I was asked to present the 2023 We Are All Human Social Impact Champion Award last night to Lady Mariéme Jamme, founder of iamtheCODE, the first Africa-led movement to support girls and young women in STEAMD (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Design). She is already operating in 80 countries, working directly with 50,000 women in Africa and a million women in Brazil and beyond. Her goal is direct action to improve economic outcomes for women and girls through the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

I had an opportunity to sit with Lady Mariéme after the presentation. She will be 50 years old in 2024. Full of passion and fire, determined to realize her ambitious plan. She told me about her terrible youth in Senegal. She never knew her father; he had been a prominent figure in post-colonial Senegal. Born from an aristocratic Family, faced with societal pressures, her mom was having difficulty raising her as a young mother, so she and her brother were sent to a village, Kaolack. She was raped at 11 years old by her koranic teacher, Senegal being a Muslim country. She did not have a formal education until age 16 when she taught herself how to read and write. She moved to the UK in her late teens, where she taught herself how to code seven programming languages. She will finish cleaning A white woman house and then go to a local library in Surrey to learn how to read English and Code. The World Economic Forum sponsored her to attend Harvard Kennedy School and the International Leadership Centre at Yale where she met many Young Global Leaders whom today seat on her board and support her program. She currently leads her foundation, iamtheCODE.org. Additionally, she serves as the CEO of Accur8Global, a UK-based B2B consultancy specializing in Generative AI. Their mission extends beyond technology by bringing humanity into boardrooms and assisting businesses in discovering their purpose and meaning."

My remarks last night in the spirit of Goethe’s Faust, “I love the ones who crave the impossible.” Here is a woman who goes into the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and takes on the challenge of empowering the most marginalized women and girls in the world. Her fervent belief is that Africa is the land of opportunities and that entrepreneurs have the keys to change the continent. She understands the power of networking, to mobilize businesspeople and government leaders whom she meets in Davos or through her directorship at the World Wide Web Foundation. For example, she has worked with the head of sustainable technology at our client Unilever, who talked about her transition from in-person in Africa to on-line learning in multiple countries, “an exponential organization that pivoted without missing a beat.”

We, in the communications field, can play a critical role. Our counsel to business on how to engage in societal issues with impact, our guidance to brands to stick with purpose-driven work and our ability to create partnerships among clients and community can make the difference in elevating initiatives like iamtheCODE and the people they aim to uplift. Companies need to stick with their ESG commitments, even in this politicized environment, because employees expect it and consumers demand it.

I am putting this quote from Lady Mariéme on my wall in my cube at work. “I know where I come from, how far I came, where I am going and where I want to be.”

Richard Edelman is CEO.