Seydina Ndiaye is a social entrepreneur and socio-political actor working mainly in inclusion, youth development, and democracy in Dakar, Senegal. He also works as a senior consultant focusing on politics and development strategies for digital growth, where he has had several collaborations with those in the Senegalese public sector.
Seydina is an alumnus of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and completed his program at Kansas State University. He is a civic leadership practitioner and is prototyping a contextualized civic leadership and engagement framework based on African local community organizing activities and spreading local narratives to increase citizen awareness to promote civic engagement, and participatory democracy, especially through digital technology and cyberspace.
A Quote From this Episode
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
About The International Leadership Association (ILA)
About The Boler College of Business at John Carroll University
About Scott J. Allen
My Approach to Hosting
Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate, and conversations-to-text do not always translate perfectly. I include it to provide you with the spirit of the conversation.
Scott Allen 0:00
Okay, everybody, welcome to the Phronesis podcast wherever you are in the world. Today I have a wonderful, awesome guest doing cool things in the world, Seydina Ndiaye. He is a social entrepreneur and socio-political actor working mainly in inclusion, youth development, and democracy in Dakar, Senegal. He also works as a senior consultant focusing on politics and development strategies for digital growth, where he has had several collaborations with those in the Senegalese public sector. Seydi is an alumnus of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders; the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative, and completed his program at Kansas State University. He is a civic leadership practitioner and is prototyping a contextualized civic leadership and engagement framework based on African local community organizing activities, and spreading local narratives to increase citizen awareness to promote civic engagement and participatory democracy, especially through digital technology and cyberspace. Seydi, I am so excited for this conversation. I was kind of exploring Senegal a little bit this morning, and I learned a lot of really fun things. So, the first African country to host the Olympics that are coming up.
Seydina Ndiaye 1:19
Yes. The Youth Olympics, 2026. Yes.
Scott Allen 1:23
Incredible. And seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Seydina Ndiaye 1:27
Yes. Because Dakar and Saint-Louis, in the beginning, Saint-Louis was the capital of the French colonizer territory. And then, from Saint-Louis, they move to Dakar, so we have so many historical buildings related to colonial history.
Scott Allen 1:41
And there's a pink lake, a pink lake.
Seydina Ndiaye 1:45
Yes, there is a pink lake, it’s due to the density of the salt.
Scott Allen 1:50
Yes, salt, and I read algae. I was waking my daughter up this morning, and I said, “You know, there's a pink lake in Senegal,” and she said, “Yeah, it's all the bacteria.” And I thought, “How do you know about the pink lake in Senegal?” And it's the algae not the bacteria, so I'm going to have to tell her at dinner tonight. But it's such a pleasure to have you, sir. I really, really appreciate your time. And we met at the International Leadership Association Conference last November or October, I guess it was, last October. And just had a really, really nice conversation one night while we were both waiting for folks to go to dinner, I think it was. And I'm excited to learn today about kind of your work. What you're working on, how you're doing that work. But I want to start with where does this interest in leadership come from? How did you get turned on to this topic of leadership?
Seydina Ndiaye 2:44
So, my father, he was a big guy doing a lot of politics and working for two different presidents, and also for one prime minister as a technical adviser. My father went to the public administration school, so he was a big guy. He, literally, with one of their friends, they founded a locality. So, they turned our national village from a village to a community. Based on his background, and also, based on my mother's background on health sector, because, my mother, she's a doctor, and she was doing a lot of community traveling and community-based organizing activities in order to help the health sector, specifically, the women. So, I’ve been groomed into those specific areas of serving people. And also I did like it. And I also have a big background in sports. So, I used to play soccer and basketball, and people, when they forget sometimes when you talk about sport, there is a lot of leadership framework. And also, there is a lot of living together, and there is also a lot of team management. I also grew up in the neighborhood where local Senegalese hip-hop has been founded. This is also another layer into my leadership safari and my leadership journeys. And the hip-hop movement in Senegal is mainly known as being well-engaged because the people who can make their voice heard are the people who represent a community and use their acts, specifically, the hip-hop movement, to spread their own narrative and also to talk about the issues that they have in terms of equity and equality in terms of opportunities. So, I see it like the different frames that put me into this journey. And also, being part of the IT community. It's so funny because this Sunday, I was talking during a creator space how the ideology and the philosophy behind technology can bring a lot of community-based organizing activities and can help your community through the technology. So, I think when I was doing my bachelor's degree, I met with this community we call data [Inaudible 4:40]. So, it's like the Dakar Linux user group. So Linux is a concept we call the open source concept, which is like giving free access to the operating system to people who don’t have the opportunity to pay for the Microsoft license. And, you know, in the African context, specifically in Senegal where I live, at that time it was difficult to get a first computer. And if you get a first computer, it is also expensive to get your Microsoft license. So, what we did with the Dakar Linux user group community, was organize several activities in order to promote technology, and also to give an alternative for people to have access also the technology. So, they can have their online presence, but also they benefit from the technology that we use ourselves to have opportunities and to our greatest good as a citizen. So, I think this is a different frame that brings me into this system safari. It's always funny when you can do the [Inaudible 5:41] between the different components of your life will have a leadership framework. And actually, it's like the combination, I think, or the sum of all this life, it will bring you into that journey.
Scott Allen 5:53
Well, I love that you can talk about your family, right? “My mom is in healthcare, my father was in politics and in government,” and so, there's that base. And then, you have a passion for technology and an interest in technology. But then, an interest in also helping spread equality, inclusion, and democracy. And there's a passion there for that topic. So then, you move into the Mandela Washington Fellowship, and you end up at Kansas State University, to Staley school. Talk a little bit about that experience with moving into the Mandela Washington Fellowship, and then ending up at Kansas State.
Seydina Ndiaye 6:33
So, the Mandela Washington Fellow Program, as you just mentioned while you were introducing my biography, is like a flagship program where they choose. It's a big competition, they have to choose 700 over 25,000 candidates. Generally, they pick people who have a background in leadership, specifically, into three main components. So, the first component is public management. So, if you want to do an analogy or comparison, public management is generally like the future of public services. So, they choose people who have a background in public management; they choose people who have a background in business entrepreneurship. So, the young people who own profit venture, which is going to be supposed to… They’re supposed to be the present and the future of the economy. And you have the last component, mine, which is the civic leadership and engagement framework. So, we call ourselves… Well, we don’t call ourselves, but I think it's the people in my country who think we are part of the civil society movement because, one thing that I didn't mention, so I spent a lot of time in this organization and the Blogger Association doing online monitoring of Senegalese election. And the first prototype was in 2012, where we had the first presidential election, where we have a presidential election in Senegal. And at that time, technology was just emerging, specifically, social media platforms. And so, we designed a project where we call it [Inaudible 7:59] which means our local Senegalese presidential election on the internet. So, we create a record, huge online community with e-observers monitoring the presidential election through a stack creation where everybody will want to get information about the Senegalese election presentation as they come closer. From there, because we wanted to make it sustained and to have a prototype of civic technology and social tech platform, so, from there, we moved to do what we called, at that time, web humanitarian activities. So, it was like we identify social cases from the internet, and we mobilize the people into the internet through fundraising, and also through connection and networking so we can have the people who might need something. So, if people are sick, and they don’t have money to solve their health issues, so we raise the money, and we make an introduction to a specific doctor so they can have the people with the issue that they have by being sick. And, from there, we get a lot of success or maybe progress in terms of promoting the internet as a social and a civic tool to promote social progress and social change. And this is where I applied to the Mandela Washington Fellowship. And, thanks to God, I got selected to go to the Staley School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University. It was a very, very amazing experience over there. I think they have a big part of me now being able to talk with you like that because I am a big introvert, and I'm a tech guy, and, as tech guys, I am more comfortable in front of my keyboard and my laptop than in front of the people doing public narrative. And from there, I have learned a lot of things. The Staley School of Leadership, they are being very innovative when it comes to leadership principles or when it comes to leadership framework. And also, from there, we got three or four days at Wichita with the KLC. So, we got a four-day training at the Kansas Leadership Center, like the KLC staff. And, when I was there, what I do observe is those trainings are very, very powerful. If people like me can have all this improvement by improving leadership skills, obviously, I get a few intellects to understand the framework. So, when I was there, I decided, that when I go back to Senegal, I'm going to try to design the same stuff for the people in my community for them to grow. And the context in Senegal, in Africa, they have not developed it yet. So, we have development aspirations, and we can not wish to develop aspirations without leadership skills, community-based organizing activities, without strategic planning. And I think we needed to democratize. So, at the end of my fellowship, or during my fellowship, I had a conversation with Dr. Timothy Steffensmeier, who was, at that time, the director of the Ph.D. program at the Staley schools, and also he was the director of research at the KLC. And also Dr. Tricia Gott, who is now leading Leading Change Institute and who also is the Assistant Director of the Staley School of Leadership. We have reciprocal exchange grants. So, reciprocal exchange grants are one of the components that have been set up by IREX, which is the organization that handles the Mandela Washington Fellow programs in partnership with the US State Department. So, we got the grant. So, I brought Dr. Timothy Steffensmeier and Dr. Trish in 2019, in Senegal, to organize a prototype of civic leadership training for the youths that has public serving or civic serving aspiration. From there, I have noticed there is a huge demand for that practice, or how people they do love the KLC framework, people they do love the Staley School framework, and generally, people who do love leadership as leadership being activities, but not being a position. And, from there, it was a huge demand. I had the chance to get another grant, a 25,000 grant from the US Embassy, to organize for four more. But, instead of the capital, it was four more visions outside of the capital. It was in the north, it was in the center, it was in the south. To have a national, asynchronous[Inaudible 12:03] in terms of prototyping to see how people are going to react. And so, the innovation, that's why also I was at ELA in October or November in Washington. In my country, we speak French. So, the first challenge in the beginning was when Tim and Trish went back to the US, and I needed to design it in French. This is where I will just start translating the KLC framework the Staley School framework into the French perspective. But if you analyze the context, also, in my country, 50 percent, five-zero people among the population, don't have access to education. So, because they don't have access to education, they don't speak French. So, because they don't speak French, they are being excluded from any leadership training. But if you do a general statistics and contextual analysis on how people practice leadership in the community, you will just observe that they have leadership skills, and sometimes, they are in positions of leadership. So, I had another layer after translating the framework in French, I translated it into local languages. And in Senegal, we have a big consensus around one local language. We have several tribes, and each tribe has its local languages, but in order to communicate as a nation and also as a community, we all agree to speak one local language, which is the Wolof. So, this is where I start prototyping the training into the local languages and also trying to find local study cases so I can engage with the people so they can get an understanding of the leadership. So, my relationship with Kansas State University and KLC continued because we were walking into how we can contextualize universally of leadership universally based on the African context. Actually, we had two books that have been published; we have two chapters in two different books. So, in the first chapter, it was a grassroots movement in the urban and rural areas. And also the second one, was the new paradigm of leadership, specifically by checking grassroots political movements in Africa to define a new framework of leadership in the African context. So, this is how the relationship with Kansas State University, KLC, and probably like the ELA started, and we're still on track because we have… I can talk about more in the next question.
Scott Allen 14:25
And Seydi, what have you learned as you've implemented some of these models and this way of thinking? What have you learned in recent times about the work? What are some observations you have? Models are wonderful, but when they interface with humans, it's not always clean. And again, when you're translating sometimes into two different languages from English, what have you observed as you've done the work?
Seydina Ndiaye 14:54
So, when I was doing the design and also the briefing in the brainstorming of the stuff, I was like, “How am I going to translate adaptive challenge?” Even in English, I was like, when people say systemic, I'm not saying in the same word. And I say, “Ha, we have correction issues in Senegal,” so I might use an example of corruption by having an entity and national agency who's going to handle the corruption issues as a technical issue, but also the people who do to bribes. Also, because there is low income, there is low salary, people, might, in turn, like to receive corruption money because they want to have a better life. So, those are going to be an adaptive challenge. And everybody faces stuff like that in my country, so when I empower it into the way I frame it, people, they just realize, “Oh.” Like one woman, “Oh, this is what you mean.” And I say, “Yes, this is what I mean.” What I have learned is, as an Africans, we have faced civilization, we have faced slavery, we have faced colonialism, and we have faced no colonialists, so we had this traumatized into our mindset. It's to move from the fixed to the growth mindset. And, as an African people, we don't put ourselves into… We already have a model that we use in our daily lives. But because we always get narrative from… I'm not trying to be a caricature, it is because we just get narrative generally from the Western world, coming from the French based on the relationship that we have, based on our history, but also, generally for people from the US or from UK, we don't put ourselves into a position where we think that we already have model, I think, because African civilization or the Senegalese traditional and local framework for democracy or for [Inaudible 16:39] already exists. So, that was the main challenge that I have learned is we have a model, we can implement it, and also, we can set up a safe environment where we can talk about it with the different stakeholders. For example, when we work with the development agency in stakeholder mapping, they always design stakeholder mapping by thinking there is the public sector, the local municipality. But the way that our living together is framed, we have several other stakeholders that people are missing from the mapping of stakeholders because they don't understand the model that we have, the local contextual model. And since now, we start implementing a different way of involving, and including everybody, we start seeing like, yes, those models are here, and we can use such model. In the beginning, it was difficult because there was a huge challenge in terms of moving from the fixed and from the growth mindset, but as soon as people realize, “Oh, we have this,” “Oh, why can we not try this just as an experimentation?” And, “Oh, we are noticing that we have progress; how can we do replication and personalization?” So, we then have our (under-gen) model, but this under-gen model is going to merge with the international theory because we do believe in global connection, and we do believe in universal use. One of the priorities is this: How can we contextualize it here based on our aspiration and also on the demand that we have in terms of community-based organizing activities?
Scott Allen 18:06
Hmm. Well, it just sounds like you have a very, very clear vision of what could be, right?
Seydina Ndiaye 18:12
Scott Allen 18:14
Talk a little bit more about that. What is in your vision of what could be?
Seydina Ndiaye 18:18
So, one of the reasons that we have it is very ambitious. In the African context, and in Senegal is context, 77% of the population is in a range of zero and 35 years old. So, the population is kind of young. And because we have this huge demographic dividend, it's a big asset regarding development aspiration. And what we were trying to do is, we have like political leadership issues, it's because that generation learns this way to practice leadership. Now, our challenge is to prepare the present and the future by investing in the young generation by giving them a different way of practicing, learning, and teaching leadership so they can have a new model as a new aspiration. And so, the more you organize training, the more you go into the community. The other issue also in Africa, in Senegal, is a lack of data. Generally, we don't have data. And also, because those people, don't speak French, we don't go there to get data. But if we design a process where you can get data in Wolof and translate it into French, any Senegalese people who speak French can speak Wolof, so someone can organize a survey or an assessment through those people by having the conversation in local languages. But, while he was putting the data, he could put the data in French because he understands both languages. When we start doing this as a design process, we succeed in designing a program and a curriculum that suits the needs of the people who might receive the training because they will tell you, “I want training on this; this is the issue that we have in our community,” etc. So, the product is, literally, like, there is another adaptation of the product based on the target. So, we said the more we invest in the skills and leadership skills for the youths, the more we invest in economic growth for the informal sector, the more people will have a well-being, but also the more people will be aware citizens. And if you have a critical mass of aware citizens, those who have political leadership ambition and who want to lead them, they need to change the narrative. Because the citizens are so aware, they need to come up with different kinds of products, and they need to adapt the products that they have based on the interactions that they might have. So, this is the first layer. The second layer is also someone from those training who can be in an authority position when it comes to political leadership. And if that person is in an authority position in terms of political leadership, based on all the training and all the skill set that he learned during his journey, he can be someone who can bring a different way of teaching. So, one thing that I didn't mention, so now what we are doing is we have to prototype a Civic Engagement and Innovation Center into a popular area, which is like a big project, two million point five US dollars funding coming from the European Union, which is the public-private partnership component where the youth ministry is involved. Instead of building a center, we did Senegalese youth ministers, through this partnership, have 45 youth centers into 45 departments. But in terms of the issues of bad governance, you have the center where the center is dirty, and they don't have any programmatic activities. So, because you have this grant, we said we are going to do a rehabilitation of the center, and we are going to offer programmatic training around civic leadership and innovation, including, specifically, the popular and the rural areas. And that project is going to end this year. But, before the end, we got another call of proposal from the French Development Agency to extend the prototype to five other regions into the rural area. And those centers are going to be a spaceship where we are going to do a transmission of the ideology in the thing that we want. And if you have, for example, six centers, and in six centers, each center you have 2,000 people who come to attend our training, you're going to have a community of like 12,000 people who are going to have this kind of mindset. And, if you want to scale it in indirect ways, those people might inspire people to like their community. And if they are going to be the change ambassador to the community, and if you have that critical mass of people, you can now spread the narrative, and they also can spread the whole narrative based on the information that they have. So, this is the vision that we have. We are not in the West; we want to make progress because, I think, when you challenge the status quo, and when you are into an adaptive leadership journey, and also when you have a logic model and a social change, and the theory of change model, you just move from the different skills and into a different step, and you also evaluate the progress. From now on it's a big progress, because, for example, the prototype that we have here in a popular area, in two years, we will have 20,000 people who visit, and someone will come more than once who, at least, came to the to the first prototype of the center that we have. And also, we have an online platform where we have 100,000 people who at least visit the website once. And we have 10,000 people who have a user ID or who subscribe to that platform. Yeah.
Scott Allen 23:53
So, as I hear you speak, and let me know if this is kind of capturing some of the work, part of the work is shifting people's mindset to that growth mindset. Part of the work is building skills and skill development. But it's skill development that is contextualized to the local individuals' needs and what is appropriate for that community. The vision or part of the vision is that if we're building these skills, shifting the mindset at the local level, and helping people develop their own vision of what could be, then they'll move into government, they'll move into some of these positions of authority and be able to make a change, facilitate change, live into that growth dimension versus that fixed dimension that you mentioned. And then, based on your experience in your background, there's an element of technology here that we can be leveraging to help do that work. Did I get it?
Seydina Ndiaye 24:55
Yes. You said it very well.
Seydina Ndiaye 24:59
So, these are why we use digital technology, because digital technology is a big core to what we are doing. It’s because they are used, like the Gen Z, the millennials, and the digital natives; they are already into cyberspace. So, besides interconnecting people through cyberspace, people are going to spread the narrative. So, we have [Inaudible 25:22] the imaginary of the possibility and the narrative of the possibilities because, as soon as people move from the fixed mindset to the growth mindset, now, we are into the imaginary of possible. Or because people are into the imaginary of possibilities, they are going to share this possibility. So, this is what we call the narrative of the possibilities. Sharing it into cyberspace is going to allow people to see what the youth are doing. The youth also are going to make their voices heard because the issue is, generally, if people are not in cyberspace, it's different people who are going to talk in their name. And sometimes, they might say something that is not their aspiration. So, if they are there, at least, they can share their own aspiration, they can inspire other people that are probably having the [Inaudible 26:15] than them. Also, people are seeing the growth because someone that you know on social media, for example, in 2021, will start practicing civic leadership and will start having personal growth. You will see the growth through your social media accounts. This is going to be an impact indicator because, when we share the story, we need to have a huge database of what the youth are doing in the digital space, and cyberspace is a great space for you to get data and to emphasize the data. Because, sometimes, you don't even need to talk; you just comment and say, “This is what the youths are doing,” and you have enough story for people to just relate and to connect with the story that you share.
Scott Allen 26:54
I love that phrasing ‘narrative of the possibilities.’ And you start creating this space where all of those stories are being captured and being communicated. And it's displaying movement, and it's displaying growth. And it's helping people see that the possibilities in that future-oriented thinking, that growth mindset, that there's possibilities, that we can shift the needle. Maybe not fix or solve, but we can shift the needle and move the needle, and people can see that. Seydi, as we begin to wind down our time today, I always ask guests what they're listening to, reading, or streaming or something that's caught their attention in recent times. It may have something to do with what we've just discussed, or it may have nothing to do with what we've just discussed, but what might listeners be interested in, a resource or something that you've been streaming or listening to, or book that's caught your attention in recent times?
Seydina Ndiaye 27:52
This time, I am reading a book named ‘Systems Thinking For Social Change.’ Because we’re having all this progress, one of the challenges is the documentation, I think, as a legacy also based on this journey, I'm always thinking about doing huge documentation around what we have developed here as a model that we can use and that we can replicate. Actually, this is why I still work, for example, with the Staley school and with KLC because then you have academic will help you designing and finalizing this documentation. You know, in my country, we have some critical thinking issues. So, if I got the credit by working with academics, they we take into consideration this new framework of local leadership framework, so we can try to empower it and make it a public policy. So, we can use it in public schools, and we can use it in university, and also, we can use it in the local community. That is one of the books that I'm reading. So, like I said, I came from the hip-hop movement, so I do listen to a lot of music. January, I'm more hip-hop and reggae music. I think when we met, you noticed my hairstyle. What I like about this culture is that ideology and philosophy are always behind it. When you listen to music, they talk like you're facing God. When you listen to music, they remind you of the struggle that you face, they also remind you of the challenge that you face, and they will always remind you you can do nothing without people. And it is very critical because, like I said in the beginning, my father was a big guy, so sometimes, when I have a conversation with him, he start quoting book, he starts quoting books, several pages of a book. And I sensitize all this quoting from this book with one lyric from one of my favorite people's MC, and I say, “Oh, this is the line that my MC says in that song.” So, like music, for people who cannot learn from reading, there is also a different kind of way to learn by listening to music, by watching documentaries. There is also one other thing that I do a lot now is I watch our local TV show because, like I said, based on the technology and the ownership that the youth take from the technology, they start creating TV shows where they’re talking about economic issues into those TV show. You can also learn a lot from the local TV show.
Scott Allen 30:09
And, do me a favor, send me a couple of pieces of music that you really enjoy, and I'll put them in the show notes for listeners, okay?
Seydina Ndiaye 30:18
Yes. Of course, I will.
Scott Allen 30:21
Seydi, you are an individual who is out there in the world working to make it a better place, not only in your community but in your country and in the globe. And I can't thank you enough for the work that you're doing. It's inspirational. It's truly inspirational. And I love the model, and I love how you're thinking about the work. It's incredible. It's absolutely incredible. So, thank you so much for your time today. I really, really appreciate it. We'll continue the dialogue, okay?
Seydina Ndiaye 30:46
Yes, yes. And thank you also. Thank you for this opportunity to emphasize our narrative to help emphasize our progress, and also to create a bridge between the different civilizations, and also between the different countries.
Scott Allen 30:58
Narrative of the possibilities.
[End Of Audio]