Meet Doug, a Columbus Graduate

Inside the life: giving you an inside look into the many weird and wonderful jobs held by people across Vodafone. Douglas McAteer joined Vodafone as a Discover Graduate in 2014 having completed a degree in Economics and subsequent Masters in Emerging Economies and International Development. His plan from the very beginning was to make it onto the Columbus Programme and experience life in an emerging market. Having successfully achieved this goal, he is now on a two-year assignment in Ghana and one day hopes to create his own product that has the same impact on changing peoples’ lives as M-Pesa has had.

How does the Columbus programme work? The Columbus Programme is a two-year international assignment of which I am currently three months in. You apply in your second year as a Discover graduate and there’s a fairly stringent application process not dissimilar to that of the Discover Programme itself. It’s designed to really challenge you by exposing you to a new country, role, (sometimes) language and culture simultaneously. It’s difficult to put into perspective how difficult this is, especially making such a seismic transition from life in London to that in Accra, but if you can get through the first month or so, you start to settle down and get used to things. 

Having made it through the initial difficult period I can already see how this has helped me as a person. Not only am I more culturally aware and used to working in different environments, but also moving to a new country on your own really forces you out of your comfort zone in order to make friends and build a life from scratch again. This will definitely hold me in good stead in future.

What’s expected to happen afterwards? After my two-year assignment I am expected to return to Group into a more senior role. I need to decide whether I want to return to Finance, stay in CVM where I am working now or dive into something completely new again.

How did you get selected for Ghana? You don’t actually get to choose the market you go to, that’s part of how the scheme filters those who have the right motivation for the programme. But I studied a Masters in Emerging Economies and International Development and have always been a huge admirer of M-Pesa since it’s a perfect example of how the private sector can drive international development. One day I would like to come up with the ‘next big thing’ in international development and I really believe I can achieve this at Vodafone. I made this very clear during my application process and I think that narrowed down the choice of markets I would have been considered for.

What’s a typical day for you? There are no typical days in Ghana, they simply don’t exist. One day I might find myself managing the My Vodafone app, another I’m monitoring consumer churn and then on a third I’m parading the streets with the rest of the company handing out top-up vouchers (it’s a prepaid market!) to raise awareness of our new promotion. 

The best thing about my role in Ghana is how close I am to the end customer. Coming from Group this is a new experience for me, and working in CVM I am right at the heart of the Commercial function. We might do some analysis and notice a cohort of customers is likely to churn and on the same day we’ll blast them with an offer to get them using their Vodafone SIM again rather than switching to a competitor network. 

What’s been your best moment so far? Best moment so far has been developing a game that customers can play within the My Vodafone app to try to drive activity of the app. I’ve been working closely with a couple of app developers to get my creation in motion and it should be ready in September for full launch so that’s really exciting.

How would you describe the experience so far in three words? 
Oh crikey. I would say eye-opening, challenging, brilliant.

And has it change your outlook or ambitions for the future?
As I said, my long-term ambition has always been to do something significant in International Development. Living in an emerging economy like Ghana for two years is a huge step towards achieving this, so no it has not changed my ambitions but yes, it has changed my outlook. You cannot expose yourself to so much change without influencing your outlook.Overall, I’m having a terrific time so far except my cravings for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are growing by the day.

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