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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.

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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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 explained 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 explained.

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 noted 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 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 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 was as much in admiration of Patrice Emery Lumumba, the father of Congo’s independence, as he was of 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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