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My Epic Journey

I recently attended a friend’s 60th birthday party. Ok, nothing particularly epic about that you might think, but you’d be very wrong. The friend in question is a certain Dr. Tom Ilube CBE – renowned tech entrepreneur, educational philanthropist, and all round great guy. But even that’s beside the point, because this epic journey literally took off from Heathrow airport, at 2pm on the 30th of March, with over 30 other guests, on a British Airways flight to Accra, Ghana for what turned out to be a little journey through time!

I believe nothing brings home a message better than when you engage your five major senses (i.e. to see, hear, feel, smell and taste) to experience it – kind of like eating a juicy mango! That long weekend in Accra was one such experience albeit interlaced with clear signals about the past, present and future of: Africa, the diaspora and our crucial role in global society, humanity and humane enterprise. Highlights from my experience include specific days & activities around the following:

1. Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle

An excursion to these UNESCO World Heritage Monuments vividly brought to life the heart-wrenching horror of the transatlantic trade in African people, which involved an unprecedented, industrial scale, forced transportation of enslaved Africans to the western world. This harrowing peek into the past strangely also gave a glimpse into the resilience of the human spirit, because some descendants of those poor enslaved souls are starting to make return pilgrimages back to these same fort/castles, (and the infamous “gates of no return”), through which their ancestors likely passed on a one-way voyage to strange lands. On the journey back with a coach full reflective fellow travellers, the conversation slowly turned to how such a profound experience might be shared with with a wider audience some of whom may never get an opportunity to make the same journey. Hmmm.

2. African Science Academy (ASA)

The opening ceremony of their brand new building created a perfect opportunity to meet and interact with the amazing staff and students of the African Science Academy. Founded in 2016, ASA is “Africa’s first specialist STEM-focused academy for girls”. Each year they provide a select cohort of gifted youngsters from across Africa with scholarship and opportunity to undertake a jam-packed curriculum that enables them to successfully complete the Cambridge International A Level exams in Maths, Further Maths and Physics.  Additional programmes in computer science, robotics, leadership and public speaking etc, help to round out their education and prepare them for placement in top universities across the world. This event provided a tiny glimpse into a future leadership in STEM, across Africa and the world, which will undoubtedly be populated by some of these incredibly capable young women. Only time will tell.

3. Turntabl.io Trailblazers

It truly was a privilege to spend some time with the first cohort of Salesforce trailblazers at the Turntabl.io office in Accra, Ghana. Turntabl.io is an innovative, employee-owned software engineering consultancy firmly focused on establishing Ghana as a premier tech hub. It was enlightening to interact with this group of switched on young graduates working on attaining their first Salesforce Admin Certification. We covered everything including: life as a Salesforce professional, job prospects in the ecosystem in Africa, and the challenges of being first in blazing a trail for others to follow.  Nothing was off the table, we discussed the ongoing lay-offs within the wider tech industry, the implication of Generative AI, (everyone in this group already uses ChatGPT!), and perhaps most importantly we also examined the pros and cons of regional variations in Jollof cuisine!  This had to be one of my most enjoyably fulfilling BOLDForce volunteering activity!

Overall, the above experiences created a rather interesting arc which left me with sober reflections about the past, sheer inspiration for the future, and a joyful celebration of the present, along with several amazing new connections. This remarkable, epic journey was for me a holistic experience with renewed appreciation that the story of African people is far greater than well-worn tropes of slavery, colonisation and general victimhood. Ours is far more expansive and fundamental to the entirety of the human story, and for our emerging future with more and more intelligent machines and systems. 

Such a future will demand every ounce of human values, resilience and adaptability that we can bring to survive and thrive, and I am thoroughly heartened to have met and interacted with some of the bright young ones who appear to indeed be ready, willing and able (with the right support and guidance) to change the narrative. Thanks Dr. Tom Ilube CBE, I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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