George Weah: Sports, business and African politics
WRITTEN BY THOMAS STONE
In Africa, it seems - more so than other places - fusions between sports and politics have been known to produce surprising and positive effects.
There is the canonical example of the Springboks in South Africa: the rugby team that helped to unify black and white populations in South Africa during the end of apartheid.
In 2011, as Outtara takes power in Ivory Coast, and that region begins to re-stabilise, we recall to mind the 2006 ceasefire between North and South. When Les Éléphants qualified for the World Cup, hostilities stopped, and Gbagbo declared an end to the civil war.
This spring, just a few hundred kilometers to the west of Abidijan, in Monrovia, a former FIFA World Player of the Year is running for the Vice Presidency of Liberia. He’s traded his football boots in for a pair of Mephisto Black Ambassadors. Originally entering the race with the intention to run for the Presidency of Liberia under the banner of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), Weah will now be running as Winston Tubman’s running mate.
The General Election to be held in Liberia this year is a far cry from the election that took place there over a decade ago. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the current President, can be credited with changing the tone of the political debate, but she also is burdened with compromises that she’s had to make along the way.
In the upcoming election, Weah and Tubman, of the CDC, will face Sirleaf (the Unity Party), Brumskine (the Liberty Party), and a host of other contenders - including the infamous Prince Johnson, a former warlord, who will be running under the banner of the Destiny Party.
Leaving all questions of Weah’s political legitimacy aside, a quick examination of his track record as a philanthropist is an inspiration.
Weah emerged from Clara Town, a slum in Monrovia, to become the ‘African Football Player of the Century’, an honour he was awarded on top of multiple awards including the FIFA World Footballer award, Ballon d’Or (European Player of the Year) and African Player of the Year in 1995 – the third time he won the accolade after receiving the accolade previously in 1989 and 1994.
Instead of withdrawing to Europe or the United States to live a comfortable life of luxury after raking in millions as a football player, Weah remained committed to his country of origin, supporting philanthropic and educational initiatives in Liberia throughout the Civil War and returning to run for President in 2005.
Unlike so many of his successful peers of his generation, Weah’s enduring commitment to his country has created real change and opportunity for many of the underprivileged youth in Liberia. In particular, his Junior Professionals Football Club encourages players to stay in school and several of his other ventures have donated their proceeds to children’s programmes in Liberia.
Both as a role-model and as a philanthropist, Weah has innovated real roads forward for many young Liberians. Whether or not these efforts will bear fruit as political capital remains to be seen.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.