Summary: “From the African Giants we celebrate, we learn resilience, patience, persistence. Despite the meager resources they were able to rally support; and with their charismatic confidence they were able to move mountains. I call this the ‘staying power’. “
The delegates, students and organizers of the 2014 CUNY Young African Leadership Symposium (YALS) were treated to a moving and influential keynote address by Founder of DotConnectAfrica Trust and Yes2DotAfrica Campaign, hailing her “Rock Star Woman! Sophia Bekele”. This year’s event was themed “Standing on the Shoulder of Giants: Our History, Our Legacy, Our Destiny”
An entertaining but inspiring speech, Bekele fired up the audience with past and modern day Giants from across the world and genre to drive her point across. She talked of African Star Giants such as Mandela, Mwalimu Nyerere, Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, from US Giants Roosevelt and Jefferson, quoted the Bible, Aristotle and music Giants such as Bob Marley and Jason Durulo, Beyonce and Aguilera.
Speaking on her passion for ‘women’ Bekele encouraged them to have hope and use their talents, and “when the going gets tough and or the men want to treat you like you should only be seen and not heard” she advised “pin your ears to these two songs – a must have in your play list – “Can’t hold US down” – by Christina Aguilera and “Girls Run the World ” – by Beyonce: These two ladies have your back.”
Indeed Women represent over 50% of the African continent and they have many gifts and talent and not utilizing them is also missing over 50% of the population’s talent. Without examining the contributions made by African women throughout the ages, the full story of the African experience and struggle cannot be told, she said.
Recalling her own Father as her Giant, she admired “his staying power under three varying government regimes with successful business undertakings.” . She also called upon a leading African business figures Tony Elumelu, as “her modern day Giant” and said Elumelu took one struggling Bank in Nigeria to a Pan African success story, an amazing accomplishment. Plus, his advocacy for private sector leadership in economic development and PanAfican vision under his coined term AfriCapitalism, coincides with mine and makes me wiggle… Not the wiggle of Jason Derulo ;)”, she said
Sophia urged the students to develop a “staying power” saying that she too was educated in America, therefore, will remind the words of Giants like US President Theodore Roosevelt on “staying in the Arena“. She said that “Given what we were enduring at our organization at DCA, I was inspired to write an entire commentary from his single quote for our Company’s 2014 New Year’s Newsletter and titled it “The ARENA Issue”.
The President said “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles; or where the doer of the deeds could have done them better. The Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
“You will never know you will win if you don’t stay the course” and using sport as a paradigm, Bekele drove the point home by saying:
“I am staying the course in my Body Combat Class (same as boxing)–because I know I am going to burn 750 calories in one hour of a fight vs. 300 in my cycle machine. That is about 1300 punches to your opponent – should be hard for them to get up from the floor;)”
Bekele also quoted her first “Nation building systems integration project” in Africa that her company successfully commissioned, saying it was “disruptive” business model. Since, we had many ventures my various star-ups have accomplished, and pioneered in Africa and the US, in the field of ICT, internet, social media and Corporate Governance, including our very successful and famous Pan-African effort on .africa domain name.
“I was recently quoted on media saying “Change is Controversial, therefore those who prepare to be in a position to lead change, should also have Courage to pursue it. “Courage is the first of human qualities – because it is the quality which guarantees the others”. – This is a quote from Aristotle. Thomas Jefferson also said “One man with courage is a majority.” I am sure Mandela and all those African Giants we celebrate had courage to do what they did.”
Bekele challenged the students saying “We must change to progress. I come from a very conservative culture of Ethiopia, a combination of aristocracy and strict norms influenced by religion. I have challenged many things on the status quo when I got back as a Diaspora African and I have won many of my battles, be it in business, cultural norms and even influenced my own parents to think differently.
On the empowerment and skills, she recognized the huge brain drain in key skills to advance Africa and told them that, they and African Diaspora are the hope for Africa. “Fight for your identity as an African – Let no one define you but you. You are the next generation of Leaders, Game Changers, Change Agents – go and do something for Africa.” She noted.
She concluded by urging the students to use their talents, do it the right way –practice good governance – not short cuts, to stay the course, use the power of hindsight, PUSH – Persist Until Something Happens. “Otherwise,: she asserted “your leadership will also suffer and you will be “Swinging from the Chandelier”. I will let you search whose song that is.”