From the little girl whose grandmother taught her to be an Explorer

Thank you to all of you for all of the wonderful birthday wishes! Today as I embark on a journey back to my Beloved continent (this time Rwanda) on the precise day of my birth (I was born this same Monday a few decades ago), my heart is full with gratitude for all the messages you are sending me. They remind me that the journey is worth it. I am very grateful to my grandmother who raised me with a tremendous feeling of confidence and boundless opportunity.  Her words and example inspire me when I want to give up.  When I am upset at so many in the world for thinking that Africa is permanently the land of tribes and rural villagers (how charming!), I remember her confidence in me and I vow not to give up. She used to tell me that I was special, that I came to this world with "something" special,but I had to discover that "something" for myself she said. And I believed her! So much that I started to explore life, to find my "something". she used to tell me she could see the Universe and the stars in my eyes. It is true that I reside in my dreams :)

Often I get asked why I did not take the "easy route."  Entrepreneurship is very hard work with tremendous uncertainty.  It took me a while to understand that the "easy route" is the conventional route.  At some point, I had to accept the fact that my life will never be easy, because I refuse to settle for conventional. You can't reach the stars if you settle for Earth, after all. Behind all the glitters and the glam, there has been (and continue to be) a lot of sacrifices, hurts, losses, doubts, fears that I cannot begin to express here. Just trust that they are here. Some days are good, some days are challenging, but I have learned that my job is to show up, everyday, relentlessly. I still complain more than I would like, but I am getting better at being more courageous. I do what I do because of my love for Humanity. In my culture we say, "Nit Nitey Garabam", meaning "Man is the cure for Man"as in "Humanity is the cure for Humanity". Thank you to each and all of you for being my cure and balm along the journey I have chosen.

Much love,

 

Magatte

Scarier than the day I ran into a pride of lions on the Okavango. And just as beautiful

Note: this is the music I was listening to while writing this post. Earlier today, I was looking for something and stumbled upon this video of the highlights of the Global Competitiveness Forum I spoke at in 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. My panel was called "The power of Unreasonable People" and I come at around 4:46.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfk1sFvIwq0&w=560&h=315]

It reminded me of a horribly scary situation I found myself in at the same Forum 2 years prior to the 2011 one. Something happened that could have aborted my speaking career on such prestigious stages.

So what happened? I am very embarrassed by it, but I am one who likes to laugh about and share my misfortunes once the stinging stage has passed.

When I received my invitation and saw the list of speakers, I first thought there was a mistake in my being invited. I mean the list was full of titles like CEO of Airbus, Chairman of Goldman Sachs, CEO of 3M, Former Prime Minister of Canada, Former Prime Minister of Great Britain, and so on and so forth. And then me, Magatte Wade, this very young woman, barely out my 20s, President of a small company, with my name on a list of the Who's Who of world leaders. I remember turning to M and saying "Could they not find a better African token? This is ridiculous!". To which M responded: "I do not think that is what is going on. You need to give yourself more credit. And even if it was, you will show them that you earned your presence there". I liked that!

And then, I learned I was set out to debate Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chairman and former CEO of Nestle, on the importance of Organics. It turns out that the organizer was 100% sold to my commitment and engagement in sustainability.

I remember coming on stage full of confidence. After all, I had nothing but disdain for Nestle and most of their practices. They were one of the reasons I started my first company. I remember how in front of a crowd of several hundred of the world’s leading movers and shakers – at one point, in the midst of a passionate debate on organics, I turned and pointed to him saying “I believe in criticizing by creating.  You are one of the reasons that I created Adina,” a line which pleased the crowd greatly, putting him on the defensive from there on out :). I was doing good until our moderator, Riz Khan (prominent BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera journalist) asked me the question that almost ruined everything. He asked a minute long VERY technical question on water. Water is one of Nestle pet peeves and Brabeck's specialty. M had wanted to prep me on that topic and I brushed it off because I found it too technical. Poor M, he was listening on via Skype through my computer that I set up next to me. He was cringing, but there was nothing he could do for me anymore at that particular moment.

In any case, and as Riz Khan was finally finishing his question, I realized that I had no viable answer for him. I felt a horrible feeling of disappointment growing in me. I had no place in being there in the first place. The fact I had no relevant answer to this question was the proof. Big swollen tears started to form , and as I was getting ready to get up and leave the stage crying, the miracle happened. Brabeck, who had been stung by what I told him earlier, lost all his manners and did not let me answer the question, but instead went into defending himself from my attack of him earlier. Riz Khan tried, as a gentleman, to give me a chance to answer his question, but then the same thing happened again. By then, I just told him :"It is okay, Riz! Let's move on."

And from there on, I just picked up the ball and pulled them all back into my turf, one that I knew I controlled very well, because Organics and sustainability is something I live for and believe in in my core. Brabeck was so mad he blurted out "Organics is just a marketing gimmick!" Wow! Really?!? From the man who had declared that his Chairmanship would be under the sign of "Organic & Fair Trade". He was lucky Twitter was not en vogue yet...

A few years later, the Forum's Director emailed my husband the following:

"You know, the highlight of my 5 years doing this GCF was the year Magatte spoke and just before she went up on stage, on a session in which I had deliberately placed her and the Peter Brabeck-Lethmate, she looked at me and said something like, “Ray, this is real drag. I’m going to liven it up a bit.”

That was even scarier than the day I ran into a pride of lions on the Okavango. And just as beautiful.

Sometimes, all you need is luck!

 

 

The middle game IS the game

As a couple committed to that which is True, Good and Beautiful (add Noble specially for me), it is fair to say that my Beloved and I have not chosen an easy path. M wrote this on his FB and I got compelled to share it here because it is probably the most succinct way to express the depths of M.

When, like M,  you have a brilliant mind working in perfect harmony with an equally amazing heart, and have the patience of a baobab tree, you are destined to achieve amazing things. It is  fascinating for me to live by the man's side, surrounded by his wisdom. My hot temper makes me sometimes lose sight of the goal, especially when the middle game is so complex and takes forever, but a glance at him and I am back on track. I then hold his hand tighter, and together we make our moves.

So here is what my Beloved posted on his status:

"When I was in high school I played pick-up chess at the public library in Aspen. At one point, a chess junkie who used to be Spassky's tennis partner on the tours played me several games with me and then told me, "You've got an amazing middle game. Your opening game is mediocre and your end game is terrible. But I can train you how to do those. The middle game is the hardest part to train - it requires a deep intuition." I chose not to train with him because I didn't want to give my life over to a game, but ever since I've identified as a middle game player. In a sense, I feel like I'm always playing middle game, trying to intuit how to get where I'm going, but never having the satisfaction of playing the decisive moves of the end game."

To which, one of his friends asked him to discuss further. He then replied:

In order to explain I must first explain the nature of the "opponent" with which I struggle. Coming out of St. John's, I wanted to pursue the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. One of the most obvious forces opposing the Good seemed to me to be free market economists, who advocated for a system that rewarded greedy business people for stoking the flames of materialism and consumerism. As someone in love with the Greek ideal of a virtue culture, this seemed self-evidently evil. So I went to the University of Chicago to examine the Chicago economists from the inside to discover the moral and intellectual errors that led them to promote such an evil system. I discovered that I had not really understood economics. There is nothing intrinsic to free markets or economics that necessarily rewards greed nor that necessarily rewards stoking the flames of materialism. I worked within Gary Becker's framework to create a theoretical structure within which markets would reward virtue, primarily though education. At the same time on the practical side I began providing Socratic teacher trainings through Mortimer Adler's Paideia Program in order to inculcate virtues in public school classrooms. As I shifted to the development of a framework for virtue development that was consistent with economics, I discovered the fury that mainstream academia has for those apostates who work within a market-oriented framework. Despite the fact that my goals as an educator were intellectual and moral goals that most professors would enthusiastically support, because I was now identified with "Chicago economics" I was attacked, ostracized, or ignored. I then spent fifteen years actually creating schools, and again found that because I no longer believed in government schools, even though I was doing work that Enlightenment liberals should love, I was still attacked, ostracized, or ignored. I then began working with John Mackey to promote entrepreneurial solutions to world problems. Again although the substance of each entrepreneurial solution I proposed was largely aligned with the goals of Enlightenment liberals, the same reaction from the academic establishment. Finally, in my work with Startup Cities, the same thing. Thus I feel as if my most tenacious opponent for the last several decades has been the anti-capitalist bigotry of academic intellectuals. Where ever I go, their deep, irrational tribal loyalties prevent me from making progress that is as deep and wide-ranging as it should be. On my part I've been trying to establish such unimpeachable "goods" associated with improving the lives of the poor (in terms of much of my work in FLOW and Startup Cities) and developing intellectually engaged, cognitively sophisticated learners with a moral sensibility (in my education work) that intellectually honest academics would begin to concede position. But it has been a very long, difficult struggle. I had thought our side was making progress in the early decades of this millennium, but then GW Bush's hypocritical use of market rhetoric set us back, and then the 2008 crisis set us back much further. It feels like a chess board where we are fighting for the moral and intellectual high ground, and we are struggling to get the advantage of a pawn or two so that when we move to the end game we will have the advantage needed to win. Their position is intrinsically weaker, but because they've got almost all of academia, the mainstream media, and the K-12 system on their side, our side faces a very tough struggle. Worse yet, untutored human nature is naturally anti-capitalist, as Hayek pointed out, so a corrupt Krugman can pander to the natural economic ignorance of humanities scholars and ordinary people and thereby have immense influence. Thus the only way to win this battle is for the most intellectually influential individuals to acknowledge the power of the best arguments on behalf of entrepreneurship and markets. As you well know, we are still in the middle game on this issue. But at some point we will enter the end game, and if our positional advantage is strong enough, we will win decisively. I expect that you and I are young enough that within our lifetimes the anti-capitalist bigotry of 20th century intellectuals (now extending into the 21st) will exercise a morbid fascination for thoughtful, intelligent minds looking back at the damage for which such people are responsible."

Hold On Forever!

tumblr_mc0w6cTzam1ryr9i1o1_500 Earlier this week, I received a letter from one of my Senegalese fans, B. Her letter hit me hard, for its rawness and truth. Although my life is very hectic, I wanted to get back to her rather sooner than later, because we cannot afford to lose any such engaged person to hopelessness and despair.

I also decided to post her letter here and my answer, because I know many go through the same. And I am trying to lift them up through this as well.

Read on, and hope it helps.

B's Letter:

Hi Magatte,

It's 2h30 am in Dakar and I cannot sleep...I have been very troubled these days and my mind constantly keeps going back to you. You know, when discouragement hits me really hard, I listen to the Coran, my beloved Khasidas and I read/watch inspirational talks/quotes. Among them are your youtube videos and blog. You are such an inspiration, machallah! So, I thought I would write to you to share a couple of concerns and hopefully pick your brain and get unstuck.

Magatte, I am very concerned about our country's economic development and I am trying my best to make my little contribution. I know I am still very far and that the road will be a long one. First, because working in a so-called development agency is not the best place where you can effect meaningful change, hence I am considering making a drastic change. Secondly, because I have not identified yet a field, an area and issue that will keep me awake in the middle of the night (like you said at the Global Competitiveness Forum, I loved that). Everything is a priority area for Senegal and Africa and it can be overwhelming to pick and commit to one fight (education, health, citizenship, access to water, people's empowerment etc)! I personally believe that being spread out is not an option, especially if one want to get meaningful results. Magatte, how do you choose one cause to fight for the rest of your life when so many issues move you to tears?

I was just reading your blogpost titled "My biggest fear" and this sentence deeply resonated with me: "Thus if I became famous like some freaks I will not name here or for some BS, I would not be happy, at all." This might sound like an unfair generalization but I have come to realize that our people give precedence to looks, wealth, fame, elegance, over substance, authenticity and hard work. People like to take shortcuts and being famous at any cost is what seems to drive the majority of Senegalese, hence the booming of "top models", wrestlers, actresses, tv presenters, politicians-by-training (and not for genuinely serving the community), people who indulge in multiple TV appearances where they make shallow interventions. I have nothing against people being artistic or into sports and expressing their inner talents through those means. However, the core of the matter is to be seen and "sagn-see ba diek". Even if you are selling BS, people will worship you. Sometimes it saddens me to see that the millions for whom a few are genuinely fighting for do not seem to care about development, about doing what is right, about preserving our values. People lie and take shortcuts to be rich and famous. Girls sell their souls for petty cash. It saddens me that the majority of the Senegalese population gets abused by BS-tellers who manipulate them and seek political power just to just fill up their bank accounts. Magatte, where does one find the energy to keep on fighting when the majority don't give a damn and barely listen? How does one keep on fighting when trying to be genuine+authentic in a general atmosphere where one is looked at like an alien? I am just in tears as I am writing this...

I hope you will have time to read my long message and look forward to your insights. You really give me strength to push through the disappointments.

Love,

B

 

My  Answer:

Hello My Dear B!

Sorry it took me awhile to get back to you. I have been very busy.

I know too well the feelings and realities that you are describing. It is not surprising you feel development agencies are not the proper answer to our situation and needs. Because they simply are not!!! For many reasons, that I am sure you probably understand better than most by now. So I support you getting out of there, because we cannot afford to have the very few youth (and people in general) who have their heart + mind in the right place slowly give into the ranks of the "establishment" because they got beat. So get out before you let your fighting soul die there!

All those problems you are referring to (when you say "education, health, citizenship, access to water, people's empowerment etc") have to do with ONE cause at the end of the day: POVERTY more or less directly!! And poverty is because people have no jobs. And we know jobs are created by entrepreneurs. So in a way, you already do know what keeps you up at night :) And the remedy is a "monomaniacal focus on entrepreneurship". Everything that you do from here on should focus on supporting entrepreneurship. It does not matter if you decide to work from the Education, Government, Private or NGO sector, you need to be laser focused on "How can I support entrepreneurship from my position". So pick what you are most excited/passionate about and operate from there.

As for all the crass-ness and mediocrity surrounding you that you are referring to, I can understand how frustrating it can be. And it is tempting to lift up your hands in the air with a defeated "Why even bother? I give up!". But in times like this , you must remember that you are not alone in this. Somewhere else, 10 feet away from you, or 10,000 miles away from you, someone else is fighting your fight. Your job is to find them and together create little islands of excellence in everything you do and the way you do it (especially having and taking pride in not cutting corners). At some point others will start noticing, and wanting to emulate that for you would have created something very irresistible.

Things will change, I believe that firmly. But things will change because of people like YOU! And every little thing you do counts. Cheikh Amadou Bamba, Mandela, Ghandi, Dr King, and countless others all operated within very hostile environments, and they still managed to win their battles. I am trying to give up on being mad at my fellow contemporaries, but it does not mean that I am happy to say "Oh this is the way it is". Instead, I focus on those beautiful alternatives I am working on creating for them. I know that the day those become real, others will slowly embrace them. And at some point it will become the new norm. Most will resist at first of course, because as humans we are creatures of habit. But there are always going to be those 2-3 first people to join you. And those are the ones who will change everything. But you have to create "IT" first, for them to have something to rally to. At the end of the day, "there is nothing to promote until there is something to sell". So go back to your core, remember your dreams for your country and the world you live in, and get back to work! Be relentless at it and only llisten to that small voice in you, the voice of God. Let that voice and its comfort guide you as you create your "it" and they will come! Criticize by Creating!!! Hope it helps! Much Love.

Magatte

Unlearn. Unstick. Unleash. Be.

Ayelet Book A month or so ago, my friend Ayelet Baron, sent me the manuscript of her book, called "Unstuck" (you can read the book here Getting Unstuck - by Ayelet Baron) .

I read the book while on a trip in Guatemala. There, sitting by a gorgeous pool and surrounded by a wonderful breeze, colorful flowers and peaceful energy, I started scrolling through the pages. By the end of the preface, I decided to do something I have never been able to do while reading: I put on music. I always write with music, but I am normally not able to read with music. Very strange! In any case, in this situation, I put together this playlist and went back to my reading. That is when I experienced something a bit surreal: a situation in which I had goose bumps all over my body, filled with emotions, crying sometimes even.

I think what was happening is that Ayelet was talking to every single part of my being with her book. Every page, every line, every word resonated with the life I have come to embrace 6-7 years ago. A life in which I decided I would not wait for anyone to validate me, a life in which I would create and live by my own rules, be my own original self, following my passions and dreams. I had decided to have the courage to "Find out who I am, and do it on purpose" (Dolly Parton). Ayelet's book is amazing in the sense that it does not follow traditional book writing style. You can start it at any page and it still makes sense. It is authentic, with the unforgiving wittiness of a woman who has gone through enough and is now determined to follow her own path from here on. I think that as humans we all crave the freedom to be ourselves. Ayelet's book shares the lessons of the journey of a woman who took the leap of no return towards herself so to completely deprogram and free herself from society's chains. Hopefully, you will not wait for a flight gone terribly wrong (in Ayelet's case) or the death of your soul mate (in my case) to realize that you only have ONE life and it is about time to make it YOUR life. May you find in her book the same comfort and encouragements I found. I salute Ayelet's courage.

Thank You for the Letter

   

 

 

Today is the day after Thanksgiving, and I spent the last part of Wednesday and the first part of yesterday mad as hell, and even lost.

 

My team and I had worked really hard on a project that resulted in a pure fiasco, for various reasons. At the end of the day, I take full blame for it and I also know that it is the name of the game.
In any case, the bottom line is that I have been in struggle mode, feeling depressed and like a loser because something we did everything for it to come out perfectly did not.

Just now, I saw this email letter. Let's just say that communications like this one bring life and love to my heart. And I thank its author from the depths of my heart for bringing me such "put you back on the saddle" words of encouragements at a moment it's so needed. Thank You!

 

"Dear Ms. Wade,

My name is V. M and I am the Director of Operations for XXX. Part of my job is to transcribe S.H interviews. I felt impelled to tell you that it has been a privilege to transcribe your interview, which I'm only about half-way through. Not only is your story absolutely fascinating, but you are one of the rare gems in the world that I refer to as "people who make me happy just knowing that they exist." I've even directed my teenage daughters to your website sot that they could read your principles ("mes principes").

I apologize for jumping the professional line--I have never personally contacted an interviewee without being properly introduced through S.H (out of respect for my boss, who is also a dear friend). But, one of my personal principles is that when you find someone you can look to as an example of what human potential can attain, you let them know how much you appreciate them.

So, thank you. (And, Happy Thanksgiving!)

Sincerely,

V.M"

 

My Biggest Fear

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivUs5uWvuOI&w=560&h=315]  

This video, made by a handful of African students in Germany I've never met (except for  the great Micha Ru  I met online, thank you FB), is one of my favorite YouTube videos.  I'm honored to have been included by them.  I feel accountable to this generation of young Africans around the world who are looking to mentors and models to remind them that the future will be different.

When Dambisa Moyo writes Dead Aid, or I write about Jeff Sachs, we are not criticizing foreign aid or its advocates merely to be critical.  What those who "care" don't understand is the profound injuries to the pride and self-respect that results when our only role as Africans is to be pitied.  The fact that these young Africans somewhere in Germany acknowledge me as worth mentioning in their paean to African achievement and self-worth gives me an immense sense of responsibility towards them and the future of Africa.

I know, I know, I know.... It's been ages since I wrote here. I have been extremely busy with the next phase of my company, Tiossan. We went through a complete rebranding and also opened our first retail store in Hudson, NY.  All of that happened as I continued doing something I really love doing: encourage and empower as many people around the world to follow their passions, especially as they relate to entrepreneurship and just "find out who they are , and do it on purpose" as per Dollie Parton. Freshly back from a an emotionally nerve wrecking time in Nigeria (in the good sense) and just recently Gabon where I spoke at the NewYork Forum Africa and the Dialogue For Action Africa (I had a talk each day for three days), preceded by talks at MIT and Yale. I am so passionate by what I do and sharing my vision for the world with the world that it always feels to the audience that I was born with this ability to speak in public, that it is effortless. But if only they knew that I cannot sleep for hours after I deliver a talk or speech. Indeed, when I speak, it all comes from my core, the depths of my guts and all that I am and who I am. I have this vision of a better world, a vision so pure and wonderful that I am in a complete state of ecstasy! I get such a rush of adrenaline pumping through my veins, I can hardly sleep for hours (sometimes days) after such interventions.

In any case, tonight I am back at my computer to write. Someone I know from Facebook sent me a comment saying that he intends to write a book on humans greatest fears and wanted to know if I had any words for him. This is a very compelling subject and I confess that I have often asked myself the question "What is my greatest fear?".

I think it varies from person to person but I also think there is a common feeling most people think their biggest fears have to do with fear of personal failure of some kind:  financial failure, professional failure, romantic failure, etc.

But fear of not living up to our potential is even scarier, because with all external failures one can always blame someone else, something else, some kind of circumstances.
Not living up to our potential is a failure for which the only person who can possibly be responsible is oneself.  Moreover, the only one who can know whether you have lived up to your potential or not is you (and God).
That is a very scary situation, isn't it ?  No one to blame - but yourself!
So does this change how you choose to live on a moment-to-moment basis?
It  should.
For my part, I, Magatte Wade, am VERY  afraid (actually terrified) of not fulfilling my  potential by not having the impact I want (namely transform perceptions of Africa, create many jobs, create fabulous schools to prepare the next generation to be spectacular).
Even if I became famous, if  I don't make real stuff happen I'll be disappointed when I render my last breath.
Thus if I became famous like some freaks I will not name here or for some BS, I would not be happy, at all.
It has to be real - I have to make those goals actually happen. And THAT is the source of my infinite energy and limitless passion. It is contagious and I hope you get infected.
P.S.:  With love and gratitude towards George Ayittey, who has been fighting this battle on behalf of all Africans for many decades now, and whose TED Africa talk on Cheetahs vs. Hippos will forever remain a classic.

Where were Branson's big hairy ones?

I am just now back from Nairobi, Kenya where I attended Convergence Africa and led a Master Class on the notion of   "Executing on that Big idea".

My session was sold out and the room was packed with people eager to learn more about entrepreneurship and how to overcome challenges specific to the region.

This conference was quite well done and to the point. It's goal was simple and right on: doing business in Africa. You can see here all the reasons why I was looking forward to this Convergence. And I am most happy to report that it turned out to be everything that I was hoping for from its format, to the quality of the speakers and audience, as well as the companies that won the entrepreneurship awards at the Gala Diner.

But one thing bothered me: the Richard Branson's part. It is important I disclose my admiration for the real Richard Branson, the charismatic, flamboyant and full of sex appeal entrepreneur who built the amazing Virgin brand.  To me Virgin is Richard Branson and vice versa. You may like or dislike Virgin/Sir Branson, but you can't be indifferent. Steve Jobs is my ultimate hero when it comes to entrepreneurs, but Branson has not been far behind.

So what bothered me about Sir Branson this past Thursday? Many things. At the top is the fact that when he was asked about his attraction to Africa he basically replied that he has been spending the past 5 years on philanthropic ventures across the Continent, the biggest of them being The Elders. He made it clear that his people handle the business part.

I thought to myself "are you freaking serious"? My admiration for Branson stems from the fact that he is a superb entrepreneur first and foremost. And he accomplished it all despite his modest background and dropping out of school when he was 15, the reality of so many young Africans today. So what I needed from and wanted for him to speak about on Thursday was exactly that! Great entrepreneurs have big, hairy, audacious goals. And at this point of his career,  I expected Branson's would be bigger and hairier than anyone's. He missed out on an outrageous opportunity to inspire an entire audience enamored with entrepreneurship. THAT is what Africa needs more than freaking philanthropy! For a similar account on Branson's disappointing performance, see my friend Andrea's description here.

Transcend negative stereotypes with real value and cool fun

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuYyq_7KhjA&w=560&h=315]  

I command her talk and the questions she finally decided to ask herself. But at this point, the only way to transcend this massive, negative and reductive view of "Africa" that the world has of her and her people, is for a critical mass number of "Africans" to step up to the plate and dazzle with their actions and accomplishments. For that my personal strategy remains branding. No need to patronize people, even if you are preaching the Good. Offer real value, make it fun and cool and they will join in :)

The Witch's advice for happy customers & employees

"Customers and employees live in the same world: reality is nothing but a series of electrical stimuli to the brain. What we think we 'see' is a pulse of energy to a completely dark part of the brain. However, if we get on the same wavelength as other people, we can try to change that reality. In some way that I don't understand joy is infectious, as enthusiasm and love. Or indeed sadness, depression, or hatred - things that can be picked up 'intuitively' by customers and other employees. In order to improve performance, we have to create mechanisms that keep these positive stimuli alive."  The Witch of Portobello

African Entrepreneurs Taken Seriously

Until now I have never devoted a blog post to an event I will be speaking at. Not sure why, just something I don't think about I guess.

This time is different.  Because this is more than an event. It is a way of thinking AND behaving that I so truly, deeply believe in. Actually it is one of the very few forms of "development" that the proud African woman do-it-first-and-they'll-show-up  I am  can accept and does respect.

Convergence Africa simply states its vision as "where capital meets opportunity". I say "YES! YES! and YES!" (singing). When I see and hear those words of "where Capital meets opportunity" right next to the word "Africa", well it brings tears to my eyes.

Africa's time has come, I'll never say it enough. And the world will be better for it.

So I cannot wait to join this global community of folks who take African entrepreneurship seriously. I can't wait to hug again fellow warriors friends like Claude Grunitzky and Jacqueline Musiitwa and greet other fellow warriors I have not met  yet, but whose work I have been following and cheering for along the sideline like Fred Swaniker and Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu .

It will be refreshing to participate to a convergence where the crowd is made of representatives of a healthy eco-system an entrepreneur needs with topics directly related to the entrepreneur's toolkit (ie. legal framework for a business, execution, securing financing, training of the next generation of leaders and talent, channelling african creativity for new business opportunity, etc).

I also cannot wait for the Gala dinner at which the  2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship will honor  outstandingly deserving change agents. While the hippos are fattening themselves into a pond that they can't get out of anymore and slowly drowning in it, the cheetahs are creating, innovating and enjoying the run of their lives. We have not given up on our Continent, and we are using entrepreneurship as the Master Tool to create better lives for ourselves, those around us and those to come.

World Biggest Micro-Entrepreneur: the best an African can do, really?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Uz1zkzcmtHQ]  

More here. My point is if we, Africans, want to be taken seriously in this world, we have to step up and speed up, right now. Let's establish our own standards and they better be world-class standards or more, nothing less. And let's leapfrog from there.

I encourage you to check out PovertyCure.org (and make sure to "Watch their promo"), for it is an organization that has a great understanding for sound economics. I also like that is a network of partners and people who truly understand the most basic need of ANY human being for dignity and pride, including the poor people. Then that is no wonder they support entrepreneurship as the best path to escaping poverty with superb dignity.

The newly rich and inventive Africans

"Think of technological change this way. Even if you time-travelled back to 1980 with your modern salary, and found yourself far richer than most people, you still could not find wheeled suitcases, mobile-phone signals, hepatitis C vaccines or decaf mocha lattes on the high street. Likewise, time-travel forward to a prosperous 2040 without a wage increase and you might find yourself relatively poor. But think of the products you could find there, some of them supplied by newly rich and inventive Africans. Other people getting rich means other people working to invent things for you." ~ Matt Ridley from "The Rational Optimist"

You can read more here.

The Difference a Job Can Make

My Beloved just sent me this post called "Where children sleep" from LENS, the photography blog of the NYT blog. Basically it is a slide show of photos taken by  James Mollison picturing different children in their home country around the world and where they sleep.

The whole piece is supposed to serve as a commentary on class and poverty.

My husband emailed it to me with the qualitative adjective "fascinating". It made me furious, because in my personal experience the connotation of that word is necessarily positive. And I see nothing positive about this, on the contrary. What a compilation of degrading stereotypes!

Do you really believe that all American kids are spoiled brats with out of touch parents, all japanese little boys are nerds, while all japanese little girls are  geishas or subdued women to be, that all little african boys are fatherless future child soldiers (and that picture of little Lamine of Senegal truly pisses me off by the way!), and that the fate of all young girls in Brazil is teenage pregnancy? Unless you believe so, then this is nothing  but an extraordinary reinforcement of stereotypes manipulating our deepest empathy instincts, especially when it comes to social injustice and  little ones not having their basic needs for food and shelter covered.

I have no problem with the denouncing of poverty. But I do have a problem with three things when it comes to addressing poverty:

1/ When it reinforces negative stereotypes.

2/ When it crumbles people's spirit and their "can do" attitude by only focusing on the negative. I am not sure for you, but I get tired of the same old stories and photos of poor people around the world. We can still address poverty and galvanize people to fight it, but I would find it a million times more uplifting and efficient if the good news of the progress we are already making was also displayed.  However doom and gloom things may look right now, EVERYWHERE around the world, people are better of than EVER before! Is everything perfect? Of course not! Do we still have a long way to go? You bet! But if the progress of the past can tell us anything, it is that we collectively have what it takes to keep on making things better.

3/ When it puts people up against each other because  we try to make it sound like it is a class problem, almost as if some people should be blamed and feel ashamed of themselves because they have more than others; while leaving some others to feel outrageously entitled. Leave the have-tos alone (especially if they worked hard for it), and let's focus on making sure the have-nots have more. If anything, the American Dream should be the living proof that it is not a class problem. Pay attention to the countries of origin of all the little ones who seem poor to us, and start digging into how easy it would be for potential entrepreneurs to start companies there that would give their parents a job, with a salary that would allow them to provide for their children the way  parents leaving in a rich country do.

We can change this, more radically than ever before! We just need to focus on the right culprits: the roadblocks to entrepreneurship everywhere, key to decent jobs with enabling salaries. It may not give you the same immediate satisfaction of feeling "hey, I am a hero because I donated for this child to eat today", but I promise you that in the long run, you will have the wonderful reward of witnessing an ocean of happy children who can live normal lives because of your sustained effort on focusing on that too! I already chose my strategy :)

All Woman?

Just FYI, this is the track I was listening to while writing this blog post.

This article on Lynn Tilton in the New York Magazine was a real treat for me.

An interesting man with whom my Beloved and I have befriended, forwarded it to me. And I must admit that I am a bit confused as to why he felt compelled to send it to me. Did she remind him of me?  A part of me recognizes that this woman could easily be a cartoon version of me. I had never heard of Lynn Tilton before. But as I was reading the article, I was going from "WOW!" to "WTF?" back to "Yes, Woman!" but again to "Are you freaking serious?"And if nothing else, I am simply compelled by the stories of unusual entrepreneurs.

Like Lynn Tilton, I am bold, mouthy, a control freak, extremely sexual, love business (which I view as the greatest force of good in the world), adore my femininity/sensuality and playing with it everywhere all of the time (especially when men fall willing victims of it :) )

I still have not made up my mind on this woman and where she is trying to go, but I can share what I like and do not like about her:

LIKE, +++++, PROs, SHE ROCKS

  • She is a full woman ("an all woman" in her own words). I am profoundly disturbed, annoyed and saddened by all the mutant females that inhabit corporate boardrooms and meetings nowadays, all these so-called women who are consumed in their efforts to imitate men so much that the only thing they have left of being woman are breasts, literally! She understands that there are other ways to stand up to men so that they get "I'll be your girlfriend, but I won't be your b****" . I want to see women bring more beauty and sensuality to this world.
  • She gets the power of business, especially industry and manufacturing-based economy for a country.  She takes seriously how employment ensures peace and a happy society. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS are critical, everywhere!!! It is funny-annoying how too many people take it for granted in this country, so much they get bored just thinking about it, but without it, we can't even begin to be a sustainable society. And that is true for African countries, all of you do-gooders out there - unless you are so in love with "indigenous people" that you want to keep us poor just for kicks!  Just like water sounds like the most boring thing to  and is under rated by most , without it there would be no Life the way we know it. Well jobs to me are to any sustainable society what water is to Life! Lose them and watch everything die around us, including us humans.
  • She perceived that the intellectual notion of business needs to be defended so that we can get more business friendly policies. For my part, I realized few years ago that being a good business person and creating jobs is not enough. Unfortunately "crapitalism" (term used by Gene Epstein, econ editor of Barron's to describe what happens when big business goes to bed with government ) has spoiled the well in people's minds. They think that the corrupt crapitalism that we see everywhere is capitalism - but it is not.  Most of us love small businesses for they are created by people like you and I, providing much-needed services and products to people who need and want them. Most of us admire such folks, and the fact they provide jobs that sustain entire families, help their communities thrive. And it is all based on free will. You buy from that company if you chose so, you work for it if you chose so, and so forth. We all love those principles. Those principle are what I call "capitalism", simply. Are those principles not worth defending for everything they have given us and how they improved our lives? Well if any one is still doubting, I am absolutely ALL OUT to defend those principles. The development of my country Senegal, and beyond that the development of the world depends on it. And right now, unfortunately , I am afraid that a lot of young people are being taught at universities (primarily) by misguided anti-business professors to hate and compromise those principles using the wrong examples. I am sadly seeing how these tenured professors at these well endowed universities, front row beneficiaries are teaching the children, grand-children, great-grandchildren of their greatest benefactors (business people who ran successful businesses who turned around and made donations to allow for those universities to be and function) to despise the very powerful forces that allowed their existence in the first place and subsistence to this day (even the way endowments works means these universities have to place their money in equities, i.e., real businesses). All of this just to say that I feel lucky that I opened my eyes early, which is why I am working at both level: being a real entrepreneur, as well as being an evangelist for business. I do not want to be like a lot of current business people who are just now realizing how our work is taken for granted and how much the anti-business people have managed to own the moral high ground on these issues. They were preaching against the healthy principles of business while we entrepreneurs were busy creating real value for all parties involved. The name of the game must change and we must DO and PREACH right now! We must win the moral high ground because that will allow for faster change, quicker! There is no reason why billions of people must remain poor and live in inhuman conditions for one second longer because a very few select group of people are too petty to recognize they have been wrong all along! I am furious! The "criticize by creating" is my mantra...ZEN....
  • Her spiritual beliefs. I love people who are still connected to the power of the Earth and the Ancestors who came before us. At the end of the day, the journey must be more about than just our little selves, because we are each a part of something so much bigger. So by the time I am hopefully peacefully about to give my last breath, I would like to be smiling feeling in my heart "God, I played my part. I am ready to come home now".
  • She is her own person and definitely not a sheep. At this point of my life, may God help the person that will try to tell me what I can't, nor shouldn't do. I am the ONLY qualified person to determine who/what I can, should or want to be/do!
ARGH!, CONs, But WHY?
.

  • She is too bling-bling in her appearance and her lifestyle. Again for me true class is when money is not a factor because you have so much of it who cares or you have none and who cares.
  • She has gotten a very dirty mouth. While I love mouthy people I believe there is a true art to it, if not you are just a dirty mouth and there is nothing beautiful about that and you know how much I care about beauty. As a matter of fact, one of my upcoming blogs will be on the art of insult, inspired by the classy insults of back in the days, when there was no need for nasty "f" words and such yet you could still elegantly  make your point like Charles, Count Talleyrand's "In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily".
  • Being an all woman should not mean harassing men all over the place.  Gross and distasteful!. There is nothing more fun and sensual than to ensnare a man in a web of love. But that is all one needs to do: build a web of love, an irresistible one, and they will come. Trust me :) So this below is just crazy, just as I thought I could not read worse about this woman's lack of class, taste and manners.
"This employee also says that Tilton perceives all of her male employees as being in love with her. Which is perhaps the reason that, holding court in a conference room during her 50th- birthday party, Tilton offered her male employees a choice: They could take a Jell-O shot off her stomach or lick whipped cream off her breasts. “The crazy part was, she saw it as morale building,” says one person present. “People were hiding in the bathroom.”"
If you have not left the building yet and want to read more, see the full article here.
By the way and at this point of my post, I must say that despite my dislikes about Lynn Tilton, I do appreciate and respect her. She has got what matters when it is all said and done: love, smarts, courage and sensuality.

Luxury is not Chic... Tiossano ç'est Chic!

I spent these past two years creating the mesmerizing scents for my upcoming line of Tiossano body care  products. I have been immersed in the world of scents and initiated to the art of perfume. I have been blessed to learn from some of  the world most renowned noses.  I also read from some of the most enlightening specialists. Amongst them is an interesting character, Luca Turin.

Luca Turin (1953 - ) is a biophysicist with a long-standing interest in the sense of smell, the art of perfume, and the fragrance industry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luca_Turin

A quotation from him in English that perfectly describes what my brand Tiossano draws from:

The French like luxury, but what the French call luxury is actually call-girl chic.  Put it this way.  After finishing secondary school at sixteen, I went back to Paris to go to university, Paris XII, Pierre et Marie Curie.  I rented a room from Madame Clouzot, the sister of the film director Henri-Georges Clouzot, right near the Champs Elysees.  She explained that there were only two great French perfume makers, Guerlain and Caron.  Guerlain, she said, was for cocottes – kept women.  Caron was for the duchesse.  But in fact it was 1880s cocotte style that passes for chic in France.  What the French consider 'chic' is actually kept-woman vulgarity. . . . Caron, on the other hand, is absolutely proper, proper chic. . . .  Chic is, first, when you don't have to prove that you have money, either because you have a lot and it doesn't matter or because you don't have any and it doesn't matter.  Chic is not aspirational. . . Chic is the most impossible thing to define.  Luxury is a humourless thing, largely, and when humor happens in luxury it happens involuntarily.  Chic is all about humor.  Which means chic is about intelligence.  And there has to be oddness – most luxury is conformist, and chic cannot be.  Chic must be polite and not incommode others, but within that it can be as weird as it wants.