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Dawn the explorer

Dawn sought out the opportunity to explore a new continent during her third year as a business analyst.

Read more about: Emerging markets

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Two years into my three-year program as a business analyst in Hong Kong, I decided to pursue one of my personal passions: emerging markets. I’ve had an interest in China-Africa relations since my days at Georgetown where I studied the International Political Economy. When President Xi announced his “One Belt One Road” initiative a few years ago, I really wanted to understand what it was like on the ground and how business leaders think in one of the major emerging markets, Africa.

There is a common perception that China is involved in rogue aid in Africa, mostly just investing in infrastructure and basic materials. With all that’s going on in China in the digital space, I believe it could play a bigger role on the international stage. I want to be part of finding solutions. I want to explore connections between the two markets.

I also knew spending a significant amount of time in Africa would be an amazing opportunity to meet new colleagues, try new foods, and travel throughout a new-to-me continent.

Whenever I thought about going to Africa, my heart beat faster. It’s exciting to imagine transferring know-how between two big emerging markets. I started talking to my colleagues and mentors about how I could best pursue this passion. I asked other business analysts who had gone on yearlong transfers what worked well and what really challenged them. I talked with my more formal mentors (like partners with whom I’d worked on previous engagements) and my Professional Development Manager to learn how to make a third year in Africa happen. They were instrumental in helping me think through how to tie my personal interests to my professional career at McKinsey.

For example, during my first two years as a business analyst, I supported several Chinese clients, especially in the financial sector, as they shaped their digital strategies and went through digital transformations. African financial institutions are seeking to go digital now, so I took what I had learned in China to Africa to help banks, for instance, understand how to develop digital ecosystems that could address customers’ full needs, beyond just traditional banking.

Once I made it to Johannesburg, my adventure really began. Everyone was so welcoming and supportive. I leveraged my expertise in digital and banking and explored other areas like telecommunications and the public sector as well. I traveled a lot – sometimes with my friends, sometimes with my teammates. I travelled across South Africa, Zambia, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia, going on safaris and hiking through sand dunes. I ate…a lot, especially barbeque or “braai,” and I enjoyed the generous wine pours. I even went to a few McKinsey partners’ homes for dinner.

All of these experiences made me feel full – and not just in my stomach. I built a lifetime of memories, friendships and professional contacts. I learned so many new things that were critical in my professional journey.

I recently returned to Hong Kong with a completely new perspective on my work in Greater China. As I transition to the associate role, I am looking forward to building on the network and expertise I developed in Africa and continuing to help reimagine China-Africa relations.

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