The TIEMBA experience was a life-changing milestone for me. – Helen Hai

Tsinghua-INSEAD EMBA Program
Nationality: Chinese
Year Graduated: 2011
Current Role: Goodwill Ambassador of UNIDO & CEO, China Africa Consulting Ltd.
What made you decide to do the Tsinghua-INSEAD EMBA Program?

For the past 10 years, I was doing what I could to be a filial daughter, climbing the corporate ladder as fast as possible so I could fulfill my father’s expectations. But I needed something more, something that would bring me true happiness. I joined the TIEMBA program in search of something bigger in life, and indeed, in hindsight, the TIEMBA experience was a life-changing milestone for me.

How would you describe your TIEMBA experience?

The TIEMBA programme gave me the breathing space to reflect on my life goals but most importantly, to think about purpose.

It also exposed me to fellow professionals with diverse international backgrounds, who helped each other in the search for more meaningful, more impactful and more fulfilling life goals.

How has the Leadership Development Program (LDP) helped you in your career?

I recall clearly how during the first session of the LDP, the professor asked me what I wanted to achieve through the program, I told him frankly from the bottom of my heart, I wanted true happiness. He suggested that we should search for what was missing from the four pillars in life: Past, Future, Achievement, and Purpose, and we concluded that what was missing was not achievements, but a sense of purpose in life.

Leadership Development Program overview and learning methods.
How has your career panned out after TIEMBA?

I had a very successful business career, becoming the Vice President and Chief Actuary of Zurich Financial Services at the age of 30.

In efforts to search for the meaning of life, I gave up a promising career and comfortable life with a job in the financial sector and accepted the challenge of setting up a designer shoe factory in October 2011 after the Tsinghua-INSEAD EMBA Program. I managed to double the export revenue in Ethiopia within six months and recruited 4000 local workers in less than two years’ time.

This experience helped me realize that industrialization is the best way for job creation and poverty reduction in Africa. To achieve those development goals, I accepted the invitation from the Prime Minister of Ethiopia to become a special adviser on Industrialisation in 2013. I successfully leased out all 22 factory units of the first industrial zone in less than three months without any advertisement to manufacturers from all over the world, and also supported the Ethiopian Government to get a USD 250 million loan from the World Bank to develop the second phase of the industrial zone, which turned Ethiopia from an unknown manufacturing location to the top 30 destination for global sourcing. Most importantly, it changed people’s perception of Africa.

I am constantly accepting new challenges to help Africa’s development. Impressed by my reputation as an innovative entrepreneur, the presidents of Rwanda and Senegal asked for my support, and I founded the first garment factory in Rwanda for export which created hundreds of jobs within a few months; and helped Senegal to construct its first industrial zone.

In 2015, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) appointed me as Goodwill Ambassador to promote industrialization in Africa. And I was elected as one of the Global Young Leaders by the World Economic Forum.

What’s next for you?

I look forward to leveraging on the appointment to portray the right image of Africa and letting more people understand how economic progress is not an impossible dream for Africa through more success stories. While the journey ahead is challenging, it is equally fulfilling to see the impact I can make on the African region.

Any advice to potential TIEMBA candidates out there?

Follow your heart! You can strategize as much as you want but many life events happen by chance. As long as you wholeheartedly believe in what you do, satisfaction will come naturally.


The Tsinghua – INSEAD Executive MBA (TIEMBA) is a unique partnership between INSEAD, one of the world’s leading business schools, and Tsinghua University, one of China’s most prestigious universities.

Exchange perspectives with an elite, dynamic, culturally diverse class of experienced managers and be part of two powerful alumni networks. The TIEMBA is where life-changing leadership development meets the technical mastery of key business disciplines.

Search for programs at Tsinghua University or start your application to the TIEMBA program with China Admissions.

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