Nneka Chime’s (MBA 2015) career path offers an alternative road map for HBS students and alumni seeking to make a difference in the world. While seeking, she aligned her professional choices with a larger mission rather than following a linear path.

While currently a Partner at CrossBoundary, a mission-driven investment firm focused on underserved markets, her work has spanned industries, geographies, and functions, bringing her challenge and fulfillment while opening doors to new opportunities.

Seeking out a challenge

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Nneka developed a passion early in life for contributing to her home country. She noticed that many of the families she grew up with eventually found themselves dispersed around the globe after seeking opportunities abroad. While she welcomed international exposure, traveling to Europe and the United States for higher education and professional growth, Nneka felt she could make a significant impact at home.

After obtaining her degree in chemical engineering in London and studying French at the Université Paris-Sorbonne, Nneka moved to the United States to begin her career as a Process Engineer at Shell. Coming from an oil-rich economy, Nneka was interested in the oil and gas industry, and was drawn to engineering because of the challenge. “I always want to push myself,” she said, “and I saw engineering as an opportunity to stretch myself and take me out of my comfort zone.”

Several years into her career at Shell, Nneka noticed that the intellectual challenge of chemical engineering and her work in the refinery was a match with only one part of her personality. Yet, she also needed an outlet for her creativity. Nneka knew her next professional stop would be combining her love for challenge and creative innovation at Harvard Business School.

Making the connection at HBS

At HBS, Nneka enjoyed her coursework focused on emerging markets, and she took an active role in the Africa Business Club as co-leader of the Africa Business Conference. 

Leading the conference provided Nneka with a window into how her interests and skills could fit together to drive impact. She and her co-lead brought together accomplished individuals from across the continent to contribute to the conference, sparking conversations and building connections. “It was like seeing how a thread could connect all these different pieces,” Nneka said. “I could take what I learned from one situation and apply it to another while bringing people together.”

While at HBS, Nneka naturalized as a U.S. citizen and considered staying in the United States, which had also begun to feel like home.  She explored consulting and private equity as potential paths forward, leveraging MBA internships and exposure to various industries that HBS provided. However, she knew creating opportunities in emerging markets was a stronger calling.

“Facing inequality and poverty can be depressing, and I could see an alternative life for myself where I wouldn’t be face to face with it every day,” Nneka said. “Yet I just felt this call to try to do something about it. How do you lift billions out of poverty? How do you create healthcare systems that work? Those are really hard things to do that no one has figured out yet. So, I felt like if I could contribute to figuring it out, even as a part of the solution, I would have more personal fulfillment.”

Building a network to build bridges

To make her goals a reality, Nneka focused on building relationships and has found the strength of the HBS network to be particularly powerful. 

“The HBS alumni network is so large you can always find folks that you connect with, personally and professionally, who you can help or can help you,” she said. She credits her HBS section as a key support network, as well as the HBS alumni she has connected with in Nigeria. 

Nneka’s experience is proof that building a network is a long-term strategy for success, as she met the founders of CrossBoundary (also HBS alumni) while she was leading the Africa Business Conference as a student. Nneka made an impact on the founders at that conference and, three years later after working in healthcare consulting and healthcare investing in Nigeria following graduation, Nneka joined the CrossBoundary team.

Now Nneka is thriving at CrossBoundary, working directly with other HBS alumni and collaborating with stakeholders as she attracts capital and grows a highly effective team. In her role as Partner and as a manager, Nneka now combines her love for solving challenging problems with the interpersonal skills required for deep relationship building. Coaching, mentoring, and leading lights her up and further her mission. 

“I knew that I wanted to get an education, build a network, and then at some point do my part toward deepening the economy and creating companies that could nurture ambition and talents in Africa and other nascent markets,” she shared. “I feel like I’m living my dream.”

Nneka’s advice for students and alumni

For students and alumni seeking to make an impact in emerging markets, Nneka shared that a key first step is an analysis of your skills. Nneka’s key skills are creative problem-solving and building relationships, so she sought out opportunities to use those skills in the market. Other alumni may have a different value proposition, but the same thought process applies. Identifying areas where you can uniquely contribute and grow can serve as a guiding compass.

Nneka added that surrounding yourself with people who inspire you is another key to success. With that mindset, you build on your existing value add and continue to learn. This growth benefits you personally but also has significant ripple effects.

“At CrossBoundary we are helping African companies to grow, mature, and access capital, as well as helping American and other companies navigate African investment opportunities,” Nneka explained. “We're at the forefront of thinking about how we are going to drive global prosperity because without prosperity, there can’t be peace in the long run.”

As a professional, a parent, and a citizen of the world, Nneka understands how far stretching that impact can be. Find the way that you can drive meaningful change alongside others and it’s truly possible to make a positive difference in the world.