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

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"

 

Friends, Cats & Tigers

Today is my birthday. I have received many well wishes that came in all forms (cards, letters, VM, SMS, songs,...)
This is an attempt to express what they mean to me.
Thank you so very much for this most amazing gift that is your letter.
It resonates and makes my whole being vibrate, so in tune with the meaning of your words. I am about to collapse, literally!! I sincerely have no idea what is going on, but I can feel such a rebirth.
The past few days have been really scary on so many fronts. I have been on panic mode, but Michael, equal to himself is the one who keeps on pushing forward for the two of us, and I listen to his calm directions. He is the only reason why I am not trying to jump out of the racing car right now. You know that urge one has to just turn their back and run the opposite direction when faced with a dangerous wild animal? Your first instinct is to do that, but doing that is a sure death sentence because that is the last thing to do when faced with a danger like that. So Michael is the voice that has been telling me to stand in front of the animal, lift up my hands in the air, make noise and jump so to make myself more imposing and scare him into running away (while God knows I am dying with fear inside).
That is how it feels. But I must say that Hope is taking its place back, thanks especially to all the voices I heard from today. Michael has been joined by countless others today, including you. And your combined voices are forming a real beat that I now find myself in trance with, a trance that makes me feel invincible.
It is all so powerful, I can feel the Beast now being the one scared, wise in its belief that this collective is a force not be messed with.
I am so very glad that I called for help. And even more grateful that you all heard it and came to the rescue.
It is true what they say, that at the end of the day, all we have is one another. Thank You! A most grateful 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.

A Model for How to Commit to a Meaningful Life While Young

Tonight I want to write about an amazing young woman. Her name is S. I met her at Columbia University when she came to me after I gave  a keynote for the 2010 Africa Conference there.

I will never forget about the first sight of her as she was simply stunning: tall, svelte, gracious, fashionable, and grave, in one word she was regal! What attracted me most to her was this feeling of seriousness and determined will that emanated from her . Her whole aura was exuding PURPOSE! But purpose for what? I became very intrigued.  Because of her bearing, she stood out among all of those who had gathered around me.

She joined a conversation I was already engaged in. I don't remember what we talked about. The day after that talk, I fell ill, completely overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response I had received from fellow Afropolitans. It was wonderful, but so scary at the same time!

In any case, few months later, I saw her again as I attended the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival for  a documentary  featuring the genocide.  At the end, she found her way to me. There again we talked, but everything was so busy we did not get a chance to speak in-depth. But at least that night, I got to know that she was from Rwanda, and in a very strange way  I "felt" what she was all about in my bones. The documentary, the presence of all of this history and her presence in the middle of all of that gave me the clues. I finally grasped why this young woman felt so grave. And I developed a huge sense of admiration and care for her. She has gone to the place of no return: she had gone and tasted the world of Purpose! Eventually we had to go to another gathering that night, and I left full of wonders and wanting to know more .

Little did I know that God would give me that opportunity. Indeed few months later M & I went to visit  Rwanda . There we met her at a function.

Few days later, we had dinner in Kigali and that is when my heart finally translated what was going on to my mind. S lives and breathes JUSTICE. She wanted to devote her life to tracking those responsible for the genocide in her country and those who committed heinous crimes. And while I thought it was a tremendously laudable goal, I also had the sad feeling inside that this bright star of life might get her soul and heart crushed in the process of tracking down former genocidaires. I insisted that there was another way to see her country move forward, one that would not demand for her soul to be sacrificed in the process. I could see a solution in which she could use her skills, youth, person and beautiful aura to focus on the present to build the future she wanted for her country rather than chase demons of the past.

After that dinner and as we flew back to NYC, I did not see her for some time and soon stopped hearing from her as well. I feared that maybe I had been too focused on my work to maintain a real relationship. But I am so passionate about my work that it could not have been otherwise. I thought of her often wondering how and where she was and hoping she would find peace.

Well last week, and more than a year later, I got an email. It's from S. And she is telling me that she actually took my advice and left behind the past.  She then began focusing on the present and the future.  I very much look forward to seeing her happier as a result of her decision to focus on building a better future.