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

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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

Rape and Joke: two words that don’t belong together

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Rape is not a joke

My personal goal is for Africans to be respected around the world before I die. While we Africans can certainly blame slavery, colonialism, racism, etc. for our troubles, if we want to be respected we need to be worthy of respect. We need to be exemplary human beings.

Recently a Nigerian comedian made a joke about dating white women vs. dating African women which ended with a “joke” about raping the African woman. The joke was tasteless and stupid, and the comedian has apologized.

But the fact that he would think this way, and that others would laugh about it, shows that rape culture is all too alive and well in Nigeria. I don’t know how this man was raised, but I was raised to believe that men should respect women and that, above all, they should not violate women. Moreover, around the world women are reclaiming their rights as human beings – this is the healthy and important work of first generation feminists. Going forward, the morally respectable cultures and subcultures will be those cultures that authentically honor and respect women and which harshly repudiate any suggestion that violence against women is acceptable or legitimate.

As a woman I’m disappointed in the joke and the response that it received. As an African, I’m even more disappointed.

I believe the comedian’s apology was sincere – it was an act of stupidity rather than viciousness. But there is justice in judging a culture by its humor, and the fact that the comedian thought he could get laughs by a rape joke is as much an indictment of his audience as it is of him.

I hope that we will see more and more moral leadership from both male and female Africans going forward, both high profile individuals as well as ordinary people. I would expect that we all want to deserve respect, and we should confront those among us who do things that are not worthy of who we really are.

P.S.: See here for an excellent, passionate diatribe on the reality of rape to give you a very vivid sense of why no one should EVER joke about it.

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

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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.

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

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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.”

Madiba, My Great African Hero

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I just learned of the passing of a Man who  had reached the Angel status, in my eyes, while alive.

I have ceased all activities,  turned all the lights off, am now laying on my bed, in the darkness, and decided to write this letter to you. The tears are heavy, the heart is heavy, but my love for you and the hope you left behind is pure as fresh water.

I am not sure where to start. Everything is so blurry before my eyes. With your passing, one of my greatest dreams died: to meet you and bask in your grace, at least once in my lifetime. And tell you face to face how much I love you, and thank you for all you have done for all of us, my Great African Hero.

I am not alone, we are hundreds of millions, children of Africa and the World, who would have loved to meet you. We are hundreds of  millions, children of Africa and the world, who see you like our father, grandfather. You have  done so much and meant so much to so many of us. For me, my Beloved Madiba, you are my constant and comforting proof that Good wins over Evil. That Love wins over Hate. That Togetherness wins over Division.

I  can’t help but be so angry at the 27 years of your life stolen the way it was. I will never forget the first time I sat foot on Robben Island, and then stood inside what was your cell. I remember being very scared of my feelings on my way to the island, I was afraid I would suffocate with anger and hate. I started feeling such anger and hate and revolt at what Evil had put you through. But then I entered in your cell, and there something happened. There was something so peaceful about your cell. I am not sure how to describe the feeling. But there was something so graceful and celestial in that room, something that was clearly above it all. I never understood what happened in there, I just felt. Perhaps what I felt there was the resolve of a clear mind, and pure heart and unshakable commitment to Justice, Truth and the Good.

Later that evening, and as we went back to land, to Cape Town, I could not help but look around me, at the rainbow of people around me, going about their lives in a peaceful manner and think that all of that was owed to you. On the boat ride back, I had been wondering how you managed to go from that cell and the journey there to calling for Reconciliation, Peace and Love. But then, at the sight of different color babies and children, all innocent, and standing a chance to live in harmony, it hit me. The meaning of your journey hit me. And I just stood there, struck by a new reality, with a new door in my heart now open. A door in my heart I always wanted to have access to, but never was quite capable of accessing: the door in my heart to unconditional forgiveness.

In the end, Beloved Madiba, I am just so grateful that you were granted a long life. And I hope you felt the absolute love, appreciation and respect we all have for you. Too often we fail to express how much we love them to those we love while they are still alive. But I want to believe that in your case, Beloved Madiba, we have not made that mistake. I want to believe that you have known our love for you. Thank you for inspiring me every day to live a full and meaningful life, no matter the price to pay. I would have liked to have you forever, but I understand you were ready to say goodbye. So goodbye, my Beloved Madiba. You dance inside my heart, as you always have. I ♡ you.

Hold On Forever!

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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 Book Review of Rwanda Inc.

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“Compared with the embarrassing parade of leaders in Africa since independence, Rwandan President Paul Kagame is clearly intelligent, disciplined, and principled. It is inspiring to read about the economic gains he has brought to the long-suffering people of Rwanda. In light of Kagame’s unquestionable achievements, it would have been even more satisfying if Rwanda, Inc. had either shown us Kagame warts and all or definitively exonerated him from the most damaging charges against him. Instead, we are left to wonder: Is Kagame great only with respect to economics? Or might he be a truly great African leader?”

This is excerpt from my book review of Rwanda Inc for Barron’s. The Full review is available here (scroll at the bottom of the page)

Unlearn. Unstick. Unleash. Be.

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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

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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”

 

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