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Together For A Better World

As we approach the end of the year, it’s natural to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and what is next to come. The highlight for me was working alongside a great team to organize the Baobab Summit 2018, a Mastercard Foundation signature event in Kigali, Rwanda. The Baobab Summit is an annual convening in which we bring together around 250 young people from across the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program to explore the values of transformative leadership. The Baobab Summit is a space in which youth share their experiences and ideas for how to transform their communities, economically and socially. We had fantastic speakers, saw inspiring social entrepreneurs compete for seed funding, and witnessed young people create friendships and build community as Mastercard Foundation Scholars. It felt fitting as this year’s themes were innovation and collaboration.

My reflections were spurred, in part, by the recent announcement of a new project created by two speakers at the Baobab Summit 2018, Farida Bedwei and Eyram Tawia. Farida Bedwei is a Ghanaian software engineer and co-founder of Logiciel, a fin-tech company. Eyram Tawia is CEO and co-founder of Leti Arts, an interactive media studio which is focused on developing gaming in Africa. Our office was abuzz one morning with the news of their collaboration to create a comic book superheroine whose disability is her superpower. Her name is Karmzah, she has cerebral palsy, and her crutches are her strength, not her weakness. There are few African superheroes, and this is the first with a disability. Farida and Eyram attended the Baobab Summit in Kigali as a speaker and workshop facilitator and there the idea for Karmzah was born.

Farida Bedwei speaking at the Baobab Summit 2018: Rwanda.

Farida Bedwei is herself a superhero. She is a software engineer, disability advocate, author, and has cerebral palsy. She is also considered to be one of the most powerful women in financial technology. Many Summit attendees expressed how inspired they were by her presentation and how their perspectives on the limitations of people living with disabilities had been shattered. It was powerful to see such a successful African woman command the room. As she herself said, it was never her disability that held her back, but the expectations of society that did.

Monday, December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (#IDPD) and its theme is “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. In many of our communities, in all communities around the world in fact, people who live with visible and invisible disabilities are underserved and undervalued. Society has created systems that hold people living with disabilities back from truly participating and thriving. It is not their disability that confines them, but the way that we’ve structured how we live. From infrastructure to education, technology, and media, persons with disabilities are excluded from the design of our societies and therefore face challenges navigating these spaces. It is difficult to feel empowered to contribute to building a better world when you don’t see yourself reflected in it.

But there is hope and change is happening globally. We are the most connected generation in history, physically and virtually. We have all the world’s knowledge in our pockets and can coordinate with people across borders and time zones. Those who historically were voiceless, are now demanding to be heard and this is vital because we need diverse thoughts, ideas, and experiences if we’re going to find sustainable solutions to challenges in our communities. By claiming space and changing the narrative of what it means to live with a disability, stories, like those of Farida and Karmzah, will empower the next generation of youth living with disabilities to continue to push for truly inclusive and innovative communities. Let’s work collaboratively with them to ensure all spaces work for all people.