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The view from here: Sarah Owusu FRSA, South Africa

Fellowship news

  • Fellowship in Action
  • Global

Our global Fellows span six continents and more than 100 countries. Some may not physically encounter another RSA Fellow for hundreds of miles, but it’s even more reason to connect and share inspiration.

In mid-July we heard from Johannesburg resident, Sarah Owusu. Passionate about systems change and shifting narratives through storytelling, the innovation consultancy that she co-founded keeps her on her toes – from working with local community members in Mozambique to design inclusive emergency response solutions, to collaborating with young innovators to develop solutions that reduce plastic.

What kind of life surrounds you?

As I write this there are military helicopters flying above, responding to the unrest that has broken out in the last days across the country. All this during a challenging third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and a very cold winter. Life here at the moment is intense and at the same time I live a privileged life. In my bubble I’m safe, warm, have my partner, good internet and food. 

What’s keeping you busy?

I love my work. At the moment, at InkDot (the boutique innovation consultancy I co-founded) we have a number of exciting projects in progress that are bringing me joy. For example, we’re currently working with a global network of entrepreneurship support organisations to develop an inclusivity toolkit that will support them in becoming more inclusive within their organisations and in their programmes. We’re also working with the community in the Sofala Province of Mozambique to co-design inclusive emergency responses and preparedness solutions for people living with disabilities and the elderly. Another exciting venture is the ideation project we’re running for aspiring young innovators to develop solutions for “a world without plastic”. We are also proud to be coaching a team in an investment and asset management firm, equipping them to improve their collaboration and to make them more “future-proof”. It’s exciting to be supporting people in strengthening their innate innovation capabilities, and especially to see them applying the skills, tools and dedication for social impact and transformation.

Beyond this, I’m trying to write on a regular basis (I’m sure I’m not the only one who believes I have a book in me!). I’m a writing mentor to two inspiring Aspen New Voices Fellows and I have two storytelling platforms. Collateral Benefits is about to release its fourth perspective paper, sharing the voices of Afro-descendants and African Diaspora. This paper will showcase 43 perspectives, covering themes such as migration, human rights, social transformation and creativity. Each paper is about uplifting African wisdom, intellect and experiences and encouraging thinking beyond the pandemic to a future we want. We Will Lead Africa is currently running its inaugural Griot Masterclass Series, with 20 aspiring storytellers taking part in the 12-week course. The cohort will surface and write their own stories of everyday African leadership and capture the stories of others, to create the first Griot Volume to be launched next year. I’m immensely proud of both these platforms, and always find grounding support in being on this journey with my amazing co-founders (read: sisters).

What motivates you to seek positive change?

I am not sure what motivates me, beyond a desire to be intentional in my contribution to a future that serves us all, is abundant, and uplifts the best parts of the human spirit. That, and building meaningful interactions and relationships that are stimulating, thoughtful and inspiring. I see my work and purpose as having impact globally, but specifically on the African continent, so I think quite broadly about what constitutes “my community”. Across the world (no one is exempt), we have to do better than we are doing right now. It requires us (individually and together) to honestly inquire into what is currently not working, how we are contributing to this, imagining a different pathway forward and then... get to work.

What brings you hope in the current climate?

I see opportunities for change in every challenge, constraint, injustice, conflict, problem and breakdown. The kind of synchronised, global shake-up we’ve all been experiencing for the past year and a bit is really a significant opportunity for transformation - for us to wake up to what has not been working and decide what we want to put into the world going forward. Although I do think hope and aspiration are important, they are also fragile - I see hope as a kind of heady, intellectual pursuit; a bubble that can quite easily burst and leave us hopeless. And so I believe we need to bolster our hopes and dreams with joy. Joy, to me, is more physical, more tangible. You can experience it in your body, in a moment, in a connection. I’m not saying that it will all be a joyful dance from here on, but I do think that joy can be cultivated and provide an anchor when things inevitably get tough, and provide a bridge to others as no one will be able to do it on our own.

How would you like to connect with other Fellows?

I’m always available to share thinking, ideas and inquiry space. I’m also open to collaborations around building innovation capabilities for individuals, teams or organisations.

Did you find Sarah's story inspiring? You can connect with her on MyRSA.
Would you like to take your own shot at interviewing another global Fellow and share their story and motivations for change? Get in touch with Jessica White at global@rsa.org.uk.