You acquire a skill and you share it...
Meet Tommie Hooft van Huysduynen, an International Business Administration student and Digital Director at Student Art Association at Erasmus university, Rotterdam. Tommie shares his experience of attending African Business Day, his internship in Cape Town, South Africa and his aspirations of doing business within Africa.
Charlotte Bedet: When did you attend your first ABD event?
Tommie van Huysduynen: I attended my first ABD event in 2015 which happened to be the first one and I have been going ever since.
Charlotte: What was your overall impression of the ABD event?
Van Huysduynen: First of all, I was delighted to learn about a business day event in relation to Africa. The university offers us a lot of connections for internships and student exchange programmes abroad but none of them are directly related to Africa and ABD provides a direct linkage. I was also excited to support an event that for once is not a pompous attempt in solving Africa's problems. Hearing first hand from African entrepreneurs speaking about the opportunities available throughout the continent was the highlight of the day for me.
Charlotte: Were you aware of the business opportunities in Africa before attending the ABD event?
Van Huysduynen: I come from a family which holds a strong credence in Africa's capabilities. My father worked for Shell in Nigeria where I once lived and my sister is now working in Tanzania. So, I was fully aware of the media's predilection for sensationalised negative news about Africa and I also have experienced first-hand how harmful these stereotypes can be for African business. Having said that however, I didn't realise that opportunities were available for students and young graduates and ABD opened my eyes to those opportunities.
Charlotte: What motivated you the most during the ABD event?
Van Huysduynen: In one of the ABD workshops I learned first-hand from a Rabobank employee who studied organic agriculture in Wageningen about his business dealings within Africa. Coincidentally my dream is to study organic agriculture in Wageningen and thereafter use my skills within Africa. I am sure he doesn't know this yet but the workshop motivated me to make that crucial decision of what I really wanted to do with my life.
Charlotte: You performed your internship with Rhino Africa in Cape Town, South Africa in 2016 - Was part of your decision based on your attendance of the ABD event?
Van Huysduynen: For sure. I was doing my second year of International Business Administration and I chose for an exchange programme in Africa only to find there was only one university partner in Morocco. Then I opted for an opportunity for a working internship in South Africa. I had already made the decision prior to attending the ABD event but the experience validated my choice.
Charlotte: What advice can you give those interested in business opportunities within Africa?
Van Huysduynen: My advice will be that if you are adventurous and looking for a challenge then Africa is for you. I feel that a lot of things in the Western world have reached a saturation point and Africa offers great opportunities for personal development. Moreover, they should not believe everything that the media says and that the only way to learn the real truth about Africa is to experience it for yourself.
Charlotte: Can you share challenges or pleasant surprises that you have encountered?
Van Huysduynen: I was pleasantly surprised of how similar Cape Town is to any European city. Having lived in Nigeria before, I already had an idea of how Africa looks like and Cape Town showed me how diversified the African continent really is. If your aim is to share skills or create a start-up, the opportunities are available. Again the media played a big role with the challenges I faced. My girlfriend was reluctant to visit me as like everyone else has heard that South Africa is the most dangerous place in the world. And luckily, she finally agreed to come. I spent five days per week for my internship and on weekends I worked as a chef at a boutique hotel where I befriended a guy from a nearby township. My girlfriend and I were invited to his sister's birthday party and we had the most amazing experience. I was blown away of how friendly the people in the township were and how easy it is to be sociable in South Africa.
Charlotte: Do you any further business aspirations within the African continent and if yes, what is your vision?
Van Huysduynen: My take on helping Africa to develop is that you learn a skill and share it. Therefore at the end, I would like to connect investors, African entrepreneurs and retirees like my father who can share their skills and knowledge of doing business within the African continent. I have done my research and found out that 25 cents of every dollar donated goes to administration costs and not much is left for those it was meant for. Therefore, shared skills, mentorship and the connection via technology is what Africa needs and I aspire to become an instrument of that change.
Charlotte: Last word about the ABD event?
Van Huysduynen: The around the table talks that gives attendees direct access to the speakers is what I find motivational during the ABD event. The workshops style is interactive and not presentational which I prefer. I already had background knowledge about living in Africa but the ABD offered me direct access to companies doing business in Africa and a link to African entrepreneurs. The opportunities presented are not only invaluable for my personal development but are also crucial to Africa's development and therein lies the crux of the matter.