Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli and Mezuo Nwuneli have become the first couple to deliver the keynote address on Harvard Business School (HBS) class day.
The couple took the baton from Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg LP and former Mayor of New York, who delivered the class day speech for 2019.
Mezuo Nwuneli is the managing partner, Sahel Capital Agribusiness Managers Ltd., which manages FAFIN, a private equity fund that manages over $65.9 million, and invests in mid-sized agribusinesses in Nigeria.
Ndidi Nwuneli is the managing partner of Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Ltd., and the founder of LEAP Africa.
Speaking to the students virtually from Lagos, the couple shared personal stories on how they met at Harvard University and how they have gone on to build successful businesses and non-profit — despite the odds.
Mezuo shared a personal story on how he was shot in 2007 and almost lost his life. He said he feared he may never walk independently again, but through the crisis, he learnt immense lessons, which he shared with the class of 2020.
Ndidi told the graduates about how unsettling it was to leave LEAP Africa to begin again in Senegal, where she neither spoke the language nor had a job. In the midst of the crisis, she reconnected with agriculture and birth Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Ltd.
Mezuo called on the graduates to use their “talent, time and treasure” to improve the lives of others. He advised the class to define their values early in life and stick to it.
“Define your values and stick to them. Your success early in life can be destructive if you have not clearly defined your values, rooted in integrity and humility,” Mezuo said.
“Character definitely has a currency; if people can count on you because they trust you, they would invest in you, support you, and call on you to serve as a trusted adviser and board member.
“Remain humble as you change lives and freely share the credit with others. This not only builds trust but enable a broader group of people to have ownership in your vision and eventually to lead the movement themself — freeing you up to take on the next challenge”.
Ndidi told the class of 2020 how resilient, resourceful, and brave they are, calling on them to strengthen their relationships with family and friends while building a dedicated support network.
Citing an Igbo proverb, Ndidi said disasters help sift out the brave and resilient.
“HBS Class of 2020, no one would ever forget this year — not just because of the pandemic, but because of how humanity and members of the class of 2020 of the Harvard Business School were able to rise up to this challenge,” Ndidi said.
“An Igbo proverb states, ‘Mbelede ka eji ama Dike,’ which translates: ‘Disasters help to sift out the resilient, the resourceful, and the brave.’”
Mezuo and Ndidi met at the Harvard African Student Conference in 1993, while both were college students at different institutions, but returned to Harvard for their MBAs years later.
The couple co-founded AACE Foods, a food manufacturing company which sources from over 10,000 farmers and produces a range of packaged food products for local and international markets.
Ndidi has 25 years of experience in international development, and serves on the boards of the Rockefeller Foundation, Godrej Consumer Products India, Fairfax Africa Canada, and the African Philanthropy Forum.
She holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Mezuo has worked for 25 years in corporate finance, investment banking, and private equity. He was selected as an Archbishop Tutu Fellow and is an Eisenhower Fellow.
He is on the board of directors of a range of companies in Nigeria, and he earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management from Carnegie Mellon University.
Claire Wagner (MD/MBA 2020) also made history as the student speaker for the class day celebration; she is the first Class Day speaker with a joint degree from the medical school, and the first Class Day speaker to become a mother while at HBS.