At the beginning of this year, I decided that instead of creating resolutions, I would come up with a mantra for 2010. One statement that would sum up my goals and inspire me to drive towards them enthusiastically. I decided that this year would be the year of “doing and discovering.” Vague, yet empowering. The fact that these three words encompass so much, meant that I was setting myself up to succeed, rather than setting myself up to fail.
Last week, weareasilia.com launched. The product of a successful working partnership with a friend, a commitment by both of us to do what we love and, in many ways, the cumulation of our respective experience, learning and ambitions up to this point.
My favourite part of launch preparation, aside from knowing that my passion for creating and communicating is what will sustain me, was putting together our credo. Defining our own rules and creating the opportunity for ourselves to do things differently.
From our 'informal' work culture … our team resides in different locations with 2 out of 3 of us working from home. That means that we have incredible flexibility, making it easier to balance work and life. My business partner and I probably do work longer hours than we did when employed but, because we enjoy it and because it's on our own terms, it feels less like work and more like an enjoyable pastime. To our firm stance when it comes to working with people who share our values. We have already had to turn down clients who we felt were not considerate enough for us to be able to successfully work together in achieving their goals. It was a difficult decision but, when we weighed the stress we'd have to go through against the value the experience would add to us – as people and as a business – it wasn't worth it.
One thing I do wonder about is when the test will come that will threaten to compromise our values and our approach. I try to imagine what form it will take. Will it be a project that will seem too good to refuse, only for us to discover the hidden costs to our wellbeing (and that of others)? Will it be the otherwise amazing client who expects to see us in suits?
I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes: "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes."
Thoreau testifying that not staying true to yourself may have unsavoury consequences.
Asilia is just that. An opportunity for me to be myself and give others the opportunity to assert themselves, spread their gifts and share their passions with the world. There is a school of thought that believes that enterprise, business, is the most effective path to development. I'm inclined to agree with the proviso that we're talking about considered and considerate business. Considerate to all involved: staff, suppliers, customers, clients, users, contractors, family, environment and never forgetting, self. Then we're looking at the whole picture of development.
Imagine a continent of self-loving, considerate and enterprising Africans …
Images: the Asilia team – Kevin, Lulu and Andrew. Illustrations by Lulu, copyright Asilia.
Since the known beginnings of humanity, people have been making art. The arts have been central in our societies, visible in our rituals and celebrations and even in our day-to-day, for example through how we dress and the objects we use. The arts have given us confidence and identity. They have created community. They have enabled us to have our voices heard and championed revolution. They have reminded us of the beauty of life. They have allowed us to express our sorrow as well as a joy. They have facilitated problem-solving, both within and outwardly. The arts are a proven powerful form of expression, communication and mobilisation.
With such potential, people everywhere are consciously recognising that the power of the arts can be harnessed to foster positive change. This week in Mali, the Bamako Art Symposium, is taking place, organised in part by the Nka Foundation, an organisation that promotes human capital development through a focus on the arts. There are several other examples that will be profiled on the blog over time as the discussion on art driving change continues.
Our continent is full of rich cultural diversity and art is an integral part of this. It only makes sense then that we should continue this heritage of creativity and apply it to improving ourselves, our communities and our environment.
Image: protest art from South Africa's Apartheid Museum.
Emotion is often relegated to the realm of "fluffy", soft or irrational things. Away from the arenas of success and progress. When we talk about change we often concentrate on statistics or intellectualise the issue to the point of distancing ourselves from the human element behind the endeavour. Rarely do we connect our individual selves to the place, people, or living things at the heart of the change. It is as if we are external actors who are in no way connected except for the intervention we are wishing or planning.
But when we engage our emotions, when we allow our passion to move us, we can empathise. We can truly affect change. If you believe in such, it is as if we finally align with the universal spirit and our actions become more powerful and effective.
Napoleon Hill, author of the classic bestselling book, Think and Grow Rich, asserts that emotion is necessary in order to engage the subconcious and, once engaged the subconscious helps create opportunities for success. He states:
"Thoughts, mixed with emotions, amplify and grow until they become a dominating and motivating force."
The force of passion
I observe that most people who excel in their careers, are people who follow their passion. When you look at artists, athletes and other people who pursued "alternative" careers, they did so because of love, because of passion. No one decides to become a singer in order to pay the bills. Such careers do not guarantee a comfortable life. That's why so many parents discourage their children from following such and instead encourage law, medicine, business and so forth.
The irony is that, when you look at it, anyone who is a truly great success, whether they are artists, athletes, doctors, lawyers or businesswomen and -men, they truly love what they do and that passion drives them. So if your passion is painting and instead you choose a "sensible" engineering path – you might have a comfortable life but, had you painted, you might have had an exceptional life where you are more than comfortable and most importantly, you are fulfilled inside – true success!
"Success follows doing what you want to do. There's is no other way to be successful."
— Malcolm S. Forbes
Emotion and change
In conclusion, emotion can influence change and passion can be channeled into progress and success. True love creates the necessary conditions for it to endure and even thrive. If we harness our love for Africa – if we let it shine and allow it to influence our actions – we can contribute to the advancement of the continent.
Title inspired by Alice Walker's book of the same name.
This post was originally posted on Lulu's blog, Pandemonium Today, in September 2009
Africa is in my veins … in my thoughts and in my actions. I don’t know how love for a continent is made. How the colours and rhythms from one far-off coast can resonate as loudly on the opposite side. How listening to strangers speaking a language I do not know (understanding is different for it often transcends linguistic boundaries) can bring sudden feelings of homesickness. How the rush of sights, sounds and smells, as I step out of a plane, has my being instantly relax in the knowledge: this is where I belong.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder and it also teaches the heart a lesson about its self: about how it is made; about what dictates its pace; and what it requires for beating.
I used to think I was patriotic, I still do, but I believe what I was feeling deserved a different and more appropriate name. It transcends national borders – it goes back before the Scramble. It rises over the barriers of language for communication takes place on several planes.
Meeting people from around the world and sharing our common affinities for the continent has helped, over years, to formulate for me, a way to articulate that feeling I previously could not quite capture. I choose to name it Afri-love. Simple, says what it does on the tin and allows me to signpost the myriad expressions of that feeling that I observe, live and create. Naming is a powerful process – it allows one to lift up a thing, hold it to the light and study it closely. Naming can be dangerous too: it can limit the form and consistency of a thing. However, in this instance, naming is useful to me as an umbrella under which to formulate ideas and mobilize the kind of action that will expand itself. Afri-love breeding Afri-love.
And naming helps to create community. A community already exists but it is not always self-aware. The extensive take up of the Afropolitan idea/identity is proof that Afri-love exists in abundance. Its informal community of agents spread its beauty and energy across the globe, sharing good news about the continent; enlightening people about its diversity and cultural wealth; and destroying the barrage of misperceptions that exist within the minds of ignorant and “worldly” alike.
Perhaps most important is exchange. Bringing language, culture, art, knowledge, belief and music to meet with the language, culture, art, knowledge, belief and music of other continents. Creating something new, powerful and relevant that heralds all of its constituent parts while casting a wider net of inclusion. Respect, fundamentally, running through it all.
Afri-love is about that respect for what came before (to avoid the use of that contentious term “tradition”), learning and taking forward what is still germane and beneficial to growth; leaving behind what is inappropriate and counter-constructive; drawing knowledge and inspiration from whatever other sources are available in our experience; and using our imagination, creativity and passion to make something new.
Something that reflects our individual histories and journies first. When we zoom out and look at the greater tapestry of which we are a tiny but crucial thread, the collective story emerges. In perhaps the most interesting, eclectic and spontaneous fashion yet.
Undoubtedly, the most conspicuous pattern is the energy that connects every person who feels Afri-love. It’s almost irrelevant where you’re from. That yearning to touch the ground, smell the soil and feel the sun’s embrace. To join the dance, both invisible and real. To love your brodas and sistas despite their weaknesses and bad judgement. To be that village that is concerned with the growth of every child. The village that hunts and gathers together and celebrates that collective action with a feast.
It may all sound quite utopian. Perhaps, the one truest sign of the presence of Afri-love is the optimism that we can make our vision a reality: Africa rising to realise its full potential*.
* Borrowing from the stated vision of African-led UK charity Stand Up for Africa.