A couple of years ago, at an international networking marketing convention in Malaysia, Dr. Bakary Kante was introduced to us as a United Nations diplomat based in Kenya and ardent proponent of network marketing in Africa.
Dr. Kante and I met several more times and bonded over passionate discussions (mostly in French) about environmental issues, social justice, the empowerment of women, and the future of Africa.
As we were preparing this issue on entrepreneurship education, I reached out to our African friend, whom others would address as “His Excellency,” asking if he could connect me with a representative for Africa experienced in network marketing who could speak to our topic.
“Can I be your candidate?” he replied, and he went on to share with me his plans to leave the U.N. in the near future and launch the Africa Sustainability Center, “a leading think tank on sustainability, rule of law, and private-public partnership, focused on creatively stimulating new ideas, approaches, policies, and technological adaptations to facilitate the advancement of Africa’s interdependence in our new globalized economy.”
In laymen’s terms, Dr. Bakary Kante is creating a structure for African governments, entrepreneurs, and educational institutions to come together and explore sustainable business practices based on cooperation, partnership, and contribution.
Having a strong personal testimony of how network marketing changed the lives of his family and loved ones, Dr. Kante will be working with African heads of state to embrace and promote network marketing as a powerful vehicle and proven solution to some of the most pressing problems challenging his continent.—J.M.G.
Newly appointed youngest ever Director General
of the Environment for Senegal, 1984.
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born in a tiny village on the border of Senegal and Mali. I grew up in a family of twelve brothers and sisters, and my father has never in his life earned a single penny in salary. The first time I saw a nurse I was nine years old. As was the case with most families in the villages, we owed everything to the environment.
As a child, I was keenly aware of nature as the source of our livelihood: I could go catch a big fish in the river and bring it home without paying a single penny. My brother could go hunt and bring back meat; my sisters could go harvest fresh fruits and greens, all without paying a single penny.
I always challenge people when they put a price to poverty, because it simply is not true: the absence of money does not equal poverty. We used to live abundantly eating three meals a day without exchanging money. The wealth of the poor is definitely the environment, and I’m real proof of this. Living in harmony with nature was our way of life.
How did you arrive at the U.N.?
I studied international public law and environmental sciences in Dakar, Senegal. After I graduated with a double Ph.D., I was appointed Director General for the Environment in Senegal from 1984 till 1999. I became the lead negotiator for Senegal in many international negotiations and that’s how I was recognized by the U.N.
In 1998 the executive director for UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) came after me. I told him I was not available, that he would have to negotiate with my second reporting official, who happened to be the president of the Republic of Senegal. After a couple of months of negotiations between the U.N. and my president, I was released to join the U.N. as a director leading three divisions.
Right now, I’m the director of the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, meaning I develop law and oversee all conventions on climate change, biodiversity, water management, land policies, renewable energies, and so on. Rule of law and governance are the foundations of my work. That’s my story in a nutshell.
With his children, clock wise from top left, Penda 28, Hamady Sega 26, Daouda 24, and Coumba 22.
Then something happened, the day you were sitting in an airplane next to a lady named Asha Krishnan [featured Master Networker in the Mar/Apr 2011 issue of Networking Times, Ed.]
Yes, something special happened that day. I was going through a difficult period because the person who helped raise me, my big brother, was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. I was supporting my family financially at the time with my U.N. salary, and the doctors had told me that I should stop spending money on his health. “It’s over,” they said, and I was devastated.
The day I met Asha, I was extremely sad, but I felt this angel next to me, so I shared my story. Asha listened intently and said, “I have something I can lend you; I cannot give it to you because it is my business and it’s expensive, but take it and try it with your brother, and let’s see what happens.”
She gave me an energy product that looked like a small glass disc. At my wit’s end, I let my brother use it. The doctors had told me he had only one to three months to live, and a miracle happened. My brother continued to live for more than a year, thanks to God, and thanks to this product, which continues to create miracles for me. Since then, I’ve not stopped talking about this product, I take it with me wherever I go, and I became a network marketer by default because of it.
Were you familiar with the network marketing business model when you met Asha?
I didn’t know anything about the business. When Asha told me there was an income opportunity attached to the product, I told her, “I’m a U.N. Director, I don’t need money.” Later I realized this was quite arrogant and the business proved me wrong: network marketing changed the lives of my siblings and childhood friends who were relying on my salary before.
In Africa, no matter how big your salary, it’s never enough because you share it with everyone back home. Because I introduced my close family and friends to network marketing a few years ago, today they no longer need my financial support. They have recovered their freedom and their dignity, and that’s why I have such respect for this business. It gives those who are nobody a chance to become somebody. There is no diploma that can do this.
Thanking the participants of the World Congress of Chief Justices, Attorney Generals, and Auditor Generals in Rio de Janeiro, June 2012.
With network marketing leader Rahul and his team after giving a talk, Hyderabad, India, October 2012.
It started with a love for the product for you and your family, and eventually they turned into business-builders. How did that happen? How did they know what to do, what to say, and how to sell a product that’s relatively expensive?
Network marketing products might be expensive, but for the price of the products, you can start a business. You can’t start any other business with that amount of money anywhere in Africa, and probably, anywhere in the world.
Especially in my part of the world, people realize that what might be expensive for them initially is a tremendous gift, because it holds the key to freedom. People here see it as an investment: they will save and put their money together to be part of this business. Dignity and pride have no price.
Africa is often seen as a hopeless continent. People are so poor that all you can do is give them charity. But slowly, through this business, we are bringing hope and light in the darkness. Today I can tell you with confidence that, as an African leader, I see network marketing as the future of my continent. People are starting to understand that the business is all about learning by doing, which is the best school in life. The results have been life-changing for so many that I strongly believe African authorities have to embrace network marketing for their people.
For the next ten, fifteen years, we will have more than 500 million youth coming on the job market in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is no African government that can offer jobs to those people. They go to school, they earn diplomas, but it’s of no use. It’s like vegetables in the market: when you have plenty, the prices drop. Today we have so many university graduates that the salaries are going down. The beauty of network marketing is that these young people can put their diplomas in drawers and become networkers. They can have success in life and meet all their needs without a diploma or salary.
Seeing how network marketing has transformed the lives of your family and friends, you now are taking it a step further, with your plan to start a center for sustainability and entrepreneurship.
I’m not a true network marketer yet because I’m devoting most of my time to my job at the U.N. But my dream is to be the leader of a think tank for sustainable development of the African continent. I want this think tank to be the booster of the African Renaissance in terms of sustainability and economic growth. We want to promote wealth creation by helping young people believe in themselves and in entrepreneurship because they see living examples of others who have succeeded without going far in school.
My model is Asha, a seventh grade drop-out who today we call the Queen of Africa. She is teaching me, a doctor and a diplomat, what no university anywhere in the world can teach me, which is to change the lives of thousands, if not millions of people on my continent. That’s magic.
The center we will put in place next year will help African countries to look into network marketing as a viable business opportunity for these roving, jobless youth. Since there is no other solution, governments have to support it without reservation and facilitate the development of this business in the continent. This is what I will devote the next ten years of my life to, because I know what it has done for people who are very close to me and I see the potential of what it can do for thousands, if not millions of others.
What kind of help are you expecting from the governments?
I see working with governments as a perfect public/private partnership. Governments are the public administration and network marketing is the private sector par excellence. African countries have to create an enabling legal environment in order to attract network marketing companies and make the industry flourish in the continent. The current absence of legislation creates all kinds of anarchy. People can come in and say, “We are networkers,” while in truth they are scammers. We have to avoid this by first creating laws, then facilitate professional development. With my center I want to initiate the creation of an African Direct Selling Association, such as the ones you have in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Listening to his mentor Cherian Mathew before going on stage.
In addition to the DSA, here in the U.S., we have the ANMP, the Association of Network Marketing Professionals, whose purpose is to educate, set standards, and raise professionalism among network marketers across companies. In the coming years, the ANMP will open chapters in different regions of the world, including Africa.
We could absolutely envision an African chapter of the ANMP. I am confident that in two to three years we will see a boom of network marketing here. We live in a digital world of mobile technologies and social media, where movements and networks can grow very fast. Africa lies within this world.
Moreover, the network marketing spirit is in alignment with the deepest, ancestral values of the African people, as echoed in the ancient Adinkra symbol Boa me na me mmoa wo, meaning, “Help me and let me help you.” This was also the motto of the Ashanti people in Ghana, showing awareness of their interdependence in an inescapable web of mutual well-being and happiness.
This is exactly what network marketing is all about. If we focus on education and capacity-building through partnership with the right institutions, I think this continent can become the richest point in the global development of network marketing. That is my goal.
When we look at Africa’s past, we can’t help but notice a pattern of oppression, starting with slavery, colonization, then corrupt governments and factions that continued to exploit people. A business based on partnership, collaboration, and paying it forward is a radical shift. How do you see this new way of working together and helping each other take root in Africa?
I have no doubt it will, because Africa is open. The depiction of our continent in history books and in the media is not always accurate. Take my country for example. The Senegalese population is 90 percent Muslim, yet our first president was Christian. He was re-elected three times and ruled for twenty years until he chose to retire. Our next president was Muslim and his wife was Christian, and the same with our current president. We don’t have religious wars.
Africans are open-minded people and revenge is something we don’t know. Despite the colonization, despite the slavery, despite all those things, Africans still want to cooperate and the motto from the Ashanti people is proof of that.
The best driver for this is network marketing because it’s an equal platform for the rich and the poor, for the educated and the non-educated, for the urban boys or girls and those like me who come from the village. We are all network marketing kids in this platform of equal opportunity. The difference between the rich and the poor is the opportunity, and network marketing offers opportunity to everybody to become financially free.
Sharing the stage with Dr. Vijay Eswaran at a network marketing event.
With his friend, business partner, and role model Asha Krishnan,
presenting Dr. Vijay Eswaran´s seminal book, In the Sphere of Silence,
to the late Wangari Mathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner.
When you leave the U.N., are you going to miss your work there, or is there going to be some kind of continuity with what you will accomplish with your center?
Everything we do in life we have to say goodbye to one day. I’ve developed a belief that it’s better to assess and decide when to turn the page so we can take on new challenges. My belief is, yesterday is over. Today is about to be over. What remains is tomorrow and we have to work for our future. You can say about tomorrow that you don’t know what it is, and stay in your comfort zone. But this is not helping you at all; in fact, your comfort zone is your worst enemy. I’m driven by challenges and I feel it’s time for me to tackle new challenges, not only for myself, but for my continent. I want to fight for my people and my culture without which I could not exist. Africa has given me so much and it is time for me to give back. I don’t have any doubt that we are going to witness something very powerful, and successful, God willing, to support my fellow Africans and to help African governments eradicate poverty. This is my dream that keeps me awake at night.
Who are going to be the players in your think tank?
It will include everyone invested in promoting entrepreneurship and sustainable economic growth: the government, the private sector, and educational institutions such as Networking University. I don’t believe in economic growth driven by government. The government can design the legal framework and enable the environment, but the real drivers remain business and technology. My think tank will include every stakeholder that can insure economic growth through social and environmental justice and allow business people and entrepreneurs to play their highest role.
The more business people we have in Africa, the better it will be for the future of this continent. The more confident they are, the better they will perform and the more this continent will prosper. In order for that to happen, we have to develop new types of entrepreneurs, and one of these types is the network marketer. Guided by the principles of transparency, accountability, and inclusivity, we will open lines of communication with all the stakeholders. My think tank will be a bridge for those who have needs to meet those who have solutions. This meeting will create synergy, which we know is always bigger than the sum of its individual elements.
With Dr. Josephine and Chris Gross at an international network marketing event in Malaysia, 2011.
Practically, how do you see the activities unfold? Will there be yearly conventions, publications, training events?
Definitely, the think tank will produce all of the above, bringing together people in the field of sustainability, rule of law, business, economic growth, education, and so on. We want to illuminate solutions; not get bogged down in problems.
The twenty-first century is the century of interdependence. John Fitzgerald Kennedy launched that concept fifty years ago to describe the relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the free world. Today is Africa’s time to change, to promote and show interdependence at its best, and our think tank will do so through events and reporting. Beyond a focus on reflection, it will also be an incubator for new programs and projects, handing them off to the true entrepreneurs for them to run with it, confidently because we will have shown them all the risks and opportunities to flourish in their business ventures.
Universities and other educational institutions will be partnering with us to raise the bar higher. To progress, you have to be open and learn new things. Every single day you have to improve yourself and you cannot do so without training. You cannot do it without interacting with those who are successful, with those who know and are experienced. That’s why we will be inviting trainers and educators from established institutions, such as Networking University, to come and teach success principles and best practices for creating financial freedom in the new economy.
The synergy that will come from the exchange between young African entrepreneurs and positive role models such as leaders in the network marketing profession will help lift Africa out of its challenges and into its rightful place as a major contributor to the new globalized world.
It’s a well-known fact that the African continent is one of the wealthiest in terms of natural and human resources, and today’s emerging technologies and communication facilities allow us to harness the idealism, creativity, ingenuity, skills, and talent of its people for the benefit of all.
My country’s first president, Léopold Sedar Senghor, summarized the African spirit in his famous words, “Nous sommes le pays du donner et du recevoir.” Through giving and receiving we create a sustainable world where everyone prospers.