An entrepreneur we at the Ciocca Center deeply admire and take as a role model is Senegalese-born Magatte Wade, profiled recently as a “Champion Woman” for the Independent Women’s Forum. Ciocca Center director Andreas Widmer got to know Wade when they worked together on a project for the Templeton Foundation. That in turn became the basis for future collaboration on the documentary, Poverty, Inc.
Writing from Catholic U’s Rome campus, where he’s teaching this semester, Prof. Widmer says, “She is one of the most impressive entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. I remember when she raised an astonishing amount of venture capital for her beverage company -- it was just a real feat-- and she shows us all what the future of Africa is.”
Wade’s experiences as a serial entrepreneur in her native Senegal and in the United States have made her an impassioned defender of free markets. Africans don’t need second-hand clothes and pity, she says, so much as they need the legal and cultural conditions that make it possible for people to start businesses, create jobs, and thereby help their families and communities to flourish. As noted in her “Champion” profile linked above, Wade thinks many African countries mistakenly associated the free market with colonialism, thereby throwing out the baby with the bathwater when they were coming into their independence. She’s made it her passion to make Africa more business-friendly (see her Ted talk on this subject for even more).
Wade’s can-do spirit and sense for what is possible seem to have come from wise advice her grandmother once gave her when, as a little girl, she was headed for the first time to Europe, to join her parents. About the prosperity she was about to encounter in “advanced” societies, her grandmother told her: “You can be impressed if you want, but you cannot be intimidated by it.”
What Magatte Wade is doing in Africa we hope to accomplish here at home: namely, approach the underprivileged not from a posture of pity and condescension, but from the standpoint of trying to clear obstacles that make it difficult for entrepreneurs to bring good ideas into the circles of exchange. Because “entrepreneurs” aren’t titans of industry or tech-savants (necessarily). More often they’re good men and women with ideas for how to solve someone’s problem -- and they do it in a way that --often with considerable initial risk to themselves-- creates value for customers, brings the pride and dignity of honest jobs to colleagues they hire, and brings prosperity and a feeling of “neighborliness” to communities. The entrepreneur looks at obstacles or what others have achieved and may be impressed -- but is never intimidated. She looks instead to what can be done.