The Way A Tree Falls: Rise of the C.B.Os

The Lorax: Which way does a tree fall?

The Once-ler: Uh, down?

The Lorax: A tree falls the way it leans. Be careful which way you lean.

 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury bear with me. Are you aware that we are making history? This is the first time in the history of the coast where so many young people are really stepping up and taking initiative. From great social enterprises like MTY, Redsplash, GYP, RJW and the commendable work they’re doing for the community. To entrepreneurial ventures like Miss Baus collections, probably empires in the making, like the Muslim media company and outliers like Hekaya initiative. I kid you not, these are the stories we’ll be telling in a not so distant future. That’s however beside the point.

I intend to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that many of these young stars, these names, not exactly the ones mentioned here will eventually wither into nothingness. Before you brand me a hater, this is not ill-wishing, it’s about the hero’s journey they’re on, where only the ones with grit equally matching their good intentions make it through.

After a long day of work the other day, I rewarded myself with my daily dose of deserved entertainment; the H.B.O documentary Inventor out for Blood in Silicon Valley. It’s the story of Theranos, but more so of the inventor behind it, Elizabeth Holmes, and her noble quest to get more people access to their health information at the time it matters most. To create a world in which nobody has to say if only I’d known sooner and fewer people have to say goodbye too soon to the ones they love. They were going to combine therapy and diagnosis to recognize diseases much earlier on and that, from only a small unit of blood drawn from your fingertip into a nano container, as opposed to traditional phlebotomy where a huge syringe would draw a lot of blood from your arm. The idea was revolutionary and would ultimately change modern medicine as we know it. She was baptized as the next Steve Jobs and Theranos valued at more than 10 billion dollars. 4 years later, its stock plummeted to less than zero.

To understand what happened, it pays to look past the price of the stock to the value of the story. This compelling tale of divining hundreds of diseases from a drop of blood was a testament to the imagination of the inventor. In the deserted property she designed you can almost hear echoes of her ambition and see how glass walls promising transparency could become a labyrinth of mirrors. Was Elizabeth lost in a landscape between what she could make real and the world of make-belief?

It’s a story of how people get trapped over time by trading off human values. And then how they trade-off those values changes them as people and things spiral down. Some people take a path trying to do positive things for the world, nobody questions how good Elizabeth’s motives were, but end up becoming something bad.

If you look at Elizabeth’s journey from the beginning, it’s a cautionary tale about all of us.

Like every hero in a story, she had the tragic backstory. As a child, she spent summers with her uncle whom she loved, and who loved going to the beach. Later, he was diagnosed with skin cancer, which then moved to his bones and then everywhere. The uncle never got to see his child grow up and Elizabeth never got to say goodbye. Everyone ate her story up and was rooting for her. They said she was going to revolutionize everything from phlebotomy to diagnosis and therapy.  investors flocked to her in droves before she was later discovered as another Edison, another fake it till you make it story but unlike Edison, did not get to make it.

Now I have watched Elizabeth in a couple of conferences with Bill Clinton and people like Jack Ma on YouTube, telling her story on how she dropped out of Stanford and founded her company at 19. She was so compelling and seemed so genuine. But like a house of cards, came tumbling down. You should honestly watch the documentary.

I can’t help but think there’s another Elizabeth Holmes amidst the web of stories being woven in Mombasa right now. #Documentariesmakemeparanoid. And I imagine someone should take up the task and document everything as it unfolds. Perhaps take a study for 10- 20 years on what all these stories morph into, who plummeted and why and why did those who succeeded become a success. That would be interesting. Lessons for posterity. Then find me to compare notes. I, however, will be the person praying that they all succeed. The hope for a brighter future depends on it.

I’m hoping our youth do realize that this no longer is a child’s play and this serves as motivation to put our households in order and work on these initiatives to the point of even becoming too big to fail. I hope you realize that history has its eyes on you.

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While we’re on the topic of youth and leadership, I’d like to bring to your attention this event organized by MTY on the 4th and 5th of next month where I’ll be volunteering. The theme this year is; Learn Today Lead Tomorrow. Which in my opinion is fitting for the times since our youth are stepping up to leadership. To get your tickets, or for someone, you really think would benefit from such a program. You could contact me directly on 0790487998. Poster coming up. And, I hope to see you guys there.

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Community work, Leadership, Mombasa, Youth


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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