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Charlotte Ntim









By Charlotte Ntim

Power, responsibility and other introspective clichés

I’ll start this off with a glaring cliché: With great power comes great responsibility. It’s a phrase that makes me cringe, not just because it’s so overused, but more so because it has an innately aggrandizing implication; that one has great power in the first place that is – let’s face it – often self-imposed. And yet, that’s the sense one gets being a student at Oxford; a sense of power that comes from association with such an immense brand. Our first few weeks however, have stressed more on the responsibility of that phrase. Moving away from the external-focused “Wow” factor when people learn you go to such a great school, to the more internal “What now?” factor: How do I make the most of this and, more importantly, do so in a way that produces benefits that go beyond myself?

I am the granddaughter of a fisherman. My mother was raised in a small fishing village off Ghana’s western coast, where quality of life was directly correlated with the day’s catch. By eight, she landed her first job hawking tapioca pudding in the mornings before school to help support her family. In doing so, she discovered a talent for sales that, years later, would provide for her own children so well that the small fishing village became both literally and figuratively remote. My upbringing in the comparatively cosmopolitan city of Accra was markedly different, but regular visits to family back in Shama, somewhat normalized this dichotomy of urban-rural, of have and lack that I later discovered, was a defining marker of developing cities everywhere. I am accepting of inequality as a part of every society, but I have never quite felt confidently empowered to change it – until now.

The most defining moment of our MBA launch for me, came during a talk by Kurt April, a South African academic and leadership coach whose brutally honest personal recount of life during apartheid, prompted us to think about how we had ended up here and the sacrifices others had made on the way so that we could have such an opportunity.  I thought of my grandfather, a man with no formal education, who sacrificed so much to ensure his children received one. And then it hit me: I was here – at one of the world’s best, learning from and with the best about how to build and lead companies that would “be the best for the world”. Suddenly, the idea that my association with Oxford meant I had some power was both daunting and inspiring.

What many people, myself included, don’t realize about the MBA is how much it challenges a person in terms of introspection. Throughout application essays and interviews, we were grilled on why we wanted to come here and how we would make use of an Oxford MBA. We gave thoughtful, well-prepared answers only to get here and realize the journey of real introspection had only just began. Like my classmates, I hope to do great things that are meaningful. But I am fast learning that this comes with two main challenges: For one thing, greatness is a spectral concept – it means different things for different people. Defining meaning is even more obscure and requires constant reassessment to avoid doing good for the sake of it and – even more disastrous – the threat of falling into a savior complex. Finding where the two intersect, adds a whole layer of complexity of which Kurt April’s talk and the MBA in general, have only scratched the surface.

I came here to learn concrete business skills that would form the basis of an impactful career and yes, to draw on the power that comes from the Oxford brand and network. So far, interestingly enough, I’ve felt most empowered by the people around me from which there has been no shortage of inspiration: The classmates setting up a soup kitchen for Oxford’s homeless, random conversations on healthcare provision in Pakistani prisons with a former Red Cross volunteer, hearing Google CEO Eric Schmidt speak on plans for increased connectivity in Africa through Project Loon … the list of thought-provoking conversations goes on.

If that’s all I get from this year, it’s more than worth it. To make a reductive allusion to what I consider one of the most effective advertising campaigns of all time: Cost of an MBA at Oxford: Look it up here; a year’s worth of inspiration on demand – priceless.

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