To be (un)real with you.
At first, I wanted this letter — my first letter to you as incoming CEO — to be perfect. I studied examples from organizations I admire. I needed to highlight my qualifications to assure you that I’m ready. I wanted to share my strategic vision to convince you that I’m bullish. I intended to reflect on our succession approach to convey to you that I’m intentional. Then, I heeded this wisdom.
The truth, of course, is more compromised. I feel like a righteous imposter, full of promise and doubt. Like a visionary hostage, inspired and ashamed. At times, I wonder if I have what it takes to lead. Some days, I worry that I will not be able to raise the money we need. In moments, I sense that people are prejudging me because of my resume, my race, or my writing. Not to mention the internal pressure to stack up to others or fit into their expectations of me.
And it’s liberating to know that I can openly share all of that with you.
I know that because, for six years, this community has been my home. You took a bet on me when I shared my first, second, third, and fourteenth bad idea. You pushed me to start decolonizing my mind and stop anglicizing my name. You helped me tell my story when my family was banned. For six years, I’ve been affirmed and challenged to learn and unlearn. I’ve learned to let myself be seen. Not a perfect version of myself but an honest, vulnerable, and multi-dimensional version. I’ve grown, healed, and changed because of, and alongside, many people in this community. And I’ve seen the community itself evolve a thousand times because of the thousand people who make 4.0, 4.0.
So, as we start this next chapter together, my first commitment is to be real with you. It’s the quality that drew me to 4.0 from the start. Hearing Matt reflect with humanizing honesty and humility on his journey of school reform and fatherhood and privilege. Seeing founders support each other as they confront realities like fundraising while black. Working with our staff to unpack where we’ve failed to live up to our promises. This is the beautiful legacy we build on: a culture that acknowledges we are all trying our current best to figure it out. And in the process, we make mistakes, we make amends, we learn, we change, we try our new best, and we make new mistakes.
“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change.“ — Octavia Butler
My second commitment is to be unreal with you. To really dream with you.
“Are we brave enough to imagine beyond the boundaries of ‘the real’ and then do the hard work of sculpting reality from our dreams?”
— Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown
“السلام عليكم” I can’t put in words how proud I was to hear these words from a congresswoman. An immigrant, Black, Muslim congresswoman. I was proud because I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. It was (almost) unimaginable. To see someone like her in Congress. To see someone like me represent us. It’s a longing that is as American as bean pie.
Like my sister, congresswoman Omar, I choose to love this country to this day because of its audacious, unrealized promise. The kind of promise that my country of origin once had. Back in 1974, at the World Food Conference held in Rome, the official delegation from Sudan declared that the country — with its massive untapped land and water potential — is capable of producing 40% of the world’s food needs. That the country envisions becoming the “food basket of the world.” 44 years later, this potential is still overshadowed by high levels of poverty, political instability, food insecurity, and food imports. As I am writing this letter, here is the reality of what is happening in Sudan.
But just because it is our current reality, it does not need to be our destiny. I actually believe that we will see more real-world Wakandas in our lifetime. What would our world look like if we had more African nations that are…
Self-determining: having the power and freedom to (trans)form its government
Self-actualizing: (re)investing in the long-term growth of its collective resources
Self-sustaining: able to continue in a prosperous state without outside assistance
When I first started preparing for this leadership transition, I really struggled to find my voice and articulate my vision for the organization. After all, I wasn’t starting from a blank slate. 4.0 has existed for 8 years now under Matt’s leadership. We have grown to a staff of twelve and a community of over 1,000 leaders. How could I possibly lead this community with authenticity?
I couldn’t find my footing until my friend, fellow 4.0 alum, and fundraising coach/therapist, Nicole Jarbo, asked me a direct question, “what do YOU want most in the world?” She had to ask me the same question a few times before I found the courage to give her an answer we both believed. “To start a country.” I had never said that out loud before. We started to unpack it together. I shared that my experience has been defined by generational displacement. I’ve seen my dad — my role model— who left his village as a kid to go to colonial boarding school, thrive in his career but hold within him tremendous guilt. I know it because I carry it with me too. My yearning is for a return to a psychological home. A place where my whole family is welcomed and whole. Free of religious persecution. Free of racism. Free of nativism. Free to just be. And while the past few years have made it harder to imagine finding that home here, a vision for it continues to live in my imagination. Nicole pushed me to write that vision. To let myself imagine life in 20 years…
“We believe it is our right and responsibility to write ourselves into the future.”
— Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown
Our entire team has now gone through this exercise of “visionary fiction” with Nicole. She reminded us of what keeps us fired up to come to work here at 4.0 every day. That we get to meet and work with talented people with impossible dreams. People like YOU working on what you want most in the world. People like you who are working together toward collective liberation. People like you who are “brave enough to imagine beyond the boundaries of ‘the real’ and then do the hard work of sculpting reality from our dreams.” 4.0 has been and will continue to be a home for you and me to be unreal.
So, how will the world change in 8 years because of 4.0? I get asked this fair question a lot and I don’t have a perfect answer. It’s not yet 100% clear in my head. But, I’m 100% clear that there’s a role for you to play in co-creating it with me.
So, I’m asking myself, our team, our funders, and you these questions instead:
Self-determining: what if 4.0 leadership & governance rotated among alumni?
Self-actualizing: what if all sourcing, diligence, and coaching was alumni-led?
Self-sustaining: what if philanthropy endowed alumni-led investment decisions?
The 4.0 team is grappling with these questions together as we speak. We’ve drafted these four operating principles to carry into the next four years.
(Im)possible Over Perfect - 4.0 Schools - Medium
The 4.0 community is defined by the long-term investments we make in each other. Below are four operating principles…
Join us. Let’s make something (un)real.
My deepest gratitude to these 4 incredible people for shaping this letter:
Nicole Jarbo for believing in 4.0 and wanting me to win. Hire her here.
Marlo Barrera for gifting me a copy of Emergent Strategy. Buy it here.
Matt Candler for creating space for me and a thousand more to let ourselves be fully seen and write ourselves into the future. Read his succession reflections here.
And most importantly, my mother. My first teacher. The real reason I’m here.