Diaspora Interview: Mariama Keita

Read about Mariama Keita, Communication & Partnership Advisor at USAID Africa Bureau featured in Memunatu Magazine’s Journalism Issue:

 

MM: What do you do?

When I get asked this question, it is so hard to answer because my job has so many layers. If I had to describe what I do in one sentence, I would say the following, “As a Communicator, my profession allows me to travel throughout sub-Saharan Africa to capture the voices of ordinary citizens, engage public figures by organizing high-level initiatives and make the invisible visible for global institutions by communicating results through storytelling.

Currently, I extensively work in Ebola Recovery countries with a focus on Guinea and Sierra Leone, which requires visits to the field (ex: villages, health facilities, clinics in rural communities). The most rewarding part for me is interacting with ordinary citizens who survive with the bare minimum and documenting  how small contributions can assist in helping individuals empower themselves.

 

MM: What inspired you to start doing this?

Truly a global citizen driven by passion, purpose and ambition; I am the bi-product of an American born, Black-Puerto Rican mother and a father from the West African nation Conakry, Guinea. I grew up in a multi-cultural/ religious household in Manhattan, New York City. Having a talent for writing and interest in public affairs has shaped my career as a communicator […]My ability to connect with people globally and innate passion to contribute to Africa’s sustainable development is what inspires me each and every day.

From high school to university to earning a Master’s Degree, I was always motivated to explore the world and took advantage of every study abroad/field research opportunity in order to learn beyond a classroom. This led to defining my dream job, which was to become a broadcast journalist that connected the world to Africa due to the lack of interest, objective coverage and newsworthy content on Africa’s sustainable development in US markets. My vision was to fill that gap and [inform] American audiences.

Over the course of 7-10 years, I pursued my career interests in a very unorthodox way. I traveled around the world on a modeling contract. I also worked for fashion and entertainment brands in Los Angeles and South Africa. Ultimately, it was the combination of these experiences and living in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007 that inspired my interest to work for leading multinational organizations. I returned to the U.S., earned my Master of Science degree from New York University, secured unpaid competitive internships, worked part-time in restaurants for extra cash and volunteered for organizations like the United Nations, Clinton Global Initiative, Women Deliver. This translated to securing a job and working for leading multinational institutions such as UNICEF, UNAIDS, and USAID, with a focus on leading diverse sub-Saharan African portfolios. Through the triumphs and failures of all these experiences, what always remained a priority was to earn a quality education so that I would always be in the driver’s seat of having choices in a life filled with passion.

 

MM: What advice would you give to young girls interested in pursuing your path?

The communications field is vast and broad which provides an array of global opportunities in radio, television, public affairs, social media, etc. As a result, identifying what aspects of communications interest you is key to determine the path you want to follow.

This is general advice applicable to succeed in any career path:

  • The best things in our lives can be shaped by setbacks, but when you work hard, the sky is the limit.
  • Take advantage of securing professional internships. If this is not an option, find a mentor that is knowledgeable about the career path you want to follow and is willing to support your process.
  • In any field of Communications, strong writing, public speaking and presentation skills are important. When in school, participate in leadership activities and writing projects that assist you in developing and strengthening these skills.
  • Create your own opportunities to lead.
  • Build your confidence to be able to remain motivated by rejection.
  • In the early stages of your career path, you may secure jobs that may lead you in a different direction, but remember it is not how you start, it is how you finish.

 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.