Emmanuel Jal. If he’s not on your radar, he should be.
This self-described ‘modern day nomad’ was born during the vicious, war torn times of Sudan. After witnessing gruesome murders & being recruited as a child soldier from the ages of seven to eleven, he was rescued by a British aid worker & smuggled into Kenya.
When most kids were cuddling teddy bears his closest ally was his AK47. While that would make a memorable story in itself, fast forward to today.
Now he’s an internationally renowned peace activist, campaigning against the use of child soldiers, the subject of the award winning film War Child, founder of the charity Gua Africa & a world famous hip-hop artist (he performed at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday party).
I had the privilege of interviewing him at last year’s Vancouver Folk Music Festival, just after South Sudan became Africa’s newest country. Draw your chair close & listen up, with his captivating combination of humbleness & tenacity, he’s wise beyond his years.
1. On art influencing activism
Emmanuel says “music has become .. the painkiller … a healer to a lot of issues that I’m going through. Music is what I use to support the causes that I believe in because I find that through music it’s easier … when you’re known as a musician you can easily pass out information faster. And people won’t get bored of you depending on how you do it.”
As someone who’s seen him perform live onstage, no one but no one could be bored watching him. See what I mean with this video of him performing my favourite song Emma. He’s like a mystic Sufi energizer bunny.
How it applies to you & business: find your strategic stage & use it. While it may not be a literal stage we all have ways at our disposal to pass out information faster. What’s yours?
2. On activism influencing art
“My activism is actually inspired by what I went through because I was born in a war torn country. I lost my childhood. And so the fact that I’m here, I find I have the responsibility & I’m a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. And that’s why I take it really seriously.”
How it applies to you & business: what inspires you? Blend your inspiration with your responsibility to give back & make a difference.
3. On conflict
Poverty, greed & economics are at the root of conflict Emmanuel says.
“You know poverty brings a lot of conflicts in different ways. When your stomach is empty you’ll be forced to steal. But ethnic cleansing … happens when ideologies are built by a different group so they could have more to themselves. And so in my country it’s a long, long story but the root cause I take it as economics. Religion is just a tool but … the bottom line it’s poverty. It’s the resources. It’s the economy that’s actually causing all these things.”
How it applies to you & business: the root causes of conflict are hidden. Dig deep to find the true cause of conflicts you’re facing. Find the true root & you’re halfway there to managing or resolving the conflict.
4. On effecting change
Change takes nurturing. It takes time.
When I asked Emmanuel what it was like to have helped create a new country he said “It’s exciting, it’s [a] new baby that needs to be taken care of. I can’t wait to be part of it & help it grow.”
Change takes education.
Emmanuel recounts “my change happened when I was rescued by a British aid worker called Emma McCune. As a young man I was still bitter. One of the things I had in my mind was if I go to this lady’s country [Kenya], I’m going to learn how to fly a plane & come back & go to war. And because I hated Muslims & Arabs & I wanted to revenge for my family. But when I was in school & I was educated, I was helped. I came to discover people like Nelson Mandela, I came to learn about Martin Luther King, I came to learn about Gandhi.”
Change takes faith & forgiveness (of yourself & others)
“And so these leaders played a big part in my life & also reading the bible as a Christian I’m advised to forgive. The first investment I did for myself was to forgive. When I forgave I was free. So forgiving myself for my past because I was, I was cursing for the things that I’ve done. And then I realized look it wasn’t my fault you know so I had to forgive myself & forgive those who have hurt me. So it’s a two way thing.”
“Forgiveness will elevate you to a form of power that you don’t actually know as a person until you experience it because you become free.”
Change takes attention to scope & loss
Emmanuel raises money to build schools. He figured he’d eat one meal a day to raise money & it would take about a month to raise enough cash to build a school. It actually took 662 days. Yes, he spent 662 days eating one meal a day. “We put kids that were learning under the trees into classes.”
The lessons around change? Scope & loss.
He figures change is about loss. “What are you willing to lose to make the world a better place? Somebody got to lose something, we all have to lose something.” We need to know what we are willing to give up in order to gain. For him it was eating.
And for the kids he speaks to? “And so I tried it out & I found some kids, some kids say ‘Look I don’t have money but I normally have games in my house… I’m going to lose my PlayStation because that could put another kid in school.’ So kids become so creative. Another says, ‘Okay I’m going to lose at least a chocolate bar a week because that’s like 50 cents.’ 50 cents can feed a family.”
Change is also about scope.
“[With] people & social media giving $1, $2. I’d rather raise $1million from 1million people than a one-off donation from one person.”
How it applies to you & business: effecting change takes nurturing, time, education, faith, forgiveness & attention to scope & loss. To start, pick 1 or 2 of these elements & see how they apply to a substantive issue you’re trying to effect change in.
5. On passion
“Passion I have is what keeps me going. You know like for example I want to build a school , I want to build a legacy of Emma McCune who rescued me. I want to give other children a chance to go to school. Sometime when I feel like I want to give up but these things whenever I see or remember they give me so much energy that I want to keep on going.”
How it applies to you & business: what’s the root of your passion? What keeps you going? Find your well & draw deep.
6. On the role of inspiration
“So I don’t need to tell them what to do, all I have to do is inspire them & do something. And when they listen they want to do something.”
How it applies to you & business: inspiration plays a huge role in effecting change. Draw a direct line between what you’re trying to influence & inspiration.
As our interview wound up I asked Emmanuel if he had any words of advice. He said “Just look. Look for those who care. I’m looking for those who care, those who are willing to make a difference. Those are the people I’m looking for. Those who are fortunate enough, have got a greater responsibility to make this world a better place.”
So get out there. Find your tribe & effect some change. Need some inspiration along the way? Check out www.emmanueljal.com, http://twitter.com/EmmanuelJAL or Emmanuel’s charity www.gua-africa.org for more information.
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