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Turning dissatisfaction into action: How Amujae Leader Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr has made a difference in Freetown, Sierra Leone

“Sometimes, you have a negative feeling about things. You’re not happy about the way things are going. You feel frustrated and dissatisfied, and so often, we choose to live with it,” begins Amujae Leader Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, OBE in her recently released Ted Talk about her route to becoming Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

In the speech, delivered in Palm Springs in December 2019, Yvonne talks about how rather than ignoring it, she has used the feeling to drive action and make things better. 

In January 1999, Yvonne was working abroad when she began to see reports of the invasion of her city back home. Conversations with fundraisers left her feeling that the interventions being proposed weren’t going to have the necessary impact. So, with a group of friends and family she took matters into her own hands and started the Sierra Leone War Trust for Children, a charity delivering help and support to single mothers and vulnerable children in the wake of the invasion, which continues to support children today.

The feeling of dissatisfaction returned in 2014 when the first cases of Ebola were being recorded in Sierra Leone. Fast forward six months, and her level of frustration had grown to the extent that Yvonne knew she couldn’t continue to watch from outside. Returning to Freetown, the epicenter of the outbreak, she developed the Western Area Surge Plan. Recognizing the need for conversations to take place “under the mango tree,” she created a space for leaders to talk with, not at, communities. As a result of the plan, cases fell dramatically and Yvonne was appointed Director of Planning for the National Ebola Response Center (NERC). She refers to this time as, “the most challenging yet rewarding period of my life.”

The sense of dissatisfaction that can drive action doesn’t necessarily have to relate to a single event, and the path to success may not be obvious: The steps to address that deep sense of anger and frustration I felt didn’t unfold magically or clearly. That’s not how the power of dissatisfaction works. It works when you know that things can be done better, and it works when you decide to take the risks to bring about that change.” 

And so in 2017, Yvonne used her frustration with the environmental and economic situation in her city as a catalyst for change again, and successfully ran for the position of  Mayor of Freetown. Since coming into office, she has devoted her time, energy and action to addressing the very issues that previously fuelled her dissatisfaction.

Enjoy Yvonne’s full Ted Talk here.

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