Re-Imagnining the transformation of our communities by Carl Manlan


Innovation does not equate complex technology. Every day, communities across Africa find creative ways to contribute meaningfully to their lives with or without technology. Their challenges become a source of creativity that pushes them to try different approaches with common tools, limited resources and the will to live, and fashion opportunities to transform their lives. The world is a connection of value chains where one needs to carve out a niche.

In Agbobloshie, Ghana, for instance, a circular economy — a continuous process of creating value while limiting impact on the planet — is defying the critics. “The most toxic place on earth”, Agbobloshie, is an urban-scale open-air manufactory. Youthful creativity is turning scraps of metal found in rubbish piles into key components of a manufacturing hub. About 10,000-20,000 youth re-introduce copper wires and still-functional parts of discarded electronic equipment into the economy. From refurbished electronic goods to pots and pans, to name a few.

How might we re-imagine communities so they engage with a purpose to learn? Ultimately, the ability to re-imagine the “Africa we want” through our own culture and vision is a critical step in ensuring that socio-economic transformation does not leave more people behind.

To jumpstart this shift, we need to embark on a joint project; connecting doers and thinkers of our formal and informal economies to the benefit of the communities in which they and extend the value chain. Street traders have skills that students in marketing, logistics, entrepreneurship, and economics, to name a few, need to learn to design and implement policies for the Africa we have. I have always been fascinated by the ability of a group of people to offer different goods and services according to weather, location and events. We have a responsibility to harness their skills to educate, to transform and to thrive through a transformed education system that creates doers, solvers and active participants.

Through this project, doers, traders, manufacturers, and thinkers expand their knowledge of each other while creating a mechanism to design with the “Africa we have”. In a circular economy, we continue to embrace opportunities to transform communities along existing value chains while re-thinking a product’s end life. It is about expanding creative opportunities for youth and women with homegrown solutions.

Homegrown solutions to spark our socio-economic transformation are present on the continent. For instance, architect Diébédo Francis Kéré creating new opportunities to re-imagining African design and architecture with regional materials and Pierre Thiam’s revival of a five-thousand-year-old grain, fonio, to re-engineer life in the Sahara. Yet we have been lured to believe that imported technology and external constructs will resolve all our ills. We need to wake up to the smell of scrap metal turned into a pot, plastic bottles into containers for sobolo (bissap), Johnny Walker bottles for peanut containers, and so on.

Trash sifters in Argentina and South Africa play a critical role in the formal economy by connecting thier informal activities into the recycling value chain. Out of necessity, they create job opportunities for their communities thereby alleviating pressure on the formal economy. This is not unusual. The majority of Africans have participated in the informal economy and those jobs account for 93 per cent of new jobs created. It is big business with limited incentives to formalise. We have informal structures shaping our economies. This is the reality. The challenge is to capture the informality in its essence, then redefine formal economies for the purpose that we have at hand: transforming Africa’s 55 countries.

It is incumbent on many more of us to re-imagine our economies, designing participatory approaches that look beyond the “toxic” label. Innovators in communities are making a real difference in the everyday lives of millions striving to make do with the minimal resources of their communities. We should all be doing the same.

The Africa we have provides the basis for a full-scale implementation of a circular economy. Agbobloshie when fully harnessed will become the centre of the circular economy for electronics and manufacturing. It is possible beyond our current imagination. It is happening. Let’s pool our resources to make it happen for us. We can do it. Let’s make it happen now.

Identity and Fulfillment: Happy-nomics! by Howard Fischer

Happy-nomics! Identity and Fulfillment

As this generation grapples with the pursuit of identity and fulfilment, we miss the fact that someone, somewhere has smuggled in a formula into our thinking.  We accept that we deserve to be happy!  Happiness has been smuggled in!  Happiness is now the “true north” on the compass of our lives.  And hence, success or failure in life, is now defined by the levels of happiness we feel!

What an utterly dangerous philosophy to live by… or illusion to be under!

Happiness… is based upon what happens.  Thus, there will always need to be an external stimulus.  What drives the economy of happiness in your life?  Consider the following questions… Does money bring happiness?  Can poor people be happy?  Does being in a relationship bring happiness?  Are single people happy?  A new car?  A new house?  A diamond ring?  What will satisfy?

With the continuous acceleration of social media, we are pressured into living our lives in images, on display.  But, we must only live our best moments in the public eye… we have to show that we are really happy or happier, or really hurting… because those get attention and likes!

Pressurised to post “the daily me”!  And the number of likes or emoticons, will guide us into the types of updates we must continue to post.  And, we play to the audience, because their approval of us will determine our levels of happiness.  Sadly, there comes a point where we sever ourselves from our roots… never mind the cost. I have to be liked, so I post whatever gets me my happiness fix!

I have, over time, realised that happiness is a by-product of what happens.  Happiness is a means to an end, never an end in itself.  It is not to be pursued, but is found in the pursuit of other goals and challenges.

Here is some older-world wisdom for life…

The Serenity Prayer,  by Reinholdt Neibuhr (exerpt)

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace…

…So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next”


The Perfect High, by Shel Silverstein, ends with these infamous lines…

“It’s always the same, whether old men or bright-eyed youth;

It’s always easier to sell them some sh#§, than it is to tell them the truth.”


We often find our true selves in struggle and hardship, not in comfort and ease, like Nelson Mandela.  Keep walking toward freedom.  Live well!

Fulfillment and Identity: Search for meaning by Howard Fischer (Director, DNL)

YOLO!  You only live once!  Nothing lasts forever. So live it up, drink it down, laugh it off, party hard, avoid the drama, take chances, live for the moment and never have regrets, because at one point everything you did was exactly what you wanted… this quotation, attributed by some to Marilyn Monroe, is the mantra of advice given to young people.

But, does it answer the vacuum that exists in most of our hearts?

Freud, Adler and Frankl

Sigmund Freud said that the number one drive in humanity is the will to pleasure.  He claims that the vacuum inside of people only exists because they withhold certain pleasures from themselves.  His claim is that the Judeo Christian worldview restricts people from this primary drive, and thus, they live unfulfilled lives.  Fulfillment will only come when we give ourselves to every pleasure we can imagine!  It is only in the surrender to pleasure that we find our true selves.

Alfred Adler on the other hand says that humanity is driven by the will to power, and that our neurosis and psychosis exist because we need to be free to be ourselves and to make our own decisions in every circumstance.  We must dominate, or we will never be fulfilled.  Fulfillment will only come when we live as we wish; by our own credo and our own rules; deciding for ourselves what is right and what is wrong!  We find our true selves, when we live as we choose!

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auchwitz, considered both these strands of psychology and used his prisoner of war camp experience as a test case.  Everyone was stripped naked, yet pleasure was furthest from their minds.  Power was only demonstrated by the prison guards over prisoners, and the prisoners bound together to survive.  There was neither the will to pleasure, nor the will to power!

Frankl determined that both Freud and Adler were found to answer the HOW question of life, and it proved insufficient in the prison camps.

Frankl developed his logotherapy in this moment, the will to meaning.  He proposed that when man found the WHY for living, he could endure any HOW.

John Maxwell says that Purpose puts steel in the backbone of discipline.  You are able to endure the tough disciplines it takes to succeed in life when you know why you are doing it.  It is only with a clear vision, and a clear hope for the future, that you will put in the effort and discipline yourself in education, art, sport, relationships and vocation.

You must have the end in sight, then you will be able to live with discipline!

When you answer the WHY question of life, you will better answer the HOW!

Why Dream To Walk When You Can Dream To Fly by Cherise Scott (Director of Pediatric Programs: TB Alliance)

Cherise Scott

For the last two years, I have traveled along an intentional path of personal growth because I felt limited in life to a point where I could only get so far with my goals and yearned to figure out why. We all have with us different size dream bags that contain the currency of our desires, our values, and our visions. Some of us have really allowed ourselves to fill our bags to the brim and others can fit theirs in their pocket. When it feels like we are not able to spend our currency and realize those dreams even the smallest ones, it causes a feeling of burden and an inability to really take off. Often times we blame the circumstances of life for keeping us down–it must be the weather that has us grounded. This reasoning often falters when we find out people who had it the same or worse seem to be flying all over the place and even doing tricks in the air. So who or what is to blame? The answer is you, you are your wall, you are the barrier, you are the closed door. I say this not so that you beat up or mistreat yourself, but so that you focus your energy and efforts in the right direction.

With the knowledge that I was my greatest limitation, I begin to search for and try as many tools and obtain as much wisdom from successful individuals transversing a similar flight path as mine. Even though the methods and resources may be different for each of us as we work on ourselves and work out our limitations, there are common themes and principles that should be a part of that journey:

Recognize that you don’t know you. There is not one human being on this earth that knows the fullness of who they are. By the time we reach adulthood, we are defined more by others than anything. It is important to test and push against labels and categories that are placed upon us by family, society, church, school, work, or ourselves. We are not what we do. We do based on who we are. The potential for what you can do is infinite. It does not mean that you can do everything. The challenge I give you is to go out and have fun finding out what you can do instead of focusing on what you can’t do. Don’t be afraid to fail because each time you try anything in life, you discover something about who you truly are.
Dream as if you had unlimited resources–a blank check or a trillion dollar bank account. Dreams were never intended to be equal to our present. Dreams are another world, another dimension. Dreams are our juice to keep us going and allow us the force of will to go high and stay high. Several years back, I worked for a public health program for adolescents in a rural community. There were high teen pregnancy rates and a cycle of poverty. We often used a quote from Marian Wright Edelman, an advocate for children’s rights, that said “Hope is the best contraceptive.” To hope is to dream. The more you allow yourself to hope and to dream, the decisions you make will support and align with those hopes and dreams. Be sure to write them down in detail and keep them before your eyes.
Your enemies are fear and doubt. Other people are not your enemies, because they are trying to live this life just like you. You will have adversity, challenges, and tons of problems come into your life as long as you breathe. How you handle fear and doubt will determine your fate and will determine how rich your life is. If you want to achieve victory, acknowledge and get to know your fears and doubts. Know when and where they pop up and work to understand why they do. If you try to ignore them or dismiss them, you are giving them the go ahead to wreck havoc in your life. You diminish their power when you look them dead in the face and tell them you see them. This is where counseling can provide a great resource in helping you see and conquer your true enemies. This fight is not just one battle but a lifetime war. It is okay and don’t be discouraged because you will be reaping so much glory and reward along the way and you will never be fighting alone.

A wise woman told me that we have our dreams and desires for a reason. If they were not possible, we would not have them. Take the reigns off and fly.

Crafting the entrepreneur in you by Carl Manlan (COO of Ecobank Foundation)

(Carl Manlan writes in his personal capacity.)

In many respects, when one thinks of entrepreneurship, the focus is on the business venture, risk and making a profit. It is most often about starting a new business. While this is important and a pathway that has been reinforced in the context of limited jobs and opportunities for young adults, it is important to pause and define the most important piece of the work: the mindset.

As such, for a very long time, I basked in the idea that life will happen to me in a linear way. A linear approach that mainly exists in mathematics. I could not necessarily understand the reason why one should craft his or her own narrative of change. But life has a unique way to remind us that we hold the keys to our internal transformation. Transformation begs for constant renewal based on content.

When I started at the University of Cape Town in 1999, three years after completing high school, most of my peers had made progress in their journey. I was at the beginning of an extraordinary journey that I can contemplate in hindsight. I was disappointed then but I was not defeated. Through this journey of discovery, I started to explore at the limit of my boundaries defined as new country, new language, new environment, etc. In doing so, I started to redefine my boundaries at a pace that I could absorb.

One of the key features of my apprenticeship, was to redefine my world with English as the medium. In Zimbabwe, I discovered African literature through Things fall apart of Chinua Achebe. The narrative I engaged with gave me a glimpse of what possibilities could be once I had mastered the language. I made it a personal venture to master English because I understood the impact it would have on my chosen path. The perceived delay in time elapsed between high school and my first day at university no longer mattered. I was becoming a conscious designer of my enterprise through content. Fast forward to 2017 and I am working across the African continent to enable prosperity in Africa.

There are three things that I think are critical in crafting the entrepreneur in you:

1. Patience in one’s ability to develop capacity while taking informed risk. Moving from Abidjan to Harare was a required step in developing my intellectual capacity to embrace inner transformation through content.

2. Knowledge of self and others to seek new ways to engage with ideas, prototypes to turn them into bankable solutions to transform the community.

3. Purpose in life is connected to the community. The greatest achievement of an entrepreneur is to have enabled prosperity in the community that translates into impact driven changes.

Ultimately, entrepreneurship is about challenging the stable mediocrity that creeps in and makes talented young adults underutilise their potential. I am still crafting the entrepreneur in me. It is a lifetime commitment to contribute to transforming communities with a shared value proposition: enabling prosperity in Africa.

Ultimately, crafting the entrepreneur in you is a lifetime commitment to act that everyday finds us farther than today.