Ife Omolola Kalejaiye, SFMBA ’23, is Head of Programme and Change Management at Wema Bank in Nigeria, where she built the office responsible for transformation projects. She’s worked with clients in banking, fintech, and energy to design and deliver on their strategy, growth, and transformation projects. With 14+ years of experience at the intersection of consulting, technology, and innovation, Ife has devoted her career to delivering large-scale business strategies and technology projects that help businesses grow. At present, she’s developing business processes for the first digital bank in Africa.
The MIT Sloan Fellows MBA is not exactly the same for every Fellow. How would you sum up your year?
Equal parts exciting (so many new ideas), scary (so much to learn), and illuminating (learning things I thought were beyond my grasp). I also discovered that it’s okay not to know something. No question is too silly to be asked. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Nobody is judging you. No one expects you to know everything—that’s a self-defeating expectation you place on yourself. There’s no reward in always trying to be the smartest person in the room. The whole point is to leave yourself open to learning.
What do you think is the strength of a management program imbedded in MIT?
One of the great benefits is an inside look at the latest strategies behind new technologies. For example, what’s the use-case for digital tools like AI and ChatGPT? What are the true benefits? At MIT Sloan, we find out why successful businesses are doing what they’re doing and how to adapt, scale up, or improve on those strategies. We think of tech in a more ethical and humanistic way—not just tech for tech’s sake. We look at the impact on lives. MIT Sloan continually gives you insight into balancing business profit with doing good in the world.
What were the benefits of this program for you as a fin-tech enthusiast?
My aim is to advance the digital banking infrastructure in Nigeria—and Africa—to improve the quality of service for the unbanked, the high-end customer, and for everyone in between. Ultimately, I want to be among the pioneers building platforms that facilitate financial connections across Africa. The Nigerian financial services industry is constrained and requires a lot of workarounds to provide enjoyable service. MIT is the best place for me to rigorously test strategy and design new systems because I have access to all the necessary tools and advanced thinking. In this environment of intense experimentation and observation, I have the freedom to think far and wide, to develop a vision, and scale it up or down as needed. I can talk through my assumptions with my classmates and with faculty and see if those ideas have merit. When it comes to vetting new thinking, there’s safety in numbers! It’s important to introduce the right products at the right time within the right context for Nigeria and Africa if we want to see any kind of impactful changes.
What are your next steps?
I am working on a startup in the US, leveraging the ecosystem and technology of the digital financial system here. My goal is to develop a platform that will give niche markets easy access to affordable capital and provide them with the means to successfully grow their businesses. I want to facilitate seamless financial connections between Africa and the world, to build a bridge from this financial universe and its global resources to the Nigerian financial ecosystem, as it develops its resources. Once I have a working framework and a solid foundation, my dream is to go back home and build out more robust offerings, meeting emerging customer needs, shaping context-relevant solutions, and driving adoption. It’s a big dream, but I’m not taking it on alone. My cofounder in this effort is another Sloan Fellow, Taiwo Ajetunmobi, SFMBA ’23, also of Nigeria.
Did you find the personal support you needed in the program?
I’m very close with my two sisters and wherever I am, I feel the need to have a sisterhood around me. In the Sloan Fellows MBA, I’ve found just that. We call ourselves “The Herd.” We hang out, play cards, go to spas, have pajama parties—with real PJs! What each one of us has come to realize is that whatever we’re struggling with, we’re not alone. We also know that whatever we share, it never leaves the group. We’re from all parts of the globe—the US, India, Saudi Arabia, China—but we’re the tightest possible sisterhood, the greatest possible support system. And that’s just one source of support here. Our entire cohort is so close, and I’ve learned something from each and every one. Many of us even trained for and ran a half marathon together. We've chosen each other as brothers and sisters, and the children of the Fellows see us all as honorary aunties and uncles.
What is your feeling about the immersive one-year experience? What are its strengths?
Disconnecting from work gives you the space to relax, to do deep work. The year is blocked off to think, learn, and reflect on the tough questions you haven’t had time to ponder productively. Also, I was never a great networker, but in this program, networking is organic. It’s natural to the culture of the program and to MIT, Harvard, and Kendall Square. Everybody is interested to know what you’re working on, what interests you. And your connections are multifaceted and build on one another. Before you know it, you’ve developed this incredible network. If I was still tied to work, I wouldn’t be able to spend the time strengthening these connections.
Did you feel a sense of community beyond the program?
There’s such an open feeling at MIT. You can drop into the Media Lab or the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, or reach out to any expert you might need to talk to. And Kendall Square is such a convenient location. Good food, music, movies—all within walking distance. You’ll never be bored!
What was the biggest surprise about your time in the program?
The fact that I could relate to the faculty so easily. Coming from a hierarchical education system in Nigeria, I expected to find elite faculty who were always three steps ahead of me, who came to class to deliver knowledge, then abruptly exited. Here, professors’ doors are always open. They’re eager to build relationships with their students. There are no unnecessary layers between professors and students. No matter how illustrious the professor, I can always send them an email. I never thought such interaction with renowned faculty would be possible at a school like this.
Any advice for someone out there who’s considering the MIT Sloan Fellows MBA?
Here’s the thing. Yes, it’s MIT. It may seem impossible to envision yourself participating in such a program at such an institution. But, if you know what you want, and you know you will invest yourself, don’t be afraid to apply. Yes, it can be intimidating, but you’ll soon get over that because YES, there are people here just like you. If you’re thinking about applying, don’t be shy about reaching out to the program office. Ask as many questions as you need to. Summon the confidence to move forward. You’ll be happy you did.