This article was contributed by Katrina Boratko, Communications Manager, at Mama Hope. Photos courtesy of Tiossan.
Each time I begin a call with Magatte I have to start out by asking the same question: “Where are you right now?” The answer is always different: Austin, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Dakar… I’m never sure from where she will beam in next. I am always sure, though, that sometime during that call I’ll hear a story I have never heard before, or learn a new piece of insight that will linger in the back of my mind for the next hour, day or week.
That’s what a conversation with Magatte is like - you never know what’s coming, but you come to expect that what she says will stick with you. It’s her thoughtful insight, along with her energetic and magnetic spirit, that drew us to her in the first place and helped form the friendship on which Mama Hope’s partnership with her company, Tiossan, is based.
Tiossan is an all-natural luxury skincare brand, the first of it’s kind from Senegal. And Magatte — the serial entrepreneur behind the company — is a formidable advocate of positive change in business, and gender roles and Africa. She is a Forbes “20 Youngest Power Women in Africa”, a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum at Davos, a TED Global Africa Fellow, and "Leading Woman in Wellness” award winner by the Global Wellness Summit (she later got invited to join the Board, where she now serves). Magatte also serves on the Advisory Board of the Whole Planet Foundation, of Whole Foods Market.
At Mama Hope we build partnerships with brands that are driven by the same things that drive us - innovation, entrepreneurship, passion, an appreciation of joy and a deep desire to impact the world in a meaningful way. We’ve found all of these things in our partnership with Magatte, whose path through life and wisdom about her global upbringing have enabled her to use entrepreneurship as a tool to preserve culture and change lives in an incredible new way.
We had the chance to interview Magatte and ask her about her experience as a successful female entrepreneur.
MH: What was your life like growing up?
Magatte: People often ask me, "how did you get your entrepreneurial mindset?” I trace it back to being raised for the first few years of my life by my grandmother in Senegal, after my parents first moved to Europe. During that time, my grandmother allowed me to live the life of a free-roaming child. Basically, I could just do my own thing at my own pace - sort of Montessori style. I wasn’t attending a formal school or anything. Instead, I would spend long days outside with the herd of little boys who came to my house every morning. To put this into context, in this small village most little girls like me were expected to stay inside the home and learn housekeeping skills. Instead, I was always outside; a complete tomboy. So the little boys would come, and I would lead them on a different adventure each day. Each morning they would show up, every one with a different idea about what they want to do that day. So how do you run a group of 12, 13, 14 15 little boys, where everyone wants to do their own thing? My job was to find a consensus among everybody and create a plan - exactly what you do later in life when you run a team. I was also learning sales, convincing each individual that he wanted to do what the group was doing, selling them on an idea. So I began to develop sales skills, persuasion techniques, so all of these things proved helpful to me later in life.
Later, when it came time for me to join my parents in Europe, I will never forget what my Grandmother said to me. [She said:]
“You are about to go to a place where you know nobody. These people are not going to look like you, are not going to speak the same language, and you will have to go to school, which is something you know nothing about. But I do not want for any of that to intimidate you or make you feel inferior. Even if they are different from you in terms of looks and language, even if they understand the game of school better than you- at the end of the day what you all have in common is that you are all human beings. However impressive or intimidating they may be, I don't want you to be fearful. You have the same basic making, so you can do the same - if not better."
Everything she said came true. The other children didn't look like me or speak like me. They understood school, which I didn't. I suffered and struggled, but within a few months I caught up with everybody else. At a very young age I saw what she told me come true - that even though I was different, I was not inferior. I understood on a deep level that believing in yourself is not just a pretty idea, but it truly means something. To have seen such a promise come true opened up my whole world in terms of what is I believe is possible and how I can shape those possibilities.
MH: Do you think you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Magatte: I didn't know that I wanted to be an entrepreneur - I didn't even know what an entrepreneur was. For me, it has always been a mindset that I grew up with. I grew up with parents that didn’t allow me to complain. They would always tell me "don't bring me problems unless you've thought of a couple solutions." So I became a solution-finder, a very important trait for an entrepreneur. I define entrepreneurs as individuals who don’t take no for an answer, who see every problem as a wonderful opportunity for coming up with solutions.
To put this into context, in this small village most little girls like me were expected to stay inside the home and learn housekeeping skills.
MH: What are the problems you seek to solve in the world?
Magatte: I was raised with a very strong sense of who I am and of pride in where I come from and of people who look like me. I left Africa as a child, and growing up in the Western world it became quickly very clear that this perception that I had of myself was not shared by others. People did not understand my culture because they had never seen it before, while in my country the youth were obsessed with American culture. I began to notice my culture slowly disappearing because my people have a sense of cultural inferiority, a sense that everything that originates with them is not good enough. Therefore, many are busy getting rid of what makes them them, their cultural assets, cultural markers, in favor of adopting the food, music, movies and culture that come from the West. So this is my first big problem: my culture slowly dying.
Senegal is a country with a strong tradition of economic migration. Many people try to go to Europe to find a job and feed their families back home. Unfortunately, the trip is very dangerous and many don’t make it. They end up on the bottom of the ocean, serving as fish food. So this is my second big problem: my people dying for lack of economic opportunity at home.
The solution I’ve found to combat both of these problems is building consumer brands.
As far as current global consumer brands, America leads the pack, followed by European countries. Now compare that to the dominant cultures of the world. For example, if I go into middle America and I ask an 18 year old who wants to travel, most of them would say somewhere Europe. In Africa, they want to go to America. America is the number one destination for youth who aren't American. Then, the next destination is somewhere in Europe. There is a strong correlation between the globalization of consumer brands and the domination of cultures that built them.
I think that in order to solve both of my problems, we must conquer the barriers of the mind and the heart. No one can force you to love me and my people (the heart) and no one can force you to respect me and my people (the mind). No piece of legislation can force you to truly see me as your equal, if you don’t truly feel that way. I feel that consumer brands can be a powerful way to dismantle those mind and heart barriers. If you consume me, if you drink my drinks, eat my foods and wear clothes from where I come from, you take the first step into my world. You begin to develop an understanding. That will lead you to an appreciation, and that appreciation will lead you to a sense of love and respect. At first, that love and respect is just for the product you are buy, but then it transfers onto me as a person, and beyond me onto the rest of my country, and beyond my country onto people who look like me.
My solution is to build brands that embody in them the very best of my African and Senegalese heritage, and bring my heritage to the rest of the world. The proceeds from these products will help create economic opportunity in my country. By growing my brand, my culture is shared with a global audience and my people can thrive.
MH: What inspired you to start Tiossan?
Magatte: Tiossan is a skincare brand inspired by the ancient wisdom of the traditional Sufi healers of Senegal. Our goal is to share with women around the world the very specific approach to beauty that Senegalese women have. When they talk about their skin, Senegalese women don’t talk about making their skin beautiful, they talk about keeping it in an optimum state of health. With health comes radiance and beauty, and I want to share this knowledge with our sisters around the world. We are also working to create jobs in Senegal by investing half of our profits into an entrepreneurial school there.
So when you buy a product from Tiossan, it not only means beautiful skin for you, but also jobs and pride for Senegalese people and education for the future entrepreneurs of Africa - the job creators of tomorrow who are going to create prosperity and destroy poverty.
MH: Why did you decide that you want to partner with Mama Hope?
Magatte: What I love so much is the fact that you are the only nonprofit group that I know of out there who truly understands, respects and acts on the need for universal human dignity. I feel like you truly see the people you collaborate with around the world partners. I think you internalize this respect so deeply that it shows in everything that you put out into the world, from your partnerships with communities to your Stop the Pity videos and the training you give your Global Advocates.
MH: What does being a Global Citizen mean to you?
Magatte: I believe we all have a duty to honor our individuality, preserve our unique heritage and embrace each other’s diverse history and experiences. To me, being a Global Citizen means is to stay ourselves while recognizing the great value in others and holding them close. A Global Citizen is is somebody who is perfectly clear about who they are and is proud to broadcast their culture onto the global stage. A Global Citizen is someone who is distinctively unique, yet unambiguously whole; someone who embraces the multiplicity of everything instead of wanting to put everything into one box. It may seem like a contradiction, but I know it is possible! I was raised in Senegal, grew up in Germany and France, started my entrepreneurial career in San Francisco, moved to New York and married to an American man from the Rockies. I take pride in all parts of me, and believe that because of the multiplicity of my experience that I am a richer person, and I believe the same is true of our world.