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The Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders Alumni Portraits Series will trace back the stories of impactful young leaders of the ADEL alumni community. More than a biography, this journalistic approach will capture these success stories, helping us understand the roots of their leadership and pursuit of positive impact. From Morocco to South Africa, Germany to Canada, Brazil and the United Statesl, these young leaders from diverse backgrounds came together in Marrakech for the common goal of rebalancing Atlantic relations to include Southern Atlantic states. As the ADEL Alumni community keeps on growing, we will highlight some of their singular stories here in the spirit of intergenerational dialogue that lies at the heart of the Policy Center for the New South.

Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr

This young woman comes across as a striking beauty, body and soul. Born and raised in Enugu, Nigeria, she shines. She’s not only a voice for others, but first and foremost her own person.

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She founded She ROARs in 2016, a platform dedicated to unleash the potential of young female leaders in Africa and the diaspora. It really took off after an important gathering of more than 300 African women in August 2017 in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania. The “Women Advancing Africa” conference was organized by the Graça Machel Trust, named after the former First Lady of Mozambique and widow of Nelson Mandela.

I was invited as one of the core moderators to anchor the event, Chidiogo Akunyili remembers. I thought it was a shame to come all this way and not take advantage of the capacity of so many women gathered in the same place, besides the regular talks. I thought : what if we did something different, something bolder ? We had a moment of 300 women sobbing after sharing some very personal stories, opening up to different types of violence they had endured. The need to connect, take time to breathe and realize that you are not alone was overwhelming.”

She was so inspired by the gap between that need and what a few organizations can do to support entrepreneurial women that she decided to take further her action. “There is no organization promoting wellness and the acknowledgement of pain – from sexual atrocities to pressures at work, from sexual abuses to struggling with a husband, or to have a husband.

The association works through coaching, workshops, seminars and conferences. With a light team of 5, three women in different areas in the world and two technicians in Casablanca, Morocco, helping with the online side of the activity, it has already reached 2000 women, mostly young professionnals aged 27-37. The seminars and one-to-one coaching sessions address the impact one can have, the relation between personal and professional life, vision and goal setting methods and work on leadership qualities.

Her dream is to reach out to millions of women in Africa, North America and the Caribbean. The mission is not focused on therapy, but self development. « You can’t give what you don’t have, she says : your own strength, peace of mind, trust to your intuition and discernment. Young women are constantly shutting themselves down because they are told they’re not good enough ».

After all, Chidiogo knows her subject inside out. Her late mother, the multi-awarded pharmacist Dora Akuniyli (1954-2014), is an icon in Nigeria. She was the uncompromising head of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control  (NAFDAC) between 2001 and 2008. As the Director-General of this regulatory agency, « she wouldn’t take bribes and did what no man could ever do : she changed the rules of the game for operators in the food and drugs industry in Nigeria ». Recipient of the Integrity Award of Transparency International in 2003 and named “One of the 18 heroes of our times” by Time Magazine in 2006, she was the Minister of Information and Communications from 2008 to 2010 in Nigeria. Chidiogo, who has five siblings, is currently writing a book about her, to inspire others.

As for her own trajectory, it is already telling. She decided to study International Relations & Economics at SAIS, John Hopkins, and French. These two subjects were “broad enouth to figure out later” what her options could be. She was eager to understand the world and human interactions, and get the skills she felt insecure about not having. That’s why she chose International Relations instead of Law, recommended by her parents. But why French ? A big revenge on life: she had a negative experience with a French teacher who slapped her in class when she was 11. “I internalized the story I was not smart enough for French and put up a wall, thinking this is not for me. When I was 17, my sister had this crazy idea for me:  spend the summer learning French in Vichy. I was excited, and two months later I came back speaking French, because the teacher focused on me when I was crying in class, and I was living in a family whose children didn’t speak English.” She  spent a year in Germany and learned the language, and then moved to China, where she worked on her undergraduate piece on China and Africa. She came back speaking Chinese, which she believes is an “important language to understand, so that colonization doesn’t happen again”. Now aware of her gift at learning languages, she went for a year to Bologna, Italy, for her Masters, and then to Mexico for six weeks, adding Italian and Spanish to her skills.

She has already been named among the “100 most inspiring women in Nigeria” by The Guardian, an aknowledgment of her commitment towards the African woman’s cause. She is also World Economic Forum Global Leadership Fellow, and an Associate Fellow of the Nigerian Leadership Initiative.

Now based in Canada, she travels a lot and keeps going to Nigeria. When asked about her home town, Enugu, located in a region formerly known as Biafra, she immediately answers: “We never talk about the impact of the Biafra war, that killed 2 millions people between 1967 and 1970. A lot of the challenges in Nigeria have their roots in this unadressed aftermath of the civil war”. One more good reason to work on the rise of strong women “not allowing anyone to tell them who they are”. Chidiogo Akunyili is convinced that female leaders have the ability to change the world.

Ana Paula Barreto

« Passionate, Black, visionary »

Ana Paula Barreto talks about serious matters with great calm, taking time to reflect before answering questions, from New York. Born in Jardim Angela, a poor area of São Paulo, considered as the most dangerous neighbourhood in the world by the United Nations in 1996, she remembers the violence of the favelas. She doesn’t want to reduce her childhood « in a joyful family » to « the ugly », but one of her strongest memories is seeing the bodies of people murdered during the week-end, on her way to school on Monday mornings. At a young age, Ana Paula Barreto realized that her « community was lacking the conditions and opportunities to have a dignified life ». She decided that she would be an « agent of change,  promoting social and racial justice ». In one of the most unequal societies in the world, she reminds that « 54 % of the population is of African descent, but we are very invisible in decision-making circles, universities and politics ».

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Promoting equality and equity, « meaning that the people with less access to education, health and resources will achieve the same », soon became her raison d’être. After school, she was able to attend University. A « historical accident », as she calls it. It was still impossible for Black students coming from a poor background to study in the early 2000’s, because of a historical systemic racist and elitist selection process. « Some of the best universities in Brazil are public, thus free, but the middle-class and rich people send their children to private schools. For people like me who went to public schools, the exam to enter University was impossible to pass. Its level was too high for the quality of my education ».

« Racial and Social quotas » at University

Fortunately, the Lula administration, with the historical support of Black movements, created affirmative action programs in the mid-2000’s, at the time she was finishing High school. Thanks to a Law of Racial and Social Quotas passed in 2012, no less than half of the admission spots benefit pupils who attended public schools, most of them being indigenous and Black. « If I was born 20 years before, my possibilities would have been very low. President Lula showed how public policies can change a country. Today, there is a whole generation of Black Brazilian professionals and this is changing Brazilian society ». A system of scholarships was also introduced to give more access to private universities. That is how Ana Barreto could study International Affairs with a full bursary at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica of São Paulo. « We were 30 in my class, and two of us were coming from a black and poor background ». 

After college, she applied to the United Nations and went to Brasilia, a 90 minutes flight from São Paulo, for a six month internship. This was the last « critical investment » she asked her family to make for her, as her internship would be unpaid and she would have no time to work alongside her office hours. Her parents took a loan, to cover all her expenses for six months. When she moved back to São Paulo, she worked for UNICEF, while participating in human rights projects in her community with local organizations, and volunteering as a popular educator.

New York, Addis Abeba, Marrakesh

She then was selected by the Atlas Corps for a one-year fellowship in New York in 2015 with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a global NGO launched in Mumbai (India) in 1952 and headquartered in London. « They bring professionals from the global South to get experience contributing in U.S. organizations », she explains. In New York, she assisted staff by managing the portfolio of sexual and reproductive health programs related to youth, gender-based violence, and HIV/STIs. It went so well that she stayed for six more months, before moving back to Brazil and prepare her next step : a Master’s degree in International Affairs, which she started in 2017 at the New School University of New York, with a focus on racial justice and global health.

With a group of students, she went to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, for a research project on Women Economic Empowerment through loans. There, she worked with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on internally displaced communities, doing advocacy with the African Union. Also in touch with the Brazilian Embassy, she organized a Film Festival in 2018 in Addis Abeba, on Black Brazilians in cinema. Her experience in Ethiopia was “powerful”, she says, as she was able to “see the similarities with people of African descent, not only physically but with food and dances that have not been lost throughout the centuries, the transatlantic slave trade and colonization”.

The same year, she was selected as a Fellow of the OHCHR in Geneva for the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), and by the Policy Center for the New South, for the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program in Morocco. “The Atlantic Dialogues were an amazing experience in that very special year for me. I was on the last panel of the conference representing my cohort and talking about youth, transformation and creating a more just society. It was an honor, and I was able to connect to so many people doing great work !"

Racial justice and global health

She has now completed her masters about health outcomes of Black Brazilian women, « in the only country in the world having a public health policy focused on the African descent community ». Currently working as the Director of Programs with Afro Resistance, a small NGO launched in 2010 in New York, she deals with racial justice, human rights and democracy in the Americas, with a focus on Black women, notably from the Caribbean and Latin America. The NGO provides online conversations, research projects and conversations bringing local community voices to international decison-making spaces.

Her dream is “to make a difference in the Americas by uniting global health, racial justice and ancestral knowledge of our people”. She hopes to make innovative and impactful work, as well as becoming a reference in this unique approach. “I also hope to work in government, a critical strategic space if we want to really promote systematic change through public policies”. Her role models are an exact reflection of the way she describes herself : “Passionate, Black, visionary”… Among them, the US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, 38, born in Somalia, and Vilma Reis, 51, sociologist and activist from Salvador de Bahia, whom she describes as a “historical figure that did a lot on the intersection of civil society, government and human rights for the most marginalized people”. One of her favorite readings is Lelia Gonzalez (1935-1994), a Brazilian anthropologist, professor, politician and activist, “for her complex analysis of the world we live in”.

Fatim Zahra Biaz

She was 31 years old and had just set up the New Work Lab, a coworking and start-up accelerator space, in Morocco in 2013, when she was selected as one of the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders. Fatim Zahra Biaz already had an extensive professional background, which reflected her quest for meaning in work: a graduate of Edec, a business school in Lille, she had worked in Paris in "change management" consulting.

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"I couldn't sense the impact I was looking for in my work, be it economic, social or educational. I resigned and went around the world for nine months. She traveled throughout Latin America, from Australia to Asia, learning to overcome her fears and meeting "digital nomads", young people who set up their businesses on the Internet.

"When I came back, I wanted to start a business, but I didn't really know what it would be. I trained myself in the digital world of start-ups, which has a different state of mind from what is taught in school". She set up a business selling designer shoes between Paris and Casablanca but changed course quite quickly. She noted that the co-working spaces she used in Paris were sorely lacking in Casablanca - as was all the support dedicated to start-ups, incubators and training programs. "I told myself that I had to provide entrepreneurs in Morocco with everything I couldn't find for myself, and that anyone who wanted to start up a business could come, to train and upgrade their skills, to be put in touch with companies, the press, clients, public authorities, etc."

She keeps a special memory of the 2013 ADEL program: "It was the first time that an organisation in Morocco trusted me with my project. It was a very nice form of support, training and learning". Since then, she has been invited as an Alumni to the Atlantic Dialogues conferences and lists among the most memorable encounters of her life a lunch with a former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who introduced himself as the former "CEO of Nigeria".

The New Work Lab, located on Anfa Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in downtown Casablanca, has since grown and matured, remaining true to its original philosophy. Its founder is adamant: "We need to rethink the world of work, in which employees feel disconnected and often underuse their potential". The Pitch Lab has become a benchmark competition for start-ups in Morocco, which has distinguished 150 entrepreneurs since 2013. Fatim Zahra Biaz has launched another "laboratory" called “Future of Work” to rethink innovation products in large companies, corporate culture, propose events, "bootcamps", trainings, give practical toolboxes to learn how to change and do work that matters. It offers customized services, tailored to demand, as part of a change-driven program.

In seven years, the New Work Labs have welcomed 20,000 people and hosted nearly 400 entrepreneurs for training, events and acceleration programs. Among the success stories she likes to highlight is that of Anou, which allows craftspeople to sell their products directly to consumers in the United States. "This company has developed a solution enabling people who can't read or write to use the Internet... It's great!”

The New Work Lab, supported by the Office chérifien des phosphates (OCP) Foundation, contributes to the creation of an ecosystem conducive to start-ups, "in a market that is not easy to create, by inventing models with the means at hand". She dreams of scaling up and seeing the impact of her work grow, moving from the micro-economic sphere to a more "macro" impact in the world of start-ups, with increasingly ambitious projects.

Fatim Zahra Biaz continues to travel, hike and enjoy the sea, while nurturing a spirit of excellence far from mediocrity - the thing she hates the most in life. Her dream? She takes time to reflect, before explaining, with calm enthusiasm radiating from her words and her person: "That work in Morocco should no longer be seen as an obligation, a livelihood, but as our best way of participating in the development of our country, with a collective and civic impact. For me, work is a way of expressing values, a contribution that we can leave behind, a way of writing a story together. How to make people want to work differently and to see their work as a tool for collective progress, this is the very reason for New Work Lab's existence, whether you are a salaried employee, a student or a civil servant.”

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Julian Colombo

Aged 24 in 2011, he was already Chief of staff for Daniel Scioli, the Governor of Buenos Aires - the most populated province of Argentina, counting for 40 % of the total population with 16 million inhabitants. His main challenge then was “to be young in a relevant position”. He had to fight to get recognized and accepted by his elder peers, and succeeded with “the support of the Governor, through hard work and careful analysis”, he recalls.  

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He also remembers fondly one of his main achievements of his beginnings. He was part of a team that elaborated and implemented a reform, making free the fertility treatments for couples in his province. “Before the law passed in 2010, it was very difficult for couples to have access to these expensive treatments. Some families sold their cars and put a mortgage on their houses. My governor put up a team and we negotiated with the stakeholders in the insurance sector and the health system, to make sure the fertility treatments became free in the province”.

The launch of a new consultancy firm

Born in Buenos Aires in a middle-class family, he was supposed, as the eldest and only son, to take over his parents’ business, a small manufacture of oil and products for cars. He chose another path. After studying Political Science in Argentina and obtaining a Masters Degree in Public Policy at Georgetown University (Washington D.C.), he worked as a civil servant and a political advisor for congressmen in Argentina for 10 years.

Now, his father holds no grudge nor disappointment whatsoever. In December 2019, this 33 year-old young professional launched TANT, his own consultancy firm. “I was working for several people at once, he explains, so I decided to set up my own firm, so that there would be no conflict of interest”.

One of his main areas of expertise is the relationship between Argentina and Brazil, alongside with legislative and political affairs. “Brazil is our main trade partner. Brazil and Argentina are twin countries both in trade and politics, and we need to strengthen the ties in the productive sectors between politicians in both countries. We advise on how to overcome the political differences between the two current presidents”.

Another important side of his specialization is the Fintech sector. His firm is advising government officials in Argentina on how to deal with companies willing to develop digital wallets and online banks, in order to adapt the current regulations to the market trends in that sector.  

A passion for politics

How did he fall in love with politics ? “Both of my parents are not involved, he says, but my geography professor in highschool made us take part in Model United Nations (Model UN or MUN). That’s how I started to get interested in international relations and politics.”

Julian Colombo can get “very upset”, when he sees “how some politicians from all parties manipulate the most disenfranchised people in order to get their votes, providing food and medicine during electoral campaigns”. But his head stays cool when it comes to the crucial topic of the rise of populism in Latin America. He makes his point clear : “I do not agree fully with the way Western professors talk about populism. Being in a country that has had many populist governments, I know the word might have a negative meaning, but some of these administrations have applied some of the most progressive social policies. There is a swing across Latin America between the left and the right : in the years before 2013 the trend was left, and between 2013 and 2018, it was going to the right. The region can swing again to the left, and I am not sure that the populist phenomenon is that simple”.

His fellow ADELs as role models

When asked about his role models, this keen reader of political biographies has only one name in mind : John F. Kennedy, for his approach to politics, youth and fresh ideas. Otherwise, he quotes his peers, “the African guys I’ve met in the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders programme (ADEL), because of their fight to provide basic needs, such as access to water, for instance. They are more prominent in my view than people with an actual seat at the table.”

When he joined the ADEL community in Marrakech in 2018, he was mostly interested in starting a network with Emerging Leaders from a broader horizon than his contacts, with people from Europe, North America and Africa. “I enjoyed the possibility of travelling to Africa and broaden my vision of public policies applied on the continent”.

He came to Marrakech with his two dreams, strongly intertwined. “One is personal and one is national : I would like to achieve being president of Argentina, in order to overcome the inequalities, especially for the youth. The current state of affairs affects educational opportunities, and I hope I will be able, one day, to solve this problem in my country”. In his opinion, and in his own candid words, he notes that what is really missing across Latin America is a “bigger commitment from the political and business elite to solve our issues. We have lots of people working on different matters, the same guys for 30 or 40 years, with no real political will”. Julian Colombo, a strong personality, is a name to remember.

Sabine Cessou

Emmanuel Lubanzadio

This young German man with Congolese origins, educated in Germany, the United States and the Netherlands, has roots on three continents. He’s not only the epitomy of an Atlantic young leader – the way the Policy Center for the New South defines them – but now also a member of the 2019 ADEL cohort Alumni.

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In January 2020 he transitioned as Head of Public Policy for Sub-Saharan Africa at Twitter. At this strategic position, he works for one of the most influential social media networks globally, but keeps a cool head and stays low key.

When asked about his personal impressions of Africa, he reminds quietly : « Every country is different, although sometimes people outside of the continent perceive Africa as one country simply because the majority of its citizens happen to be black. Africa is so rich in its beauty and diversity, in its culture, languages, ethnicities and religions ». He describes his personality as a « mixture of realism and optimism ». So when it comes to Africa as the world’s last growth frontier, he states simply : «Some parts of Africa may see deficiencies in infrastructure or healthcare, for example. While it may seem discouraging, things are absolutely progressing in that region because of the creative, strong, resilient people who reside on the continent.

The people who make Africa great are its youth and civil society in general ».

Dreams fulfilled

Emmanuel grew up in Germany in a modest Congolese family of five children. During his childhoold, his trips to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were few and far between, but he heard a lot about African politics, a recurrent topic at home. His first acquaintance with an African country other then the DRC happened in 2014 in Ghana, where he lived and worked for the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) on a project with the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center.

Emmanual Lubanzadio has already fulfilled many of his wishes. When he graduated from high school in Germany, he longed for a life abroad. First dream : check ! He moved to the USA in 2007, where he spent 6 years. In the U.S., he obtained a B.A. in International Relations from the Oral Roberts University (Oklahoma, USA) and a Graduate Certificate in Applied Politics from The George Washington University (USA). Then, he started to think of working in politics and applied for the Emerging Leaders Program of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and was selected to spend ten months in Washington D.C. to work in the United States Congress and the Center for International Private Enteprise (CIPE). Second dream: check ! He then moved back to Europe, obtained a M.A. in Development Studies from Maastricht University (Netherlands) and sought to learn about government relations in the private sector. This led him to join a multinational pharmaceutical company back in Germany.

African youth at heart

His last position was in the healthcare industry for the last two and a half years, working in the field of government relations. He wanted to get more insights on how to engage with policy makers, after his experiences in the US Congress and GIZ. The topics that move him most are freedom of expression, digital rights, youth unemployment and lack of perspectives for many young people. “The African continent has 200 million young people, the largest youth population in the world, he explains. This is where my heart lies, in terms of their implication in the decision making process within the realm of politics and access to ways of making a living”.

That’s partly why he applied to the ADEL program, believing that Atlantic relations do not confine to the USA and Europe alone. “There are many more countries, and the Policy Center does an amazing job in capturing that as well. The participants coming from Africa and South America gave a different perspective… ADEL does not only focus on the global self, but moreover on including people who will make decisions and influence their own societies one day. The program also gives a chance to get people who have been historically excluded and marginalized from the decision-making process a seat  at the table and the ability to discuss policy issues. I haven’t seen anything else like this !

A global citizen

Now, he would like to inspire people with his trajectory, showing that for a second generation immigrant who may not have had much, it’s still possible to “make it”. When asked about his own role models, Emmanuel Lubanzadio has to admit he “did not have any” while growing up. He enjoys reading biographies and the last one he read was the Autobiography of Malcom X, written by Alex Haley. When reflecting on role models, he points at his own parents: “I have the ultimate respect for them. They have been in a pursuit of a better life and have laid the ground work, for my siblings and I to get inspired and have opportunities.”

About identity, a hot subject in Europe in a context of rising populism, he has clear thoughts: “I am a German with roots in Africa who was educated in the United States and Europe. People like myself will often wrestle with the question of identity. I’ve known many clashes of cultures, but I am proud of my roots. I have a passion for Africa and I’m also European, combined with the optimism I took from the USA, thanks to this idea that you can be whomever you want. I find it beautiful. I’ve had this privilege that certainly defines who I am, a global citizen with roots in regions where I take the best of everything.” This young man of his time is a name to remember.

Sabine Cessou

Yassine Moustanjidi

“Out of the Eurocentric box”

This young planner and lecturer at the Departement of International Urbanism of the University of Stuttgart (Germany) spontaneously describes himself as a “Marrakchi, ambitious and curious” person. His birthplace and family’s influence matter a lot in his professional journey. Not only because the Red City is “an inspiring place for its history, architecture and culture”, but also because his grandfather was a well-established tile maker, who participated in the edification of many historical palaces in Marrakech.

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“I was just lucky enough to be able to listen to myself when I had to make a decision”, he recalls. His choice was to study at the only public architectural school in Rabat, l’Ecole nationale d’architecture (ENA). Getting admitted there was like “winning the jackpot”, he remembers, since only 60 students are selected each year among 3,000 applications. “It was the right place, and it turned out to be great”.

On his fourth year of a six years cursus, he got a DAAD scholarship for an exchange program at the University of Technology in Berlin, where he started what was going to be his new life in Germany. There, he took part in the large research project “Future Megacities – Energy- and Climate-Efficient Structures in Urban Growth Centres”, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. The project aimed at developing sustainable urban strategies in nine cities around the world, mainly located in the global South, each having a specific topic, such as water in Lima, mobility in Shanghai or urban agriculture in Casablanca.

Megacities of the Global South

He focused on Casablanca, “a vibrant and dense city of 4 million inhabitants with scarce green spaces, where urban agriculture could be introduced as a productive green infrastructure, offering a new nexus between energy, food security, and sustainable urban development”.

Vacant plots had to be spotted, among which some 20 hectares along train tracks. A discussion was engaged with the authorities and several pilot projects were implemented. The sustainable management of the scarce water resources was at the center of these projects. One of the solutions was to introduce on-site water treatment plants in informal settlements to recycle the used water of Hammams (public baths) for urban farming and the irrigation of green spaces.

After a year in Berlin, he spent 2012 in Shanghai, a megalopolis of 25 million dwellers, where everything takes place at another scale. “I was very excited to go to China, a vibrant place, transforming very fast, with very bold ideas and daring experiments in architecture and urbanism you might not find anywhere else in the world”. There, he learned the “do’s and don’t” of the Chinese model.

Back in Berlin, he became a staff member of the project on megacities, as a coordinator until 2014. He worked on the implementation phase, testing new ideas, such as developing organic food production in a small field in Casablanca, with a corporation of 25 farmers who were trained. “We organized the food baskets to connect the farmers to the inhabitants and markets, which led to a 200% to 300% increase of the farmers’ income”.

Out of the Eurocentric Box

He remembers the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program fondly, being selected in 2015 to what he describes as one of the “less Eurocentric” leadership programmes he has ever attended. “It brings you tremendous energy, space for inspiration, networking and learning. You meet all these brilliant minds and energetic people from the Global South, from all sectors, who take you out of your bubble”. The ADEL program was short in his view, “but the network was way stronger afterwards”.

Among his favorite readings, he mentions Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, “a brief history of human kind with interesting perspectives, on digitalization and how human beings are using their transformative power to change nature”. He reflects on the impact of digitalization on urbanity, a big topic under the Covid-19 pandemic. The latter has uncovered huge spatial inequalities in cities, and calls for the rethinking of urbanity, public space, and above all encourages us to establish a more inclusive and environment-friendly urban model.

Besides these new lines of reflection, his dream is “to  be able to make a difference in terms of highlighting or recontextualizing urban planning in the Global South, putting the spotlight on culture of planning. City planning has unfortunately been a strong vehicle to impose a Eurocentric model and a one-sided understanding of modernity.  However, there is a lot that can be learnt from the flexibility and the resilience of cities in the Global South, and the way they cope with urban issues”.

Dubai, in his view, is the perfect example of how one should deconstruct the impact of the Eurocentric perspective on how a “modern city should look like”. “This view is rooted in New York, Tokyo, Singapour, but we have to redefine what sustainable progress is… It’s a bit superficial to think about the tallest skyscraper or the most transparent facade as sign of progress. The city is a space where culture matters, and I’m not sure that with replicating Dubai in Ghana, for instance, you don’t widen this gap between who we are and the kind of image that is forced on us. Every place has its context, its history and has to develop its own image and imagination. That model is not universal.” Sabine Cessou

Vicky Ngari

“Your environment, an opportunity for skills”

Born in Kenya, Vicky Ngari reluctantly followed her mother in the United Kingdom when she was 10. She didn’t want to leave Nairobi, where she nurtured as a child a fascination for clothes, garments and dancing. As the years passed, she never severed ties with Kenya, nor Africa.

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In Brighton and London, she studied Film and TV, then creative writing, majoring in sociology and journalism. She realized during her first year at University that she could learn a lot out of experience, besides theorical knowledge in the classroom. « On the ground, I taught myself how to network », she says. At the time, she had two part-time jobs, working as a receptionist and at a gym. There, she discussed so much about styling with a fashion designer who came to exercise, that she got invited on a shoot.

While at University, she became a beauty queen, first as Miss Kenya in 2008 and then as Miss East Africa in 2009, insisting on wearing African inspired dresses she designed herself. She became an assistant stylist with Claire Watson, a freelance in demand, and kept on learning on the ground. « One time, Claire was overbooked and had to throw me to a deep end, a shooting for a tabloïd magazine. I had an idea of a set reminding ancient Greece, but the editor walked in and said : « No, we don’t do Greek gods here, take this out ». I learned that you have to listen to what the editors say and to think about the target audience ».

African style, education, opportunities

She was already convinced that the African style was not seen in fashion the way it should. During a Fashion week in London, she was looked upon as an UFO, because of her flashy African prints. But she wasn’t distracted. « People in Africa wear prints all the time ! I still think we are not penetrating further the industry, in terms of what African fashion means, culturally and socially. It has a lot do to with heritage and spirituality. Our ancestors wore certain colors to communicate their intentions. When I design my bag, for instance, I go back to traditional messages of baskets, hand woven and naturally dyed with tree bark ».

Her beauty queen status got her invited to many talks and platforms, such as the One Goal Campaign before the soccer World Cup in South Africa in 2010, or the Unleash Innovation Lab in Denmark in 2017, initiated by the United Nations to gather 1000 change-makers Milleniums. She fell in love with the concept of social entrepreurship and the topic of education. “I was sitting in rooms full of white men in suits, discussing the future of African youth. And I’m sorry, but Africa doesn’t need just aid or money, but opportunities. The African youth must be included and be part of the solution”.

To work from the ground in rural communities

She took action. In 2016, she launched the educational program Good Ambition, the basis of an App she is working on, named “Skilledit”. “The idea is to tackle opportunity for young people and women in all the areas who lack financial and social advance, to be able to see their own environment as a place to skill themselves”. She went to rural communities in Kenya, gathering them as sustainable manufacturers. The “Rural Retail” platform has gathered 350 young people so far, helping her producing bags for her brand, “Vicky Ngari”. 

As a young leader, she came to Marrakesh in 2017 to attend the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders program, and was proud to “fit in an arena where you can actually bring your contribution in terms of creative thinking, and get support. Creative thinking, in my view, comes naturally and serves as lateral thinking to solution, like the little boy who says “deflate the tyres”, when a truck is stuck in a tunnel and experts struggle to get it out.” 

This young lady, who loves nature, herbs and plants, is also a keen reader of mythology. Her dream? “To work in cultural diplomacy to help build more aligned education systems for creative industries with Indigenous sustainable practises.  Growing a successful fashion brand and technology tool as my demonstration, ultimately starting my own schools in nature”. As she defines it, it just looks like the intertwined leads of her personal basket.

Eric Ntumba

Eric Ntumba, a young Congolese banker, came from Kinshasa in December 2017 to participate in the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders Programme of the Policy Center for the New South (PCNS) in Marrakech. At that time, when asked what his dream was, he immediately said he would like : « to become President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and bring about inclusive development, so that the country’s enormous potential can be finally transformed into power. My dream is that each Congolese child be able to fulfill his or her own dream! »

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Eric Ntumba is one of those who think big and do not easily admit defeat. In Marrakech, he met several people from diverse backgrounds at the Atlantic Dialogues Conference who « enriched » his vision of the world and offered him new opportunities. He further explains that « if I had not met the Brazilian economist Otaviano Canuto, a Senior Fellow of the PCNS, I would not have signed a chapter with him on the risks of an international financial crisis in 2018 in the Atlantic Currents Report ».

In search of an alternative

He also wrote a paper on the geopolitics of Central Africa at the African Peace and Security Annual Conference (APSACO) 2019, organized in Rabat by the PCNS. His thoughts focused on the trend towards « elections without democracy » that affects his subregion. « In Central Africa, development indicators are the worst in Africa, he went on. It is also the region where presidents exercise power much longer than anywhere else, where young people are brutally repressed, where the electoral exercise amounts to a parody and where democracy is constantly denied, as it is reflected in this famous saying of Gabon’s former President, Omar Bongo: « One does not organize elections to end up on the losing side…».

While noting with interest the wave of citizen movements that has emerged across Africa, including the DRC, Eric Ntumba points out however that it is « not backed by an alternative political offer that would make it possible to have MPs, mayors, ministers ». It is this alternative that he constantly thinks about, like others from his generation.

Eric Ntumba happened to be in good hands. He grew up in a family which was in direct touch with the world of politics. His father, Alphonse Ntumba Luaba, a law professor, a former deputy minister of justice, and a former human rights minister, was one of the negotiators of the 2002 Sun City Peace Agreement, which put an end to the second war of Congo. Then, as the Secretary General of the Transitional Government (2003-07), he chaired the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) from 2011 to 2016.

Returning to the native country

Eric Ntumba attended primary school in Nancy, France, where his father obtained his Ph.D in law, and went to secondary school in Kinshasa. After a master's degree in computer science from North-West University, South Africa, he joined the National School of Administration (ENA) in Paris at the end of 2006. Two years later, he returned directly to Kinshasa – an ‘‘obvious’’ choice for him. « I had been told that the doors were open in France and Europe, but I was convinced that it was in the RDC, in Africa, that what I had learnt would be most useful », he explains.

Because he was determined to contribute to the construction of a notoriously vulnerable state, he first sought to join the public service at the Ministry of Planning. « I was faced with a conservative environment in which I had to claim a political affiliation on which I had not made a decision at the age of 27 years », he remembered. He finally turned to the private sector, first in the position of Advisor  to the General Directorate of the Banque congolaise (BC), then as Corporate Manager at the Banque commerciale du Congo (BCC), as well as Relationship Manager at City Bank Congo (CBC), and lastly at his current position as Head of the Corporate Banking Division at Equity Bank Congo (EBC).

Once again, he notes without complacency : « The private sector in the DRC is limited to extractive industries under the control of foreign operators, without any Congolese capital properly speaking, and that is a real problem for startups, which cannot rely on business angels for guidance and funding. Yet, Kinshasa is demonstrating a powerful creative energy. The DRC lacks a real incubation ecosystem that has demonstrated its value in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire. » Until venture capital companies take an interest in the entrepreneurial dynamism of Congolese youth, he will continue to provide mentoring and participate in various forums on the African economy abroad.

« Realizing you are not alone »

Two years after his ADEL Programme, Eric Ntumba remains committed to the PCNS, which he considers to be an « incubator of ideas ». « A conference like Atlantic Dialogues helps you readjust your ambitions, he says, and realize that you are not alone. Others think Africa is on the move, in a project of shared prosperity ».

Eric Ntumba, who is a keen reader, mentions among his references ‘Une brève histoire de l’avenir’ (Fayard, 2006) an essay by Jacques Attali that offers a forward-looking perspective of a polycentric world structured around nine nations, including Egypt and Nigeria. In the world of fiction, he has a penchant for one of the great classics of African literature, ‘Une si longue lettre’ (Nouvelles éditions africaines du Sénégal, 1979), by the Senegalese novelist Mariama Bâ. He has now joined her among other writers, having himself published his first novel, ‘Une vie après le Styx’ (L’Harmattan, 2019). He considers that he « has taken his responsibilities » by taking up his pen. His objective is to participate in the construction of a collective memory linked to the atrocities of the Congo war, by narrating the journey of a traumatized young girl who will however find the strength to start her life over.

Eric Ntumba has much admiration for Patrice Emery Lumumba, the father of Congo’s independence, as he has for Martin Luther King, for his fight at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the United States. « His journey tells us that it only takes a handful of  fully committed people to trigger a movement. I also like his formula: "In every mountain of despair, there is a stone of hope". This stone  can be any one of us ». A leader’s words … Sabine Cessou

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Leonardo Párraga

He is a young man like no other. One can spot him easily in a crowd by the way he dresses and addresses the issues with which he is concerned. Leonardo Párraga, an award-winning social entrepreneur and alternative education activist, was born in Colombia with the soul of an artist. He writes poetry, engages with photography, and finds inspiration in the writings of Walt Whitman, whom he describes as the poet of “interconnectedness”.

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At 25, he left Bogotá for Harvard University, for a Master’s program in International Education Policy. At the time, he had already spent five years working on “how to create community engagement through non formal education”, he explains. He wanted to complement his experience with the arts and creative thinking, and “explore how education can foster peace in the Colombian context”. He also felt like being part of an international network of practicioners in his field, to help him “get other insights on how to foster social change and activism in a more effective way”.

Since his year spent in Harvard, he has been traveling a lot, but has been fully back in Bogota since 2019. He launched the BogotArt Foundation in 2013, to conduct work at the intersection of art and community development in vulnerable neighborhoods. In 2016, his team started to expand through partnerships, working on transformation in a neighborhood “through creativity, diverging thinking and self-knowledge”. That was the year Leonardo Párraga became an Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leader (ADEL), and travelled across the Atlantic to Marrakech to take part in the Policy Center for the New South’s young professionals program and flagship conference, the Atlantic Dialogues. There, he found a unique “kind of network” with young professionnals from all horizons. “Usually, networks are really specialized, but this was different, something magical and enlightening. I learned about South-South cooperation, something I had not seen before with direct connection between Africa and Latin America”.

Towards peace and reconciliation

The BogotArt Foundation has now reached a third stage, looking for ways of achieving peace and reconciliation. It launched a campaign called Cartas por la Reconciliación (Letters for Reconciliation), with two other organizations, the Junior Chamber International and Youth for Youth Foundation. “We realized we could bridge the gap between citizens and the FARC ex-combatants, to connect them and help to dismantle stereotypes and labels about the other, that generate hatred and negative feelings”, Leonardo Párraga recalls. More than 5 000 people participated, in the broader context of the implementation of a peace agreement. Four field visits were also organized for 500 people into FARC strongholds, in order to have “face to face conversations”.

This campaign, thanks to its large visibility in the media, allowed the Colombian people to “notice the importance of reconciliation and of generating spaces to interact with one another”, he says. It nurtured the global policy paper We are here, a United Nations study on the role of youth in peace processes, where the willingness of society at large to welcome back ex-combatants of armed groups such as FARC was highlighted. He received the Youth Carnegie Peace Prize in 2018 and was named the Youth Ambassador of the Peace Palace in the Netherlands. In 2019, he was awarded the 1 Billion Acts Hero Award during the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in Mexico, and was part of the ADEL alumni delegation to the Paris Peace Forum. In December 2019, he also came back to Marrakech to address the 2019 ADEL Cohort about the importance of collective memory in the reconciliation process.

A new campaign: Letters for Healing

The Covid-19 crisis has brought about an opportunity for further engagement, and has led Leonardo towards a new campaign, Letters for Healing, to help others cope with the crisis. With two international partners, he intends to connect people suffering from the crisis with messages of support and understanding, sent by people from all over the world. The recipients, spread across Colombia, Mexico and Spain, will be health practicioners, essential workers in supermarkets, delivery and cleaning services, but also infected people and their family members. Formally launched on May 22nd, 2020, the campaign seeks to improve mental health in this tough period and aims at sending 20 000 letters by the end of the year.

Inspired by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu for their work on peace and reconciliation, he also mentions Martin Luther King and his letter from the Birmingham jail, as a “powerful way to transform and give perspective on a new kind of society”. The singer Nessi Gomes catches his attention with the song All Related, about how much human beings are interconnected and can only thrive together. “If we were more mindful of the consequences that our actions have in our environment, we would reduce the harm we do to the world”.

Clarissa Rios Rojas

Born in 1984 in Peru and trained as a scientist, Clarissa Rios Rojas has a PhD in molecular biology, but also a clear taste for exploring beyond her field to see the bigger picture.

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She is since March 2020 a Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Existential Risk, launched by the Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. “The Center is very multi-disciplinary, with philosophers, astronomers, lawyers, economists, and educators, working on the management of global catastrophe risks such as a human-engineered pandemic, she explains. It could be a nuclear war, the impact of an asteroid hitting Earth, bio-threats or climate change. Anything that could decimate humanity with little chance to recover”. 

Her team is working on ways to prevent such risks or mitigate them. Her specific role is to “be the bridge between research and policy makers, finding innovative policy solutions and an international  framework for governments to manage extreme natural, technological or biological risks”. 

She participates in workshops organized with different inter-regional stakeholders, such as the United Nations or the International Network for Government Science Advice, among others, and policymakers around the world.

She has started in her new position in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, a perfect example of why it is so important to think about the future and start to change policies now. The pandemic still has a “snowball effect” of shutting many systems one by one in many countries: the health system, food security, trade, tourism, airlines.

Expansion of knowledge

Very early on in her life, she has looked for opportunities to grow. Firstly, she decided to leave Peru for Finland, where she would study with a scholarship. “I did not even knowi where Finland was at that point”, she recalls with a smile, “people would think I was going to the Philippines or Philadelphia, none of my friends heard about Finland before”. She studied for one year in Turku and ended up being hired for another year to work in a laboratory.

Then, through what she describes as a “chain of events”, she went to Sweden to get a Master in Biomedicine, worked in Germany for Evotec, a pharmaceutical company searching for a drug in neurodegenerative diseases. There, she developed a passion for XX and XY (male and female) chromosomes and looked for a leading laboratory to uplift her skills. She found it in Brisbane, Australia, where she got her PhD in Development Molecular Biology in June 2017. What would be the next step ? “Going to the Moon”, she laughs. She loved her Australian experience, “being so far away and surrounded by nature and amazing landscapes”. 

At the same time, she launched Ekpa’palek, an NGO helping Latin American students develop professionally, through a digital platform that offers free professional mentorship opportunities, taking on a mentor role there and convincing her friends to join her. She kept on expanding her knowledge, this time on international development and politics. That’s why she applied to the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders (ADEL) program in 2016. “Coming to Marrakesh was my first step out of science, encouraging me to attend later different conferences on science diplomacy and make presentations on international development. At the same time, I realized that some topics related to emerging technologies were a threat, like the edition of genes and the first genetically edited babies, born in China in October 2018, raising huge ethical questions. This called my attention to finding a place that would encompass science and policy advice”.

Clarissa Rios Rojas has already achieved a lot in her life. She describes her profile in her Curriculum Vitae as “a scientist with experience working at an agency from the Ministry of Environment in Peru, the European Commission and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, providing science-based evidence and advice for policymaking. She also has experience as an Eisenhower Fellow, a UN Women champion for women's economic empowerment, a UNESCO delegate, an Emerging Leader at the Atlantic Dialogues, a Fellow at the Asian Forum for Global Governance/Raisina Dialogues, a newspaper collaborator, an advisor at Women Economic Forum and as a co-lead of the Science Advice working group at the Global Young Academy”.

Empathy, a personal engine

She has also written many scientific articles and received awards (Exceptional Women of Excellence at the Women Economic Forum in the Netherlands, 2018). She has followed policy-making training in Japan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, India, Germany and Jordan, and got herself doing presentations in conferences all over the world, from Thailand to Chile, passing through Cairo, Geneva, Kigali and Copenhagen. She describes herself as “persistent, curious and empathetic – a quality that is worryingly lacking in many well-educated people, who don’t care much about the rest of the world.” 

Her dream ? “If human beings would be empathetic with each other, a lot of problems would be resolved. This is the best thing I could see in my life. We need to teach empathy at different levels within the education system and at work to let us become more human. There must be a way.”

The famous novel 1984, by George Orwell, is her favorite book, and she also likes The Fifth Season (2016), a fiction about earthquakes and science written by N. K. Jemisin, an African-American female author. She sees her parents and friends as her main role models and source of inspiration. “My father is a technical engineer at animal farms, who taught me persistence. My mother a scientist, teaching at the National University in Peru taught her about women empowerment. She didn’t want me to be to become a biologist, thinking it would not be a good career choice if I was ending up being as badly paid as her. But in the end, she supported me and here I am…” As for her friends, she likes to be in tune with “optimists working on the reduction of inequalities, women empowerment and who think about the future”. In short, some of her own reflections.

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