People like to tell stories how something has been their lifelong passion and how they have been working towards it for decades. Well sustainability has not been my lifelong passion but where some people have the awakening moment when they experience a miracle and find god I moved to China and had my eye-opening moment and found sustainability. But let’s go ten years back in time from that moment to 2008 when I was a high school student. In 2008 in high school the principal of my school had arranged an event where all students of the school picked trash along the roadside for a day, the school got sponsored by some company and the money earned was gifted to Africa to help people in need. I obviously refused to participate. And since I refused, I had to hand in a 10-page report to my principal of why I refused to participate. I wrote her a report titled “Everyone is the smith of their own fortune” where I pointed out many key aspects that where wrong with here point of tackling the issue. First of all, I pointed out that you cannot force students to pick trash if you don’t participate yourself and that forcing is never a good way of tackling any issue. Second, I pointed out that I cannot participate in something where I have no knowledge of where the money goes. I don’t want to participate if 90% of the money goes to fees of fees of fees and 10% ends up to the people in need. Third, I pointed out that given to people in need in Africa is not very accurate as there are 54 countries in Africa; some where there are hardly any roads and some where the infrastructure is lightyears ahead of that in my hometown of Porvoo where it many times is unclear if you have any suspension whatsoever in your car. You cannot view the African continent as one. Finally, I pointed out that giving money to people with nothing attached to it is one of the worst ideas ever by the human race. It takes away all, and any, incentives to do anything and ultimately it takes away the purpose of life as you don’t have to self-improve and become self-sustainable. What I told my principal was that if you want to help people in need you need to educate them, you need to invest in them and in their ideas. You need to make it possible for them to become self-sustainable and you need to help them build a society on their own terms and not as dictated by a white man and woman. My principal told me that my view of the world is wrong and that she has never seen such lack of empathy. I told her that she should get out of her office every once in a while, to see the real world and maybe one day be able to get a sense of the reality of the world we live in.
Fast forward 12 years and I find myself cold-calling company executives and asking them to tell me stories and best practices on sustainability as I am delivering a project on sustainability consulting. Somewhere mid-project I stumble over an Instagram post of this new initiative Ambitious.Africa that had been started in the very same month in April of 2020. I took a screenshot of the post and stored it for a few days but could not stop thinking about the tremendous opportunities on the African continent, so I do the obvious and reach out to Ronny Eriksson from Ambitious.Africa. Some 5 minutes into the call I realize that I have signed up to volunteer with Ambitious.Africa as one of the first volunteers joining the initiative. Just a few weeks later I find myself building the launch event for Ambitious.Africa Egypt in an intercontinental team and once again I am cold-calling executives to join our launch event for Ambitious.Egypt. While I’m gathering speakers for the event, I realize it’s time to throw the ball back to Tina Karme, to whom I was delivering the project on sustainability consulting at the moment and have her as a speaker during the launch. At the time of the launch of Ambitious.Africa Egypt it becomes the most successful event at Ambitious.Africa to date. But that is not the important part. The important part is that it sets the foundation for the discussion for Ambitious.Africa Sustainability.
About a week after the launch of Ambitious.Africa Egypt we hand in the project of sustainability consulting with stories from cleanup services, asset management, forestry, renting services and retail. This project then turns into Sustory – Sustainability Story, a consultancy agency within sustainability consulting where bringing sustainable stories to life in order to educate our stakeholders is at the heart of everything we do. During the same time Sustory is in discussions with Ambitious.Africa about targeting sustainability directly at Ambitious.Africa. During the discussions it becomes obvious that sustainability as a matter of fact is heavily incorporated into Ambitious.Africa. The only problem is that nobody really knows about it since we don’t point it out. Thus, we need to target sustainability directly and we need to ensure that we communicate it properly to all our stakeholders and that we make sure that it is incorporated in everything we do. Ambitious.Africa Sustainability, or AAS, is founded. When we start AAS we know two things; We cannot target everything at once and we need to educate our internal and external stakeholders on sustainability. In addition to this we know that we need to define some key areas to target together with Ambitious changemakers from different countries and with different backgrounds. We know that the education, at this stage, will happen through storytelling since we can highlight bad stories and good stories on sustainability, we can highlight startups or individuals who are working tirelessly in order to find a solution to some sustainability issue and thus we cannot only educate stakeholders but also connect the solutions with the issues. When we build AAS we have countless workshops where we aim at finding the most crucial issues and the best ways to tackle them and finally, we come up with a plan of four focus areas: Storytelling, Sustainable Startups, Waste Management and Collaborations. In a way all of these are connected. Through storytelling we want to educate and make connections, through Sustainable Startups we want to work actively with startup companies who are targeting some of the issues we face within sustainability, through Waste Management we want to actively work towards finding a solution to the waste management issues we have in many African countries together with our partner RiverRecycle and through collaborations we want to ensure that each and every national team within Ambitious.Africa is targeting sustainability and working actively with it. Only by doing this can we find the largest issues and the best solutions to these issues. Only by doing this can we leverage our power and make a difference.
Once AAS was formed I was requested to become project manager of AAS. This is not a defined role but rather one where I work actively with all managers of our four focus areas and all of our 16 changemakers on a daily basis and ensure that they have the tools they need and the connections they desire in order to make a difference. This is also a role where I work actively with our main sponsor and founding partner Sustory – Sustainability Story. As Project Manager at Ambitious.Africa Sustainability I ensure that we do everything we can in order to find a solution to the sustainability issues we have on the African continent, that we do everything we can in order to help sustainable startups get wings and fly, that we do everything we can in order to educate our stakeholders on sustainability and that we ensure that sustainability is part of every single national team in Ambitious.Africa and every member of the Ambitious.Africa network.
Twelve years after I initially wrote it, I stand behind my words more than ever before; Giving money to people with nothing attached to it is one of the worst ideas ever by the human race. It takes away all, and any, incentives to do anything and ultimately it takes away the purpose of life as you don’t have to self-improve and become self-sustainable. Giving money is the easy way out. We all know this on a microscale for birthday parties: if you don’t know what to give you give money. On a large scale it’s a way of painting a façade of doing something since you either don’t have a clue of what to actually do or you are not dedicated enough to make it reality. It’s like giving money to jobless people instead of focusing on making them competitive on the job market and helping them find jobs and then wondering why long-term unemployment leads to marginalization. At Ambitious.Africa and Ambitious.Africa Sustainability we know that by creating opportunities we can create jobs and change communities and the lives of millions of people.