While we are still living in the Covid-19 pandemic and new challenges and roadblocks continue to pop up around us, a common question of the heart seems to be, “What can I do about all of this?” What are we as individuals capable of doing that can have any sort of meaningful impact on our families and local communities? After the threat of the virus has dissipated and we can breathe a sigh of mask-free relief, what should we do to ensure our family, friends, and neighborhoods have everything they need to confidently refuel for the future?
H.E. Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Vice President International Publishers Association, and Mamadou Touré, founder Africa 2.0 Foundation—a youth-led Pan-African Civil Society dedicated to building an inspiring and prosperous Africa—know that humanity’s way forward is dependent on our ability to connect and support one another.
That is why they created the #UbuntuLoveChallenge, a global movement with a mission to restore hope through a worldwide display of human collaboration and appreciation. Face the Current dug deeper with Bodour Al Qasimi and Mamadou Toure to learn more about the challenge and the ways in which we can form a collective response to the current times as we spearhead a new path into the future.
Sasha Frate: Can you each share a bit about your backgrounds and how you came together to create the Ubuntu Love Challenge?
Bodour Al Qasimi: I studied anthropology and my passion is publishing. I have always been fascinated by different cultures and their stories. Stories run deep in my culture and my family, and I am a storyteller myself, so it was a natural step for me to create a publishing house called Kalimat Group. Kalimat in Arabic means “words”, and my aim in establishing a publishing house was to give “the voiceless” a platform to share their stories and their words with the rest of the world. Having been formerly stereotyped for my gender and background, I want to help others break down misconceptions or how they are seen by others in their own words. As the world started to go through this severe health and economic crisis, I knew deep down I had a calling to help the vulnerable and those deeply affected by the crisis. Still, it wasn’t until I had my meeting with Mamadou early this year that I knew how that would manifest itself on a global level. In many ways, my values and belief system have been closely aligned with the concept of Ubuntu long before I heard about it from Mamadou. When we first had that conversation about what we could do in the face of COVID-19 and its global impact, it was a natural conclusion that we should unite our efforts to help people from around the world navigate this crisis and ultimately emerge stronger.
Mamadou Touré: My family is firmly rooted in the idea of service. My great, great grandfather, Smouri Touré, fought British and French colonization on many fronts and dedicated his life to protecting the indigenous people of Western Africa. The idea of public service is part of our legacy, so it was natural for me to start thinking of giving back to Africa when I was a young student in Paris.
I started my first NGO at the age of nineteen, and that gave me the experience and impetus to found Africa 2.0 Foundation through which I invited the best African brains in the diaspora to collaborate and create solutions for sustainable development in the African continent. I am always looking to serve others and to add value, especially having grown up with the concept of Ubuntu: “I Am because We Are.”
It was, therefore, difficult for me to witness the state of fear engulfing the world and invading the lives of so many people around the globe. I had already begun to think of ways to serve people on a large scale since the beginning of this pandemic, so when I met Sheikha Bodour for a catch-up meeting in Sharjah last March, our objectives were quickly aligned and our conversation developed into the #UbuntuLoveChallenge.
SF: To what are you specifically challenging people when you invite them to participate?
BAQ: We challenge changemakers to take action to support those affected by the COVID-19 crisis in their communities.
Fundamentally, we want to challenge the current individualistic mindset and remind people that we are one, and that family and community are critical to our well-being and our evolution as humans. Somewhere along the way we lost our sense of interconnectedness and started to believe that living independently of each other was natural, but when we are hit with a crisis of this magnitude, it is nature’s way of reminding us that we belong together and we have to look after each other to overcome these challenges.
So, in a way, we want to challenge everyone to create a new humanity and a new awakening to take us into the future with more confidence.
MT: We challenge changemakers to lead within their communities, to inspire a shift in consciousness, and to bring about healing and empowerment to those severely affected by this crisis. We challenge them to think in the context of a global movement of love over fear, a movement based on the idea that “We Are One”. This challenge is an invitation from us to all those capable of doing something to help during these difficult times to take action and not be bystanders. What they contribute and how much they contribute does not really matter. What matters is that they take action because every action becomes a vital piece of the larger puzzle of an interconnected human family based on the universal meaning of Ubuntu: “I Am because We Are.”
SF: One of your hashtags for the challenge is #LoveOverFear: can you explain the fear component, not only in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, but also in relation to our daily lives and our receptivity to embracing changes that are an inevitable part of our life experience? Musician Maher Zain shared a beautiful message when he accepted your challenge saying, “Love is what keeps us going, what gives us hope, what makes us compassionate, what makes us care for one another…” Why do you believe that love is the answer?
BAQ: Choosing love over fear is the inner triumph for any of us when faced with life’s various challenges. If we submit to fear, we reduce our chances of meaningful progress, and we are more likely to make mistakes. I understand fear. I understand why some people might be fearful, especially in a moment of crisis. It is a primal reaction and our brains are wired to be alert to risk and danger. But fear is a lie; it does not tell the full story. It distorts reality and cripples us into a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Love, on the other hand, is the essence of every human being. Love conquers fear and allows us to connect to the deeper meaning of everything that happens in our lives. Nothing great ever came out of fear. Hence our choice of #LoveOverFear was a conscious decision to inspire people to embrace the power of love to help themselves and others, to hang on to hope and to reawaken our consciousness.
MT: Fear causes people to go into a downward spiral. This spiral can lead people to behave in ways that are destructive and counterproductive, especially during times of crisis. What is happening to the world now is unprecedented—at least to our generation—and it can feel like the world is upside down. In times like these, the power of love, of faith, of our unity, of purpose and faith in humanity will help us to positively transition this period. This is not just theory. A closer look at the history of any nation or community reveals that the choice of love and faith in a better future is what helped them get through tough times. I can’t help but think of the historic speech of Nelson Mandela when he was appointed the first black president of a post-apartheid South Africa. He called for healing and unity and for actions that will “strengthen confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.” His love message was instrumental to peace as the nation grappled with a painful and prolonged past of injustice. On an individual level, going through the COVID-19 crisis with a spirit of love will help each one us make the best of this experience, to grow exponentially, and to be empowered to find creative solutions for our challenges. If you practice and embody love, which is light, you expand and radiate love. This becomes contagious—hope rises from love, and from hope comes change, and from change comes evolution.
SF: Many noteworthy people around the world have already participated in the Ubuntu Love Challenge. Can you share a few examples of these participants and their experiences?
BAQ: Many global leaders and changemakers have risen to the challenge, and all of them thought it was the right time to collaborate and do something about the chaos we are going through. We were delighted to be joined by the world-famous author and health guru Deepak Chopra; Chris Gardner the CEO of Happiness; singer, songwriter, actor, and author, Tyrese Gibson; Maxwell, a musician and activist; Barbara McKay, a leading media personality; and Oulimata Sarr, Regional Director UN Women For West and Central Africa. A growing number of prominent government and private leaders in the UAE have been joining the challenge offering support and creative solutions to alleviate the pressure on impacted people. I want to note here the #educationuninterrupted campaign launched by Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares, to support distance learning by providing free laptops to low income school children. I also want to mention the 1 Million Dollar Solidarity Fund set up by the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) to support startups that are under strain due to this pandemic.
MT: The response of the celebrities and changemakers we approached or who approached us reflect the idea that the universal ideals of Ubuntu lie in each and every one of us, so it just needs to be ignited. All participants were enthusiastic about the challenge and many of them have risen above and beyond what they pledged to do. World-famous footballer Dedier Drogaba accepted the challenge and spread the message across his vast network of influencers. WattsStix, the successful American rapper and music producer, took the challenge and is building something called the Think Watts HQ; a Californian community hub to help develop new businesses. Community members can learn the basics of coding, programming, music, entrepreneurship, sewing, and many other professional and practical skills to help them create new streams of revenue. I was also thrilled to see Queen Diambi Kabatusuila, the traditional ruler of the Bena Tshiyamba People who are part of the ancient Luba Empire in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His libation ritual session during the first edition of the Ubuntu Love Festival was very popular and helped many people understand the deeper connection between water and healing.
SF: How will the Ubuntu Love Challenge platform serve as a powerful totem of humanity through its sharing of various projects and initiatives?
BAQ: The #UbuntuLoveChallenge platform is a physical embodiment of the philosophy of Ubuntu. The “I Am because We Are” concept is ancient wisdom developed over time through human trials and tribulations. Based on the belief that we all share the same destiny, we developed the platform to allow collaborative efforts to sprawl throughout the world with the vision to inspire, empower, and nurture members of the human family during this crisis. We intended to inspire changemakers to make a difference within their circle of influence by taking concrete actions. For example, they can support remote education, organize food drives, teach and mentor online for free, among other supportive gestures. But, we also wanted to inspire people through uplifting stories, poems, songs, and other material aimed to lift our spirits and support our mental wellbeing.
MT: We are hoping that through the #UbuntuLoveChallenge platform, global leaders and changemakers can inspire us so that more leaders emerge and empower even more communities. We are hoping they help us recover our intrinsic strength and understand our true capabilities, especially when we stand together.
This is a platform for universal love. Changemakers and experts around the world are filling it with projects, initiatives, and knowledge of love and hope, and it will serve as a powerful totem of humanity in the face of hardship. Our aim is also to encourage people to reclaim their lives and channel the chaos and fear they feel into positive and powerful actions.
SF: While the challenge is presented as rising out of the global pandemic to coordinate a collective response, how/why do you believe Ubuntu is truly relevant and valuable beyond the pandemic?
BAQ: Ubuntu is just one way to say and think, “We are one.” The world needs the “I Am because We Are” philosophy because, aside from the pandemic, we are facing serious challenges that are going to define our future and the future of this planet for many more years to come. We face an existential climate crisis that seems to be worsening, but we are unable to think as “one”. Everyone is waiting for someone to do something about it first, but no one seems to be able to take real concrete action in the face of this threat. The economic inequalities of this day and age are historically unprecedented and are not sustainable. We can’t dream of peace and social stability when we only think about ourselves, not as “one”. Every year, new wars and conflicts start in different parts of the world and uproot millions of refugees in the process, creating many generations of uneducated children.
This is because we are unable to think “as one” and instead act out of greed and fear. So, yes, we need Ubuntu and all similar ideologies during this crisis, and more importantly, after this crisis is over. A new awakening must take place so we can continue our journey.
MT: This is a really good question and one that I have always reflected on. Is it possible that the principles of Ubuntu can be applied universally? Is it just an idealistic dream? Frankly, I can’t tell you that it is possible, but what I can tell you is that throughout my travels and my work through the Africa 2.0 Foundation and now through the Ubuntu Love Challenge, I have met so many incredible people with pure souls who genuinely want to serve humanity in their way without any expectation of any recognition. I have been stranded in the UAE for the past few months as all commercial flights were grounded in March. Since then, I have been meeting extraordinary people from all different walks of life who want to join the Ubuntu Love Challenge and who believe in the message of oneness now and beyond this crisis. So, I believe that this philosophy is needed and its underlying ideology can transform the lives of so many people.
SF: Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge served as South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Health from 2004-2007 and shared with Global Oneness Project that “Ubuntu is not just for Africans. It is inside every single human being and has the capacity to bring tremendous change if people can live it.” As Co-Founders, what are the tremendous changes you wish to see for humanity from the Ubuntu Love Challenge?
BAQ: I personally want to see more compassion, more kindness, and more understanding of the fact that what affects one person affects us all at a certain level.
MT: I want to see more love and less fear, more light and less darkness, and more hope and less despair. It is true that Ubuntu is an African concept, but it carries the values cherished by humans everywhere in the world for millions of years and so it is natural for all of us to embrace its core teachings and apply them to our daily lives no matter who or where we are.
SF: While the word Ubuntu is an African term, you’ve mentioned a few other cultures that have similar terms and concepts. Can you share what these are, and the ways in which they are similar to and different from Ubuntu?
BAQ: Well, in the Muslim tradition, the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) is quoted to have said that believers, in their mutual kindness, compassion, and sympathy are just like one body: when any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain. While the Prophet might have been addressing his followers at the time, the message is universally clear and applicable, and it is very much aligned with the “I Am because We are” Ubuntu philosophy.
The Mayan tradition also has a concept called “In Lak’ech Ala K’in”,which means “I am another yourself,” or, “I am you and you are me.” (This is the closet translation.) It is a statement of the truest unity of Oneness in all humanity and a way to create a positive reality for all forms of life.
MT: I believe the language reflects the culture, and as such, I am very impressed with some of the daily terms in the Arab world which indicate a great deal of love for each other.
For example, let’s take a look at the word “Marhaba”. If we split it, “Mar” means Master or God, and “Haba” comes from the word love. Marhaba then becomes, “God is Love”. It means that one sees the Love of God inside another as they see in themselves. It is equivalent to a Western version of Namaste. Another way of saying Marhaba, or Namaste, is Ubuntu.
Additionally, when someone says “thank you” in Arabic, you’d reply by saying “Ahlan wa Sahlan”. Ahlan, which comes from the word Ahl, “family”, and Sahlan, comes from the word Sahl, which means “easy”. This way of replying is essential to reflect on because it means you are family, and this is why things will be easy. Ahlan wa Sahalan reflects the same intrinsic philosophy about sharing with each and every one of us.
SF: What is the goal of the platform’s Ideas Bank, and what was your process for selecting each of these ideas?
BAQ and MT: The Ideas Bank is a result of our continuous brainstorming to come up with initiatives to empower people and guide them into positive action. We can’t see positive change without action.
SF: Some might say that this project is rather ambitious, or that it is something that is unavailingly trying to create world peace. However, your approach with this project/challenge has been to invite the changemakers to leverage their interconnectedness as agents of positive change and to amplify acts of love. Why do you feel that “a New Earth” is truly within reach?
BAQ: The forces of light and the forces of darkness are going to be in opposite directions forever. I believe this is a universal truth. We want to support the forces of good. We want more people who don’t know what to do to help to join and collaborate to create a new version of our humanity—a better version, hopefully. Is it ambitious or too idealistic? Perhaps. But it is not impossible. It is a numbers game. Change is possible; it was possible in the past whereby a group of people joined efforts and created history, and I believe it is possible today as more people join our challenge or similar initiatives.
MT: I think all inventions and innovations start with a simple, “Why not?”
Why not be ambitions to create a New Earth? Is it because the established, mainstream ideologies and practices are so prevalent that we don’t think it’s possible to improve them? Well, a quick look at history and we will learn that when people collaborate, they can transform history and improve the state of the world. The #UbuntuLoveChallenge is a start, and I hope others will follow suit and continue this journey.
SF: You have held an Ubuntu Love Festival on two powerful days of the solstice and the penumbral lunar eclipse. What did the festival entail, and will you hold similar events in the future? What’s next for Ubuntu?
BAQ: We held the ULF on the day the sun reached both its highest and lowest points in the northern and southern hemispheres, which is symbolic of a transition of nature’s eternal cycle of demise and rebirth. The solstice is a sacred time where the veil between dimensions grows thin but adding a solar eclipse into the mix heightens the energy. This ring of fire is called Corona, strangely enough! Now when we add a new moon in Cancer it becomes the most powerful time of the year and so our mission behind launching the Ubuntu Love Festival is to nurture people during this special day of the year and help them transition their energy into new heights. We also want to challenge the way they think about this crisis, expand consciousness, and raise energy and vibrations to help make way for a new paradigm. We are very pleased about the results of the two first Ubuntu Love Festivals as people from around the world tuned in and engaged with global experts and gurus during some interesting sessions. We want people to leave the ULF inspired, energized, and enlightened, and this is why we carefully designed empowering programs with speakers and workshops centered on mindfulness, meditation, music, yoga, art, and healing.
MT: You know, the ULF is just yet another example of the potential of the #UbuntuLoveChallenge. It was a truly global gathering of people from around the four corners of the world to heal, nurture their souls, and empower themselves with a sense of renewed energy and purpose. The first themes we selected resonated with people and this is why we think we will continue organizing more ULFs in the future.
So, the first two ULFs were organized on June 20th and July 5th, 2020. The theme of the first ULF was “Healing Humanity from Social and Racial Injustice”. And the second ULF was themed “Co-creating the New Earth” which we organized during the penumbral lunar eclipse with a mission to challenge our way of thinking, to expand our consciousness, and to raise our vibrations to make way for the new paradigm.