She’s young, she’s determined and she’s committed to pursuing her professional dreams. Meet our Comms Spotlight for the week – Nicole Isimbi. Nicole is currently the Communications Associate, African Union Sports Council and her career journey is one that will inspire you. She shares many nuggets of wisdom as she takes us through her professional journey so far in our interview with her.
You’ve had a rather interesting career journey. Can you tell us how you started
I was only 19 when I heard about an opportunity with Ni Nyampinga, a local youth brand mothered by an NGO called Girl Effect Rwanda that was offering on the job learning to young girls to create content and present a weekly radio show by girls-for girls. I had just finished my secondary school and was very eager to start exploring opportunities. It had been my dream to do journalism but had not seen a lot of excelling role models in Rwanda at that time, so I wanted to be a rising star. Little did I know the nine positions that were being offered by the organization were highly competitive.
I heard about the opportunity through a contact from a local radio station. At that time, I had started studying at one of the universities in Kigali in the morning and in the afternoon, I would tour radio stations asking for an internship, even though I had no journalistic skills whatsoever. I wanted it so I went for it. I was offered an internship by one of the local radios, but it would require that I travel to the countryside where the radio station operated from. It was impossible at the time. A few days later, I got a call from the manager at the radio station who informed me about the opportunity Ni Nyampinga wanted to give to young girls.
I remember it was around 10am, and I skipped the afternoon classes to go and fill out an application. I waited for approximately two months before I heard back from the organization. The good news was that I got selected and made the finalists of 30 young women, down from 800, most of whom had the highest grades in high school, were very driven, and were great at public speaking.
From those, nine journalists were selected and my career began with Ni Nyampinga. I went on to conduct many interviews throughout the 30 districts of Rwanda, became a radio presenter, wrote numerous articles for a quarterly distributed magazine, and so much more that came with the organization. I would go on to interview Sheryl Sandberg, COO of FACEBOOK and Founder of LeanIn.org, in what became one of my highlights during my stay there. I completely fell in love with Journalism at that time, and the skills I learnt in that time became a foundation of my career in comms.
What do you do as a Communications Associate at the African Union Sports Council?
I manage the internal and external communication, develop, write and edit social media articles and blogs on AU Sports Council programs and activities, and manage social media platforms. I also work closely with the marketing team to develop programs designed to enhance growth and popularity of the AU Sport council in the African Sports Movement.
Part of my work is also ensuring that communication materials align with African Union Commission brand policies as well as being the technical resource person for completing projects and programs.
What are some deliberate steps you took to grow professionally?
Endless Learning: Learning has been and remains such an important part of my professional growth. When I was in high school, I thought that after completing my undergraduate, I would be in possession of all the skills I needed to succeed and I would just excel. The reality when you embark on a professional journey is different; you find yourself learning so much more, the knowledge you have and the knowledge you keep accumulating becomes the biggest part of your ticket to success.
Others will argue that some other important aspects like interpersonal skills, a great network and great school achievements will help. That’s true but if you aren’t a person that is curious about learning new things in your chosen career, you’ll find yourself stuck. You may lose the network you were having faith in but you’ll never lose the skills you have stocked in your mind; they will forever be your best weapon to use professionally.
Grabbing Opportunities/Applying endlessly: I have never under looked an opportunity in my life. Even those I didn’t get successful at – the list remains longer than those I got – but never have I underestimated one. Everywhere I thought I fit, even by a 20% chance, I sent my application.
Knowing my strengths: Personal assessment with the help of my supervisors always shed light on what my strengths are and this has always given me a chance to shape up to where I was headed, and what I needed to continue doing to get there. I strived to make the most out of my strengths because I knew they were my ticket to growth.
Setting clear goals: This is a trial and failure process but it’s worth trying. I have always tried to be honest with myself on what, where, when and how my goals were going to be achieved. What makes this hard is that sometimes I wasn’t in complete control to be able to align my paths to where I wanted to be, but if you look closely, there will always be a way for you to turn even the things you don’t have control on to align them a bit with where you want to go. Sometimes it’s working long hours or having multiple jobs, other times it’s just a simple tweak but there’s always a way.
Embracing change: Change is key to growth whether voluntarily or involuntarily. For me, change meant new opportunities, growth, and success. When I started working for the AU in Cameroon, it was a complete change of environment, context, nature of work and lifestyle. Embracing this change has opened so many doors that I didn’t even know existed, and I got to learn new things that I never knew I would have interest in. Beyond work, Tennis, for instance, became a hobby that I now cherish.
Can you share some challenges you have experienced in your professional journey and how you overcame them?
I started working when I was still young and I was turned down for some opportunities because I was below the required age. I also missed out on other opportunities simply because I found myself lacking two or three skills or getting limited by my experience in the field. This hurt a bunch but also gave me a strong desire to never stop learning.
Which professionals/ mentors have greatly impacted you in your journey so far and how?
Emma Claudine Ntirenganya. My first ever boss. She always believed in me, I could see, but she never wanted to show that much. She inspired my desire to keep learning, challenged some of my beliefs and limits in the world of professionalism and incited in me a spirit of hard work. We had a personal development program session every quarter and these were always enlightening and insightful.
Leah Muwanga-Magoye. She is one of my previous bosses as well. She introduced me to practical script writing. A person that I think believed in me far better than I ever did in myself so far. Always cheering on me, showing me the way and telling me you can get further. One phrase she always said to me that I never forget is “You’re so brilliant Nicole, if only you knew”. Even within miles, she still cheers on me. I remember telling her that I was going to work with the African Union. She was in tears, reiterating again and again how proud she was. The skills and the experience you gain will get you where you want, but nothing compares with the “I’m so proud of you!” or another word of encouragement that genuinely comes from the heart.
What career advice would you give your younger professional self?
I would tell her to take it a step at a time, not to take things too personal and that everything that starts has an ending, whether good or bad. I would tell her that her most valuable wealth is in her mind, not anything physical.
The Comms Spotlight is a weekly segment where we feature communications professionals across Africa doing amazing work. Want to be featured or know someone we should feature? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.