Elena Gaffurini

Elena Gaffurini

Current title
Managing Partner, DEV Mozambique; Co-founder, Moz Innovation Lab

Course at Wits Business School
Master of Management in Entrepreneurship & New Venture Creation, 2015

A defining moment in my career
I was a second-year bachelor student of economics, working as the public relations manager of the largest world student-run organisation for youth leadership development and international mobility, AIESEC. I was young, ambitious, dreaming to make an impact in society, anxious to have an inspiring story to tell about myself and my life. By then, I was one of the top five students at my university.

On a normal Friday morning, my country manager called me for a coffee. She had an opportunity to discuss. A large partnering corporate wanted to invest their corporate social responsibility budget to help us expand our organisation beyond the 120 countries and territories where it already was.

Ethiopia was an ideal destination, for all sorts of historical reasons. But they needed a person of trust on the ground to manage the expansion project and thought I would be the best person for the role. Ultimately, the fact that I had never lived further than 100km from my parents was not relevant. 

I was young, unconscious enough to take on such a challenge, purpose-driven enough to survive it, goal-oriented enough to deliver results, committed enough to make it a success.

I just never thought of it before. I got on the phone with my mentor and realised that any other plan I had in mind could materialise one year later but this opportunity would be gone if I let it go. I explained to my parents that I would manage to graduate on time and with distinction.

 I said I would be fine and would have built a meaningful organisation for other young people, to offer them opportunities they would otherwise not access.

I was scared, but fear could wait. I was ready to take on the first entrepreneurial adventure of my life. I had a skilled international team of other youth meeting me in Addis Ababa, a little seed fund to survive our first months, some savings of my own in case of needs, a big vision, a bigger hope that things would have been as I pictured them, an average English with a strong Italian accent, lots of Italian students looking up at me and thousands of Ethiopian youths who had no idea how many opportunities we were about to unfold for them.

Experience would come with time. Twelve months later AIESEC in Ethiopia was awarded the UBS AIESEC International Award for Best Expansion Country. The social enterprise project we launched, “Weaving threads of peace,” sold enough scarves to allow 20 children to go to school while their moms were at work.

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