Suzanne F. Stevens & Michael K. Gingerich
January 20, 2007, eighteen Canadian women arrived in Kenya. On our first day at African International University, we attended a welcome ceremony. Our host, Lois Shaw, an American missionary, the late Dr Douglas Carew, the Chairman of the Africa International University, along with a dozen wives of PhD students gathered in the chapel.
At the welcome ceremony, Dr Carew shared what he believed to be the biggest issues in Africa. “The biggest problem in Africa today,” he said, “is not AIDS, poverty, disease, education, or urbanization; the biggest problem is leadership. When moral leaders with integrity and justice arise, then Africa’s problems will be solved.”
Within a month after receiving this reflective message I was training a professor, PhD students, and ambitious women on how to fundraise and communicate as leaders. A few short months later, I founded the Ignite Excellence Foundation fund, (renamed in 2016 to YouMeWe Foundation Fund), with the goal to raise funds to provide tertiary education scholarships for prospective women leaders in developing countries. The goal is to create more leaders with integrity, while addressing injustices suffered by women and children in developing countries.
After returning to my influential communication sales and leadership training organization, Ignite Excellence Inc., back in Toronto, Canada, I couldn’t kick a nagging feeling. By offering free training to the students and professors at African International University, was I taking a much needed African person’s job? Was there an expert in influence in Kenya or surrounding area who could have been paid to provide training services?
A couple years later I became very unsettled. Leading a team of consultants and training corporations whose primary focus was to win business to optimize profits was not filling my soul. The recession also kicked in, which lead me to work in industries that may have filled my bank, but not my ambition. I craved to immerse myself in an experience that was more fulfilling than seeking the mighty dollar and more significant than my professional achievements.
I remember sitting on my couch, looking at all my stuff, and contemplating: “What contribution was I really making? What impact was I really creating?”
I wanted to do something bold. Buying motorcycle would only provide a temporary adrenaline rush, and I need something that would stimulate a trajectory to something that would instil more meaning in my life. I spoke with my husband (Micheal K. Gingerich) with the pleading eyes of a wife, “Let’s take one, two or three years and go back to Africa. We could create a platform for African women with integrity to share their insight to educate future African women leaders.”
“What do you think?”
Mike hesitated for what seemed like a lifetime, and then smiled,
“You know, you will have to take the lead…but I will follow.” (The words every woman wants to hear.)
It took time for us to get organized. Mike left his leadership position and I reorganized my training team. Then we sold almost everything.
In March 2010, we were ready to start our adventure of a lifetime. We embarked on a journey with a mission, which was to create an initiative that would cultivate, celebrate and inspire future leaders in emerging countries. My passion leads us to interview pioneering women in countries within Africa for WisdomExchangeTv.com. The unsung heroines who were, and in many cases still are, suppressed; whose voices needed to be amplified. The uncelebrated mentors, for the future African women leaders. A bridge over the chasm needed to be built, from African young women seeking to learn, lead and succeed in life, business, and community to easy access to African women’s inspiration and wisdom.
Our strategy was to create a website where we interviewed pioneering African women leaders who would inspire and educate future African women leaders–WisdomExchangeTV.com.
After interviewing over seventy pioneering African women from seventeen countries, we were awe-inspiring.
Each of these pioneers demonstrated perseverance, tenacity, belief, and unwavering dedication to uplift the lives of others through their contributions to their community, country and continent. Most of these women came from very humble beginnings, and yet they were rich in an ability to address a human rights violation or creating sustainable opportunities for fellow citizens all while creating a ripple effect. Their aspirations are realized because of their courage, their character, and their choice to serve society.
These pioneering African women humbled us. I questioned, what had taken me so long to actively contribute? All I can come up with is, in the West, we often talk about leaving a legacy; that is something we think about doing later in life. African women live their legacy; it is a philosophy of how they live their life. These women are on the propitious of transforming African societies – because they lead tomorrow’s legacy today.
YouMeWe was a website that started as nothing more than Mike and my attempt to share our experiences on our twenty-month journey through Africa. With each interaction on our African journey, our perspective, and beliefs were transformed. The focus on ‘Me’ evolved. ‘You’ and ‘We’ captured our curiosity and took us on a unique adventure, which developed the intention of YouMeWe, from a journal of our journey, to a social enterprise. Its new mandate is to focus on igniting consistent conscious-contributions™, in which individuals and organizations are made aware and are inspired how to contribute to fill a gap in society, and ensure their intentions are having a positive impact long-term.
Through creating awareness of YouMeWe social enterprise, it will morph into a movement where social enterprises and organizations that adhere to the manifesto of YouMeWe are celebrated. The intention is to inspire citizens to shift the focus from ‘Me’ to ‘We’, consciously. Through this lens, we hope to inspire you with insights and tools on how to contribute to your organization, community, country, or beyond while creating a positive ripple effect. On this journey of optimizing your impact, you will also live your most meaningful life.
The goal of the YouMeWe mindset is to raise consciousness and inspire individuals and organizations to lead or participate in contributions that positively impact their community, country, or beyond long-term, promoting a more caring and more inclusive human race. Please join us on this journey of YouMeWe.