In the summer of 2018, ruman School graduate Zedilson Almeida became an Obama Leader. One of 200 Leaders from 44 countries throughout Africa, Almeida is Angola’s sole representative and will participate in a year of high impact problem-solving sessions, workshops, and serve in activities aimed at addressing local and international crises.
Angola 24 Horas describes Almeida as a “social entrepreneur who uses technology as a tool to make African society more conscious and strengthen it through information.” His particular dedication for investing in the decision-making capacities of individuals rather than institutions distinguishes his approach to affecting social change.
Almeida made history as the co-creator of Manifexto (English, Manifesto), a free and independent news aggregator famous for its reliability in the era of “fake news.” Before Manifexto, Portuguese-speaking Angolans both at home and abroad struggled to find trustworthy news sources. “Recently I heard that sometimes Angolans come across a piece of news, and they won’t trust that it’s true until it appears on Manifexto.com,” Almeida told the Obama Foundation this year.
“I believe that providing the population with an easy way of consuming the news they care most about, with an elegant mechanism to share them with their family and friends, to be a way to empower the population through information,” Almeida told Million Rising in 2016. Almeida came to Missouri in 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar to start his MPA at the Truman School. “The experience was amazing and allowed me to develop a new perspective along with new ideals, beliefs, motivations and dreams that I would not have developed had I chosen an MBA,” Almeida told TSPA student Daniel Woodhams. “It was this special relationship between my entrepreneurial persona and the new found love for social issues and public policy that led my actions in this direction.” Following six months as a Legislative Intern in the Missouri House of Representatives, he became an intern for U.S. Senator Roy Blunt in Washington D.C. In this time, he found it difficult to find reliable and accessible news for a Portuguese-speaking audience.
Almeida reflected on how this influenced his approach to public service. “With Manifexto, the population could see both points of view, side by side, read both and make up their minds. We also use other communication channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp) to disseminate the most relevant articles, whether against or pro-government. This positioning allowed us to gain the trust of the public, which nowadays take into consideration articles from any source, as long as it has been ‘verified’ and/or disseminated by Manifexto.”
Almeida explains that there are extremely different policies required for different communities and cultures. “I believe focusing on particular institutions to be highly efficient in the US or any other country, but that would not work in Angola,” he said. “Initially, our strategic reasoning was to create an app that would gather any relevant piece of information (news articles), present to the public and allow them to make educated decisions based on the available information. I believe was important, as there was a great divide in the country when it came to the credibility of what the media presented. This is why I personally believe the most effective strategy was to focus on the general population, in order to empower them to start voicing opinions and consequently, directly influence the government along with its institutions, like a real democracy should be.”
He attributes his ability to think critically about systems to the cultural awareness he developed over the course of his travels. “The way personal relationships function in Portugal is different than in Angola, the U.K., and the U.S., and one has to be able to learn and incorporate the country’s ethos if you want to develop successful personal or professional relationships,” Almeida said. “Deep down it all comes down to acknowledging that each community has a different ethos and fully respecting it. Once you open your mind to the possibility and are willing to experience it without prejudice, you understand the underlying reasoning that constitute a specific ethos. Being surrounded by 199 different Obama Leaders can be excruciatingly difficult if you do not have a certain cultural awareness. In the end of such a convening you might end up making 10 or 50 real connections, depending on you cultural awareness.”
Almeida recounts convening this summer with Obama Leaders in Johannesburg. “We had 5 days packed with activities, panels and workshops that allowed us to gain hands-on experience in areas crucial to the development of our projects, as well as receiving invaluable inputs from renowned individuals, such as President Obama himself, the late Kofi Annan, Mo Ibrahim, and many others!” He left inspired by the themes, ideas, and strategies of the convention. “I am now trying to replicate a project of a fellow Obama leader from Nigeria, which basically consists of recycling plastic waste and transforming it into pavement. Angola, as well as Nigeria and several other African countries suffer from poor road infrastructure and ineffective waste management systems. I believe this project to be an innovative way to (1) educate the general population about recycling methods and climate change, while allowing them to get involved with the ‘movement’ in Angola; (2) provide a low cost alternative to build pavements, reducing government expenditure; and, (3) create a sustainable recycling ecosystem with a direct impact on plastic waste collection through the country.”
Zedilson Almeida wishes TSPA students and graduates much luck in their careers and acknowledges how paths can change. “When I left the Truman School, I was focused on getting involved with the Angolan government or with the United Nations. The first one turned out to be much more complicated in what I anticipated due to the economic crisis that hit Angola in 2014, which resulted in the first real recession to the country and forced the public sector to freeze recruitment campaigns… this reality was what forced me to start looking for opportunities in different sectors, more importantly this was what made me start working on Manifexto.”
He offers the following advice, “Difficult times always force individuals to be more creative, opening our eyes to alternatives that were unimaginable before. That said, I would encourage MPA students to remain positive and focus on maintaining on open mind able to identify rising opportunities. Also, try to avoid the negative vibes of the current era…don’t allow them to consume motivation, creativity, and passion for social good, which are vital to enduring this era, increasing resilience, continuously questioning the status quo, and achieving change.”
Zedilson Almeida, MPA '14