Adama Sanneh is the Co-Founder and CEO of the Moleskine Foundation. Italian by birth, he has an Italian mother and Senegalese-Gambian father and has lived in four different countries across Europe and Africa, but there is so much more to him than this that makes him an interesting and inspirational figure. For one, he is dedicated to his work at the Moleskine Foundation – a non-profit with unconventional programs aimed at enabling social transformation through creativity in youth and under-served communities.
His interview with the EDiT provides an eye-opening perspective on the world that will turn many people’s preconceived ideas and internal narrative about Africa, education, technology and creativity on its head.
1. You come from a very interesting background and you speak a lot about the topic of identity and the “other”. How has this influenced your work at the Moleskine Foundation?
This concept is at the core of the foundation’s work. We want to create a positive impact in the world and so we encourage people to realize they are “the other”, to break down barriers of individuality and eventually, to move away from hierarchical patronizing systems and embracing this idea. From there, you can start a new internal journey and when you realize that there is no “me” and “others” it becomes the centerpiece and the starting point for reasoning.
2. The Moleskine Foundation has a few education-related initiatives. Can you tell us about the WikiAfrica Education program and the impact it’s had on the African continent?
WikiAfrica Education is a program that we conceptualized more than 10 years ago. We wanted to address the lack of information about the African continent online, and the bias in knowledge using digital tools used for mass distribution of information. We realized that this bias caused misrepresentation about the continent and its history, its people and its values. In addition, the scarcity in information about hundreds of cultures, history and social issues contributes to burying the narratives of millions of lives. There is more information about the city of Paris than the entire continent of Africa on Wikipedia.
There is something that a good friend wrote that said, “in order to change the world, you need to change the narrative of the world”. This change starts from knowledge and the way it is transformed into creative action.
We created the WikiAfrica Education program to get young people to become active knowledge producers, for themselves and their community. If we support one person by improving their critical thinking, knowledge development, skills, etc – this person can then transform and impact their community and becoming the knowledge provider for the current generations and those to come. We decided to do this in African languages, because they are even more under-represented when it comes to digital knowledge.
Since 2019 we’ve been able to produce 600-700 entries, meaning we’ve impacted around 500 young people who have become knowledge producers and their entries have been seen more than a million times, and this is just the beginning of the movement.
3. Chimamanda Ngozi wrote about “the single story” problem of the western version of the history of Africa. How is the WikiAfrica project addressing this issue?
What Chimamanda says about the single story narrative is that it’s extremely problematic, so with WikiAfrica we want to give visibility to the under-represented narrative that is being buried under the history written by third-parties. When one is looking for information online, Wikipedia entries are always in the first pages to appear on any Google search. Even if you live in rural Africa, nowadays many people have a phone or are connected somehow, and so can have access to this information.
We have nothing to “teach” to anyone as a foundation, the only thing that we’re interested in is providing tools for young people to develop their creative skills by creating and supporting spaces where criticality and imagination can occur. Our role is to provide enough tools and support enough spaces where this transformation can happen and be sustained.
4. The WikiAfrica program is a union between education and technology. Do you think this union of education and technology is a solution to the education equity problems facing Africa and the world, or are they contributing to the problem?
I would say that this is not contributing to the problem, but it’s not a solution. A tool is a tool, it all comes down to how it is used. Obviously bringing together education and technology is an enormous opportunity and has allowed us to do things that were completely unimaginable a few years back, but we need to exercise a strong level of criticality around this. There is a great book one of our main advisors, Roberto Casati, wrote called Against Digital Colonialism. Although he’s not necessarily against technology in education, his main reflection was that we need to exercise criticality.
Introducing technology and computers in schools is not completely good or bad- it depends on how you use it. It can be a great opportunity, but it cannot replace creative education- you cannot replace human contact, you cannot replace a book. Technology is a tool we need to properly figure out how to use, but it’s not a solution to all problems.
5. What role does creativity play in the objective of the Moleskine Foundation?
It’s at the center of our mission. We created the Moleskine Foundation to answer a call to action from the international community. If you look at the UNESCO education report, the sustainable development goals, the World Economic Forum’s future of work, etc, everybody is understanding that creativity is at the center of our capacity to build our collective future in a positive way. We created a world in which creativity and creative skills were not encouraged by the system, but now we know that these are at the center of our capacity to build our future.
We need creativity, critical thinking, creative doing, lifelong learning, development of change-making attitudes along with other qualities like empathy, problem solving, the capacity to work across complexity to create real change. Only now does the international community realize this is where we need to invest, but they don’t really know how to do it. They are in need of more structured experiences. The Moleskine Foundation has placed creativity at the center of our mission and the development of creative skills for young people with a strong focus on underserved communities.We like to say we work in the space of creativity for social change. This means that at times it might be difficult to explain fully what we do, but we have a strong belief that answering that call to action is important.
6. What Moleskine Foundation projects or initiatives are you most excited about for 2022?
We’re going to continue with WikiAfrica, expanding our reach and branching out in new sectors. However, one thing I’m very excited about is our Creativity Pioneers Support Fund project which we launched this year to support the Creativity Pioneers community, which is aimed at change-makers and creative people that have started cultural and creative institutions and organizations operating in underserved communities. Through the use of creativity, culture and the arts they are transforming and answering some of the biggest questions happening at both a local and global level – human rights, climate change, identity building, education…
They are working at the nexus of all these issues and all these sectors. This year, we launched the first call out, and in 3 weeks we received 570 applications from 72 countries. It is extremely exciting for us to contribute to all the creative potential that is out there and operating and now our role is to support, connect and give visibility to them.
We strongly believe at the Moleskine Foundation that some of the answers to the biggest issues and problems that the world is facing will be articulated and solved in the cultural and creative sector. When the world is in a crisis of language- meaning it’s looking for how to articulate and conceptualize the problems it’s facing, the field of culture and creativity is the only sector that is able to produce and create this language.
If we want to start finding answers this is where we want to invest, who we want to support. And we’re making a call to action to all the brands, organizations and people that really understand the power of creativity and the importance of creative skills because their success was built on it. This is where we need to invest, there is a sector to build- one which I strongly believe will contribute enormously to the future of the world.
The Moleskine Foundation and EDT&Partners are collaborative partners. Both believe in the power of creativity for social change and the importance of the #NoLearnerLeftBehind movement.
EDT&Partners supports the Moleskine Foundation in three main areas: helping with additional partnerships; transforming their initiatives into fully-online, distance delivery by providing impact regardless of covid, and expanding the range of their active initiatives.
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