The Exemplary Youth.

As the knot on the evening’s black silk bow tie unfolded, I couldn’t help but reflect on a night full of so many thoughts and emotions.

I had so much I wanted to say on stage but kept it short because God forbid long acceptance speeches getting in the way of the King of Mballax Youssou Ndour.

Firstly, I am humbled and honored to have been nominated, voted for, and awarded with the 2021 Fatu Network’s Heroes Award for the Exemplary Youth of the year. To everyone involved in the process, Thank you.

To my fellow Nominees Marr Nyang and Youssou Sisawo, congratulations. I am inspired by your work. You both are stars in your own right and equally deserving of the award.

With my head constantly kept down with blinders on, chipping away at the daunting task of building a startup company, I must admit that there was a level of discomfort that initially came with my awareness of the award nomination.

The first thing I did was google “What age range is considered youth?”. There was a level of humor in my discovery that it was in fact 18 to 35 because Gambia and Africa, in general, is a place where an adult could be married, with a child, 10-year career, and male pattern baldness (in my case 😀) ….and still, be considered “Youth”.

The irony is 2021, which was my 35th year on earth would have been well past the halfway point of my life based on the grim reality of the average Gambian man’s life expectancy not being above 63 years old.

We are not living long enough yet society has a pervasive way of dissipating our most vibrant years of productivity and potential economic vibrancy (25 to 45) on an imaginary launch pad with limited access to rocket fuel kept as paper coupons by discretionary gatekeepers.

My secondary layer of discomfort was grappling with the anxiety that comes with anything to do with the title of “Hero”. An individual admired for his courage and achievements. Admiration and lionization that can often be rooted in a deep misunderstanding of the complexities of a human being’s experience ESPECIALLY in the Gambia.

I therefore always seek more prayers and protection from my parents when any abundance of recognition is thrown my way. It scares me simply because it puts make-up over a weary soul bruised, bloodied but unbowed.

It always takes a village and God’s grace to produce what is deemed material success in a person.

The Gambia has a way of seeing what is considered as “Light” lit from the flames of our creator too bright to warrant your fellow human attempting to dim it down a notch. And this is me speaking from a position of privilege as a man in a patriarchal society. Lord knows how difficult the plight of a young talented shining star of a Gambian woman is.

My Innovarx journey in The Gambia since December of 2019 has felt like an ongoing Jihad full of trials. From warning letters of closure and orders to stop advertising our health services from the Ministry of Health (perfectly fine for a traditional healers posted up at the trade fair marketing to thousands of people about concoctions that heal all things but death), a lack of official recognition as a health facility, begging to provide efficient COVID vaccination services free of charge to the public to a more recent intentional refusal for our company (with the best digital health platform), to conduct basic COVID rapid antigen tests for traveling citizens in a convenient and highly efficient manner like the rest of the world.

Young minds with ideas backed by good intentions of creating value and improving the lives of citizens shouldn’t require a constant Herculean effort to simply stay alive.

The Gambia to my knowledge, is the only country that not a single private sector company was allowed to participate in providing any COVID-related service and it makes you wonder why?

Why can MRC (Nothing against the reputable institution) provide a service considered acceptable but Innovarx cannot?

Why can’t an individual traveling to a destination that simply requires a rapid antigen test schedule an appointment online at www.igh.com, sits at home or at their hotel, and have the Innovarx Wellness on Wheels team show up and provide the service in 15 minutes leaving them with a hassle-free digital record/certificate to spend the last hours of their travel preparations with loved ones?

And YES we have had the technology and know-how to provide that exact experience for the last 9 months but refused approval.

Our company lost over D1 Million of potential revenue in the last 30 days alone being barred from providing services to tourist travelers with no valid justification. The glee and satisfaction in airport health officials shaming our company name to travelers and airlines alone makes one realize how pedestrian it is for us to tear down what is ours.

You mean to tell me fraudulent practices of selling NEGATIVE COVID results are more likely to happen in a newly found private company with everything to lose from a reputation standpoint, than as currently constituted?

Do you know how many Gambian youths a private company could have provided meaningful jobs to with dignified pay if such a service was done at scale?

So behind that smile on stage that night was a brewing broken heart and weary body from navigating all the sludge in our system.

It’s easy to politicize things and point fingers at elected officials but we are still a nation void of any home-court advantage because our people still don’t intuitively root for our own. In a land of limited resources and the commoditization of our problems (to foreign donors), the ground will always be barren soil for any viable solutions to germinate from the private sector.

I’ve simply survived the past years by leaning on the fundamental belief that my purpose of creating value through positive health experiences and prolific human development of my staff is simply me assuming my position as God’s instrument for the limited time I have. The unknown amount of sand in my inverted hourglass gives a great sense of urgency and impatience knowing body no bi firewood.

The Gambia has always been a mental, spiritual, and emotional training ground for creating value across the continent and showing the world that young African minds are capable of making excellence in service a way of life.

My experience is not unique to me nor am I any more special than the many frustrated entrepreneurs and young professionals facing trials.

I have to communicate an honest depiction to spark a much-needed dialogue in our nation right now. Suffering in silence in our respective industry silos will not incite change.

I use the candle in the dark/stars analogy to describe the state of our youth in this nation.

A candle never loses its brightness by lighting another candle yet so much of our psyche cannot look past more than one ______________ existing. From our traditions, religions, and political infrastructure we do not value strength in numbers that transcend a cult of personality around one individual.

So we innately maintain a culture of taking a defensive posture by sucking the oxygen out of any room that another candle has an opportunity to be lit, not knowing that a simple ripple effect of candles being lit, stars being found can create a galaxy that can finally compete on a global scale.

Our country is dark enough (literally!) for ten thousand candles/stars to go ablaze at the same time! Anyone flying over the Gambia in the wilderness of the dark will suddenly take notice of a permeating brightness across all sectors.

A simple science experiment will show you that no matter how bright a candle is, suck the oxygen out of the environment and the flame dies away. The same experiment will also show that a lit candle has a finite amount of time to lean over and light other candles with longer stems next to it before its wax slowly melts away into obscurity.

Take a minute to digest that analogy and there lies the thousands of youth (candles with long stems) waiting to be lit into a Gambian Galaxy.

The Gambia has always had stars (Lit Candles). We have a youthful population yet wonder why so many of our candles feel deprived of the oxygen needed to multiply into a generation of Gambian Galaxies that can take the nation to new frontiers.

My “candle” was lit, and is continuously lit when the flame dies out by so many stars that positively impacted my life. Countless Gambians older and younger than me that never get a chance to get their roses. This award is a direct reflection of their grace.

I see your light and encourage you to keep turning your flame into a bonfire.

I look around disheartened to see an entire generation of candle flames before me that floated away across seas like a funeral ritual to be reincarnated in other societies as bonafide stars that never return as comets.

This “Exemplary Youth award”, ultimately belongs to all 60+ employees of Innovarx Global Health.

We are a youthful organization delivering excellent and inspired work I am so proud of. The company is full of youth in their 20s and early 30s at all levels. Over 70% of our leadership positions are held by a woman and that is a mere reflection of the current calibration of talent in our country. Our company is truly sustained by the grit and minds of some of the most talented young people.

My team inspires me so much that it makes fighting a good fight and doing things in spite of _____, worthwhile. We embrace how flooded with obstacles the road has been but remain committed to filling every unforgiving minute with intentional efforts at creating value for our people. A company full of stars or better yet NOVAS!

We live by one mantra: “head down and keep peppering with excellence!” 🌶🌶

Lastly, I want to also thank all my family members who have had a front-row seat for every experience good or bad. My daughter and wife who know the toll of a dad always on the road. Their steadfast love and support have been an anchor. A trusting safety net that has caught and propelled me back into the air so many times after being knocked down.

That evening I was filled with gratitude seeing the pride in my father’s eyes and wish I could share the moment with my darling daughter….Today I realize the marathon continues.

DR. IDB

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