SI Alumni Profile: Ayman Idris

More than 400 SI scholarship holders – students and researchers – completed their scholarship period this semester and became part of the SI Alumni Network. There are now more than 10,000 SI alumni! We asked a few of the new alumni to share their future plans, hopes and expectations with us. First up is Ayman Idris from Sudan.

 

Name: Ayman Idris

Country: Sudan

Current occupation: Chief Innovation Officer at an IT company in Sudan.

When, where & what did you study in Sweden:

I attended the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm between August 2014 and June 2015, and was awarded a master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management.

What’s your plan now?

A couple of months into my master’s program, I wrote an op-ed article in a newspaper back home. The piece, rather optimistically (or maybe pompously) titled “Innovation Is The Solution To All Corporate ills”, was intended to reflect on the new perspective I had on what it means for a business to be innovative, and how to foster and nurture a culture of innovation that permeates the workplace.

I was taking baby steps towards understanding the brave new world of innovation management. Scintillating lectures delivered by visionary professors and leading industry experts were complemented by fiery, hours-long debates with equally-enthused classmates. Everything around me screamed “innovation”. “This is it” I thought, “People back home need to know about this”. My pen took a hold of me, and I found myself writing a lengthy article on the topic and sending it to the widely-read daily.

I don’t usually find myself short of words, yet I found it extremely challenging to contain my excitement and convey my raging passion for the subject – which I then perceived to be a panacea for all corporate ills – in a neutral and objective language that befits the conservative, 60-year-old newspaper.

Time passed, my rose-tinted innovation glasses were turning grey, as it often happens to newcomers when they scratch beneath the glossy surface of a promising new technology or methodology, only to realize that it’s not the proverbial philosopher’s stone. I slowly started to realize that not all that is promised in the classroom could actually be delivered in the real world. After a few disappointing encounters, I emerged world-weary, but with a realistic (and a profoundly more down-to-earth) understanding of what innovation management is capable of.

Around that time, I was contacted by my previous employer. A self-proclaimed “innovation buff”, he read the article I wrote and was rather intrigued by the value a carefully-calibrated innovation strategy can bring to an IT company that intends to go head-to-head against well-entrenched, incumbent IT power houses in highly competitive markets.

Long emails were exchanged (as you can probably tell from my answers, I’m not what you call succinctJ). Emails lead to phone calls, which lead to a rather detailed preliminary innovation plan for the company.

A few days later, I received a ten-word email from him “Would you like to be our new Chief Innovation Officer?”

It took superhuman self-control not to reply with “yes, DUH!”

So, starting today (July, 1st), that’s my new job. The first Chief Innovation Officer in Sudan, probably in Sub-Saharan Africa.

***

Yogi Berra – the famous American Major League Baseball player turned coach and manager – famously said “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. “. I’ve learned A LOT about innovation management in my master’s year in Sweden. Now it’s time to put all that to the grim, hard-hitting, gut-wrenching test of the “real world”. I intend to write profusely about that. Be it magazine articles, newspapers articles and maybe even a book or two – who knows? – I intend to communicate this confluence of the world-class knowledge I gained from a leading educational institute and the real-life experience I’m about to gain from my new position.

In two, maybe three years’ time, I want to start an Innovation Consulting company. Inspired by the fast-growing African economy, this company’s mission will be to help African companies leverage their innovative capacity and contribute to the small-yet-steadily-expanding innovation cluster in Africa.

You are now a part of the SI Alumni Network. What are your hopes and expectations?

It’s hard to say this and not sound self-congratulatory or obnoxiously toady, but I honestly can’t think of a better network for one to be a life-time member of.

During my time in Sweden, I had a taste of what it would be like to be a member of this close-knit community of bright, overachieving, leadership-inclined professionals and academics from all over the world. As a ‘former’ staunch socialist, nothing ticks me off more than the word “elite”. Yet, it’s almost indescribably exhilarating being in the company of these stellar young women and men, the intellectual elite of the world.

A thought that never fails to bring a smile to my face is that of world leaders or business tycoons meeting each other for the first time; a lot could be riding on that meeting: World peace, perhaps, or a contingency plan to avert yet another looming economic calamity. A few minutes into this much-anticipated high-stakes meeting of giants, they make the pleasant discovery that they’re all SI Alumni; their grim and somber demeanors fade away as they recount merry memories of the time they spent in Sweden. (Obviously they would still have to work to achieve world peace, you know, but the meeting will be orders of magnitude more funJ)

I studied Innovation Management, and I intend to apply what I studied in Sudan and East Africa. Ali, a friend and a fellow SI Scholar who also majored in Innovation studies, is excited about going back to his native Morocco and starting an innovation revolution of a sort. And so do many others from different parts of the world. Despite coming from different countries, having different educational backgrounds and even studying in different Swedish universities, we have all studied the same topic, Innovation. It would be immensely helpful if the SI Alumni network made it easier for us, and others who study similar or related topics – to stay connected and share experiences and profession-related best practices.  I think the opportunities and subsequent benefits of knowledge sharing among SI Alumni who study related topics are monumental.

 

What will you miss about Sweden? What will you not miss?

There are a plethora of things that I will dearly miss, and one thing that I most certainly will not. I think it’s fitting to start with the one thing that I didn’t like (nay, loathed) in Sweden.

The thick, oozy, insidious darkness that enveloped everything during the months of winter and declared itself supreme ruler of the living. I could almost feel its palpable presence, its slow-but-steady grim-reaper-like fingers reaching for my very soul, planting the seeds of despair that could only take me downwards into a bottomless abyss; merely writing about it makes me shudder.

Darkness literally sucked me dry of joy and happiness.

I both marvel at and envy those who can just shrug it off and continue living as if “having the sun around isn’t really that much of a big deal!”, because to me it was.

***

It takes a book (literally, a book. I’m actually working on one right now) to recount the amazing things one would miss in Sweden, so I’ll just mention one thing here.

I lived in the never-stop-partying student dormitory compound of Lappis. In my floor lived another 13 students from 10 different countries. In my master’s program, there were 22 nationalities represented. I was a blogger for the digital ambassadors program with 11 other fantastic bloggers from 10 different countries. As an SI Scholar, I participated in workshops with SI Scholars from 60+ countries.

Catch my drift?

My global identity was forged in Sweden. For the first time in my life I had a grasp of what it’s like to be a global citizen. The divisive rhetoric so many around the world try so vehemently to promote seems so stilted and ludicrous when one truly experiences this cross-continental camaraderie.

I’ll miss living in cosmopolitan Stockholm. I’ll miss bumping into those who have never met anyone from Sudan before (heck, sometimes they’ve never even heard of Sudan!) so I get to rave about my country and how beautiful it is for hours.

Rudyard Kipling, the British poet, once said “West is west, east is east, and never the twain shall meet”. I wish Mr. Kipling could come back for just five minutes to see two dozen young men and women from every corner of the globe, cramped in a room so small one doesn’t even know if the hand scratching one’s forehead is one’s own or someone else’s. All gathered to watch a football match between a Spanish team and an Italian team. The Spaniards scored, and the room erupted in spontaneous cheering. People kissing, hugging, and high-fiving each other. Our gracious Swedish host played the American ‘All I do is Win’ song. A Frenchman and Ugandan woman did a celebratory dance ended in them falling over an Egyptian and a Tunisian who were a bit grumpy that the Italian team received a goal. A Chinese was so elated he offered to buy drinks for everyone, so a Tanzanian, a Croatian and an Indonesian accompanied him to the nearest convenience store.

“Never the twain shall meet”? Yeah, right!

***

During the past year Ayman Idris was a student blogger for Study in Sweden. Make sure to check out his blog:  http://blogs.studyinsweden.se/author/ayman-idris/

Do you have a story that you’d like to share with the SI Alumni Network? Go ahead and send us an e-mail!