Stuart Rennie, AfaraEd & SJRennie Consulting, Africa

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Stuart is the managing director of AfaraEd, a service that helps universities establish and grow their presence in East and West Africa. He also offers consultancy on market entry and Africa operations with clients from Canada, Australia, UK and Europe.

What do you like most about your job? 

I absolutely love building and growing a business across Sub-Saharan Africa, which is going to become one of the most important regions in the world.

It is inspiring every day to have conversations with clients based all over the world – all from my home in Dunblane in Scotland.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

I would change some people’s mindset and views of Africa which should focus on the entrepreneurial energy, start-ups and creativity that exist across the region.

International education needs to prioritise building sustainable relationships in the region and capturing the energy that flows from Sub–Saharan Africa.

Tell me about a defining moment in your career

When I was in a development committee in a university with a business plan for taking our strategy to the next level in Sub-Saharan Africa, I realised no one had been to the region or was interested in investing, even though it was a top source market at that time. So, I left and started a consultancy business focusing on the region and never looked back.

What was your first job in international education?

My first job was as an international officer at RGU in Aberdeen. It was the start of the industry developing professional services around international as opposed to academics working in a country that interested them. My first trip was to Istanbul, I lost my luggage but absolutely loved the cultural engagement and opportunity to build new networks.

What keeps you awake at night?

Apart from worrying about the dreadful run of recent results from Aberdeen football club, it is government policy globally that concerns me. International education is borderless and is such a force of good and when that is threatened by immigration or visa clampdowns, it is deeply concerning.

Proudest career moment?

I have to say that moment many years ago, raising my hand in a university international office, and saying I was more than happy to visit Nigeria. I have gone on to build two businesses that support the region with a third to support events in the region in the pipeline.

Best work trip?

Without question a UK consortium trip that we launched with our business partner in Nigeria over 15 years ago which took in the cities of Kaduna, Jos, Kano, Uyo and Port Harcourt. Due to security issues, it can be challenging to visit some of these cities now but back then it was a fantastic road trip meeting great people and breaking new ground.

“As you can imagine working in Africa, no two days are the same”

Worst work trip?

The worst work trip ever was to China where a partnership had gone badly wrong and there were so many students who were not going to achieve the progression and opportunities they had been promised. It also makes it so difficult not being able to speak Mandarin and it taught me that having trusted partners on the ground that understand the landscape is so important – as well as having expert translators!

What makes you get up in the morning?

As you can imagine working in Africa, no two days are the same. I love the challenge of seeing what opportunities there are but also dealing with challenges and providing solutions.

Nigeria has been a perfect example this year of working through the financial challenges that students from the region are facing but also working with clients to ensure they take a long-term view of the region.

Most inspiring international student you’ve met/ helped/ taught?

One of the first students that I ever met at my first British Council event in Istanbul in Turkey. We worked together when he was a student, and he now has a leading position with one of the global blue-chip companies. He was just so humble and interested in supporting fellow students from his homeland.

We also worked with a family and a student from Chennai in India and the student did not have much in the way of finance. We secured an offer for the MBA along with a scholarship and the student has now gone onto become CEO of one of the leading engineering companies in the UK.

How did you find yourself working in the sector?

Probably like a number of other professionals working in international education, I knew absolutely nothing about it. I started working in schools liaison for a UK university and saw academics heading off to exotic locations like Columbia, India, China and Nigeria.

My father always travelled and I knew I wanted a job that involved international travel and here I am today spending my time split between Scotland and Africa.

Champion/cheerleader which we should all follow and why?

For me it is obviously the Tales from the Departure Lounge podcast, which just adds a fantastic human and humorous element to the world of international education.

I also cannot travel without the latest podcast download from Steven Bartlett and Diary of a CEO who is a great interviewer and chats to amazing entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

Best international education conference and why?

The PIE Live events are great, and I have enjoyed being involved with them but for me I would have to say the Scottish Universities International Group put together a fantastic local globally focused conference and they work really well together as a country to attract leading specialists in the industry.



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