Ubaha Shipoke, a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School, on creating opportunities for women and raising awareness and funds for disadvantaged communities.
Born and bred in Namibia, I was a shy girl who lacked confidence but wanted to excel in all I did. My father is Namibian and my mother is Yemeni, so thanks to my multi-cultured family, I also learned how to value cultural differences from a very young age, which is evident in my diverse friend group today.
The milestones that have defined me so far have been growing up in a small city in Namibia, leaving home to attend university, and moving to one of the most populous cities in the world. Living in Cape Town after completing high school in Namibia was the first big step for me and one that taught me independence. Although nervous about the journey ahead, I soon settled in, and Cape Town became home for the next 5 years. My plan had always been to return to Namibia after university to commence my accounting articles at EY Windhoek. However, in my last few months at university, an opportunity at Deloitte came my way that I could not refuse, and all my plans changed. I sought an experience that would be both challenging and rewarding, and I found this at Deloitte in London, where I qualified as a Chartered Accountant after spending 3 years in the Audit department and subsequently moved to the Corporate Finance Advisory department. Now, finally, I am commencing my MBA at LBS.
I am passionate about addressing gender inequality and was an active member of the Women’s Network Committee at Deloitte, where I was able to initiate programmes to provide support for women. I applied for the Laidlaw Scholarship because the Foundation's objectives resonate with my passion: to assist women in breaking the glass ceiling by equipping them with the skills and education needed to make an impact. I will forever be indebted to the Foundation for providing me with this opportunity.
What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?
Moving to London after university was initially very tough, as I was alone and had nothing and no one to rely on other than my monthly salary. I was fortunate enough to be offered a loan from Deloitte to cover my upfront living costs, enabling me to settle in. My experiences in London and beyond have been limited as I have constantly been worried about having enough money to provide for myself.
The reality of money being finite means that making any big decision takes time. Pursuing a master's degree has been a dream of mine for a long time, but it has always been out of reach due to the cost. Now, thanks to the Laidlaw Foundation, my dream has now become attainable.
The financial hardship I face has made me want to help others more. As a result, I have started organizing an annual charity drive for marginalised communities in Namibia, impacting 120 families to date.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
“Always remember that your life is being played out on a stage. Whatever you do, you need to be mindful of this.”
This advice was given to me by one of my role models, Ms Ibukun Awosika, who is the first female chair of the First Bank of Nigeria. She continued to say that you should always ensure that you perform to the best of your abilities and maintain integrity, because even if you think no one is watching, someone might be. Often it only becomes evident much later.
What is the worst piece of advice you have been given?
“You do not need to worry about performing well because you are a black woman. Making it in the corporate world will be easier for you.”
My peer from university said this to me as “disadvantaged/equality” policies became more evident in the corporate world.
Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader
- Have clearly defined missions. Provide clarity around your goals and the way in which you plan to achieve them
- Embrace simplicity. Simplify complex issues so that more people can understand you and your values
- Maintain core values. Ensure you remember and always refer back to your core values, as these will carry you through choppy waters.
Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?
Indra Nooyi – She is the first woman of colour and immigrant to be the CEO of a Fortune 50 company. From humble beginnings, Indra defied the odds and went against the status quo in India, where women were made to believe they belong at home. She created space for herself in a white male-dominated corporate world and rose to the top while maintaining her values.
Ibukun Awosika – She is the first female Chairwomen of a global Nigerian bank. She has paved the way for females from disadvantaged backgrounds while remaining steadfast in her faith.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
I feel very privileged to be a Laidlaw Scholar. Out of the many women who equally deserved to be Scholars, I was one of the 12 selected to receive the Women’s Leadership Scholarship from the MBA2023 cohort. This makes me feel that my accomplishments, qualities, and future potential have been recognised, and that the Foundation believes in the impact I can make as a Scholar. I feel inspired to be part of a cohort of amazing women who are driven and share similar values to myself. Leveraging Laidlaw’s far-reaching network will allow me to achieve my goals and to use my influence to encourage more people to pay attention to situations faced by disadvantaged people, especially women.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
I envision a future where poverty is rare and there is equality for all. My post MBA-goals are to tackle the high unemployment and gender inequality in Namibia. I want to create an environment where women feel supported and are able to access funding for businesses that will create employment opportunities, especially for the youth of Namibia. Namibia is a country with a small population and vast resources; no one there should go to bed hungry. If I can assist in alleviating some of the problems, I will have met my goal. I plan to do this by establishing an impact fund that will invest in projects in line with the SDGs, paying special attention to the inclusion and progression of women, to ensure that it becomes normalised to offer women a seat at the table.
📺 Currently binging: Squid Game…isn’t everyone currently binging this (?!)
🎵 My quarantine anthem: Friday – Riton, Nightcrawlers
📚 My top book recommendation: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
🎧 Podcast obsession: FT News – A recent podcast episode I listened to about women battling for start-up finance.
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Travelling with 30 people from my MBA cohort to Tuscany during Reading Week – it was lots of fun getting to know people in a different relaxed setting while drinking wine and eating delicious pizza and pasta.
❤️ A cause I care about: Sister Namibia is an NGO that was founded in 1989, and has been amplifying women’s voices since then. Sister Namibia advocates for women's rights and engages in activities that promote full gender equality in a world free from violence, discrimination, and oppression.
If you would like to learn more about the MBA programme, why I chose LBS, and the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Scholarship, please reach out.
Ubaha is a Laidlaw Scholar at London 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.
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