Each year since 2016, Premise partners with the Mandela Washington Fellowship to host and provide young, standout leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa (aka Fellows) six weeks of hands-on experience working at its HQ in San Francisco.
The Fellows, who are between the ages of 25 and 35, have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive impact in their organizations, institutions, communities and countries. In 2018, Fellows represented a diverse group of leaders from 48 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa.
We sat down and spoke with Hassan Yusuf Jallow, who’s 26 and from The Gambia, for an in-depth look at his extraordinary background, accomplishments and experiences as a Fellow of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program.
Tell me about yourself, your background and work back home.
I grew up in a rural area and got my first email address in 2006. I crossed the river to create it and had no clue what I was doing. I learned how to code in high school and built my high school’s first website. In my second year of university, I built a software for the chamber of commerce that issues certificates of origin for all goods exported from my country. I was really honored to be given that privilege to build a state-level software while I was still in school and I remember thinking, “you know, I can build a lot of these things and solve a lot of these problems.” That’s when I started focusing full-time on my company.
I currently run a software engineering company in my country, The Gambia, that specializes in developing cross-platform software solutions for business process automation and consumer products. We have shipped over 20 software solutions for government agencies and multinational corporations. We also launched an app, DEKA (available on iOS), that helps people purchase, sell and rent houses. It’s kind of like Zillow, and has definitely solved some of the housing difficulties in my country.
What is the Mandela Washington Fellowship program and their enrollment process?
Every year, they take hundreds of young African leaders between the ages of 25 and 35 from across the African continent to come to the U.S. for a six-week training session at universities across the country. It’s a very competitive process. You start with an application, semi-finalists are shortlisted and interviewed, and finalists are picked and interviewed at various U.S. Embassies and Consulates. For my country (The Gambia), only 7 of the 4,000 applicants were accepted.
Then, out of the 700 Fellows accepted this year, 100 were selected to participate in the Professional and Development Experience (PDE) program where you actually work for six weeks at an organization relating to what you do back home, your ambitions and goals.
Where did you go and what did you do for the first six weeks of the program?
Along with 24 other Fellows from 19 different African countries, we spent our first six weeks at Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, GA). We had a designed curriculum with business courses (supply chain management, marketing, analytics), corporate visits (IBM, CNN, UPS), and hands-on corporate trainings (IBM) on things like blockchain / cybersecurity. They also brought in speakers from companies like Google and IBM.
For the next six weeks, what was your role and how was your experience at Premise?
I started my first company right after high school, so this was the first time I’ve ever worked for anyone. This part of the program is why I applied. I wanted to go to an actual tech company that’s doing it right and learn from their processes and practices.
At Premise, I worked with much larger teams than I’m used to, and everyone was very helpful and highly efficient. I loved working here. Everyone seemed to be very happy working together, and I haven’t heard of any major disagreements or arguments, which is very unusual. I spent my time working with the engineering / front-end team on the platform, and during my time here, I added a “binary select” functionality that allows us to ask yes / no questions to our users.
Gimme something fun. What did you do outside of work?
It was great! We went to Golden Gate Park. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and to the Big Basin in Redwood City. It was so beautiful. There were so many food options in San Francisco; I had Thai and Indian food, and a burrito for the first time. I totally loved it. If I could live anywhere in the U.S., it would be here.
What’s your biggest takeaway from the last 12 weeks?
My biggest takeaway comes from a professor who’s had a huge impact on me. He said, “To lead people, you have to love them. If you don’t know that they know that you love them, then you don’t. You might be tough and intense, but if you love and care them, they’ll notice.” I’ll never forget that. My team has sacrificed a lot to work with me on my vision. I want every one of them to feel valued and know that they’re making the right choice.
What’s next for you? What are you most excited about for when you return home?
For my company, I want to build a culture where people are happy doing what they’re doing, and that they’re doing it for themselves and not me. Quality work is 100% voluntary. You can put milestones and deadlines, which will be met, but for this to be the best it can ever be, you can never force it.
I also have a couple of projects I want to work on when I get back home that focus on improving the technology aspects of e-commerce, transportation and housing logistics. There isn’t much in my country right now, and I wish there was more competition to tackle other problems so that we could create a balanced ecosystem.