Published: April 21, 2017
Graduate Experience Rebuilds Confidence of Tanzanian Poet, Entrepreneur
Neema Komba MBA ’17 was finding success early in her career. She had launched an all-natural soap company in her home of Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania, and it was starting to outgrow her garage-sized factory.
Komba, a closet writer who has been featured in several anthologies, had also co-founded an event called La Poetista, designed to help change the culture of her city by highlighting the arts and educating people on social issues around violence to women.
“There was nothing involving poetry going on in the country at that time. There was nowhere you could showcase your poetry. There was no promotion of poetry. So we started an open mic event, and it grew really big,” Komba said. “With La Poetista, what we created was a movement. Now there are a lot more poetry events and a lot more awareness of the arts, even collaboration between poetry and music and comedy, so that was a good thing. We kind of revived the poetry culture.”
But two years ago, Komba found herself at an apex. Everything in her life needed to grow — her business, the poetry events and herself, and she said she felt stuck.
“I was kind of terrified of that next phase. But then UT gives me this opportunity to apply, and I get the graduate assistantship. It was clear I needed to get better at some things. I needed to become a better leader or manager, to manage my businesses better, to have a different point of view,” she said, of finalizing her decision to pursue her MBA at UT. “It happened at a good time, when I needed something to push me to the next level.”
Komba found mentors and some breathing room to assess her business strategy. For example, she’s asked her accounting professors for feedback on her costing methods for her soap products, called Ira Fresh.
“I can ask those questions and I can think about them and polish my idea without the burden of being there running the business. School is a really safe place to try things without being judged harshly by revenues,” she said. “Because when you’re running a business you really don’t get a chance to think about the future as much or your vision. Every day is a new crisis, and you wonder if you’re going in the right direction. But being in school has given me the time to look at what worked, what didn’t work and how I plan to go forward.”
The graduate program has also put her on solid ground.
“It’s given me a lot more confidence. I’ve always been a leader but when things get really tough, you need something that boosts your confidence. I think it was my first semester here when I realized I had taken a big hit on my self-esteem as a leader. I was doubting my own ability,” she said.
Komba was worried about stepping out of the race of growing her business, but she knew that if she wanted long-term success, taking a few years to develop her business savvy would be a good investment.
“The MBA program is making me think in a very different way,” she said. “A lot of the professors are really helpful in that way — they help you shape your ideas, experiment with them, think about them from a different point of view and get feedback. I’m excited for what’s going to happen next. I’m ready for that next step I was so worried about.”
After graduation, Komba plans to return home to grow her businesses. She wants to create a nonprofit around poetry and the arts and expand her soap business to the East African and Sub-Saharan markets.
“It’s more about teamwork now than myself doing all the work,” Komba said. “It’s about leveraging all the relationships I’ve been afforded and using them to make something greater than myself.”
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