I invite young people to fail, a lot

Sobel standing at a podium smiling.

Sobel Ngom is the Founder and Executive Director of Social Change Factory, an NGO redefining civic participation, leadership and entrepreneurship. It includes the highly successful reality-TV show, Voix des Jeunes, which has been scaled to seven West African countries, reaching 15 million.


  1. What is your number one passion? 

Seeing people happy. And I believe this can be done by helping people access opportunities that can make them happy. The first time I learned this was when I was 18. In my village, it was common for students to fail the high school graduating exam. This was my year to take it and I wondered “Why are we expected to pass this exam if we didn’t get the same opportunities as students in other schools to pass it?” I decided to organize a training to help students who were taking the exam. All 20 of us were under one roof with one toilet for 20 days. It was hard and amazing at the same time- 48% of the group we trained passed the exam. This gave my life another perspective. I was able to transform the destinies of people when I was young. It shaped my future. 


2. What inspired you to create Social Change Factory? 

The legend of the hummingbird. I believe that even a small bird can make a difference and inspire.

A group of young people standing together side by side in front of a colorful bucket.

3. What were some of the challenges that you faced creating Social Change Factory? 

A lot of them! Finding money and people; sustaining money and people.

Before Social Change Factory I had never been a manager before, so it's been a journey with a lot of sacrifice, mistakes and people getting mad at me. This is how leadership is, but I am an optimistic person. I never failed in my life because every time I fail it is a lesson. I invite young people to fail, a lot. I give participants in Social Change Factory money knowing that they will fail. The only issue is that when you fail, it is up to you to stand up. I have been in the period of failure in the last two months, but I know this is the best time to grow and challenge myself.

I never failed in my life because every time I fail it is a lesson. I invite young people to fail, a lot. - Sobel Ngom

4. What have you learned as you’ve been working on Social Change Factory that you wish you had known when you started? 

Programs alone do not bring a sustainable change. We need to make sure that we transform systems while we are implementing programs.  I learned that systems are necessary to tackle issues at a real scale, which means collaboration, and collaboration means sacrifice for a common goal. This is why I am strongly engaged in changing systems.

Human capital is very important. When I say human capital, I don’t just mean people who have skills and are good at what they do. I mean people who also have social intelligence or human skills that can help them to achieve a real change, not just following lines and policies.

A group of young people sitting down and standing up near garbage bags.

5. What do you believe has contributed to your success? 

My sisters support. Not my blood relatives, but a large group of friends from childhood that have played a big role in my professional and personal life. One of my sisters encouraged me to apply to the Young African Leaders Initiative launched by President Obama, but at the time I didn’t speak English. She told me to “Just do it” and helped me apply. I was selected and became the youngest participant. 

Also the role of my parents who have always been engaged in public affairs and human rights. They have been a good influence. I didn’t care about anything before age 18.

It is the love for people who love me for free, pushing me without any duty that has led me to success. I am very thankful to have all those people around me.

Your leadership raises when you are among a group. - Sobel Ngom

6. What is your advice for young people who want to see a better world, who want to do something about it, but who are not sure how to start? 

Challenge the world you live in.  When you don’t have anything to start with, find people around you. Collaborate, do things together. Your leadership raises when you are among a group. At least try. If you don’t find them, don’t stop. Forget the concept of failing. The more you fight, the more you fail and the more beautiful the victory. Have faith...you can achieve anything. 

Have some people with a little more experience than you that can help you take the steps in life, by advice, support or connections. It can make a huge difference. 

Try to be nice. The most basic things can make the biggest difference. There is a beautiful poem “IF” that exemplifies this. My mother shared that to me when I was 20.

A group of young people standing together outside.

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