Graduates Blog

What Nigeria taught me

“Why Nigeria?” is perhaps the most common response I got when I declared my intention of going to Nigeria as part of the F15® graduate programme. People didn’t quite get why one would opt to go to Nigeria from the comfort of Scandinavia and with the option to go anywhere else in the world.

Published: November 20, 2016 by Rucha Sarma

Going to Nigeria wasn’t someone else’s directive or a mishap, it was my choice. I knew it was going to be a challenge, way out of my comfort zone, way different from anywhere I had ever experienced but that’s what I wanted and that’s what I got. It has been a challenge, a shock to all my senses and a very different experience but it’s also far better than it’s portrayed in the media or our stereotypes. After seven months in the chaos, hustle and bustle of Lagos, I’ve grown and learnt more than any other overseas experience I’ve had.

Here are my key takeaways from working in an emerging market like Nigeria:

  • Go with the flow: If there’s any place that has taught me the importance of flexibility, it is Nigeria. It almost seems like Murphy’s law was made for Nigeria. Anything that has to go wrong will go wrong. You may have the best plan and even plan B in the world but given the economic volatility of the country and all sorts of unforeseen circumstances, you will have to adapt the plan. Here I learnt that it’s not just the ability to foresee but the ability to react quickly that’s key.
  • Innovation is a necessity: I’ve been part of some of the greatest start-up ecosystems in the world, where they have some amazing ideas that can make our lives a little better. Innovation there is born from need for improvement, to make our lives easier. It’s a luxury. In Nigeria, given the lack of resources and high level of need, innovation is a necessity. I’ve got some great insights and inspiration relating to frugal innovation here.
  • Empathy not sympathy: As an expat, it’s quite easy to get cosy in the safe and comfortable bubble but it’s here that I’ve truly tried to develop a sense of empathy – of putting myself in shoes of people who have a reality completely different from mine. When it comes to doing business in a turbulent time, it’s key to understand consumers but it’s even more important to empathise with them to deliver products and strategies that are both appealing and relevant.
  • Say no – Saying no can be extremely difficult, especially for someone like me who generally likes to be quite agreeable. In Nigeria, I’ve been tested time and again about where I draw the line. Corruption is unfortunately a norm here. It’s completely normal to get “do you have something for me” requests and it’s something that makes me very uncomfortable and goes against my core values. As a new expat, it’s quite easy to oblige or give in but I’ve slowly mastered the art of saying no and holding my ground (sense of humour really helps). Not easy but much needed.
  • Street smartness – In countries like Nigeria, you have to be alert. You have to be aware. You have to be on guard and you have to know how to get out of tricky situations. In spite of living in 11 countries, I consider myself to be quite sheltered. It’s in Lagos where I’ve really developed a sense of situational awareness by learning how to read people and the environment around me and reacting accordingly. Before moving here, I tried reading up online about life in Nigeria but no amount of books/blogs or second hand experiences can prepare you for what you personally experience and that’s the beauty of it!

It hasn’t been easy but it’s not been as difficult as I had imagined. Above all, 7 months in Nigeria have been a great learning experience! Swimming in a pool is much easier (and maybe even slightly boring) if you’ve learnt to swim in the wild ocean. I’m thankful to Nigeria for being that rough ocean in my life for preparing me for all other adventures that lie ahead!

Rucha Sarma

New Zealander
Position: F15® 2015 Team
Period: 2015
Location: Denmark/Nigeria/United Kingdom
Department: 1st Rotation: Assistant Brand Manager, Global Categories - Milk, Aarhus, Denmark. 2nd Rotation: Commercial Cost Specialist, Consumer International, Lagos, Nigeria. 3rd Rotation: Marketing, e-commerce, Leeds, United Kingdom