Curt DeBerg, the wonderful founder of SAGE GLOBAL would always use Amina Diambo’s smile as an example of a beautiful smile. Amina is always graceful in everything she does. The way she dresses would make you want to dress like her, little wonder why she founded NAMASLAY, a clothing brand, alongside the NAMASLAY sisters as I like to Call them, Djeneba Ascofare and Aicha Fall. Namaslay was the 2nd Runner-Up at the Pitching and Lean Canvas contest organized by SAGE GLOBAL and California State University, Chico. Amina is wonderful beyond words, she’s a blogger, a painter, and is just dynamic. If I keep speaking we wouldn’t get to read about her.
WARNING: THIS IS A LONG RIDE. BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELTS AS AMINA TAKES YOU ON A ROLLERCOASTER JOURNEY OF INSPIRATION.
Hi, Amina! Now many people may be wondering who you are, can you say hello?
Hey there, my name is Mame Aminata DIAMBO, I am 20 years old and I am an engineering student. I am absolutely in love with my family, books, Barcelona football club and food. Words inspire me especially when they come from people like Muhammad Ali, Dr. Maya Angelou, Les Brown and so many other inspirational people. Oh, and I am a superwoman, outspoken introvert and a skinny Foodie.
That’s a lot for one young lady. Inasmuch as you are an engineering student you are also into fashion. What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion is something that has had a lot of impact on me. For a long time, I didn’t consider myself as a fashionable person, but certain clothes helped me reaffirm who I wanted to be while being independent of what the general opinion about me was. I had a problem with clothes that were considered as being too girly because pink dresses and skirts, somehow meant that you couldn’t climb trees, or run fast behind the ball or just have fun. I mean, a doll is cute, and playing with dolls helped me develop some storytelling skills even though it was quite boring seeing her plastic figure with only one expression. But other games that people would categorize as boys’ games were also fun to watch. And unfortunately, when you wear a dress, mama says that you must avoid putting dirt on it, it’s unladylike, right?
I think that we are at the age of wanting to take on the world but we also have to make sure we have a good plan to conquer. I am drawing my map little by little but all I know is that I want to give back to my community, make money (I’ll be honest though) and leave a sustainable legacy.
No that’s not right and to me, fashion and clothes challenge our imagination while telling stories. No matter how superficially people judge, I think that the clothes we wear have power. Clothes should be understood and then used to tell positive, empowering and useful stories. Yes, clothes don’t necessarily define people, but I believe we can define the stories we want to tell by using fashion.
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and how you got into leadership.
I have always been curious about what my life could be beyond what school could teach me. I was into so many after-school activities, such as the environment club of my school (I am a green-no-hippie-environmental advocate), the students’ government and all of those activities and programs that the schools would be invited to. I was very active in middle school and high school and many of the programs I took part in always had keywords like leadership, youth, young girls, technologies, entrepreneurship, etc. So I guess I had the chance to be at the right place many times, meet the right people and make the right connections.
You seem to be a very strong young lady, tell us about the people in your life who have shaped who you are today.
You happily used “seem” because being strong is one of my life goals which means that I am still working very hard on it. The man who brought me up a.k.a my daddy always considered me as a strong human being. He would speak up for me when I wanted sneakers instead of skirts and would take me to the Martial Arts and swimming pool and encourage me to give everything to be the best. He shaped my mind into believing that I could do anything I put my mind to, and I can’t thank him enough for that.
Also, my mom happens to be an entrepreneur in fashion (what a coincidence!) And she indirectly inspired me to aim for something else than just having a salary. She would make beautiful clothes but then put all her energy in checking the comfort, the accuracy of the measurements and to meet her deadlines. She would do all that and still make it very accessible and affordable for her customers. With her, I learned the real meaning of working hard, taking care of customers and having a work ethic. And most importantly for me, I was and I am still delighted to see how good it is to be your own boss.
I am a volunteer in a hub called Jiggen tech, and it aims to empower women and girls, to learn and work in the STEM field. I think the other volunteers, both men, and women, really impacted me. They taught me the beauty of sharing and leading selflessly. Also, they gave me space to truly advocate for women, without feeling any type of weirdness about it. I used to avoid the question when people asked me if I was a feminist. Now I can easily carry a book named I am a Feminist, quotes that inspire and still feel fly because I know that what I am doing has nothing to do with any negative definition of feminism (if feminism can have negative connotations says the feminist). Come on now, I have been a woman for 20 years now, It would be stupid not to be on my own side right? Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou.
Feminism should never be misunderstood. Thinking about myself I realize that I agree with a very traditional and quite simple version of marriage and human relationship, and advocating for women has never impacted on that. I think of marriage as a healthy and happy relationship, a give and take relationship which allows the two people to become who they really want to be and help each other to achieve their goals and grow. The danger when we talk about feminism is to get it to a point it has never reached, like breaking relationships for the sake of equality. God has made it fair and marriage or human relationships have to be requestioned when they’re not fair anymore. However, I respect the way other people think and speak up. They believe in different things or we might believe in the same things and express them very differently, but that’s okay.
Furthermore, giving value to the things I was doing, based on their positive and real impact helped me to shape my confidence because at some point I felt useful.
I work with the philosophy that I will never do enough, I will never give back enough, but sometimes when I stop and look back, I can’t help but thank God and feel good. I also happily met an amazing woman called Karima Grant, the founder of ImagiNation Afrika and my mentor who taught me that entrepreneurship could be really great, but being a community advocate was also amazing and then she made me fall in love with the concept of Social Entrepreneurship. I learn every day from that woman that one of the keys to success is being nice to people and even animals (laughs). I have seldom seen somebody who genuinely and really, smiles from the heart. And what I admire the most about her, and try to copy as much as I can is that she also says what she really means instead of giving the conventional answers to questions. That way, she can still smile at you and tell you about how tiring her day was and joke about it, instead of just saying yeah my day was fine.
I wish students were able to conquer and not survive, discuss solutions and not how annoying problems are. I wish they knew that deep inside, I formulate these as wishes, but I know they are able to make all these things possible with some drive, unity and humility.
This detail is important to me because not only is this attitude very warm and honest, but it somehow communicates to the person in front of you that you really are in the conversation. I have to say also that books, white papers, and pens are like my best friends. I learn so much from other people by their books and I learn so much about myself when I write. Sometimes taking a break, doing some introspection and meditating are the best things to do, to keep your eyes and mind on your goals or to even set some new goals. And I do it by reading books and writing some reflections. Then books, blank papers, and pens have a lot to do with who I am today. It may sound weird to say, but I kinda helped myself too and Ed Sheeran said it better “Before I save someone else, I’ve got to save myself.”
After your trip to the US, do you have any future projects you’re working on?
My curiosity and passion for social entrepreneurship brought me to the US for an amazing experience with 19 outstanding young West Africans. And coming back home, I realize again how we’ve got so much to do in our countries. I have projects in mind, but I am more into reflections and meditations, trying to get my vision clear. I came back really enthusiastic about all the possibilities. But I have been blessed enough to know people who advised me to take things easy, instead of shaking up people and opportunities that I wouldn’t be able to handle. I share with you this very good advice because I think that we are at the age of wanting to take on the world but we also have to make sure we have a good plan to conquer. I am drawing my map little by little but all I know is that I want to give back to my community, make money, I’ll be honest though, and leave a sustainable legacy.
That is so interesting! You were one of the Senegalese Student Leaders for the 2017 Study of the U.S Institutes. Is there anything that changed in you, during the SUSI program?
I think that one of the things that SUSI program has taught me is that my comfort zone was definitely not a place to stay. I have learned to define the word adventure out of my borders and to take risks. We often share inspirational quotes on our social media but don’t really apply those words. I realized that I too, often talked about taking risks but then I’ve been hesitating about going on a roller coaster just because I’ve never tried it before. It’s a simple thing compared to saving the world but those small and daily opportunities of risk taking that I had during SUSI, definitely gave me a taste of what I could achieve by taking risks in my entrepreneurial and personal journey. I have also learned to be aware of myself, and my environment, to view the world with selflessness and build empathy and proactivity.
I don’t want young girls to be like me, I want them to be like them. If the people who helped to shape me the way I am, did it in a way that I would be like them, I wouldn’t probably answer to all these questions.
This is something I want every young person to read! We must all take risks. Apart from school, how else do you spend your time?
I try to spend more time in the kitchen, getting more and more curious about how the food I eat daily can taste in a different culture (thank you, mama, SUSI and Google). I also keep volunteering with Jiggen tech and work with local organizations who aim to simply make things better. I keep writing and by the way, I am a blogger, and I write about who I am as an outspoken introvert and what my struggle looks like. Books are my home and blank papers still color my inner canvas when I put black ink on it.
I spend time with my family and friends, work hard to be humble and try to be nice to people even at school though. I give huge importance to my worship, as God is the biggest love of my life. I consider all the things I have and don’t have as blessings that were sent from above. Giving time to The One who gave me and keeps giving me everything is essential for me. His Love keeps me on the ground while dreaming and aiming high. So I try as I grow to give it the maximum of time, you can never say you don’t have enough time to say a prayer, He made it pretty easy for us. All praise to Him!
Has anyone ever told you that you are a lot in one person? How do you plan to change Senegal?
It’s funny how I can easily say I want to change the world and I will and then have some doubts about Senegal. The thing is I was born here, raised here and I have been testing so many ways to bring a change. I may not have found the ultimate way to change Senegal but I discovered so many methods that don’t make any change. I want to make connections with my fellow young Senegalese and share those things I discovered that would and wouldn’t work. I want to exchange with them in a way that we all learn from each other and work efficiently on our common goals. I think one way to change Senegal would be to be united and work together on changing mentalities and bringing ideas into action in order to make small, sustainable and scalable positive impacts. We complain a lot about our problems but don’t realize that we have 14 million solutions, this is a reference to the Senegalese population. I want to make a change by making the right connection, providing the right resources to the people, so they can BE the solutions.
Speaking about BEING the solution. What do you wish students would know and would begin to do?
I wish students knew they are the solutions to their problems. I wish they knew how to manage money and build businesses. I wish students thought and acted out of the box and the comfort zones that school builds too often for them. I wish students empowered each other instead of bullying each other on social media and real life. I wish students realized the power in them and how great of a change they would make if they set goals and worked hard to achieve them. A goal is a dream with a deadline, the more you set goals and beat them, the closer you are to realizing your dreams. I wish students knew that they were bigger than tensions, intolerance and all the pains the world is feeling today. I wish students were able to conquer and not survive, discuss solutions and not how annoying problems are. I wish they knew that deep inside, I formulate these as wishes, but I know they are able to make all these things possible with some drive, unity, and humility.
What is your biggest advice to young girls who want to be more, like you?
I don’t want young girls to be like me, I want them to be like themselves. If the people who helped to shape me the way I am, did it in a way that I would be like them, I wouldn’t probably answer all these questions. I would probably still be getting myself out of all those personalities that weren’t mine. I haven’t found my true self yet, but I am hopefully, not living someone else’s life, instead, I am trying to build mine. And this is my advice to young, beautiful, powerful ladies:
try to live your life in the most authentic way possible, hold your faith very tight, dare to dream BIG then set goals. Wake up every day, look at the sleepy but amazing person you are in the mirror, tell her how proud you are of her and to go achieve her goals.
Be nice to people, smile when you feel like but remember that a smile can brighten someone else‘s day. Never forget where you come from and the people who helped you. Be true to yourself and when you make decisions, make sure they are true to your values and goals.
Don’t let anybody stop you and tell you because you are a woman, (Chimamanda Adichie) as a reason to not do anything. You are a human being first, and you can do anything you put your mind to. I said anything, and anything is something very large, so please again, hold your faith very tight and be true to yourself and your values. Get out there, jump off the building and build your wings on the way down, don’t you worry, God will never let you crash and if you eventually crash, it means that there is something to learn down there. Eat the food you like, hustle harder and SLAY!
I love you, whoever you are, I love you !
To myself, I am really proud you finished your work (interview) one day before the deadline, you are making signs of progress. I love you so much and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
To Mirabelle Morah, one of the most beautiful hearts and purest souls I know, you are meant to shine girl. Thank you is not strong enough to express my gratitude, but it’s the most powerful word, for now, so thank you and NAMASLAY!
To anyone reading this, I pray that you find peace!
And I love you even more Amina! You’re the 8th wonder of this world! Namaslay too sister.
Interviewed by Mirabelle Morah
Edited by Nten Mpama