How about using the power of a digital platform to bring together people from all over the world to share, inspire, and empower each other? That is the objective of the Ubuntu Love Challenge, an initiative by African thought leader Mamadou Kwidjim Touré with Her Highness Sheikha Bodour, youth and women’s empowerment advocate from the United Arab Emirates. Both are also successful entrepreneurs. Toure is founder of Ubuntu Tribe and Africa 2.0. Sheikha Bodour launched Kalimat Publishing Group in 2007. With the Ubuntu Love Challenge, they seek to provide a collective response to the current global crisis. AllAfrica’s Seyna Sall spoke to them about the inspirational aspects of the movement and how they plan to achieve their goal.
What can you tell us about the Ubuntu Love Challenge and why you decided to launch it?
Mamadou K. Touré – The whole idea was to create a global movement that would address some of the current challenges implied by Covid-19. As you know, it has led to a greatest sense of hopelessness but also a general atmophere of fear. Now fear is becoming more contagious than the virus itself. We believe it is essential, in these distress times, to call upon what makes us ultimately humans.
The key word that would have come to mind in my case is Ubuntu. Ubuntu means ‘I am because we are’. We share a common destiny and common intrinsic values. We can respond, in this time of distress, to the global challenge by calling upon our humanity, our solidarity, showing acts of kindness and compassion and admitting also our interdependence. And if you take the case of Africa as an example, it is that very ‘Ubuntu’ that made the continent over the decades and centuries, despite the challenges that we have gone through, to still remain resilient and to work as communities.
Sheika Bodour – I fell in love with the word Ubuntu when I first heard it and I really feel that it connects us to our roots. We all come from Africa. That is really our mother and our roots.
In times like this, it is really important for us to go back to our heritage, our ancestors, to find truth. The concept has so much truth and it resonates so well in this day and age. That is what I feel about Ubuntu. Our initiative has taken off so well here in the Middle East and globally. High profile personalities have already taken the challenge like actor Tyrese Gibson, singer Maxwell and entrepreneur Chris Gardner and other artists, thought leaders and business owners. And they are all contributing to the challenge in their own way.
That is something we are all advocating for. You could be from any background and take the Ubuntu Love Challenge and you could do whatever you can to make this world a better place even if it is just a smile, even if it is helping your neighbor with groceries. No act is too small for the Ubuntu Love Challenge.
At what stage of your initiative are you right now?
Sheikha Bodour – We launched the challenge on April 14with a website where you can find all the information about the challenge and also all the people who have already taken it. There is also information about how this started with a genesis video and also about the leadership and thinking behind it. We have activated many ambassadors around the world from Asia to America, Africa and Europe. We aggregated all this in our social media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram at #UbuntuChallenge).
Mamadou K. Touré – In just a few weeks we had more than 20 influencers and celebrities. It is really important to shift the mindset. The main challenge that you face in general is how do we go beyond the crisis. It starts in our heads and in our hearts. I generally refer to this concept of ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, he’ll eat forever.’
It’s important to give people hope so they can stand up and rise to the occasion despite the challenge and find solutions for themselves, find the strength within, remember what makes them human and recover their intrinsic power. All the continents have started as Sheikha Bodour mentioned. We call it a decentralized collective response to address this pandemic. If we make love more viral than the virus itself, then we have a chance to build a better tomorrow.
Also, when you look at the statistics, any person that would be contaminated by the virus would affect an average of 11 people. So by challenging an average of 12 people to make an act of kindness, you have a chance to grow faster and to ultimately overcome this crisis. We all know that it is not going to stop here. There are going to be more waves.
What is also powerful is that we invite people to write songs, poems… because we all know deep inside how much art and creativity can be the ultimate solution to deal with a problem you haven’t been taught to deal with.
Your project sounds really ambitious. How many people around the world would you like to reach?
Sheika Bodour – The outreach is really important for us. Acts of kindness are really contagious[RK1] , amplifing around communities, families, social media connections. We have already seen it.
Mamadou K. Touré – We want to reach as many people as possible. But we also know that the beauty about changing people or shifting mindset cannot be quantifiable in numbers. It is more quantifiable qualitatively through the way people react and the way people interact with one another.
I think the world today is going through an identity crisis. Ultimately, the models that we’ve been looking up to, are failing to deliver the results they used to deliver. And more people around the world are calling for more values based leadership. You have different ways to change the society: either you change the leaders or people open their eyes and get inspired to do things differently. We won’t have a checker to check who is changing but we will see it more in a way where new systems and solutions will emerge.
We are already seeing it. In Africa 2.0 foundation, we have a woman entrepreneur who manufactures beauty products. Due to the pandemic, her business wasn’t going anywhere. But she rose to the occasion and felt inspired and started to produce masks and gloves to serve her community. And that’s what we call an Ubuntu attitude. That is what we want to impact on people: ‘What is your Ubuntu? Show your Ubuntu!’.
But it’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s long-term shifting, but when they shift, they shift forever.
Sheika Bodour – I remember this quote that I love of Djalâl ad-Dîn Rumi who was a sufi poet and says: “Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world, but today I’m wise so I’m changing myself”. Change has to start from within. We encourage everybody to make small changes within them and it will spread out to their communities.
What are your current needs at this stage?
Sheika Bodour – We have been overwhelmed by the support we are receiving and we have provided resourceful content where people can find different foundations and charities that are doing good around the world. I encourage people who want to act but don’t know what to do, to connect on our website where they will get ideas and get inspired. Right now, we really want people to amplify our message of love over fear. So if someone reading this wants to support, please share our links, go to our social media, and tell your friends about it.
Mamadou K. Touré – We need as much coverage as possible, we need people to post as many videos, and more importantly we invite organizations to also take the challenge because it’s a collective effort. It’s maybe the time for any person or entity to act responsibly and to build a legacy. We don’t want people to be shy about it. We are asking people to remember who they are and to remember what makes us human. Indeed, we change ourselves but more importantly we found ourselves.
What will make people decide to connect and share their gift and act of love and kindness, when they already do it in a more private way?
Sheikha Bodour – There are a lot of ‘unsung heroes’ who are out there doing good and we don’t hear about them. The Ubuntu Love Challenge is there for them. That is why we have created this platform. We want to give them a voice and show what they are doing.
Some people are shy. They don’t want to say that they are doing this or that but we want to encourage them to step out because it is only by being an example and being a role model that you can influence change. We encourage them to take that leap of faith and to share what they do to the rest of the world because you don’t know who you will inspire by doing that.
Mamadou K. Touré – We are moving to a new world. Entrepreneurs, for example, are among the ones who will be changing this world. You can do things on a personal level but there are so many people trying to solve a problem within their community through their business for instance or through an NGO but how do you ultimately get the resources that you’ve been looking for?
Where do you go and how do you make the world know that you are doing something? Are you going to take a microphone and walk around the city? No. The beauty today is that the world is digital. The barriers are in terms of distance, in terms of time and in terms of support.
So it is a unique opportunity for level playing field. In my case, I reached out to Sheikha Bodour and I said ‘we need to do something about it’. Imagine that I sat in my own corner! It’s important to project what you want to happen. That’s essential.
Another personal story: my parents are immigrants in Europe. I went to school in Paris and returned to Africa. I wonder how many Mamadou Touré would have the opportunity to get on a plane and go to one of these Ivy League schools. Not many. But today, with the digital world, we can be at home and receive free teaching from somebody who wants to teach. You can be at home with a disease and with telemedicine, a doctor somewhere in the world may want to take time to help you.
We are in an interconnected world. We are taken back to the very essence of Ubuntu. So share what you do. There could be somebody out there that might be doing the balance or complement what you are doing and so together you can do something that is bigger than both of you.