An official website of the United States government

Lesson in Leadership: Put People First
September 2, 2015

Abdoulaye Atim (State Dept.)
Abdoulaye Atim (State Dept.)

Mandela Washington Fellows Abdoulaye Atim of Chad and David Capo of Côte d’Ivoire say their summer study experiences in the United States taught them that leadership requires creative thinking.

Atim is a turbine controller for international oil and gas giant ExxonMobile. But his heart also is with solar energy. Founder of 3ACE Energy and Trading in N’Djamena, he sells affordable sun-powered lanterns to run rural homes and hospitals, and sun-energized phones to help farmers in the field communicate with suppliers and buyers. His goal is to improve local access to renewable energy. He started the venture using his own savings and manages four employees plus subcontractors.

At Dartmouth College in New Hampshire he learned to approach his managerial challenges by using the “human-centered design” approach. He discovered that by putting people first, 3ACE can excel. “Whatever product or service you provide, put the human in the center,” he says.

Community service in New Hampshire reinforced the concept. Working with a local nonprofit, Atim helped repair roofs for people with disabilities. That ensured that the homes’ residents would be warm during the upcoming winter. He put the people first.

 At the University of Wisconsin–Stout, Capo learned that “leaders take risks while staying close to the people.” That lesson reinforced his sense of what he calls “servant leadership,” with leaders serving the people who work for them instead of dominating them. Capo works for the large information technology company MTN and directs technology incubator Akendewa in Abidjan.

During his fellowship, Capo met with employees and managers of the Minneapolis company Clockwork Active Media. They emphasized that “what we do, who we work with and how we work with them is fundamental to our vision. We built the company on a set of values.”

David Capo (State Dept.)
David Capo (State Dept.)

“We love our clients. We love each other. And we love what we do,” they told him.

With their fellowships over, Atim and Capo intend to reach out to other YALI Network members through workshops and other gatherings, like meetups.

“We will help them develop their ideas and business plans, and help connect them with funders,” Capo says. “The first thing is education.”

Learn about human-centered design by taking the Mandela Washington Fellowship Institute online course Design-Driven Entrepreneurship.

Interested in taking the next step with your business? Check out our #YALIEntrepreneurs page.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blog posts contributed by members of the YALI Network.