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

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

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.

Must See this weekend: "Elevate" the Movie

Today, I received the most beautiful news about my beloved  SEEDS Academy in Senegal (SEEDS stands for Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal). Michael and I have been good friends of Amadou Gallo Fall (the incredible and wonderful visionary behind SEEDS)and advisers for SEEDS for several years.

Anne Buford, an all time amazing supporter of SEEDS directed a documentary, "Elevate", on SEEDS and how it is allowing athletically and academically skilled young men in Senegal to earn college scholarships in the United States and Europe . The movie has been winning many awards at various prestigious film festivals. And today, the New York Times just gave it a well deserved review.

It is a dignified representation of our country, our boys and our culture of hard work in general. See this video for a quick take on my culture from Anne.

And I could not agree more with the author that my dear friend Amadou  "is the real hero here"!

The movie opens today in New York and Los Angeles. Make sure to go see it!

Sufi Love

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKAylJYBNb4] Youssou Ndour is a friend, fellow countryman, and one of the best ambassadors of Senegal, at least on the artistic front.  One of the things that it is important to understand about my country is that we are a deeply religious country, committed to our Sufism, which has allowed us to be one of only two African nations never to have experienced a coup or civil war since Independence.

What do I love so much about the man? He is serious about Peace, real Peace, Love, real Love, and a Better World For Women. I love the fact he decided to stay home, in Senegal and prove that it is definitely possible to be a gigantic international star, straight from Africa! Most of us in Senegal feel that we are blessed with a "gene" of Peace, Tolerance and Love, that preserved us throughout times.

This is one my favorite songs from him, and you guessed it, it is all about  LOVE. Part of the song goes like this:

"Love is so good

Trust Us

I love you, and no one can extinguish that fire

Love, Love, O Love

Love is the making of God

Love comes out of a heart and goes into another heart

Love: no one can sell it and no one can buy at the market

Any two people you see, love binds them and God puts its blessing on it

Love has no religion

Love has no color for in the world of Love, there is no black person, and no white person"

We Senegalese Sufis are consumed with Peace, Tolerance and Love, when it is all said and done.

.

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.

Africa is not part of the World

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyGHHxUFY6w] As many of you know, I love The Onion because humor is often the best way to get a message across, however sad, revolting or outrageous the message may be.

So got the message?

Let's wake up and realize that Africa IS part of the World's Economy (as a matter of fact, in recent years the economic growth of Africa has been at or above the rate of growth in the developed world).

And to those so-called do-gooders out there who believe that "plumbing, door knobs and electricity will violate our culture", I answer again that we are tired of being your anthropological wet dream.

Mysticism, God and Belief

I am a religious person, and I am undoubtedly a mystic:

"Mysticism (from the Greek μυστικός, mystikos, an initiate of a mystery religion)[1] is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate realitydivinityspiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centers on a practice or practices intended to nurture those experiences or awareness."

Mystics don't "believe in" God, we experience God, or "ultimate reality," or "divinity," or "spiritual truth" directly.  Thus it doesn't really make sense to ask if I "believe in God" or, when I know that someone is good, how I "know" that they are good.  I just do.  Can I be wrong?  Yes.  But my opinion is not based on arguments that can be stated; my opinion is a direct perception of reality, just as you directly perceive whether you like a color, a sound, or a taste.

Thus my emphasis on the importance of intuition as "the still small voice within" or God.  And I encourage you to develop your intuition, on the grounds that I believe that once you learn to hear the voice of God clearly on your own, you will be a very powerful mystic, and all your fears and doubts will disappear.

Sufism is the mystic branch of Islam.

And the Best Baguette Prize Awarded in Paris goes to…. a fellow Senegalese born Baker

 

 

The secret to his award-winning bread? Nothing too complicated: “A good baguette needs to look good, have a crispy crust and a good smell and taste,” he said.

I tell you: there is no secret to anything in the world but just EXCELLENCE! It wins every single time!

As a Montmartre lover, I know where I will be getting my baguette this summer  while in Paris:)

Read the full article here

The Pleasure of Introducing an American into My Thiossane

Last spring I had the pleasure of introducing Michael Strong to my home, my origin, my Thiossane.  He wrote this, which expresses beautifully how I feel about my country: FLOW Vision News - May 2009

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

Rumi

Shuffling through the ankle deep sand of the narrow paths that pass for streets in a traditional Senegalese neighborhood at 2 a.m., guided by a Sufi mystic who has been having visions since the age of 13, we come across a crowd watching a wrestling match behind a makeshift canvas enclosure. Peaking through the holes in the canvas, along with the street urchins who cannot afford the 10 cents admissions fee, by flaming torchfire we see a pair of incredibly powerful men wrestling shoulder to shoulder, dripping with sweat and dust, wearing only a simple loincloth as they throw each other to the ground with great fierceness. We then walk along the beach in the dark, past a graveyard of holy men, with the huge waves crashing and crabs running in the moonlight. And amidst all of this indigenous, exotic romanticism, the marabout wants me to help modernize Senegal.

There is a breed of Westerner who hates our civilization, and wants to return to a more indigenous way of life. But most people who do not have our way of life, long for it. I am reminded of climbing a local promontory in Alaska with an orange-robed Tibetan priest and a group of local hippies, who had asked him to bless the mountain for them. In the blessing ceremony that he was performing, he quite innocently and honestly prayed for them that they would find oil under their land, assuming, as do most people from poor countries, that these people would be delighted to have the gift of sudden wealth. Little did he know that this particular group of people would find the thought of discovering oil beneath their land to be a curse rather than a blessing. Their sudden expressions of repugnance were unimaginable to him.

That said, it is also true that many people from other cultures fear the erosion of their own cultures, even as they long for the comfort, convenience, pleasure, and respect that comes from living the life we enjoy in the "developed" world. A majority of people living on less than $1 dollar per day listen to radio, and a majority of those living on less than $2 per day watch television. They are all watching, at least part of the time, American programs which often show the most tawdry aspects of our culture, unbelievable shamelessness and vulgarity along with unbelievable material wealth.

Senegalese culture is an especially warm, kind, and respectful culture for those who experience it from the inside (for a sense of the warmth and diversity of the music, see herehere, and here). Casual tourists are harassed by beggars and street vendors, so if one does not have personal relationships with individual Senegalese one might not experience the real Senegal. But for those who have the opportunity to develop real relationships here, one can feel a culture that is relatively free from anger, hatred, ego, and vanity. There are, of course, good people and bad people everywhere. But the social norms here are, on balance, more modest than in the U.S. One of the projects I am working on here is the SEEDS Academy, a basketball academy founded by Amadou Gallo Fall, the VP for International Relations for the Dallas Mavericks. Although the Senegalese tend to be very tall and exceptionally athletic, one of the concerns at the academy is to train the players to be aggressive rather than respectful so that they can compete in the NCAA and NBA. To take a different kind of example, in watching a video of a Senegalese concert, most of which was the singing of religious songs, the young people at the concert were as enthusiastic as any American concert crowd. But when a Congolese band came on that, instead of religious songs, sang songs with sexually explicit lyrics and quasi-pornographic dancing, the Senegalese young people became suddenly quiet and visibly embarrassed, en masse. This was a spontaneous response and it was not a behavior that one would see in the U.S., where highly sexualized performances at rock concerts are well received.

So the problem that I am currently working on is how to help a country become wealthy while preserving, as much as possible, its cultural integrity. On the wealthy side, the good news is that Senegal is ready to take off and join the world economy as soon as Americans are ready to invest in and purchase from Senegal. I may be exaggerating slightly by putting the burden largely on Americans, but many Senegalese are frustrated with having France as their primary trading partner, because of the various ways in which they EU economy is formally closed and, even more so, because of the ways in which the Europeans are not as culturally adventurous, open, and welcoming as are the Americans. Plus, relative to the French, the Americans have money and spend it. The Senegalese want to do business with Americans.

Unfortunately, many Americans are burdened with an enormous set of prejudices regarding Africa. Our image of Africa is that it is a land of poverty, violence, corruption, and disease. While there are many Americans who are eager to pity Africa and send money, fewer Americans are ready to recognize Africa as a legitimate place to vacation, do business, and build friendships. And with leaders such as Robert Mugabe in place and the Congo civil wars periodically re-erupting, unfortunately many of the negative perceptions of Africa have a basis in reality.

But most of those generalizations do not apply to Senegal. Senegal has been a stable, functioning democracy since independence. Although one should take malaria pills here, especially in the rainy season, there are no unusual health risks here; even the AIDS rate in Senegal is comparable to that in the U.S. The climate along the gorgeous coast is more moderate than is that of Texas; typical Dakar daytime temperatures range from cool and breezy 70s in the dry season to the high 80s in the brief rainy season.

After forty years of socialism, President Wade of Senegal has, since his election in 2000, put in place a thoroughly pro-market agenda: he has created a one-stop shop business registration service that makes opening up a business in Senegal straightforward for both foreigners and natives, and he has an entire office devoted to setting up industrial parks and free zones, with a determination to attract American investment in the free zones. Senegal has secure property rights and a strong tradition of rule of law and contract enforcement; thus businesses that invest here need not worry about many of the legitimate fears that prevent them from investing in many developing world nations. Only seven hours away via a direct flight from NYC, D.C. and Atlanta, Senegal is, in effect, open for business.

Poverty is the worst problem facing Senegal, and it is clearly the legacy of forty years of socialism. When Senegal achieved independence in 1960, it had one of the strongest manufacturing sectors of any African nation. Leopold Senghor, the first leader of independent Senegal, was educated by French socialists and therefore believed that government control of the economy was superior to capitalistic competition. Until 1986, a hundred and sixty-one different manufactured items essentially had government-granted monopolies due to the misguided belief that competition was harmful to economic progress. The impact was exactly the reverse; sixteen years of government-enforced monopolies resulted in a shrunken manufacturing sector with poor quality standards that prevented Senegalese industry from competing in the global market. A series of reforms starting in 1986 began to open up the economy, but just as the transition economies of eastern Europe struggled when initially faced with global competition, so too did Senegal's economy. Moreover, the combination of ongoing socialism with more open trade resulted in the collapse of the Senegalese manufacturing sector.

The dominant cultural and religious force in Senegal is Sufi Muslim, with more than 95% of Senegalese being followers. Among the Sufi brotherhoods, the most powerful one is the Mourides, founded by Cheikh Amadou Bamba, a charismatic mystic who is beloved for resisting the French colonial powers in the late 19th and early 20th century. Bamba preached a principled non-violence, decades before Ghandi, and hard work as the path to holiness, and one of his first disciples was a highly successful entrepreneur who added entrepreneurship as one of the paths through which work became holy. As a consequence, the Mourides diaspora around the world tend to be successful entrepreneurs wherever they go. Moreover, because Mouridism is ethical first and foremost, Bamba, in his own way, launched the first generation of Conscious Capitalists(R). Thus in a world in which a common prejudice towards Muslims is the belief that they are terrorists, and a common prejudice towards Africans is that they are lazy, passive, and unethical the Mourides are globally distinguished for being especially peaceful Muslims and especially hard working, ethical, entrepreneurial Africans. I don't want to exaggerate; decades of dependence on NGOs and government have undermined the work ethic in Senegal. But if Wade is able to complete his project of releasing his people from decades of socialism, the future looks bright for Senegal.

Unlike many African leaders, Wade is moving in the right direction. But always and everywhere, economic freedom only results in economic growth if entrepreneurs build successful companies, and African entrepreneurs can only build successful companies if they receive investment capital and if consumers purchase their products and services. But if Senegal's beautiful beaches are over-run by the drunken spring break party crowd from the U.S., and if all of the investment comes from the most short-sighted and calloused businessmen from France, the U.S., China, and the Arab world, Senegal may become wealthier but a land destroyed by drunkenness, corruption, pollution, and prostitution. But if the best and most caring people come to Senegal as tourists and investors, and learn to love and respect the music, the people, and the culture, then perhaps Senegal can develop as the first wealthy nation in black sub-Saharan Africa while also providing a model of how to modernize in a culturally respectful manner.

Peace,

Michael Strong  CEO & Chief Visionary Officer FLOW

P.S.: Be the Solution!