Today is African Day, and a great way to celebrate this rich continent is to connect an integral part of African culture, what we call Proverbs, to my wish for the World Economic Forum happening this week at Davos. My wish for the African leaders representing us, vis a vis global leaders, is Collaboration. African Proverbs are used to illustrate ideas, reinforce arguments, and deliver messages of inspiration, consolation, celebration, and advice. The great Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, once wrote: “Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten.”
A month ago, my 11-year-old daughter pulled me into one of those venting sessions. She was struggling with one of her classmates working with her in a group, and at that point, all she wanted to do was get out of the group. She reported to the teachers and hoped they could re-assign the team member. That was not the outcome she got. Sarah, my very driven 11-year-old, had spent days researching for this project and wanted to spend time focused on the teamwork. Her interest was not in playing games with other teams or asking to be acknowledged for any tiny effort made on the work. That is how she felt one of her teammates was showing up. She had mapped out the whole plan and it was execution time; there should be no distractions.
As a very astute mother (tongue in cheek), I realised I did not have the answers she wanted but could help try to point out one of the key skills we could learn from this all – Collaboration. We use that a lot in Meta, where i work. What does it really mean? Collaboration involves two or more people, entities or organisations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal. It is definitely different from co-operation, though sometimes taken to mean the same. In collaboration, it is shared ownership and interest in a specific outcome, while cooperation requires we work in support of others’ goals. Cooperation can also mean to work with other people by achieving one’s own goals as part of a common goal.
The former requires co-ownership by one or more individuals/teams while the latter term implies ownership by one individual. My kids play musical instruments, using this as visual representation. Collaboration is like playing in an orchestra; we all co-own the final sound while cooperation is like Sarah playing a solo violin piece maybe accompanied by a piano played by her brother because then it sounds better that way. She owns the final sound and can decide to truly go solo with no piano accompaniment.
The economic challenges that resulted from a global pandemic like Covid has shown that our global economy requires a collaborative effort. Where every continent is represented (third world, second world, or first world, what ever nomenclature used) is a key stakeholder and plays a part. For years, it is fair to speculate that a continent like Africa has seen leaders [business, diplomatic, political, and philanthropic] focus much on co-operation when it truly should be collaboration. Collaboration requires co-authorship and co-ownership; it will entail stakeholders asking the tough questions, looking at the ideas at the table, challenging each other, and looking for ways to work out a future for all.
Collaboration is a process that does not come easy and can be uncomfortable because of our inherent diverse nature. It might be uncomfortable, but the outcome is priceless learning for all.
How do we ensure the collaborative process works globally when the world economy is discussed? How do we ensure things like the COVID-19’s vaccine injustices are not repeated, as shared by Winnie Byanyima. One key way I must mention is to involve stakeholders early enough. Yes, I know it sounds so simple! African leaders should be be part of the collaborative process and not just there to cooperate. If they have a stake in the shared outcome (as Covid has shown us), make sure they are involved in time. This barrier alone could result in getting in the way of us moving fast together. Leaving stakeholders behind might occur from time to time; we make mistakes but should not always be the normal. It should be the exception. Having personally orchestrated some complex transformational projects in my career, I can tell that such programs are delayed or halted by something as simple as communication — not communicating or involving stakeholders.
Tomorrow Director-General of WTO, CEO of Yara International, and Børge Brende will be discussing the trade outcomes of Davos as many countries face food security issues.Seeking better aligned approaches and new cooperation needed to address the growing food security and affordability crisis.
Maybe beyond Global cooperation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala should be seeking for Global Collaboration from all. These words of wisdom I have listed out could easily be summed in one African proverb.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.
Jane Egerton-Idehen is a bestselling author, an accomplished senior Fortune 500 technology Executive, strategic advisor, spokesperson, and director of non-profit organizations. An engineer by training, she is an expert in the Telecommunication industry, seamlessly bridging the divide between engineering, technology, and the end consumer.
Jane has a strong passion for promoting girls in STEM and ensuring women in STEM industries remain and grow their careers in that industry. She curates her thoughts around her career journey, experiences, and passion in life. Join our conversation on our Facebook page @WomenNCareer and Check out video blog Women and Career on YouTube.