“I Use ‘Play’ to Churn Out a New Crop of Creative, African Leaders”

Who am I?

“My name is Karima Grant. I am 43 years-old, I live in Dakar, Senegal, and I believe African children are the solution to the development problems in Africa. AKarima Grant s a former educator and children’s book author, I saw the gap between education and creativity, critical thinking and development. I noticed that we weren’t teaching African children what they needed to become leaders and builders and innovators.

So I created ImagiNation Afrika, the first children’s museum and innovation hub for children’s learning in sub-Saharan Africa. We help African children experience math, natural science and literacy via creative play.

My vision: To create a new generation of African leaders who think outside the box about what is possible for Africa and the world….”

What exactly does ImagiNation Afrika do? 

“ImagiNation Afrika’s goal is two-fold: To foster leadership and encourage kids to apply what they’ve learned about observing stars, creating fractals, or studying local economies, to reshape their communities and their continent. We’re working on the absence of critical thinking in education. We’re helping children and young people re-think their world and their continent.” 

Why does my work matter?

“My work connects children and the communities they live in with powerful understandings of themselves and their futures through play and creative learning. We can help build a new generation of African leaders who are imaginative in their approach to the problems in their communities and who think outside the box about what is possible.”

How do you start doing this?

“It’s hard to believe all this started in 2007 when I was conducting a writing and book-making workshop for children in Fass, a poor community in Dakar. That workshop led to a interactive children’s exhibition with record turnout and that convinced me that ImagiNation Afrika could work.”

What has been most challenging about doing this work?

“‘Making the road by walking.’ There is no roadmap for building organizations like ImagiNation Afrika, or maybe I just took the hard way!  You have to be willing to follow your gut and instinct, forgive your mistakes and listen intently to the communities and people you are working with.”

Have there been any transformative moments (personal/professional) as a result of doing this work?

“Watching children connecting and learning, practicing and playing.  Seeing the opening of our physical hub in December 2015 in Dakar.  That was a big one for me. We had been offering mobile exhibits in various locations before, but now, to have our own home. It’s emotional.”

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Where am I going with my enterprise?

“My goal is to become Africa’s original theory action research think tank on children, learning and play.”

What do I envision for the world?

“I imagine African children changemakers solving the problems of Africa’s development (healthcare systems, infrastructure, economic development) and leading the world.”

What advice do I have for up-and-coming female social innovators?

“1. Believe in yourself.

2. Stay curious. There is always something to learn, and this openness to learning makes us relevant.

3. Connect and network and empower other women (particularly girls and younger women) around you. We are re-making an eco-system.”