Divine Muragijimana shares her inspiring story of how she is empowering African youth through The Council of Young African Leaders, an organization she co-founded in 2011 to inspire the next generation of Africans leaders as part of the Diaspora, the dispersion of a population from their native land, by challenging their ideas and thoughts in appreciation of Africa’s diversity. 

Divine is also the Editor-In-Chief of Applause Africa Magazine.  Applause Africa focuses on the people, cultures, philosophies, and successes of Diaspora Africa.  For over a decade, the magazine has published high profile interviews and in-depth articles about people and issues relevant to the African community. 

Inspiring Story

I am from Burundi, a small country in East Africa.  I come from 'good stock' so to speak.  My father and mother have been community leaders as far as I can remember.  Everything I know about leadership and the importance of community work - I learned from them.  I spent my earlier years in Burundi until the civil war broke out in 1993.  My family was lucky enough to escape the Congo, and later on to Kenya where I spent seven years before coming to the United States for School.   I attended most of high school in West Virginia, and then went on to College in Canton Ohio where I got a BA in Liberal Arts from Malone University.  I later moved to New York City where I got my MA from CUNY Brooklyn College.

It took me a while before I finally came to the realization that Africa is my home.  It doesn’t matter where I am, or where I go, Africa will always be my vision, and my home.  Somewhere during my first year of college, I was compelled to look at Africa again.  I spent years with nightmares, haunted by my past, feeling like I did not belong anywhere really. It is a funny thing to be from Africa, but not truly belong to Africa because of years spent abroad, but at the same time not belonging in your community abroad because...well you are from a different culture, and not entirely belonging there.  This was particularly felt when I returned to Burundi in 2011 after thirteen years of absence. This homecoming was short and bitter-sweet.  My memory of Burundi did not meet the reality on the ground. I left Burundi running from bullets and machetes, but the reality on the ground was so different. No longer did I need to run, or worry about soldiers coming to knock at the gate, gun in hand.  For the first couple of days, a mixer of jetlag and fear left me sleepless, but I began to notice that my family around me was sleeping soundly, and I got the courage to truly sleep in my own home. 

In August 2012, I went back to Burundi for a second time - this time planning to stay longer. But as usual it was not enough. This time around, I went back home with the purpose of doing more listening and being re-introduced to my country.  It is incredibly humbling to watch as the communities are being rebuilt and people determined to change the course of their history. I am determined to do my part.

I have learned over the years that living a life of service to others, and being able to give back is a more compelling way to spend my life.   By working towards changing the lives of those who have been supremely marginalized such as the women and youth in Africa, I am able to use my skills to benefit others.  I would love to see more young people trained in building their businesses, becoming more civically engaged, learning the value of volunteering and internships.  Success in this case might be hard to measure, but in the end, I would love to have more programs in Africa that are a result of young Africans in the continent, and those abroad, working with different organizations in different countries in Africa.  There is no reason why I can have all this knowledge, and not be able to give back, and use it to the betterment of communities all across Africa. Yes, it is a daring goal, I am probably stupidly optimistic to think that I can make a difference.  But, this blind optimism drives my every waking moment, and everything that I am involved with.  That is scary.


Women In Business Spotlight

Its really all about Africa.  So, I am going to introduce you to three of my “jobs” so to speak.

The Council of Young African Leaders (CYAL) is an organization I co-founded in 2011 and whose vision is to inspire the next generation of Africans leaders who are studying in the Diaspora by challenging their ideas and thoughts in appreciation of Africa’s diversity. So far we have been putting together a lot of programming together, including 2 annual conferences and marketing training for African organizations.
Inspiring Women in Business - bSmart!
My other work is as Editor-in-Chief of Applause Africa Magazine. The magazine is one of the premier African magazines. Applause Africa focuses on the people, cultures, philosophies and successes of Diaspora Africa.  For over a decade, we have published high profile interviews and in-depth articles of people and issues relevant to our community.  We just finished our winter issue.  The audience of Applause is diverse; however it is popular among the upwardly mobile Africans between the ages 21-35, although recently it has become a household name and there is an outlier in that particular demographic.
Inspiring Women in Business - bSmart!
I connected with Applause Africa two years ago while I was planning a Young African Leadership symposium with CUNY (City University of New York); one of, if not, the largest university institution in the country. Applause Africa had just published an education issue featuring African Student Leaders within the CUNY Schools and it was there that I was approached by one of the founders of the Magazine about joining the team. Initially, given my extensive work with Social Media and Online Marketing, blogging and writing in general, I was asked to become the online Editor–in-Chief. I was joined by a team of brilliant writers and editors, and eventually at the end of 2011, the online and print departments merged into one team- so I became the Editor-in-Chief of Applause Africa.

Additionally, in 2011 I started my own consulting firm. Savoir-Faire, and it has come to be known as one of the leading and most affordable, business-driven and entrepreneurial minded consulting firms for African organizations and businesses.  We assist our clients to progress to the next level in delivering their message to their target markets, acquiring their ultimate positioning and adapting to the changes in a technologically advanced age.  I work with a diverse group of clients, but the majority of the clients are African businesses and organizations. The list of clients continues to grow, and I am currently looking to expand. I will be launching the website in March, and after that, I will be looking for investors to expand the company.
Inspiring Women in Business - bSmart!
Your story is incredibly inspiring.  What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment personally or professionally?

I think that my greatest accomplishment has been co-founding The Council of Young African Leaders.  It is a young organization, but it is also growing.  But maybe the greatest accomplishment, and change has been the decision to step back and work in a semi-independent way.  This has also allowed me to live out my vision of being in service through others through all the activities I am involved in.

What are your greatest lessons learned as a woman in business?

Over the last couple of years, I have learned that if you are not dreaming big, then you might not have what it takes to make the dream become a reality.  But maybe the most significant lesson I have learned is that it is okay to be myself, and it is okay for me to be different- even if that means that I don’t fit in.  Over the last couple of years, I have been saved from a lot of heartache and chaos by simply stepping to the beating of my own drum and simply being me. I think it is a lesson that I keep learning every day. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

My younger self?  Well, I am still young. Now in my late 20s I think that there is a great amount of learning that still needs to be done.  However, being that I have been very active in my community at a very young age, I would say that when I was 12-15, I wish someone had told me that I did not have to work so hard to fit into the status quo so to speak.  But mostly in high school, I would have advised myself to not worry so much about making plans because plans change, and most of the time for the better.

How were you able to overcome a challenge?

I have always had a great support system - complicated as it might be.  I have 7 sets of parents.  (Yes I know…WHAT? At least that’s the reaction I get when I try to explain this.)  I was raised by my biological mother and father until I was 15, and then I moved to the U.S. in West Virginia, where I stayed with great guardians who became my parents.  Two years down the road, I moved in with another set of guardians who took care of me, and I called them mum and dad.  Throughout these years in West Virginia, I had another source of support. They were also parents, guardians and my mentors.  I went to college, and I was “adopted” by two families, and they also saw me through my confusing college years, and helped me become the person I am today.  I live with my godparents in New York City - a great family that has become my strength, my support, and my cheerleaders.  They have cheered me on, and encouraged me to become the person that I am today.   So yes, it has been a journey and whatever challenges I have faced, I have a group of at least 30 individuals that I can always, and do often, lean on.  This is by no means a conventional family - but they are the people that have believed in me through the many challenges and for every success, I owe it to them.
Inspiring Women in Business - bSmart!
What do you consider to be your greatest attributes?

I am a visionary, go getter, and a dreamer.  These attributes are coupled with great management and organizing skills.  When I am set on achieving something, I will work night and day to make that a reality.

If you could write the rest of your story, what would the next 5 years entail?

My plan is to be travelling back and forth to Africa, hosting youth conferences and training young African entrepreneurs.  I would like to build a great network of African youth who come together in support of each other and organizations in their community.  

What do you want all bSmart members to know about your story that would help them bSmart too?

It's okay not to fit in a box, and to step out of your comfort zone.  It might be scary, and it is actually not the smoothest road, but the journey is worth the risk.

How can bSmart members support the Council of Young African Leaders and Applause Africa?

With the CYAL, we need to create a lot of visibility for the work we are doing, and our upcoming projects.  Currently, we have four major projects coming up: 1) A marketing training during social media week in Lagos Nigeria and New York City, 2) a youth conference in Cameroon in June,  3) a Leadership symposium in October, and 4) another youth conference in Burundi in December.   All of these projects will need funding, which we are currently raising,  and a lot of planning.  At the moment, we are still in the process to fine tuning all the ways that people can join in making these conferences a reality. In the meantime, we are launching a new website in February, but bSmart members can visit  www.thecyal.org to get a sense of where we are right now.

With Applause Africa - subscribe to the Magazine, subscribe to our online platform at www.applauseafrica.com. For our print magazine, we are looking for advertisers.  Therefore if any bSmart member knows of advertisers who are looking to reach out to the African young demographic, please let me know. 

Most importantly, visit the websites, and the social media platforms, and give me feedback on where and what you think we can improve on, and any ideas on how to do so are most welcome.  Both entities are still young, and growing- it is crucial for us to get input.
Follow Divine Muragijimana
Twitter: @africaforafrica
Blog: africaforafrica.wordpress.com
Linked In: Divine Muragijimana
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Council of Young African Leaders
Website: www.thecyal.org
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/thecyal
Twitter: @thecyal @yalsymposium

Applause Africa
Website: www.applauseafrica.com
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/applauseafrica
Twitter: @applauseafrica 

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