Award winning business student soars high abroad

Tuesday March 22 2016

Benjamin Fernandes’ first day at Stanford

Benjamin Fernandes’ first day at Stanford Business School. PHOTO I COURTESY  

By Esther Karin Mngodo

As a young boy, Benjamin Fernandes wanted to be a pilot. Whenever he saw planes flying in Changombe, Dar es Salaam where he and his family resided, he desired to cruise the sky someday.

Today, at 23, the young dreamer is cruising high no doubt, as one of the most inspiring MBA student in the world. He admits that he had a phase from 4th grade to 10th grade where he wanted to be a professional football player for Manchester United.

But something changed when he was in 11th grade. He wanted to do something more meaningful and impactful to his society. 

In 2010, the young dreamer moved to the US for his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Northwestern – Saint Paul and currently attends Stanford Graduate School of Business as an African MBA Fellow which he joined in 2015.

He was recently selected to attend the MBA World Summit in Florida, USA; a forum geared at shaping a global leadership community. 

In every year it invites the 100 most inspiring MBA students from the top business schools worldwide. All of them will be involved in co-creating the agenda for a three-day Summit, which focuses on the three pillars of nurturing a collaborative culture, facilitating high-impact exchange and championing interdisciplinary approaches to global business problems.

Benjamin was selected alongside 5 other students from Stanford Graduate School of Business to attend this conference.  

At the Summit, Benjamin was awarded the Tim Eisenmann Award - given to the most moving inspiring talk voted on by 100 of the most inspiring MBA’s in the World. He shared about the power of identity. 

“I didn’t expect to win this award. There were many top students at the summit from all across the world and I was competing against the best of the best. When they announced the winner, I felt very humbled but I knew that vulnerability (what I shared in my talk) is one of the most important parts of leadership. When picking up my trophy, I thanked the organizers of the event and the MBA students for voting and I mentioned that I dedicate my trophy to the betterment of society in Tanzania,” he says.

Two weeks ago, he received a job offer from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and will be working with them this summer. “I believe in what the Gates Foundation stands for and believes in equal value for everyone. I feel grateful, humbled and excited to work with them this summer 2016 before heading back to school,” he says. Although he has accomplished a lot at a young age, Benjamin says that power and success does not scare him. 

“I always tell myself, ‘You will never possess what you are unwilling to pursue’. Age is a mental state and not a limitation. What has been his secret to success? - focus. “Although God has opened the doors for me and I owe all the credit to him, focus is everything,” he says. Benjamin is of the view that the biggest problem among the youth in Tanzania is lack of focus. 

He explains, “Once you set your eyes on something and want to do something, you have to know that it’s out there waiting for you. The real question is ‘how bad do you want it?’ You can do anything in life but you can’t do everything. 

Furthermore, Benjamin says that his parents have been his mentors from an early age. He explains, “I watched my father maintain high value of integrity in his life. He instilled those values in me. I think the world works with relationships and trust is the most essential element for relationships to work.

The most valuable thing I have learned from my father is integrity and the importance of it in our lives.”

As a student in one of the best business schools in the world and one of the hardest institutions to get into, Benjamin’s favourite part of school is being with his classmates. “I go to school with some of the most phenomenal young professionals in the world actively pioneering change in the sectors they are passionate about. Being in a room full of such energetic, stimulated-brilliant minds only makes me want to work on becoming better and work towards helping Tanzania become a better place,” he says and adds:

“Although members of my class are well accomplished, everyone is very humble with their accomplishments. This is what true servant leadership is to me.”

Once he finishes school, Benjamin plans to launch a financial technology company in Tanzania. He wants to come up with solutions to our biggest socioeconomic problems and finding ways of distributing micro-finance loans to people in rural regions of Tanzania.

“I believe that financial inclusion and access defines the economic growth of a country. I want to work on ways to tackle this issue. After the company goes well and goals are achieved, I would like to get into educational technology to educate those who have access to less. Our country was founded on educational principles and I think this is the best way to empower the next generation,” he says. “I am an African, defined from the roots and culture that my city instilled in me as a little boy. Africa will always be my home. I would like to live there for the rest of my life. 

I assure you, I am committed to the development of Africa. I have a clear purpose to attain skills and gifts to lead my people to a new life that is self-reliant and rooted in the shared sense of community and optimism.” he says.

Benjamin plans to move back home and apply the knowledge and skills that he will acquire in the U.S. within governmental organizations and businesses.

“I know that my purpose is to work towards bringing a new hope to a population that desperately needs it.  My heart is for the broken; for a place that has never known freedom from poverty and fear.  This is where I find my love for my country. Education has been my way out of poverty; I want to help give my fellow Tanzanians a similar opportunity.”

At 23, Benjamin is not shy to announce his political aspirations. He would like to enter into politics in the next five years.

“I think that through politics, I can influence sustainable economic development on a large scale,” he says and adds: “The main issue about Tanzanian leadership is not the quality of its individuals, but the quality of the group of individuals. Individually there are lot of brilliant people, but collectively they fail to work together harmoniously on long term vision, and commit with integrity and loyalty to Tanzania.”