I like to say I transformed from childhood to adulthood in Africa. Summer of 2010, my mom cried when I told her I had decided to go volunteer and visit my best friend’s family in Kenya. Summer of 2011, back to Kenya I went, my mom confused on how I would ever make money to pay for university if I was going again to Africa for the entire summer. Summer of 2013, a cross-country phone call informed my mom of my plans to pursue a fully funded research internship in Ethiopia. But still, my mom worried. How would I ever make a career out of spending my time in countries not defined by steady reliable career opportunities but defined by informal economies and foreign aid?
But summer 2015, everything changed. I was happy, thriving as one of the few social entrepreneurs in The Next 36 entrepreneurship accelerator program. An opportunity to attend the Thiel Summit found me in San Francisco the first weekend of June. San Francisco brought with it the chance to have initial meetings with impact investors about the plan to raise an investment round for my Next 36 company, TownSquare. But then, everything changed.
Up on stage at the Thiel Summit was a guy named Josh. Josh began explaining why our world is in desperate need for startup companies that provide more than new ways to share photos. He explained that life was too short to waste time working on small things, that our world needed entrepreneurs to use the power of business to disrupt some of our most broken systems. This was a philosophy Josh was putting into practice at his own company, Hampton Creek.
A few weeks later, I went to Hampton Creek website, where there were job postings for roles related to food, research, and technology. But then, my eyes landed on ‘Director, Entrepreneurship Lab,’ in Monrovia, Liberia, about as far away as possible from Silicon Valley and “SF”. It was the craziest job description I had ever seen: “build the world’s coolest entrepreneurship lab,” “run a school for girls who have been victims of sexual exploitation.” It was asking for a gritty entrepreneur, an educator, an expert on food systems, and an international development practitioner. It was perfect.
But no 22-year-old should have any hope in landing a beyond-your-wildest-dreams job, right? But sometimes, when you shoot for the moon, you make it through the stars and land in a life, in a role, in an opportunity you never thought was possible.
So, I called my mom. And the craziest thing happened. Her son moving to post-civil war, post-Ebola Liberia, and not just for a month or two, but on a one way plane ticket, she was nothing but excited and proud. That was when I knew that every crazy decision I have made, every day of working multiple part-time jobs to pay for school and to free up summers for nutty adventures – it was worth it.