2019 TIME 100 honoree Fred Swaniker urged everyone in the room to keep doing “hard things” in a powerful toast at the 2019 TIME 100 Gala in New York on Tuesday evening.
“All of us who are privileged enough to be healthy, to be alive, to have education and to have influence, our role is not to do small things and to solve small problems,” Swaniker said. “The only way that we can justify privilege is by solving the world’s biggest problems, and by doing hard things.”
Swaniker seeks to educate and inspire the youth of Africa, who make up 60% of the continent’s population, with three educational initiatives. He said Tuesday that the message of doing hard things is a constant within all of them.
Swaniker is a co-founder and trustee of the African Leadership Academy, an organization which works “to develop the future Nelson Mandela, the next Wangari Maathai and the African Bill Gates,” the organization’s website states. Swaniker’s other programs, African Leadership Network and African Leadership University, are working toward developing 3 million ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in the coming decades.
An MBA recipient from Stanford Business School, Swaniker has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
“Fred has the passion, understanding and ability to take this great continent forward, through its young people,” Mo Ibrahim, the founder of Celtel International and chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, wrote of Swaniker for the TIME 100 issue. “I am filled with hope knowing that he is there to help the next generation of African leaders to blossom.”
Read the full text of Swaniker’s tribute at the Gala below:
The first thing you notice when you walk onto any of my campuses at the African Leadership University, there’s a big sign that says, ‘Do hard things.’ This is a reminder to all of the young leaders that we’re developing at this academy that all of us who are privileged enough to be healthy, to be alive, to have education and to have influence, our role is not to do small things and to solve small problems. The only way that we can justify privilege is by solving the world’s biggest problems, and by doing hard things.
Many of us in this room have chosen to do hard things. I see the Rock over there. It must be very hard to look as good as you do every day and still be working on the movie that’s probably going to have the record for having the most sequels in the world. I’m looking forward to watching the Fast and the Furious number 25. On the list I see Michelle Obama. It must have been really hard for her to run the country for eight years, when someone else was in the seat.
In my case, I’ve chosen to do a very hard thing: to develop three million leaders in Africa, who will bring leadership capacity to 40% of the world’s population by the end of this century. That’s a very hard, impossible thing. But all of you have chosen to do very hard things to be on this list. But of all the hard things we have to do, the most difficult thing is to keep going, individually, when everyone else is telling you, ‘This isn’t going to work,’ and no one believes in you and it looks like it’s all going to work and to keep faith and to have the perseverance and the passion to keep going. If you are like me, you didn’t get here alone. Every single person has had someone who has been on this hard road with them. They are the people who love you even if no one else loves you. They care about you when no one else cares about you. They’re there to be a shoulder to cry on. I know every single person on the list has had that person who helped them get here. If you don’t have that person, I recommend you get a dog, because they’re very good at giving you unconditional love.
In my case, the woman who has helped me on this journey is my wife, Amanda. Amanda, please stand up. She literally travels on this journey with me, everywhere I go around the world. She’s the soft cushion to the hard knocks that I have to go through. She nurtures me, and allows me to do the hard things that I have to do. Today, I want to raise a glass to those who journey with us as we do hard things.