The following post is undeniably long. I don’t apologize because I think the message is worth the words. But, I do ask and thank you for your time to read it.
1. IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT JOB (and who isn’t?)
Any perhaps slightly-more-than-casual reader of this blog may have figured out that I’ve been in a bit of a quest to figure out what direction I want my career to go. It’s an exciting time to be a designer and with so many opportunities it’s hard to know which path to go down. But, the thing that I kept coming back to was this: I wanted an opportunity to tell a story that could improve the quality of someone’s life.
Now, while I kept what it meant to “improve life” somewhat vague in my mind, I knew that designing uninspired bottles of soap and lotion for the lowest common marketing denominator wasn’t cutting it anymore. So with that knowledge, I left my job to venture out on my own.
My definition of working for myself is slightly more traditional and not quite as in-line with the entrepreneurial trend of the day. I believe in the power of stories, yes, but I also believe in the power of a good client. I was hoping to chase down both on my own.
2. THE WEB OF CONNECTIONS
Recently, a couple buddies that I’ve worked with over the years started their own business making documentary-style videos, commercials, and promotional spots. They’ve been doing a lot of incredible work in the social sector, traveling around the world and telling really great stories came across a man named Yeah Samake who was running for President of Mali. They set up an introduction with me when everyone from their group and from his was here in the city. After meeting him, I knew this was the gig I was looking for. This was the story that could change lives. This was the story that could change the fate of a nation and perhaps even go as far as to set a new precedent of leadership in a struggling continent, ravaged with famine, warfare, disease, poverty, and starvation.
“We are not poor in resources,” Yeah says, emphasizing that the starvation and poverty are not the fate of Africans due to the nature they live in, “we are poor in leadership.” He thinks he can change that. And, honestly, I do too.
When I thought about telling a story that could improve lives, I never imagined it would be quite this literal and quite this direct. But as a designer—and as just an individual in our earthly family—I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.
3. YEAH’S STORY
To understand why I and an increasing number of others actually believe that this guy can change the fate of his country, you really do have to know him and know his story. It’s one filled with a sense of destiny…
Yeah was born poor like almost everyone else in his country of Mali. He was born into a large family (18 siblings!), which is also not altogether too uncommon. But what was different was his dad made a decision very early on that would have a huge lasting effect on his family: he decided that, come what may—be it hunger, poverty, and even the scorn of the village—he would send every one of his kids to school. Due to that sacrifice, they did go hungry, but every single one of them got their education. All of them graduated from college. And with that, the cycle of poverty was broken in his family. Opportunity lay ahead of them now, and education was the key to unlock that door.
Yeah continued his education through a sponsorship to come to the US to get his Masters degree. He went to the same university I went to (BYU) and hence the beginning of the crossing of networks… After he graduated he started a non-profit organization that built schools back in Mali where he tried to give more children the gift of education that he received as a child.
A couple years ago, the mayor seat opened up in his hometown. While he was living in relative comfort and ease in the states, he knew he needed to return home to serve his people. He packed up his new family, his wife and two kids, and moved back to Mali and ran for and won the office of mayor. In the two years since he has began to change the character of his hometown. And that character was founded in things that only seem like a pipe dream to our convoluted American political system… honesty, integrity, trust, transparency, punctuality, and a steady paycheck. And now he’s hoping to take that to the top.
4. DOLLAR BY DOLLAR
Now, while he’s hugely popular in Mali and even a front-runner for the presidential seat this April, his path must pass through a difficult and unique financial hurdle. Most candidates get their funding through backdoor agreements and sponsorship and he won’t have anything to do with that. So, he’s got to raise every penny to fund his campaign on his own. Oh, and there’s that one big hitch that those who do support him in Mali—those whose hope and future lie in him—can’t afford to donate to his campaign because many can barely afford to eat.
So he has to run his fundraising campaign on an international level and hope that people will stretch their hearts (and wallets) to contribute to a nation and people that they will most likely never see, meet, or gain anything personally from their contribution. And this is where I enter the story: to tell this story to help move those hearts to help open that wallet to help fund the campaign that can change a nation.
I believe he can do it. And to help him do it, I quit my job.
5. DUDE, I’M IN THIS NOW
That actually didn’t go over so well with the campaign. Grateful for the enthusiasm and willingness to help, of course. But it also read as a bit foolhardy and impetuous. The staff is small and volunteer-based and has definitely not asked anyone to step away from their main sources of income to help. The campaign manager even urged me to go and ask for my job back.
Not exactly the welcome that I had imagined, but, at the same time, I understood where they were coming from. I assured them that I had other things in place to help cover bills and that I wanted to help. And if that brought compensation down the road, wonderful. But if not, that I still had personal investiture in this campaign… because I know his story and I know he can make a difference, and I know that I can help him make that difference. And knowing those things, I couldn’t just walk away.
This seems to happen to most people the get involved. Just tonight my friend was working on something that fell far outside the boundary that he agreed to come in under. I said I couldn’t accept that help, that it was too much, and that I felt too bad having him do that. And he said, more or less, the same things I said to the campaign: “Dude, I’m in this now. Don’t feel bad.”
We get attached to the idea of hope—of real Hope (the kind that a lot of us had hoped for in 2008, remember?)—and even if it’s not necessarily ours to reap the benefit of, to be able to say that, to some small degree you helped change the destiny of a nation, if not a continent… that just doesn’t come around every day.
6. GREEN MEANS GO-GO-GO-GO!
I did finally get the green light to work on the campaign at the beginning of last week. That was the good news. The not-so-good news: we had events lined up that whole week culminating in a large auditorium speaking gig one week from the time of the phone call. In that time we needed a brand, t-shirts, brochures, a website, and promotional materials to advertise the event. We needed a presence on facebook and twitter. We needed to kick off one of the most crucial weeks in the fundraising efforts with a bang and we had basically no time to do it.
Since then I’ve slept very little, but we’ve started to produce some great things I believe. And the best thing about it is that people seem to be catching the excitement of what this election could mean. That buzz is slowly starting to spread. And people are starting to put their contributions behind it. More and more individuals are echoing this sentiment that Charles Adler from kickstarter once said, “I support what you’re doing, here’s my dollar.”
Still, dollar by dollar, we have a long ways to go. But one thing that is great about the internet is the inherent meritocracy that it provides—good ideas and good stories will rise to the top. This is a good story. And this is a good cause. And I’m tossing out my story about why and how #isupportyeah in hopes that it might make a few more people shout or tweet out, “#isupportyeah too.” And I’m hoping that with enough individuals raising their voice that it will be like all the Who’s trying to sing loud enough that that mean old kangaroo will hear them and let Horton just put the spec someplace safe! JoJo SING! And then the bubble breaks, and the message starts to find the right people—people who are in a position to give a dollar or five or ten or, man people, we’re talking about a presidential campaign here! $10,000 or more! These people exist. And because I’m not one of them just yet, I’m donating what I can: my talents and my voice to try and change the world.
If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’m hoping that something may be resonating with you by now. So, think about coming and adding your name, voice, and body to Team Samake. I’ll be there.