Pappajohn to young African entrepreneurs: Do something, but enjoy it

As a farmer from a small country in Africa, Oluwafemi Kochini wanted to become a better entrepreneur so he applied and was accepted to the Mandela Fellowship Program for young African leaders.

His application was one of 1,000 accepted and cohorts of 25 were disbursed to colleges and universities across the country. Each participant chooses one of three tracks: business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership or public management.

Kochini was placed at Venture School—at the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center—and says the lectures, mentors and teachers in the program have taught him a lot about the practical side of business.

But hearing real world experiences from successful entrepreneur and philanthropist John Pappajohn was just…different.


“It’s always very nice to have someone who has gone through the hardships of entrepreneurship and like, speaking to you as a testimony,” Kochoni says. “Because where you are on your journey of self, you always face difficulty. It’s always good to have someone who has been through the journey. Not everybody has that experience.”

Pappajohn—from Mason City, Iowa—spoke for nearly 20 minutes Friday morning and answered questions for another 30 minutes from a group of Young African Leaders.

Despite being 89 years old and part of 100 different companies throughout his career, he said work has felt more like a hobby.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” Pappajohn would say. “Opportunities are in every country. They’re unlimited, if you are willing to pay the price.”

The lecture hall inside the John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center in downtown Des Moines was filled with business leaders who are staying at the University of Iowa and Drake University until the end of the month.

Kochoni—who is from Benin—said he related to Pappajohn because they both had a similar, tough upbringing.

“The condition in which you were born does not determine your future,” he says. “But the way you equip yourself with the necessary tools to get where you want to be. Be consistent of with what you do.”

Members of the Mandela Washington Fellowship were able to ask John Pappajohn questions for over 30 minutes Friday. Photo by Jami Milne


Daniel Adugna said he will need to refocus some of his energy on a different career when he returns home to Ethiopia.

Adugna says he’s a business consultant full-time but he’s going to look into pursuing a career in the poultry industry.

“He (Pappajohn) mentioned that if the work you are doing does not make you happy and feel like a hobby, it’s not worth doing,” Adugna said. “That’s something I have been battling with, because I’ve been doing jobs to pay the bills not because I like them.”

Inside the John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center in downtown Des Moines. Photo by Jami Milne

The fellows will travel to Washington D.C in August for a two-day summit with a 1,000 fellows before returning home to Africa on August 2.