I get requests to conduct storytelling workshops from a variety of sources, from business networks to startups and professional organizations. But I was recently asked to craft a storytelling workshop for a group of amazing African entrepreneurs who were coming to American as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. At first I assumed they were high school or college students, just getting started in their career, but I was way off the mark on that assumption.
I began the workshop, as all such meetings do, with introductions from each of the attendees in the room. In the U.S. we think of states, but in Africa, it’s countries. Zambia, Togo, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Mauritius, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, South Sudan, and Nigeria (I’m sure I missed a few) were all represented as each of the women and men spoke up.
The Uber of tutors, a novel payment collection system, a philanthropic software platform, sports journaling and entrepreneurial accelerators were mentioned. Many of these “students” had already started 2 or 3 companies and were changing lives in their communities.
I wasn’t sure what the entrepreneurs most wanted to hear most – I had no chance to speak to them before the workshop began – so I created a hybrid that combined the essentials of a great TED/TEDx talk, with material from my brand storytelling workshops. It turned out to be a good mix, as the entrepreneurs articulated their brand philosophy and tactics like savvy business leaders.
Joseph Oliver Wani was one of the remarkable leaders sitting directly in front of me. As the finance manager for the African Youth Action Network (AYAN), Joseph was dedicated to helping refugees from South Sudan.
Founded in June 2015, in Uganda by South Sudanese young people, AYAN has worked directly with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to support South Sudanese young refugees to receive scholarships to study in Uganda. The organization believes that Illiteracy is one of the major cause of conflict in South Sudan. The organization is currently registered in South Sudan with a branch in Uganda and looking forward to opening in Kenya.
At AYAN, we believe that the youth are well positioned to organize and participate in promoting a movement of sustainable peace through the organization of positive, non-violent, community-building activities, through trainings, mentorship, community outreach programmes in the Great Lakes Region and other volatile Parts of Africa.
In the United States the refugee crisis – which has reached staggering numbers – is not something we think about very often, as it’s “over there” somewhere, yet the impact on humanity will be felt for generations to come. And to be honest, it wasn’t a topic that I expected to materialize when I was getting ready to conduct this workshop – entrepreneur and refugee crisis didn’t mix in my mind.
As to Joseph, I had the opportunity to continue the conversation a week later during closing night ceremonies on the University of San Diego campus. He had just spent the the past six weeks in the U.S. studying business and entrepreneurship, and he was excited to return to his work, to apply the skills and insights gained, not to create the latest widget or cool app, but to help those fleeing violence in their home country. I couldn’t have been more proud of this young man.
In closing, my thanks go to the San Diego Diplomacy Council who played a major role in the program and invited me to participate. I’m sure I learned more from the process than the students.