Paulette Mpouma is a business founder and creator of the African Memory Game. Now, she is taking a further step to create a game on African leadership. She is working to help the young generation in Africa come together and to think about the challenges and opportunities of leadership.
What is the African Memory Game?
The African Memory Game is a game to teach more about Africa. It is like a list of knowledge on the continent combining history, geography, and culture. As the player goes around the game, the participants learn facts about the Africa. So you learn as you are having fun.
What inspired you to make the game?
It was a tool that I used just for my children first and then I wanted to bring it to everybody. So far we have sold 6,500 copies! The game is sold at the Smithsonian and at the World Bank, where we have had a lot of success.
In the beginning, what drew you to take an EWI entrepreneurship class?
I did the EWI Entrepreneurship Training in Success program in 2011. Back then, I really needed a group where I can grow. I already had my game out, the African Memory Game, and it was already selling at the Smithsonian. But I just needed something that can act as a place for incubation, being around people that can support me. EWI was like having a place to find legal service, counseling for business, learn how to become a better entrepreneur, learn marketing strategy at the same time. All of these were provided by EWI. Because I was a Cameroonian just coming and trying to find a way to understand the market, I felt like I didn’t know anything, for example about invoices, how to sell up, or how to do the marketing. So EWI was a perfect place for me.
What did you gain from the program?
When I started with EWI, the network that was built around us helped us sell our products to a higher level. We can go everywhere and people will recognize us first as “EWI” and then with our own name. That was very important.
“I learned that EWI is like a family, when you join, it is forever.”
One episode I remember is when I was doing a show in LA. A lady called on my phone – she got my number through Marga, the founder of EWI. The lady asked, “Where are you? I want to do an interview.” I said “but I am in LA.” She said “When are you coming back?” I answered “tomorrow, but I have five hours of flight.” Immediately after I come back the lady interviewed me for about two hours. I was really tired. However I learned after that the lady was from NPR, so the interview went on the radio. The next day I received like hundreds of orders and the game was sold out. That is the EWI effect. You never know who you may meet. It takes one minute to connect you. And everywhere the EWI staff and supporters go, they go with your product, and they go with who you are and with your story.
What is going on right now?
I am working on the new game with Minister Olubanke King-Akerele that is based off of her book on African Leadership. One day I met Ms. Olubanke King who is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Commerce of Liberia. She wrote a book about Africa image and leadership. The book is about different young people, entrepreneurs, even social entrepreneurs all over Africa telling the story and challenging their having of meeting the need of this generation. When she looked at my game, she asked me if I can do a game on how to create peace in Africa. When I read her book, I said that was a great idea. Back and forth, we are working to create a great new game.
Can you tell us more?
Because the book was already with all of the information about this young talented people of Africa, we actually had the content. But you have to create, transform what they did into a process of a game. We decided to create a game of debates. We made different modules, like for health challenges we use a problem we have these days like the Ebola crisis. For other sets of problems like governance we might cover the problem of corruption, the challenge of supporting entrepreneurship, and issues with creating successful businesses. We might discuss the problems of the next leader, government, and president.
You base everything under trajectories of young people in Africa. We create a debate where everyone can find, everyone can look for the answers for the problems that we are meeting now. We want people to think about what will happen if a crisis happens again, and how do we handle it. The new game is coming out in January. So I know a lot of Africans will benefit from that game also.
How do you use the game to explore deeper themes in leadership?
There was one person from Nigeria, who found out that most of the people in Liberia was traumatized by the problem of war. They couldn’t trust the country and couldn’t come back and give back to the country because they always have that trouble of surviving during war. How do you get back the trust? So the debate is now how do we solve that problem.
Another problem was the problem of refugees. For example, there are people who are removed from Rwanda, and brought to Congo and now are in a camp. But where do they go really, if they have spent like five or ten years in that country? Where do they belong? Some people say that you are from Rwanda and some people will say that you are from, so that problem was an actual problem for the people living in the camp for long time. All of these problems are kind of in the game and it allows every player to bring its thoughts to bring something to think about because everyone can be in war, everyone can be in camp, and we have to find a solution for that.
The game was field tested in Africa, and the student of the University of Cocody played the game. They asked if the game will be included in one of the class they had about leadership. So actually there is an agreement that is going on to add the game for class because there will be a debate that will help people solve many problems.
Why do you think this game is important?
The game is so important for me because it bring in one sit most of the challenge that we have as a youth of Africa. As I grew up in Cameroon, I found that the problem like succession planning is rising, which makes the next generation very important. It is almost like necessity. The game is answering questions, open the debate on youth. How they can bring the voice to the platform. How they can solve the problem and those problem you can find in any country. We want more democracy. We want more of own idea in the new process, so having big problem like Ebola crises or having problem of self-governance or having any other problem that can change our future matter for us, youth. That is why I believe this game is important.
Connect with Paulette
You can find out more about the Africa Memory Game and Paulette’s other products on her website:
Paulette Mpouma will introduce her new Africa Memory Game at the 2015 MMMF International Arts and Crafts Fair:
Learn more in this interview with WAMU:
Board Game Teaches African Heritage, Interview with WAMU by Emily Friedman