THE THIRD SWISS RE STARTUP ACADEMY: CONNECTING MINDS. CONNECTING HEARTS.

Nov 01, 2015

The third Swiss Re Start Up Academy in Nairobi, which ended one month ago, was again a tremendous success. Monika Waber, member of the Management Team of the Reinsurance division and the head coordinator of our third Swiss Re Start Up Academy kindly shares her experiences within Swiss Re – a sparkling review full of emotions.

by Monika Waber, Head HR Reinsurance at Swiss Re

“What happens if six Swiss Re employees spend a week with fifty students in Nairobi, Kenya, sharing experiences, expertise, mentoring, coaching, connecting, and having a bit of fun as well? For me what happened was simply Pure Magic, Fireworks of Emotions. Magical Fireworks so to speak, nothing less than that…

But let me start at the beginning: A week ago five Swiss Re ‘Mentors’ from within our Finance Reinsurance organization and I met in Nairobi, ready for a week of supporting the Swiss Re Start Up Academy. In a nutshell the Academy is a one week intensive course which teaches high-potential students – from a variety but usually underprivileged backgrounds – how to develop a comprehensive business plan to become successful entrepreneurs in the future. Check out this link for more information (and watch the movie, you’ll love it!). 
But what did we do there? What’s this magic that happened? Read on…


Classroom with students and mentors in the first row .

Monday – Tiny sparks tentatively appearing far out on the horizon…

The Swiss Re Mentors were ready to ‘go to school’! I was nervous! At Nairobi School approximately fifty rather shy ‘Aiducation Alumnis’ (students) in their early twenties awaited us. All eyes on us! I had the privilege of opening the Academy together with Jeremy Kambi, the local Kenyan CEO and Co-Founder of Aiducation. I shared my wish for the week with the students, it was to be there ‘to learn with our minds but mostly with our hearts’ (yep, stolen from Aristotle’s quote). Wow, I had no idea at that time how much I would learn with my heart in the course of the week!

The first day was filled with input sessions (‘teaching’ sessions and presentations) and forming teams that would stay together throughout the week. They would collaborate to present their ‘pitches’ for their business to a jury on the Friday to come. A tiny bit of magic maybe already happened on this day with first tentative connections and relationships built between us and the students.

Tuesday – More sparks appearing…

A day full of input sessions delivered by my colleagues from Finance and Kenyan entrepreneurs . We – the mentors – spent our first hours coaching the project groups, helping them to start working on their business plans for their Start Up’s. What struck me on this day was one particular ‘thing’ that would accompany us through the whole week: after every presentation, speech, input session etc. the facilitator for the day would ask one student to come forward and ‘appreciate’ the speaker. The appreciation could be anything, a special way how to applaud, a summary of what was learned, a little dance performed in honor of the speaker etc. Often those appreciations were just simply lots of fun, big smiles on our faces! I loved this from the first second on. There is just not enough appreciation and pure acknowledgement in this world (in my humble view) – but those fifty students in Kenya seem to have mastered this concept! Maybe something to carry home and transfer into our world? Wow, quite a bit of magic happened for me this day…

Wednesday – Bright sparks unstoppable…

Maybe I needed a bit of warming up, maybe it just needed those two days to build the bridges, to overcome ‘shyness’ on both sides? This day I felt like the ice broke. Full force. What I will go on treasuring forever were the 1:1 mentoring sessions with students. One of my mentees shared her life story with me. And then she asked to hear my life story. Sharing my life story in a first interaction, ouch, a bit of a stretch for a ‘reserved Northern European’ like me? But hey, if someone opens their heart, what else is there than returning it? At the end of the day I asked myself who was mentoring whom…?


Teams being coached by two of our Local Stars and ‘Senior’ Alumnis.

Thursday – Crazy, frantic, colorful sparks all over…

The ‘Day Before’ i.e. the last day before the teams pitches presentations. Lots of intense work by the students, not sure all of them saw their bed that night? A day full of minds absorbing information and coaching, lots of hearts opening and connecting in the mentoring sessions.

Friday – Magical Fireworks in their full beauty…

The teams were all fired up and ready to go. The jury saw eight fantastic presentations (wow, what progress the teams made during the week!). Feedback to the teams was given and three winning groups were selected. Subsequent to this the teams may now submit their pitches to the Advisory Board to ask for funding by the Swiss Re Foundation to support their Start Up. Who knows, some of them may be successful entrepreneurs soon. I certainly believe in this as I saw so much potential. It was the day of successful pitches but also the day of fireworks and lots of emotions for me and possibly for my colleagues (I leave it up to them to comment…)?

Get this: In the morning the students greeted us with a song they created and sang for us. In native Swahili language. The translation was something along the lines of ‘Swiss Re our Father, Swiss Re our Mother, we are grateful for the support, we will never forget’. The memory of the sheer force of fifty something students – whom I have grown very fond of during this week – singing this for Swiss Re and us literally brings tears to my eyes as I write this blog. Listening to it on the Friday morning at the school, tears were streaming down my face. I wished all employees of Swiss Re could have heard the wonderful tune! Contributing to society through various means is a strong purpose of our organization; and six of us had the privilege to do this in its purest form during this week. Wow. Another song was begun in the bus in the afternoon, on excursion to a local Yogurt factory.
This time in English along the lines of ‘Swiss Re, thank you, never shall we forget…’: I was very touched and was starting to wonder how I was going to survive the party in the evening…

Later on, the school week was over, a party was thrown. The students performed songs and taught us how to dance, or in my case: tried to teach, haha. I am sure in this night many students never saw their beds. As for us mentors, we pulled ourselves back to the hotel sometime after midnight. It was hard for me to leave. Only after many hugs and lots of tears was this possible…


Teams working hard to finalize their presentations.

Flying home Saturday night I was struggling to order my thoughts and feelings. My wish came true, I learned a lot. Some with my mind, but mostly with my heart. That’s where the power lies: creating something by people connecting so deeply and supporting each other. However, that such connection would be possible within one week only, I feel that this is rare in one’s life. Again, wow. I left energized and committed to the Alumnis and Aiducation (Aiducation International – Building People Building Nations) to continue supporting their cause to Build People and Build Nations further. In that sense I landed in Zurich remembering the quote ’don’t be sad that it is over, be happy that it happened’. It’s just the beginning of ’something’…


Alumnis George and Obrein smiling into my iphone to create selifie memory.


Other news

Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.