Many people have asked me how I knew I wanted to do the work I do in Africa, how I knew I was ready to start a company and how I knew I was ready to focus on that full time. The truth is I never really planned it, I just took advantage of opportunities that came my way, kept learning, questioning, and enjoying myself to the fullest. It never really occurred to me to become an entrepreneur, much less figure out how to do it. I simply made decisions based on what I wanted my life to be.
The COVID 19 pandemic has shaken up our existing systems and created a new normal. One silver lining is that in times of chaos, we have the ability to rebuild and create the world in which we want to live. We can choose who we see through our screens, anywhere in the world. Even though most of us are cooped up in our homes right now, we are fortunate to be able to expand our horizons and connections globally, albeit virtually. We can curate our Instagram feeds, we can join parties in Dubai, Cambodia, or Dakar, we can go to museums, we can watch a Nollywood series on Netflix- whatever we want!
Instead of viewing this as an economic and social death sentence, let’s consider all the amazing things we can do from the comfort of our homes and the opportunities that abound. At this time, we need remedies, we need comfort, we need new ways to equalize the playing field for the billions of people who will suffer extreme economic and physical hardships. But we also need joy, happiness, relaxation and love. And this is where entrepreneurs can step up to the plate.
Being an entrepreneur does not necessarily mean creating the next Uber or being on a Forbes 30 under 30 list. It also does not mean moving to a foreign country, being a business owner, quitting your job, or uprooting your family. Not all entrepreneurs make money from their enterprise, and not all entrepreneurs are full time. Entrepreneurs are simply people who see a problem in their communities, and create a viable solution that brings about positive change.
Sometimes, entrepreneurs have an idea that not only changes the way society runs for the better, but also makes billions of dollars. Companies form and scale rapidly out of hardships It has been proven time and time again throughout history that innovation comes out of turmoil. WhatsApp, Slack, Venmo, Uber, Instagram, Groupon and ZOOM are examples of businesses that have emerged out of troubled times and have grown to become critical pillars of our globalized world. As someone whose quality of life has greatly improved because of all of these companies, I am excited to see what innovations come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the lockdown, I participated in a life changing Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small business workshop. The facilitator told us that a defining characteristic of entrepreneurs is that they don’t think about how, they think about what. They think big, they think moonshot, they envision the world they want and decide they are going to create it. Only big thinkers, big risk takers and people who truly believe the world can be a better place will become game changing, world shaking entrepreneurs. And what better time to do that than now –while we are at home and forced to think of new ways of doing things and new ways of coping with the new normal not just for ourselves but for everyone.
So what if we committed the time we would normally spend commuting to work or out late at a bar, reflecting on what we know, what we have seen, what we live, and how those experiences can be shared with others and used to build local, regional, national and even global opportunities? According to Barbara Cocorcan, famous entrepreneur and Shark Tank judge, “It’s your game; make up your own rules.” My call to action to everyone is to seize the moment to envision the world we want. Like an entrepreneur, don’t ask how, just shoot for that moon to create a better world.
And if you never try, you may never know if your idea will better the lives of those around you or, what’s more – be the next world changing unicorn.