Nonny Ugboma, enthusiastic about future opportunities, charting her path to actualisation

Nonny Ugboma has shown how much difference a single individual can make. She has spent the last 17 years at MTN Nigeria, ending up as Executive Secretary of the MTN Foundation (MTNF), an organisation committed to serving and executing sustainable projects under mother and child health, youth empowerment and arts and culture causes.
As the Executive Secretary of MTNF, she has strategic oversight over MTNF activities and investments of over N120 billion in Education, Health and Economic Empowerment nationwide in 850 sites across 36 states and the FCT, leading the team to receiving over 80 awards and endorsements.
She aligns CSR objectives with business’ strategic objectives and implements interventions that benefit both the organisation and the host communities. She leads diverse teams and manages stakeholders at different levels of businesses, society, government, beneficiaries, customers, media & civil society. She developed several tools to guide project selection as well as processes, procedures and policies for selection of beneficiaries including the Cost effectiveness, Relevance, Impact, Visibility and Marketability (CRIVM) model. She also develops multi-platform communication plans for all projects for maximum media leveraging of MTNF projects.
Nonny is a shared value enabler. She is passionate about finding creative solutions to societal problems, contributing to public policy, and empowering young people to build their skills, towards social development and prosperity globally; with clear implications for the future of the African Continent.
Her dynamic professional and personal career of over two decades cut across financial services, telecommunications, technology and social enterprise, including work in audit and financial advisory, and with hi-tech firms in Silicon Valley before joining MTN Nigeria’s business intelligence.
Apart from her work with MTN Foundation, she was a non-executive director, Asharami Energy (A Sahara Group Company) from Dec 2014 To November 2019 and member and Chairman, Board Audit & Risk Committee and member, Remuneration and Governance Committee on the board of R.A.K Unity PLC, a subsidiary of the Sahara Energy Group.
She is a public speaker, panel moderator and guest lecturer at the Lagos Business School. Nonny is a mother of two young men, a fitness buff, and an active volunteer with the youth ministry at her local church.
Now, on a sabbatical, pursuing a Master of Public Administration (MPA), Innovation, Public Policy and Public value, at the University College, London, Nonny is keen to see an end to societal decay and inequality through enactment of mission-oriented policies, public-private partnerships and creation of public value across all geography and class towards a sustainable future.
She has an MSC in International Management, Kings College, University of London; BSC (HONS) in Accounting and Financial Analysis, University of Warwick, Coventry, England and attended Our Lady’s Convent Senior School, Abingdon, Oxford, England for her O’ and A’ Levels.
“Huh? Leaving your job and going away for a year?” I asked her over breakfast as she dropped the ‘bomb’ on me. I have known her for some years and if there is one thing I know, it is that she is intentional about her every move. This move just came as a shock but hearing from her recently, after reaching out to her to find out how she is faring and she said “Kemi, school is great and tough at the same time. It is interesting going back to school 25 years after my last Masters”, I could tell she had quickly adjusted.
Nonny Ugboma is gracing the cover of Women’s Hub for this week and is also our Leading Lady for the week. She is the Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation.
MTN Foundation was incorporated in 2004 to drive MTN Nigeria’s (MTNN) various CSR initiatives commissioned in May 2005. It is funded by up to 1% Profit After Tax from MTNN for projects, over N21bn has been committed to MTNF projects to date, over 550 MTNF project sites in 36 States including the FCT, key focal areas developed in response to wide stakeholder engagement, and they are in partnership with Government/multilateral agencies.
When Nonny joined MTN Nigeria in April 2003 as Business Planner and Financial Analyst in the Business Intelligence unit of the Marketing division, before moving to the Foundation as a pioneer staff responsible for the Education and Health portfolio (a portfolio manager in 2004/2005), she certainly knew she was destined for great things and was clear about her desired trajectory.
By 2009, she became the Executive Secretary of the MTNF Foundation.  “MTN is an amazing company that truly cares about the various communities where it does business because every country where MTN operates has a Foundation.
We started off focussing on three main portfolios including: education, health and economic empowerment in response to wide stakeholder engagement and recently the focus areas have morphed into causes: Youth Empowerment, Arts & Culture, and Child Health and National Priorities initiatives.” She said.
On finding fulfilment with her job, Nonny said “The most fulfilling part of the job is seeing the spread of activities and the number of people the Foundation was able to affect.  One of the key success factors of the Foundation is the public private partnership model used in implementing over 800 initiatives across the country.”
Interestingly, working with different stakeholders across the country and listening to different views on possible ways to address different societal issues got Nonny thinking about going back to school to review and reassess the concept of public value especially in the developing world context.  “I started on this ‘rethinking development’ path back in 2015 when MTN Foundation celebrated its 10-year anniversary.  I decided that I had to remove myself from my familiar territory and routine to be in a study environment in order to learn new things and uncover new insights about old things.” She told me.
 Nonny later shared her thoughts with her mentors “Two very inspiring human beings” she calls them, who over the years have encouraged and helped her put her plans in motion, which she timed to align with those of her sons, and voila, exactly 25 years after she completed her first Master’s programme from King’s College, London, she began another Masters programme at a rival school, University College London, where she is now studying Master of Public Administration in Innovation, Public Policy and Public Value.
“MTN, as a company that supports personal development, graciously approved my one-year study leave/sabbatical to build myself. Truly amazing, wouldn’t you agree?” she asked me and continued “This one-year leave of absence from work is essentially to renew my knowledge base and prepare me for the future ahead. I have always been an advocate for self-development and improvement.  I moved from finance and numbers into the corporate social investment space by self-development and by curiously learning from experts in the field.” Ugboma said.
I asked her what keeps her going daily and her response was truly motivating. “One of the things that keeps me going every day is my resolve to always look out for solutions to socio-economic challenges, so everything I am learning involves me deep diving into historical analysis of problems because context matters especially when it comes to development.  Interestingly, I am part of the first cohort of the course at the Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose and the Director of the course is renowned Economist, Dr. Mariana Mazzucato.”
Ugboma calls Mariana a rock star “Mariana is a rock star. She is also an author of two amazing books, which I strongly recommend called ‘The Entrepreneurial State’ and ‘The Value of Everything’. The course has an innovative curriculum that fundamentally challenges the dominant free market economics thinking, which predominantly focuses on cost in assessing the activities of the public sector and it presents a case for using value instead.  In other words, it assesses contribution of the public sector from a public value perspective and not from cost incurred point of view.” she revealed.
For Nonny, “The bottom line is that the state is responsible for the development of advanced economies so for me, I am interested in learning how this can be translated into the developing world context.  If the advanced countries implemented certain policies to insulate their economies at critical times of their development, so what do we need to do to leapfrog or catch up?  How do we organise our public sector to attract the best brains and avoid brain drain into the private sector as well as avoid brain drain into other advanced countries?  So many questions and lots of possible answers”
From her responses, it was easy to tell that Nonny is certainly having a ball in her current career path. She however shared her core findings with me “One major key learning for me is the use of mission approach to resolving societal problems and grand challenges we face in our countries.  The mission approach requires the state to play a leading role whilst working collaboratively with different sectors towards achieving a joint mission. In other words, the state’s role needs to move away from fixing market failures to shaping markets.” She insisted.
Furthermore, Ugboma believes that throughout history, shaping markets has been the role of the state in advanced economies, so it really shouldn’t be any different for developing countries.  According to her, “How many people know that most of the technology used in smart phones today were funded and developed by the American state?  Our African states need to, therefore, start picking willing partners of development.  Another opportunity for Africa to employ mission approach to innovation is by focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The beautiful thing about the SDGs is that they are a major departure from their predecessor, the aid-focussed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that positioned Africa as a subservient continent in constant need of help from the West.”
 “Can you tell how thrilled I am about my course?” she asked me. I could tell from the tone of her voice that she is truly having an amazing time. Truth however is that, combing schooling, motherhood and family demands hasn’t been that rosy but the pugilist in her never quits.  “I am having the time of my life. I must admit, this time around, combining motherhood and other responsibilities makes it a lot more demanding. The only difference is that I am not answerable to my parents about my results, although having said that, it is a lot trickier, because, in a plot-twisting way, I am now answerable to my sons, who cheekily ask me about school and my essay scores.
I am now under pressure to make sure I am a student role model as well as a mother!  One thing my sons know for sure is what I always tell them about showing up and a quote, by Theodore Roosevelt, which we love so much, which I will share with you here today.” Ugboma told me.
The interview came to an end as she quoted Theodore “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt
Very incisive. I must admit I felt like I was in class with her…did you? “Keep well, Kemi and thanks for reaching out” she ends.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.