NANCY SUMARI, former Miss Tanzania and Miss World (Africa), is also a published author of children’s books, a businesswoman and social entrepreneur. Here she speaks with PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN as part of the GLOW Webinar series, on her roots, being crowned Miss World (Africa), her work with children and youth, and the role of the heart.
Q: In 2017, Africa’s Youth Awards named you one of the 100 Most Influential Africans. You are a business graduate from the University of Dar es Salaam and the managing director of Bongo5 Media Group Ltd, which focuses on digital media creation. You are the founder and the executive director of The Neghesti Sumari Foundation and the Jenga Hub that runs programs to teach kids from marginalized backgrounds how to do software coding. You are interested in improving the state of your community by working towards digital literacy for all. And your foundation has transformed learning outcomes for youth and little children through its digital literacy programs and applying design making methodology to create value. Welcome Nancy.
NS: Thank you so much for having me, this is a great honor.
Q: Likewise. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
NS: I’m the third-born of five children. One of my parents is a farmer and the other runs her own hotel business, she’s into catering. I had a very interesting childhood, I grew up on a farm and as you can imagine it was full of adventure, mischief, joy and love. My parents were very keen for us to get a good education, and to also grow up in a close-knit loving family. I have very fond memories of my childhood.
Beyond that, I went to school in Kenya, graduated from high school and came back to Tanzania, and did my bachelor’s degree here in Business. I hope to still continue with my studies at some point, soon hopefully. I’m married with a daughter who’s wonderful. I feel like I’ve had an interesting journey so far, and I’m very thankful for that. But I often reflect and feel that it’s almost like an out-of-body experience where I couldn’t imagine having the love that I have right now and the work that I’m doing, the opportunity to meet people. To offer what I have been given throughout my life is something I’m very thankful for.
Q: Thank you. What was it like going from a beauty queen to a philanthropist working for the education of children? Can you tell us a little bit about that journey?
NS: I think the journey through the beauty pageant was almost by chance. It was an opportunity that just happened to me. I suppose it was meant to be part of my journey, but it was a very big surprise, because I had just finished high school and I was hoping to pursue my university education at that point in time. By chance, at a local restaurant here in Dar es Salaam, I met a young lady who felt that I should be part of the competition, that it was a great opportunity. It felt like it was an opportunity, and when an opportunity comes knocking, I’ve always been one to make the most of it, so I did.
But beyond the beauty pageant, which was great and left a big mark on my life, I’ve always felt that it was my purpose to give back as much as I have been given. There have been many opportunities where people held my hand, where people helped me. A lot of people were there for me through my journey, to help me to be the best that I could be. They saw the potential in me. So giving back through the work that I do comes naturally – the same way people have been there for me, I feel I should be there for others, and be there meaningfully. That’s why our work in providing and widening the education emphasis in Tanzania is very important; education will unlock the potential in young people, so that’s what I want to work very hard at.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the initiative of transforming children, and of transforming the ways of education in Tanzania?
NS: The education system in Tanzania has a lot of challenges, everything from an outdated curriculum to not having well enough trained teachers, to the overall infrastructure. So, we thought to do something meaningful and long-term, but also to be more future-ready, and so we started programs that will empower and equip children with the skills and knowledge necessary in an ever transforming technological world. And so, our programs are focused primarily on giving children these very important skills, as we continue to work towards the fourth industrial revolution. Thus, although they go to school with a curriculum that is outdated, they are able to gain skills through our hub and its program to allow them to be a lot more competitive. They are able to take advantage of the opportunities in the technological industry and sector, and then come up with ideas of value to serve their communities.
It’s about character building,
it’s about building self,
about training children through values,
like being respectful, honorable, loving,
caring, being of service,
and knowing who they are and
reflecting that to the world.
Q: How have you been able to make this difference for children? What do you think is the key factor which can help them in decision-making and wisdom?
NS: I think we try to have a more holistic approach. It’s not just about technology, because that’s not enough. It’s also about character building, it’s about building self, about training children through values like being respectful, honorable, loving, caring, being of service, and knowing who they are and reflecting that to the world. I think what sets us apart is the fact that we pay extra attention to character building, and I feel that is quite important in today’s world to be able to build self, and acknowledge self, and another person. We have a saying here – it’s from South Africa but it’s also applied here a lot, and it is the spirit of Ubuntu. It speaks of the fact that you are able to see yourself in someone else or, rather, you able to see someone and empathize and acknowledge them, their self and their spirit, and just be equal in that sense. I think we’re moving more than ever into machines and artificial intelligence and robots, but it’s really important to focus back on ourselves. This is especially so with children and young people who will be the force in the next generation. I think it’s very important to instill these values in them.
Q: What do you think is the role of the heart in transforming a child’s growing process, in transforming the learning or educational initiatives?
NS: To be honest, everything starts from the heart, everything emanates from the heart and the soul. I think the heart plays a central key role in learning overall, in seeing our place in the world and what our world means. I think the heart is a window and a reflection of the world, and what the world is to us and what we are putting out into the world. A lot of the time, people are not able to be intentional enough when it comes to matters of the heart and learning, or feeding the heart. It plays a central and crucial role in learning, and definitely requires us to break down those walls and be able to approach learning and each other more from the heart. I think that would change the world, to be honest.
Q: How do you think children can be encouraged to use their heart as often as possible; how can we help them to learn this art of using the heart?
NS: I think we can definitely practice a lot more. Children look at the older generation as a mirror, like an oracle, and the more they see us applying this, constantly and consistently, that is one way to do it. It’s like parenting – when a child is growing up, the first people they look up to are the immediate family surrounding them. These types of habits begin in the home, so I feel that is the game-changer right there – the importance of the role of the heart in the home, in the family. Then we move beyond that to schools, to education institutions on all levels, and to governments, to how we lead our people. I feel it will be a multiplying butterfly effect. But it really does begin in the home. That is the most powerful place where values are instilled, where behavior is taught, and where love is shared.
Then it multiplies to all other areas of our lives, but it begins at home. We can all have a role to play when it comes to leading with the heart, teaching from the heart, and learning and feeding our heart when we are around our children and our young people. Then it will take hold. For now perhaps it can start in all corners where people who believe in it can start small and then multiply and take the effect within our circle of empathy.
Q: When we look at our society today, we are becoming more and more dispersed. Single parenting is on the rise, parents are not together in many families, and even when they are together they have very little time with their children because both are working. Even the role of grandparents is becoming less these days. We no longer have families with uncles and aunties around, the joint family has broken down or vanished completely, and we are moving towards the nuclear family and single parenting. Such is our age. When we speak about the family, the home being the center, where the role of the heart is nurtured, children spend more time in day care, in school where other people are primary care givers. So, how can teachers or the school impart this, when it cannot happen at home?
NS: I feel that we can utilize a lot of these platforms that young people access. Reaching out to teachers is very important, like you mentioned, because a teacher can use the first or the last five minutes of class to simply share whatever is going on in the heart, or hear from other people’s hearts. We are able to reach out to a lot of religious institutions as well, for instance, here we have a lot of families going to the mosque, to church, and to the temple. They all preach about the heart but perhaps to break down the silos and have a more relatable approach is also important. It can be styled in a manner which young people find a lot more relevant. It needs to be dynamic, it needs to be true to our time, and it needs to be reflective. It could be available on a platform that young people access, like Instagram or Facebook, or these social platforms that have a lot of traffic of young people. It can be packaged in a way that they will find interesting and then, before you know it, it’s cool, and it’s being applied, and it sticks, and it goes on and on from there.
Q: How can this role of the heart help in breaking free from mediocrity to greatness?
NS: I would say it starts with our own self. I think mediocrity stems from the fact that we are not able to believe in ourselves, be ourselves, and take advantage of our own purpose, our own journey. The role of the heart plays a central role for staying true to our self, staying true to our purpose, and following our calling. That ultimately takes us then from mediocrity and elevates us all the way into greatness, because there is nothing greater than being able to walk our own path, heed our own calling and be the highest, truest expression of ourselves, of who we are meant to be in this world. I think being mediocre is turning away from that, turning away from the journey and applying something that does not necessarily fit you. I feel that the only way is to switch back from that entirely and take heed of one’s heart.
Q: Thank you Nancy for joining us and for your inspiring story.
NS: Thank you.
Interviewed by PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN
Nancy is a Tanzanian author, businesswoman and social entrepreneur. She is the Managing Director of Bongo5 Media Group Ltd, the Executive Director of The Neghesti Sumari Foundation and The Jenga Hub, as well as a published author of the children’s book series, Nyota Yako. In 2017, Africa Youth Awards named her among the 100 Most... Read more