June 16th 2017, I was privileged to be 1 of 1000 Africans and 24 Cameroonians who began a journey which will among other things change our perspectives on leadership and development in our communities and our role in the development of our Country, the African Continent, and the world.
Selected under for the Business and Entrepreneurship Track, I was placed at the prestigious IVY League Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire to study “Design Driven Entrepreneurship” alongside 24 other brilliant young leaders from 18 other African Countries including Nigeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Zambia, Namibia, Burundi, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mali, Liberia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Sudan and Ghana. I spent 6 weeks with these impressive young leaders in Hanover New Hampshire where we were immersed into course work on Design Thinking, Design Driven Entrepreneurship, Developing, Leadership Development, Practical Business Skills, Team Building among others.
Like every other one of them, this for me, was the beginning of an interesting journey learning about people from other African countries, discovering the similarities and differences in the realities we face and also realising the unfortunate truth that it only took us traveling out of Africa to connect with each other and create relationships that will help us create impact in Africa across National borders.
I had the opportunity to live and work with inspiring people like Eyram from Ghana and Adebayo from Nigeria who develop Digital Games around African folklore and culture, Mpho Sekwele who inspires young people in South Africa to overcome life’s challenges by hiking Mountains as a metaphor, Bilaly who is inspiring a new Generation of Leaders and Entrepreneurs and who is going to be President of Mali someday (fingers crossed), @Youku Kasselie who is turning Trash into Treasure in Liberia and other young African leaders working to change the community in different inspiring and innovative ways. You can get inspired by their profiles on the Dartmouth website. Young people through whom I learned, we don’t need to look across the continent in order to collaborate and change Africa.
The true secret behind the success of our fellowship was the amazing team in charge of our program who sacrificed their time, their lives, their comfort to make sure that 25 young Africans made the most of their time during the fellowship. Amy, Tom, Skye, Jake, Julie, Amadu, Don, Al, Vincent, Rich, Prof Robbie, Lorie, Sarah and other amazing people gave their all to nourish us with knowledge, experiences, food of course and networks which we’ll build on.
As if Dartmouth wasn’t experience enough, I got to spend a weekend with the amazing David and Sue Taylor who showered me with love, food and took me around New Hampshire and Vermont to visit small businesses and farms who taught me valuable lessons about growth and sustainability. I learnt how businesses like the Mcnamara Dairy, Edgewater Farms, etc have leveraged their communities and expertise to build sustainable business models, are using customer feedback to innovate and diversify and have stayed successful for so many years while enjoying rapid, controllable growth.
During our 6 weeks at Dartmouth, we visited small and Big Organisations in the New England area, including Timberland, Ben and Jerry’s, Community Access Television and more. I had a particular experience at Timberland where I got the experience of rediscovering the company as a Social Impact Giant and not only a luxury shoemaker as we’ve come to know them in Cameroon. Lesson learnt: People feel a lot better buying our products or services if they know that they’re contributing to solving a Social Need and not just enriching some people… and “The most important thing is to Walk the Talk…” —Jim Pisani Global Brand President
We worked in different groups — sometimes with people who got us on the tip of our nerves — to identify a problem in our communities and utilise the numerous resources placed at our disposal, the knowledge and tricks we learnt in class and the guidance of our Professors, program coordinators and Teaching Assistants to craft and propose a Project which will solve this problem.
We also had the chance to present our group projects to a team of Investors in a pitch competition where my Team whose project was aimed at reducing Recidivism in Cameroon won the prize (wink). To make our experience even more impact filled, we had numerous Cultural exchange programs and Networking events during which we met a lot of amazing people and created friendships and networks which we have been using to improve on the work we do in our communities.
I met an amazing young man Ed Kim who opened my eyes to a lot more about practical Leadership and Team Management in less than 6 weeks than I have learned in over 2 years now running my company. a few things I can cite include:-
“When you’re leading people, telling them to be more creative is just as helpful as throwing water on the ground. You need to stop telling your team to be creative or to work as a team… instead, you need to actually create an environment which will force them to do so.”
“The most important person in a group or team is not necessarily the founder or the leader, but the first person to follow the leader. He is the trendsetter and he’s the one who assures everyone else that it’s okay to join.”
Furthermore, we joined the people of the New Hampshire and Vermont communities through Community Service projects with non-profits once every week to contribute to providing aid to vulnerable people in the New England area. My group worked with “Willing Hands” — a non-profit which works to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the homeless and families in need in the Hartford area.
Our MWF experience groomed us all to become better entrepreneurs who understand the importance of identifying the needs of the people around us and creating solutions to these needs. We emerged leaders ever more determined to creating positive Change.
These lessons were cemented in our hearts when all 1000 of us regrouped in Washington DC for networking, and Keynote speeches from Tony Elumelu and other high profile speakers.
It is hard to capture what I learnt personally during my MWF experience in a few words as it feels like our mouths were opened and oceans of specifically targeted knowledge were poured into us, each clearly opening our eyes to aspects of our organisations and our communities where we will work to improve as soon as we return.
A few of the Biggest Lessons to note include the following.
- Design Driven Entrepreneurship. We must, as entrepreneurs apply Design thinking to the process of finding solutions, we must Identify abundance in Slack resources.
- Stepping in others’ Shoes. We must… MUST step away from our side of the communication to get a picture of what our Stakeholders (Customers, beneficiaries, donors, etc) seeing and understanding
- Social Good. Small Organisations (like yours) can create Impact and bring change. It takes a Community to Create Impact… We sure as hell cannot Change the world on our own, but we damn well can try.
Now that we’ve returned to our Home countries, all 1000 of us have a determination to dive right into action. Personally, I am in the process of drawing a road map of what I’ll do both at my organisations to expand the impact we’ve been creating and as a Community Leader to share the knowledge I’ve gathered with other young Leaders.
Re-Strategizing: I will be working with my team to apply the concepts of Design Driven Entrepreneurship to the solutions we’re providing to organisations and passing these concepts down to the organisations we consult, partners, those in our networks and as many organisations as we can reach out to.
Workshop: Sometime this month, I’ll be organising a workshop on Design Driven Entrepreneurship during which I plan to share the concepts, tools and resources I learnt about over 6 weeks in Dartmouth. I hope to do this with the assistance and hopefully guest lectures from my professors at Dartmouth.
I’ll be communicating on Social Media and other Digital Platforms details about this workshop.
Mentoring: I plan to mentor as many young people as possible who have a desire to do more in their communities and have a dream to be part of the YALI experience and Network.
I plan to continue working with the US Embassy in Cameroon and the young people in my community to identify projects we can implement in our communities to empower our young people and to boost development.