Africa-Press – Sierra-Leone. As the Sierra Leone Telegraph celebrates ten golden years of publication, we bring you excerpts of an interview, featuring Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas, who is the Proprietor and Editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, conducted by the editor of the ReConnect Africa Magazine.
Q. Abdul Rashid Thomas, you are the proprietor and editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, which is one of the most read Sierra Leone online newspapers in the diaspora. Where were you educated?
I was educated at the St. Edwards Secondary School at Kingtom in Freetown, and the Municipal Secondary School at Kissy Dockyard – also in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I then came to the UK to pursue my undergraduate and post-graduate education in Business Management, and Public Policy, with a Masters Degree in Public Policy Studies.
I also obtained various professional qualifications, including programme and project management, holding the PRINCE2 and Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) qualifications at practitioner levels.
I hold a professional Diploma in Management Training (DipTM) accredited by the Institute of Training and Development; and the Institute of Marketing Professional Certificate.
As an African whose ethos is one of continuous professional development, I have constantly pursued new learning opportunities that will keep me at the top of whatever I do.
Q. What was your first job?
My first job was self-employment – running my own management and enterprise development consultancy business. When I came out of university in Manchester – UK, global economic conditions and the UK employment market were pretty turbulent. It was at the height of an economic recession, but new opportunities were being created for young black people by the Thatcher government, following the 1981 inner city riots.
So, with my knowledge and skills in business and marketing, I established my own business start-up and market research training and consultancy business in Manchester, providing support, advice, training and guidance for unemployed African and Caribbean youths wanting to go into self-employment or starting a community enterprise.
I also provided training and consultancy to one of the UK’s largest national workforce development organisations known as Fielden House Productivity Centre, based in Manchester, where I designed and delivered courses, seminars and workshops in business skills and community enterprise development.
In 1987, I was headhunted by Business In The Community (BITC) – one of the first inner cities initiatives established by His Royal Highness – The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles), after the 1985 inner city riots, to set up the Moss Side and Hulme Community Economic Development Trust, as its Executive Director.
The Moss Side and Hulme Community Economic Development Trust was responsible for transforming and regenerating what was then a terribly rundown and economically deprived geographical district in the city of Manchester.
As head of the Trust, I established a public-private partnership investment fund of £12 million, and created thousands of employment, training and community enterprise opportunities for the community which had an adult unemployment rate of 70%.
This was a challenge that gave me immense job satisfaction, given the level of success achieved, especially in transforming a once environmentally blighted area, into a community that became fit for living, working and leisure, with hundreds of new homes built, dozens of new businesses attracted into the area, and thousands of real job opportunities created for young people in and outside of the community.
Q. When and why did you start the Sierra Leone Telegraph?
On a fulltime basis, I work for the UK NHS, using my programme and project management experience, knowledge and skills to help transform the entire NHS into a digitalised and paperless institution, where patient data and information can be securely shared across the system to improve patient care, safety and health outcomes.
Before this, I worked for both the Leeds University and the Yorkshire Regional Development Agency as Programme Manager – Innovation. I was responsible for helping businesses in the region to improve their global competitiveness through innovation, by establishing knowledge and technology transfer partnerships involving the region’s universities and businesses. Through these partnerships, many businesses were able to develop and take new high-value added products to new markets.
But my passion is the Sierra Leone Telegraph. I established the Sierra Leone Telegraph on Boxing Day, 26 December 2009, after a serious and thorough assessment of how best I can contribute in helping to transform and promote transparency, social and economic justice, civil liberty and democratic freedoms in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone had come out of a long and brutal civil war that took the lives of tens of thousands of people and displacing millions.
For a country that is potentially a paradise with some of the most spectacular beaches and landscapes in the world – and with vast natural resources , it is obscene that the country is labelled as one of the poorest in the world, quite simply due to corruption, poor governance and misplaced priorities by those in power.
Whilst a tiny section of the country’s media were trying hard to do a good job in exposing corruption and informing the people of Sierra Leone of what was going on in the country – despite being constantly harassed and intimidated by those in power, large sections of the media were terribly partisan and survived on handouts from politicians.
So in 2009, I felt it necessary to establish my own online newspaper to bring quality and independent analysis and commentary to readers across the world; and so far we have succeeded – with our average daily readership having grown from 500 in 2009 when we first started to 26,500 in 2019.
Q. What lessons have you learned along the way?
I have learnt that this life we live is not a rehearsal. So whatever you do, do it well and enjoy it. And if it doesn’t make you smile, make a change. I also learnt that to change who you are, you must first change your thinking. This is vital.
When we set goals for ourselves, the organisations that we lead, or the people and teams we manage, what drives us are our values and beliefs. If we believe that mediocrity is not good enough, then striving to achieve excellence comes as second nature.
I also learnt that there is very little you can achieve in life without having people skills. Your ability to get people to do what you want done, at the right quality and time, depends on how well you interact, engage, communicate with and value those you work with as individuals. (Photo: Mr Abdul Rashid Thomas ad wife – Dr Fawzia Thomas and Sierra Leone’s former High Commissioner to the UK – Mr Tamba Lamina in London).
Finally, the world owes us nothing. In the aftermath of the riots in Moss Side in the UK in 1985, I was elected by the community as one of their representatives to work with British government ministers and the local council to find solutions to the myriad of complex economic and social problems facing the community.
I remember being interviewed by the BBC television Panorama programme about the difficulties faced by young black people and the racism we experienced. My message was simple and clear: “The world owes you nothing. To achieve anything in life, you first of all must become an active citizen by empowering yourself through education and personal enterprise.”
Q. Who has been the greatest influence on your life?
My late Aunty Ramatu who brought me up as a young boy in Aberdeen, Freetown in the early sixties. She taught me to take pride in myself and whatever I do. She was an inspiration in my life – always making sure that I read a book every single day. But she also taught me to be self-sufficient, so that I can stand on my own feet.
Q. What is the best advice you have ever received?
To look after number one (yourself) first, before you can help anyone else. Far too often we see young Africans struggling to work and send money home, abandoning their education. While I understand that many are victims of changing political and economic circumstances here in the UK and elsewhere, I do believe that there is much that can be achieved financially for yourself, your family and community by achieving the highest level you can attain in education.
Education makes you stronger and gives you the tool to earn money. (Photo below: Abdul Rashid Thomas speaking to the 2018 Presidential candidate of the NGC Party – Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella).
Q. What top tips for career success can you offer?
Education, education, perseverance, and personal enterprise. Get a good education and start your own business. Whatever you do, try and be the best at it.
We – the team at the Sierra Leone Telegraph, want to thank our numerous readers who have stuck by us throughout the last ten years and continue to do so. We look forward to many more years serving and bringing the news to you.