Aug 21
August 21, 2013

Embrace Tomorrow: A Conversation Without Borders


On August 7, President Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and Professor Njabulo Ndebele, the Chairman of Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Mandela Rhodes Foundation, co-hosted a conversation in Pretoria, South Africa, asking the question: how are you embracing tomorrow? Participants around the world, and those in the audience in Pretoria, were invited to ask questions through Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #EmbraceTmrw, and to watch the event livestreamed on Facebook.

The conversation explored how people are working towards creating positive change across Africa, and included a panel of six change makers: Kave Bulambo, Founder of Women Across Borders; Hadeel Ibrahim, Founding Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Chairman of Econet Wireless; James Mwangi, Managing Director and CEO of Equity Bank; Zethu Ngceza, External Relations Coordinator at the Ubuntu Education Fund; and Shaka Sisulu, Founder of Cheesekids for Humanity.

Embrace Tomorrow Conversation with President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton

President Clinton opened the event by emphasizing that his hope for the evening was to create an interactive dialogue about how people are effectively embracing tomorrow by highlighting how these six individuals are positive proof that change could be made. “I do believe we have to listen to, understand, and work with other people in order to make anything lasting happen,” President Clinton said.

The event came at the end of President Clinton’s and Chelsea’s trip across Africa, where they visited Clinton Foundation projects that are positively changing communities and enabling others to embrace tomorrow.

The conversation began with a discussion of education in Africa. Strive Masiyiwa acknowledged educational inequality as the continent’s biggest challenge, citing statistics that 43 percent of the 61 million children out of school in the world are African, and 60 percent of them are girls.

Hadeel Ibrahim stressed the importance of educational skills matching the future of the job market, believing that disconnects between schooling and the labor market can create unrest, as in Tunisia. She especially focused on the need to teach African youth analytical skills, which would provide them with the tools necessary to understand data and hold their leaders accountable.

Zethu Ngceza recognized the educational challenges faced in South Africa, but emphasized that people must also take initiative to succeed. She shared her own story; as an orphan child left to take care of her siblings, she remained determined to become a college graduate from the prestigious Mandela University, which she achieved with the help of the Ubuntu Education Fund.

President Clinton said that technology could help address education inequality. “With the power of the Internet, we can short-circuit a lot of the normal developmental processes that would give high-quality education to people in not only low-income countries but in poor areas of countries that aren't low income,” he said. After all, he joked that “today, a 10- year old can get on the Internet and find out things in 30 seconds that I had to go to university to learn.”

Health Care
Answering a question from Twitter, President Clinton said that HIV/AIDS is the most solvable problem of this generation. He praised South Africa for the strides it had made in combating the disease, as the country has tripled the number of workers in medicine, and increased by five-fold the number of patients tested for HIV/AIDS. Chelsea pointed out that the public health infrastructure for HIV could be used to treat other health problems as well, such as diarrhea. “We need to talk about how the solutions, not just the problems, are connected,” she said.  

The panelists also considered hunger in Africa to be a solvable problem, but only once female farmers are given the same access to resources as their male counterparts. Strive stated that Africa had the resources, land, and technology to end hunger. “Eighty percent of the food we eat on this continent is grown by women smallholder farmers, if we can help mothers, no child has to go hungry,” he said.  

Kave Bulambo, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), highlighted the importance of peace building to solving hunger. “We need to contribute to building peace in the DRC…. The DRC can feed the entire African continent, that’s the potential that it has, but because of the civil war and mismanagement of funds, and everything that is going wrong, there is no way the DRC can reach that potential. When we do have peace in the DRC, maybe then Africa can end its hunger, ” she said.

Africa’s Greatest Strengths
Given the challenges faced by Africa, an audience member asked the panel what they considered the continent’s greatest strengths to be. Dr. James Mwangi believes that because Africa does not have to grapple with legacy systems, the continent can leapfrog on technology and innovation. “Africa is endowed with nearly a billion people, a youthful population that could really be used to enhance the opportunities that Africa has…When you combine natural resources, technology, and people, then Africa has what it takes to transform itself in just one generation,” he said.

President Clinton agreed, and stated “the people and the resources are your greatest strength.” He added that there is too much generalization in people’s approach to Africa; even between the countries where the Foundation is working, the same strategies can’t be applied. However, President Clinton noted that, the Africa’s progress over the past two decades has been greater than many people are aware of, citing that 7 of the 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa. President Clinton also thoughtfully mentioned that the fact that people are still open to the idea of the future, given the level of disappointment and loss that many have gone through in the past, is an important asset.

Professor Ndebele agreed, noting that across the continent there has been a relative period of stability and a lack of conflict (with a few exceptions, including the DRC), which is important for Africa to continue to build upon.   

Shaka Sisulu added that, “the thing that excites me most about the continent and where we are is the opportunity on two sides. The opportunity for advancement and the opportunity to squander has actually begun to decrease.” Shaka continued to explain that young people are less and less tolerant of the status quo, which gives them a greater opportunity to change and re-write the rules for how Africa interacts within itself as well as with the rest of the world.  “I don’t think we’ve had this amount of opportunity in our known time,” Shaka said.

Making an Impact
A South African high school student asked the panelists for guidance on how he could make an impact in his community. Chelsea advised him to consider, “What inspires you or what makes you angry? What do you think is unjust? And what do you think you could do about any of those or to stop anything bad from happening?”

Additionally, a young 11-year-old girl shared her story with the panel. She is the founder of a non-profit, The Hand That Gives, and travels between provinces in South Africa educating young girls about health, hygiene, and the importance of education, and asked how she can achieve her dreams to better South Africa. President Clinton responded by saying, perhaps she could help him accomplish his work, but that she is well on her way to already making an impact.

In closing, Chelsea mentioned that throughout the conversation, she was struck by the similarity between the concerns of people in Africa to those in the United States, particularly regarding the income gap between men and women in the U.S. and the disconnect in the job market with the education system. “Please, if you figure out the answers, share them with us,” she said.

President Clinton closed the dialogue by drawing upon two lessons he had learned from Nelson Mandela. “One of the great legacies of Mandela is that in spite of the fact he was denied the right to see his own children grow up, he never forgot that politics and economics were about personal stories,” he said. “The second thing that I think is important is that no one should allow future to be dictated by the past. That embracing the future was not about being a visionary – it was about a way of life. ”

If you missed the conversation, be sure to watch it here and share with us how you are working to embrace tomorrow by using #EmbraceTmrw.