Gaining experience and expertise in Nigeria
When Nandini Pereira, Legal Counsel in Perth, Australia, took up a short-term international assignment to Lagos, Nigeria, she learnt a lot about her own personal development and built a wealth of professional experience.
Nandini Pereira has always known that she wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist. She was born in Goa, India and moved to Perth, Australia with her family when she was five. She ultimately pursued a combined degree in Law and Arts at the University of Western Australia.
Her early career started in a Federal graduate programme in Canberra after which she took up a position as an associate with the Industrial Relations Commission where she did statutory reviews, court work and legal research. Nandini then moved into private practice, advising on corporate and commercial matters.
But her ambition was to do something greater, global and broader, so she joined Shell in July 2012 as Legal Counsel. “My role is so varied,” she says. “I do everything from supporting HR and Exploration portfolios to employment law, industrial relations and ad hoc legal work.”
However, Nandini’s ambition is ever-growing and last year, her career development plans took her on an eight-month short-term international assignment (STIA) to Lagos, Nigeria.
“Legal offers STIAs in several locations and I jumped at the chance to experience different ways of working in a culturally diverse environment. As soon as I saw the STIA being advertised, I knew it would be an exciting development opportunity,” Nandini says.
“I really wanted to get involved in asset work and large projects; oil and gas production and the political and governmental regulatory processes attached to those operations really intrigued me. I wanted something challenging that would help me grow in my legal experience and skills,” she adds.
With the wealth of opportunity came a fair share of challenges, though. Not only did Nandini find the operating environment a lot more fast-paced and dynamic, but she also had to deal with challenging environmental and governmental regulations. However, she took it in her stride, viewing it as an opportunity to advance her skills.
“I had to advise on anti-bribery and corruption issues and deal with contractor challenges. Crude theft was almost a daily occurrence and government dealings were often prolonged. However, on the positive side, there is a tremendous focus on safety in the work culture. Given the size and scale of operations, when it comes to safety compliance performance, Nigeria is impressive,” she says.
She enjoyed doing research in another jurisdiction and becoming familiar with Nigerian legislation. “Even though it sometimes felt like a sink-or-swim experience, I really enjoyed it. There was never a dull moment.”
Besides the expected changes that come with a new role, Nandini also had to adapt to various other challenges. Upon arrival in Lagos, Ebola had just broken out in Nigeria, which spread a feeling of paranoia across the country and limited travel to other countries. “Every sneeze and cough was an issue at the time,” Nandini says.
Add to that the closest presidential election in decades the week before she left, and it’s obvious that her time there was filled with excitement. “During the election period there were rallies in the streets and security was even stricter in my hotel and on the compound, but I never feared for my life. I still find Nigeria to be a beautiful country filled with lively, loving people.”
A continuous learning experience
So what is the best thing she has learnt? “The STIA exposed me to fantastic networking opportunities, as a lot of talented people and senior Shell staff are based in Nigeria. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn from them.
“I have also realised that you have to be open to letting anything happen. A country as culturally diverse as Nigeria teaches you to have patience and resilience. It is a robust environment and living in a hotel by myself for eight months while my husband was halfway across the world in Melbourne was hard, but I will forever count this experience as key to my career development.
"Even though I am still relatively new to the company, I’ve already had multiple learning opportunities. The learning opportunities are endless. Besides STIAs, there are a lot of conferences where all Shell’s legal staff gets together. Key business lines come to speak to you and you get involved in mock negotiations, meeting people from across the globe; it is necessary in an organisation as large as Shell."
“As part of my training for the STIA, the company encouraged me to attend an international oil and gas workshop that was conducted by the University of Western Australia. After the workshop, I had the opportunity to bring back the course material to share with my team.
“In-role development is a big focus too and I enjoy the Shell Open University for staff where you can learn through courses that are run face-to-face, online or through blended learning. All these experiences prepared me for my time in Nigeria.”
Considering an STIA?
So what is her advice for others interested in STIAs? “Do it! It obviously depends on the chapter in your life as there are many things to consider. Living in a hotel for eight months makes you miss your own space.
“Keep an open mind and see it as an adventure. You can’t expect to go to a foreign country and live in an expat bubble – you need to experience the local culture as much as possible. My experience of Nigerian music, dancing and literature are some of my richest memories that I’ll treasure forever. I learnt a lot from them and I’m thankful that I truly immersed myself in the country.”
Now, Nandini is up for anything and will even consider doing a STIA in Iraq, however, her husband is not as keen on the location. “I would love to have the opportunity to work in a foreign country again – as long as the weather and the people are nice and warm.”
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