Abidjan: The Un-Instagrammable_ Aissa's part 2
Let's be real, this was not easy!
The first challenge I faced was the complexity of the task assigned to me. The goal of my trip was to launch my company's operations in Abidjan. This project was our first expansion in francophone Africa, and its performance would be instrumental in setting up the expansion strategy for the rest of the region. Furthermore, as my company's services are internationally known, locals were keeping a close eye on us. Bottom line, whether internally or externally, the stakes were high.
I was lucky to work with a great team, though the reality of our situation was that we worked from different offices and during most of the project, I was the only person on the ground in Abidjan. I was quickly faced with a mountain of responsibilities. I had to learn how to navigate the local business environment, create and nurture new relationships, develop strategies adapted to the local realities and action them as soon as possible. Within a few months, I found myself testing and enhancing my leadership skills by hiring, training and managing a large team for the first time, discovering my ability to be persuasive by closing partnership deals, while also developing a deep and detailed understanding of the industry in which I was operating.
The second challenge I faced was my ability to adapt to a new professional environment. In all honesty, this was unexpectedly the most challenging aspect of my experience. Having lived in multiple countries, traveled a lot and worked in North America and briefly in Latin America, I knew that there would be a certain amount of adaptation needed, but as Divine Oduduru would say, I never experrred it to be this hard!
From people's communication style, to my company's structure in Sub Saharan Africa, to the dress code and the level of bureaucracy, everything was different ! Through my interactions, I was quickly confronted with all those personal weaknesses that I had been too lazy to confront in the past. After many moments of doubts, powerlessness, questioning and talks with my support system, I quickly understood that if I did not make a few changes, I would get eaten alive in these streets! My always diplomatic and non confrontational self had to learn how to be more assertive, stop shying away from difficult conversations, fight her ideas and speak up when needed. This experience was also an eye opener on how to efficiently identify ego and low self esteem in people's words, which proved to be extremely useful when trying to decide on the relevance of certain conversations.
More importantly, I learned to be patient. Coming from a north american environment where everything moves quickly, francophone Africa tested my limits. A deal that could be closed within a few days elsewhere could take up to a month in Abidjan. For cultural reasons, the decision making process was different and more cautious, especially when related to new concepts. People needed to become familiar with the concept, talk about it with their surroundings, think about it a little more, wait for reviews and first impressions of the product before making a decision. Surviving this context meant making a choice between patience (within reason) and stressing over the slowness of the process. Having enough stress factors in my life, the decision was quickly made : patience all day, every day!
Time and reflection have allowed me to think critically about my experience and analyze the challenges I was faced with while working in Abidjan. Back then, they were simply part of my reality. I complained quite a bit, had sleepless nights and imagined the worst. But after a good meal, some soul appeasing music and a good laughter session, I was ready to attack. My motto to get through it all: "One day at a time, one problem at a time". I focused on small wins and made sure to rely on my amazing support system.
By the end of my trip, the project was launched. Our product was finally available to the Ivorian population. Despite the incredible amount of pride that I had for all the hard work accomplished, the result was not perfect. There were a few flaws that were unavoidable when entering a new market, but they impacted the consumer's experience quite a bit. My heart was pulled in two opposite directions. I would go from messages congratulating me for my accomplishments, to customers complaining about their experience on social media or directly to me at parties over the weekend. This emotional roller coaster would take me from laughter to tears, to relief, to intense stress within a single minute. Navigating the complexities of this situation forced me to let go. Let go of my need to control the outcome of my actions and to meet people's expectations despite undeniably limiting realities. I once again had to be patient and accept that it takes time for some efforts to fully pay off. In those moments, I could hear loud and clear Kendrick Lamar's voice in my head saying: "Sit down, be humble". It was a brutal reminder that I needed to be humble enough to accept that the mantra "You can do anything you put your mind to" has limitations. Things won't always improve as quickly as we would like them to. There are times when we won't necessarily find solutions and figure things out, and that's ok. It's all part of the game of life.
So would I qualify this experience as a success? Absolutely! When starting this professional journey, my definition of success was clear: our launch would be positively talked about all across Abidjan and customers would be over the moon about it. But the past few months have pushed me to revisit and bring nuances to my definition. This project was a perfect imperfection. Although some goals were not achieved, I was able to get so much more out of it. The undeniable result is the fact that I have come out of it with knowledge of self and of the world I live in, both of which will continue to influence all aspects of my life.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my professional adventures! In the next and last article, I will take you through the social aspect of my life in Abidjan!
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