collaboration. Strathmore University decided on the spot to give an internship to a student, as they were so impressed with her. Wow, real impact! Thank you so much to all the industry partners, I look forward to seeing many of you again next year!

Swiss Re mentors in action.

Day 3 was dedicated to CV writing. What a task, as most alumnis had never worked on their CVs and covering letters. Great progress was done during the day and many of us mentors probably dreamt of CVs and covering letters that night, with having proof read so many!

Day 4 was another highlight for me as we did interview training, this is when it gets real! [¨My collague] Thomas and I did an interview demonstration, to show a good and a bad example. I applied for my own job, Thomas – discreet as he is – never said whether I got it, hmm! The afternoon was spent training and coaching as the students really had to gear up for the Friday interview competition. Each and every one needed to perform in a 10 minute staged interview, being grilled by 2 interviewers…

Swiss Re mentor Thomas coaching students.

Day 5 Competition day! The progress we saw from previous day to this day was stunning. Really proud of the students! They did very well. The afternoon treat was an excursion to the UN Headquarters in Nairobi, what a great experience! And the evening, the evening of course, the legendary students party… Unusual for me, I decided to do a few (clumsy) dances and then opted to stand by the sidelines and observe it from ‘outside’. A drink or two and at the bar, some star gazing (not much to see in Nairobi), far from the action, my brain and heart needed space, reflection time. To many emotions…

Saturday morning, Day 6, time to get ready to go home – Phew, that was a week gone by. It flew by in what felt like an eternity and a second in one. A lifetime of experiences and joy in one week. It was intense as we piloted a new program. It was completely new territory for most of the Alumni. We had adverse^circumstances not playing in our favor. But… it was a roaring success, with real impact on the ground! Thanks to my fellow mentors, our Aiducation partners and many good souls locally and far away in Zurich (Tamara, thanks!) who pulled the right strings at the right moment. Asante Sana. You have my deepest respect.

Teams ready for the UN visit.

I always say – and I mean this genuinely – that I learn more from the experience and the students than they learn from us. So how did I feel, what did I learn? in retrospect after having had time to reflect?

  • Well, I experienced again that one really needs to learn with the heart, not only with the mind.
  • Family has not much to do with genes and blood relations. Our partners at Aiducation and friends in Kenya have become my family, despite me probably being the most Northern of all Northern lights one can possibly find on the planet earth!
  • Oh and the beauty of differences, different cultures… Ambiguity, ceasing the moment, being flexible and going with the flow… […]
  • And of course last but not least, I gained new friends (my fellow mentors have become much more to me than just dear Swiss Re colleagues who travelled to Kenya with me) and learned that goodbyes are not forever. They are temporary only… ‘till next year when I’ll touch ground in Nairobi again for the second Swiss Re Career Academy, no longer a pilot this time but a powerful curriculum in the spirit of creating impact, Building People, Building Nations!

Group picture in front of the UN.

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