Akilah Institute celebrates Carmen Nibigira

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Akilah is Rwanda’s first higher education institution just for women, created with the purpose of educating future female leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges through a lens of opportunity and sustainability.

More than 1,000 students are currently enrolled at Akilah, pursuing their studies in Information Systems, Business Management and Entrepreneurship and Hospitality Management.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of inspirational women who they can look up to as examples. Every month we profile one such female leader in our new You Inspire Us #YIU series.

Leader, Award-Winner, Researcher, Mentor
In this, our first ever #YIU piece, we profile Carmen Nibigira, one of Africa’s most accomplished leaders in the tourism and hospitality industry. In a career spanning almost two decades, Carmen has led tourism organizations in Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda as well as managed an international hotel in Tanzania.

In 2017, Carmen was voted one of the Top 100 most influential women in tourism, and in 2018 she accepted the award of Women in Tourism Leadership in Africa. She sits on the boards of several institutions, including ours and that of Inkomoko Entrepreneur Development.

An accomplished author, she is also a frequent speaker at several of the world’s marquee tourism and hospitality industry events. Carmen is also a respected academic who has worked as a researcher at the prestigious Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, in Switzerland, before joining Clemson University where she is currently a PhD candidate.

Carmen spoke to our blog and shared some of her story, the lessons she learned along the way and her advice to aspiring female leaders in Africa. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.

On the importance of mentors
Carmen outlined how important it is to find mentors that support and guide one’s growth and development. In particular, she highlighted three key mentors that helped shape her career trajectory.

The first of these were her parents. Carmen was born in Burundi and is the eldest of four daughters, whose parents always encouraged them to go above and beyond.
“My parents gave me the freedom and support to pursue my own path. At a time when there was a lot of pressure on many young people to become doctors or lawyers — they encouraged my passion for travel and tourism.” — Carmen Nibigira

The second important influence was Joyce, a Scottish lady who was Carmen’s first manager. Carmen recalls that she gave her good advice; do not shy away from hard work. This advice led Carmen to choose a particularly challenging entry point into the industry — in the housekeeping department. However, thanks to Joyce’s mentorship, she gained the skills that saw her eventually rise to the top of her industry.

The final mentors that helped and continue to help guide Carmen’s journey are Prof. Marina Novelli and Prof. Sheila Backman, two of her professors and PhD supervisors at Clemson Univesity.
“I have always surrounded myself of the past years with people who challenged me intellectually and led me to see the world from different dimensions and perspectives.” — Carmen Nibigira
It’s not surprising then that Carmen takes mentorship very seriously. She has mentored countless other women throughout her career, including several aspiring leaders from the Akilah Institute.

On why sustainability is the next frontier for tourism and hospitality
During our conversation, we asked Carmen about her views on sustainability in tourism. She shared with us that even though the conservation of natural spaces and habitats is important, it is only a small part of sustainability when it comes to tourism. She outlined that sustainability is all-encompassing, it needs to be present in every aspect of the business.

The ultimate outputs of business, including in the tourism and hospitality sector, need to be measured in terms of their impact on the livelihoods of communities, the planet and on society.
“Yes, it is very important to safeguard nature. But sustainability is also a social and economic construct, it needs to be embedded in everything we do. It has to be measured, because only what is measured can be managed and can lead to better informed policies and decisions.” — Carmen Nibigira

On the future skills needed to succeed in the hospitality and tourism sectors
These days, Carmen serves as a Project Director for Horwath HTL, the world’s leading hotel, tourism, and leisure consulting firm. This is a global brand with a history that spans more than 100 years and a footprint in 45 countries. Needless to say then, she knows a thing or two about the industry, and what it takes to succeed in it.

We asked Carmen what the future of the sector holds, and what skills will be in demand.
“The industry is looking for critical thinkers with soft skills, and the ability to solve problems. The industry is looking for people who are agile, flexible, people who know how to adjust, how to improve. The sector is evolving, and we need to see tourism as a solution to our developmental challenges and our continent of Africa needs to seize this opportunity.” — Carmen Nibigira

On what aspiring female leaders can do to be ready
Our conversation with Carmen concluded with her sharing some valuable advice on the mindset she recommends every aspiring female leader adopts. She said it was a piece of advice she herself received many years ago, but one that today’s connected world and ample technology options make easier to live up to.

“Stay curious. Read. Actively invest in your professional development. A wealth of knowledge exists within our grasp, we must just reach for it. Adopt a mindset of constant learning and embrace opportunities to learn, wherever they come from. Don’t pass up on learning opportunities, be it a job, an internship or a conversation. Your knowledge and your ability to keep learning is one of your most precious assets.” — Carmen Nibigira

We certainly learned a lot from our conversation with Carmen. It’s easy to see why she is an inspiration to aspiring female leaders everywhere, and particularly to the ones at the Akilah Institute.

Source: Akilah Institute

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