A few years ago, I had the opportunity to distil my entire life’s work and life philosophy into one graphic and one phrase. Having spent my career working in large companies, running my own businesses, and dedicating time to philanthropic, social, and community work, I became Master of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists in 2010. It was through this that I earned the right to apply to the College of Arms for my own official coat of arms. As part of the design process, you get to choose a motto that encapsulates your philosophy.
I gave a speech about entrepreneurship in Cape Town earlier in 2015 where I said that there has never been a better time to build a successful business. However, I’ve always believed that whilst creating wealth through enterprise is good, it’s what you do with the wealth that you create that really matters. My argument is simple: there is nothing wrong with doing well for yourself and making money, but this needs to be balanced by doing good and using that wealth to help others. Therefore, my wife and I chose as our motto for the coat of arms: ‘Do well. Do good’.
The story of success that we dream of in Africa goes something like this: you escape from the village where you grew up, make it to the big town, and from there leave the country to go to London, or Paris, or New York. You work extra hard, overcome a multitude of challenges and attitudes, and finally make it big over there. Only once you’ve made it over there can you truly call yourself an African success story. My question is how can you call that success when you’ve had to leave your home, leave your family, leave your culture and traditions, and change yourself to fit into someone else’s system just in order for you to ‘make it’?
That is not success.
Success is to stay where you are from and build something that people from London, Paris, or New York will travel half way across the world to be a part of. Success is where you can proudly invite people into your country, into your culture, and into your way of life, and they are happy to come and fit into the new world that you expose them to.
That is my vision of the African dream...
Funmi Iyanda, a much-admired broadcaster and media entrepreneur from Nigeria, presented her vision of the future of black British leadership at a talk given at the University of Cumbria’s Institute for Leadership and Sustainability. She wove into her talk personal stories spanning generations from her growing up listening to her grandmother's oration, to her own daughter's experiences of being a young African in an environment where unfamiliarity breeds social discomfort. These personal accounts provided additional context to the legacy that colonialism has left in current day Nigeria, and its lasting effects on young Africans living in the diaspora.
Funmi's underlying message was that we, as Africans, need to reconstruct an Africa that is fit for Africans, and that when we marginalise and devalue humans we lose the opportunity to learn from them and absorb the positive benefits that the skills, knowledge and experiences of ‘others’ can bring to society. The challenge for future leaders is to learn to see diversity as less of a problem and more of an opportunity.
Here are ten more quotes from Funmi Iyanda’s ‘Future of Black British Leadership’ talk.