Scholar Spotlight - Princess Agina

Saïd Business School Laidlaw Scholar Princess Agina on helping youth empower themselves and celebrating diverse perspectives.
Scholar Spotlight - Princess Agina
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Princess Agina, a Laidlaw Scholar at Saïd Business School, on helping youth empower themselves and celebrating diverse perspectives.

After seeing the enduring benefits of social entrepreneurship and youth education during my two-and-a-half years as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Costa Rica, I started BusinessU–a social entrepreneurship program for Black and Latinx youth–in the U.S. and México. BusinessU combines my passion for working closely with underestimated populations to develop innovative solutions to seemingly intractable challenges with my desire to tap into the empowering force of education. As such, Laidlaw’s belief in the “power of education to transform lives” truly resonates with me and embodies my reason for applying to this prestigious scholarship. I applied to the Laidlaw Scholarship because it is a means for me to realize my greatest scholastic aspirations; I applied because I wholeheartedly believe in the mission of the Laidlaw Foundation; and I applied because this scholarship enables me to learn from, grow, and evolve with an amazing group of scholars that I am blessed to consider as friends.

  

My first foray into leading youth development camps was here in Costa Rica, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Seeing the transformation and development of these budding leaders planted a seed to develop my own youth program, BusinessU.
My first foray into leading youth development camps was here in Costa Rica, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Seeing the transformation and development of these budding leaders planted a seed to develop my own youth program, BusinessU.

  

What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?

My sophomore year of college, my aunt, whom I consider a mother, passed away. She, along with my grandparents, raised my sisters and I after my mom died during my birth. The passing of my grandparents and second mother was undoubtedly the most difficult circumstance that I have had to endure. Although I cannot consider these losses to be something that I have overcome, their memory serves as a source of inspiration. They risked a lot to immigrate to the United States from their homeland of Jamaica and faced a lot of challenges along the way—including financial hardship, integrating into a new culture, and the loss of my birth mom. Yet, everyday, they demonstrated to my sisters and I the spirit of resilience, faith, and tenacity. These values have been embedded in the woman that I have become today. Because of them, I have learned to overcome any obstacle that is thrown my way and strive to make them proud in everything that I do.

 

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

My cousin Reeshemah, whom I consider a significant mentor and inspiration, always tells me “Never self-select yourself out.” Meaning, do not limit yourself or set boundaries on what is possible for you. When imposter syndrome settled in and it was time for me to decide whether to apply to my dream school—Oxford—and a dream of a scholarship program—Laidlaw–this piece of advice is what gave me the courage to forge ahead with my applications. How many times have we thought our dreams were unrealistic or that we were not qualified? That we were not smart enough, not connected enough, not creative enough? I think most of us have experienced this. If you let it, the fear of failure and not being good enough can be debilitating, self-limiting,  and prevent you from achieving your greatest aspirations. There’s a quote that goes,  “Don’t tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” I’ve learned to dream bigger, work harder, and quiet that little voice in my head that says “I can’t do this”—because, truly, there are no limits to what I can do.

 

What is the worst piece of advice you have been given?

The worst advice I have been given is to “Try to fit in.” This thought is programmed in many of us from early childhood. We are told we need to dress a certain way, talk a certain way, and navigate the world with certain beliefs in order to succeed. In fact, I have been explicitly told to assimilate or to “try to fit in” more times than I can count—and I can’t lie, I have certainly tried to heed this advice in the past. I have felt the pressure to assimilate as a first-generation U.S. American navigating the complexities of immigrant life and grade school dynamics and have felt the pressure to blend into the often-homogenous corporate environment (where I am oftentimes the only minority, woman, or minority-woman in the room). Reflecting further on this advice, I realize that, for some, fitting in is a means for survival. Conversely, I have learned, and truly believe, that the greatest contribution we all can make derives from the unique identities, experiences, and perspectives that we all bring to the table. After all, the greatest figures in history are great not because they were better at assimilating or conforming but because they stood up and stood out courageously. These differences are what make each of us extraordinary and are what I cherish in myself and others.

 

Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader

  1. Leadership doesn’t have to look one, stereotypical way: Oftentimes, we envision leaders to be someone riding in on a white horse, shouting out orders, and leading the troops to victory. This narrow view of leadership perpetuates the myth that introverts and other personality types outside of this archetype are not fit to be leaders. One highlight from the Oxford MBA and the network of Laidlaw Scholars is seeing the incredible diversity of leadership in action. In our cohort, we have gold-medal Olympians, renowned entrepreneurs, innovative intrapreneurs, world-class dancers, pianists, actors, and everything in-between. We also have charismatic extroverts, charming introverts, and thoughtful ambiverts--all with different backgrounds and abilities. I think it is important for us all to challenge parochial and outdated viewpoints of leadership. Only then will society stop questioning those who do not “look” like leaders.

  2. Don’t underestimate the power of teamwork: Keeping with the theme that there is no one way to be a leader, oftentimes leadership is assumed to mean one person is the “chosen one” to lead the helm and make their mark on the world. I believe leadership at its best is quite the opposite. The leaders I admire the most are those who are able to inspire collective action and work alongside the community–versus on behalf of the community. Nothing can be done well without a good team.

  3. Be inclusive: Diverse and varied perspectives enable truly innovative and thoughtful solutions. Today, companies and leaders are discussing issues of diversity more than ever. However, it only takes a quick glance at their executive team and the homogenous row of board members to see that inclusion is not often considered. As a leader of a non-profit, and in all of my work, I aim to speak to as many people as possible and include them in the decision-making process. It is quite easy to recruit co-founders or executive board members who look like you and share your background. However, I challenge myself—and all of those who read this—to consider the innovation and broader perspective to be gained through including varied voices on your leadership team. Otherwise, you may end up hiring different versions of yourself and limiting the scope of your impact. 

  

Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?

Wow. There are too many inspirations to name. I’ve always admired James Baldwin’s way of articulating the most complex societal problems and how he used literature and intellect to help start a movement. I love reading and watching old videos of Maya Angelou and listening to her tell stories of her life and the difficulties that she has had to overcome. She challenged the status quo and served as a remarkable example of tenacity and grit. Ultimately, though, I would say my family and friends inspire me the most. Those are the people I call and lean on (and vice versa) when I am at my lowest and at my highest. They make me laugh when all I want to do is cry, they motivate me through demonstrating resilience in their own lives, and they always remind me that I am more than enough just the way that I am. They see me, they encourage me, and I wouldn’t be here without them.

 

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

For me, being a Laidlaw Scholar means that I get to pursue my dreams of attending one of the best schools in the world. It means having the privilege to learn and apply those learnings to expand my impact through my social enterprise and beyond. Finally, it means being in constant awe and gaining inspiration from this network of extraordinary, intelligent leaders and change agents. We hail from different countries, different life experiences, and different perspectives yet each of us shares a passion and desire to do something impactful in this world. What an honour.

Matriculating at the historic Oxford Sheldonian Theatre as an official Oxonian marked one of the proudest moments of my life journey so far!
Matriculating at the historic Oxford Sheldonian Theatre as an official Oxonian marked one of the proudest moments of my life journey so far!

 

Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

I see BusinessU (my non-profit) as a means to provide tools for youth to empower themselves and to build a remarkable, sustainable, and equitable future. At its simplest, I envision a world where race, gender, sexuality, physical ability, and cognitive-diversity, can truly be appreciated in all of its forms. A world where relatability and shared similarities do not determine the degree of empathy given to others. A world where no one is left behind. This world may seem far-fetched, unrealistic, and even impractical but I believe with every generation comes a fresh chance to do better than before; I hope BusinessU will help provide even a small source of inspiration to help catapult bold leaders eager to make that future happen.


Quick-Fire Questions

📺 Currently binging: Squid Game. I have already logged hours of conversation with friends and strangers alike discussing the underlying themes of this show. It’s so good!

🎵 My quarantine anthem: If I was feeling a bit melancholy, I would turn on La Canción by J Balvin and Bad Bunny. It’s such a vibe! If I needed motivation to be productive for the day, I’d turn on Already by Beyonce ft. Shatta Wale and Major Lazer and that perks me right up--but honestly, any afrobeats song would help with that. An honorable mention goes to my go-to shower karaoke song: Come thru by Summer Walker. Matter of fact, I do entire shower “concerts” with Summer’s first album.

📚 My top book recommendation: This is such a hard question! This year, I really enjoyed reading 1984 by George Orwell (for the first time ever!) and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Although they are two very different stories, I will say that both books kept me up at night (constantly pondering the themes) and both are dystopian literature that have notable parallels to our current society.

🎧 Podcast obsession: How I Built This with Guy Raz is so inspiring (especially for a budding entrepreneur!) and Radio Ambulante has a storytelling style that is absolutely engrossing. 

 🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Seeing my sister with my baby nephew, Myles. She is such a wonderful mother and he is such a beautiful, happy baby. Every time I see Myles laugh, it brings a huge smile to my face.

❤️ A cause I care about: I am always looking to collaborate. Feel free to send a message via LinkedIn, visit businessuventures.com for more information on my social enterprise (and find out how you can support!), and/or connect with me via Instagram!


Princess is a Laidlaw Scholar at Oxford University's Saïd Business School. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school.


🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights:

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    • Paseka Khosa on overcoming financial hardship and advocating for unwavering belief in oneself.
    • Fisayo Adeleke on her mission to increase women's access to opportunities, and dealing with uncertainty.
    • Helena Couto on breaking out of your pre-defined place in society, and larger than life goals.
    • Pamela Flores Mónico on creating impact through business for development, trailblazing, and staying true to yourself.
    • Amazing-Grace Makusha on helping businesswomen in Zimbabwe succeed, the importance of rest, and your exact brand of weirdness.