Carol Williams

MBA '00

West Africa Director

What do you do?

I am the West Africa Director for Worldreader, a global non-profit with the mission of helping to create a world where every person can become a reader. Worldreader works with publishers and content creators to curate e-books that are culturally relevant for each country it operates in. The e-books are distributed to people globally through e-readers, tablets, and on mobile phones via a free reading app. Worldreader currently has school and library digital reading programs across 14 countries in Africa and reaches over 40 million people through our reading app.

I am based in Ghana, which is the hub for our West Africa operations. I oversee the Worldreader portfolio of programs and lead strategic planning and program expansion for the region. My work also involves advocating for digital reading throughout the continent at various conferences and meetings with local stakeholders in the digital reading ecosystem.

I have always been interested in strengthening educational systems and living internationally. After working in financial services for seven years, I decided to pursue opportunities that would allow me to use my business background in the education sector. It’s exciting to help organizations in the education industry build effective teams who can scale innovative solutions that work for the most vulnerable populations in the world.

What do you love about your job?

I really appreciate the scope of responsibilities I have and the rich diversity of the teams I interact with every day. Whether I am helping my team in Ghana develop a communication strategy around a new project, meeting with the content team in Spain to prioritize French content needs in francophone West Africa, or developing the advocacy plan for our next Digital Reading Summit with my counterpart in East Africa, all these experiences keep me motivated and challenged.

The most rewarding aspect of my work is seeing how life transforming it is for the students, communities, and families benefiting from digital reading programs. I have met many students who were not motivated or interested in reading transform into students who love books and have aspirations to be a pilot or an engineer simply because they had access to the right books.

Carol Williams cheering with group of children

What challenges do you face?

There are over 760 million people across the world who can’t read. Two-thirds of them are women and children. Although Worldreader has the technology and resources to distribute e-books widely throughout the world, changing mindsets and antiquated beliefs about the importance of reading is no easy task. Trying to normalize digital reading as an effective tool to combat literacy and strengthen reading culture throughout sub Saharan Africa is also challenging.  I am always seeking out opportunities to spread awareness about the power of digital reading. In doing this, it’s extremely important to make sure the solutions we propose are appropriate based on the unique cultural context.  Fuqua showed me the value of applying local market insights to confront global issues, and I put this skill to use every day.

What sorts of interesting places your job has taken you?

Worldreader is an international NGO with programs in 14 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa and in India. I’ve project managed a Digital Reading Summit that took me to Kenya, participated in government roundtable discussions in The Gambia, and presented at a literacy conferences, most recently in Nigeria. I have also worked alongside other education interventions in Liberia to pitch innovative approaches to addressing education gaps for girls to bilateral donors. Worldreader is headquartered in San Francisco, CA, and has offices in the UK, Kenya, and Barcelona. At least once a year, I will travel to one or more of these locations for management meetings.

Carol Williams speaking at a conference

What is the best professional advice you’ve received?

There is a saying that the impossible always seems that way until it’s achieved. Some career goals may feel impossible to achieve. The key is to do what you can every day, every month, every year until you get there.  Keep your mind focused on what can you can do next to get you closer to your goal and in time, you will achieve it. In line with this saying is a quote by Henry Ford that I love and it is: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” This means we should never underestimate the power of what we spend time thinking about.

What is the most important thing you learned during your time at Fuqua?

Fuqua taught me that great leaders never stop learning and that decisions should never be made in a vacuum. It’s critical to draw upon the collective experience and expertise of your team, thought leaders within your industry, and insights from the local market you are operating in and the story the data tells. This approach keeps you credible as a leader, introduces you to a wealth of new knowledge being created every day, and keeps you mentally sharp.

I also learned that no two leaders have the same leadership style because the environment we work in will influence the type of leader we need to be. But, regardless of where you work, as you reflect back on your leadership experiences, you should ask yourself what level of positive change or learnings have occurred as a result of your leadership.

Aside from your current role, what is your dream job?

Well, I must confess I’ve already had a few dream jobs since moving to Ghana, including what I am doing right now. However, there is so much more I’d like to do that would be a dream to accomplish. I’d love to be the CEO of a foundation that invests in innovative but scalable education projects in Africa. There is still so much work to be done in this space and lots of opportunity to create real impact.

What is your favorite Fuqua memory?

During my time at Fuqua I traveled to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile as a part of GATE. During the flight to Brazil, my ankles swelled up really badly and my classmates had to even help me off the plane. It took some time for the swelling to go down and I was determined not to be left out of any activity. My classmates even took turns carrying me up the countless number of stairs leading up to the Christ the Redeemer statue. It was crazy, but so much fun!

What does it mean to you to be a Fuqua alumna?

You are forever joined to an amazing network of thought leaders and experienced professionals that you can tap into for guidance, support, and continued personal and professional growth. It also has meant being connected to a circle of die-hard loyal friends who know you deeply because of all the time you spent together laughing, crying, and celebrating graduation! And it doesn’t matter how frequently or infrequently you see them…you just pick up as if you saw each other yesterday!

What do you like to do in your free time?

Spending quality time with my 4-year-old son is always at the top of my list of things to do when I’m not working. I want to use these formative years to really build up his confidence, shape his values, and nurture his talents.  As children get older, they will be subject to a lot of external influences…not all of them positive. I want to set as strong of a foundation with him now so that as he gets older, he’ll be able to make good life choices.

I believe I also have a few good stories in me from all that I’ve experienced in life and would like to see it all come together in a series of books. It’s a project I’m currently working on in my spare time.

Carol and her son