Ramatoulaye Adama Diallo: Building authentic relationships with effort and intentionality

Relationships greatly influence and shape our lives, but many people still struggle to build truly authentic ones. To unpack this further, we spoke to Room member and CEO of Orange Money in Senegal, Ramatoulaye Diallo. As an intrapreneur, entrepreneur and investor, Rama has developed people, teams and businesses across various industries and countries for over 22 years. Read on to discover Rama’s insightful tips for building effective and long-lasting relationships.

That’s a difficult question, but let me try my best to answer that. I have always been a lifelong learner. I was born and raised in Senegal as the youngest of five children and grew up always with a book in my hands. This not only made me introspective but also provided a gateway to discover the world. Having lived in 10 cities in the past 20 years, I identify as a citizen of the world, and more importantly, a daughter of the soil.

Finally, I would define myself as a bridge-builder; an ambassador between cultures and people. I really enjoy bringing people together and trying to create joy and businesses. Even with my role as CEO, I believe we are not just working to build a product and service, but we are also building the relationships within the company. Ultimately, when you leave an organisation, it’s the relationships that remain.

Relationship-building has always been important. By nature, humans are social beings who do not survive by being on their own. Relationships are a fundamental nature of who we are — it’s our core, it’s natural, and it’s basic. But of late, people realise that relationships have become very transactional in many ways. At our very core, we are uncomfortable with this — nobody likes being used, and when it’s happening, you feel it, and you know it.

So as more people struggle with the nature of relationships these days, concepts such as emotional intelligence have also started rising. These are concepts that our grandmothers and mothers taught us as part of the values that you need to take into the world if you are going to make it. In my country’s language Wolof, there is an expression that says “de finite” which literally translates to ‘you are like a human being’. Traditionally and at the foundation of the language, this means that being human goes above and beyond being alive, eating and breathing. It means that there is something more that makes you a person, and that is the ability to be able to know how to be a person with other people. So as this ancient concept highlights, relationship building is something that has long existed in our cultures and ways of interacting.

Personally, I am an introvert which I like to define using Susan Cain’s definition from her book ‘Quiet’ (I would highly recommend this book for all introverts) as a person who gets replenished by retreat and solitude in contrast to an extrovert who gets replenished by being with people.

This has defined the way I built relationships over the years since I am not a social butterfly. I learnt how to craft the right balance between identifying and doing the things that give me energy in the relationships I had. I also chose to focus on quality over quantity. While I do not know everybody, I have built strong relationships with people who do.

In my relationships, I have what I call “a circle of love” which includes family and close friends — some who I’ve known since primary or college. Adding on to this layer, I also have concentric circles which include people from my various adventures in jobs, business and the places visited. As I’ve matured and become clearer about my purpose and my mission — both personal and professional — I have also become clearer about who gets added to my circles. You have to find places of connection between your personal purpose and that of those you interact with to enable you to walk together and support each other.

Firstly, I believe that if you were genuine, purposeful and non-transactional from the beginning, your relationship would not need constant pinging. When you build solid relationships, you can go months without talking, and when you do, it still feels natural. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Therefore, the quality of the relationship you build will impact how you reconnect over the years.

Secondly, it’s also important to be very mindful of the relationships and treat each with as much importance as you would to a business meeting. Instead of leaving it as an afterthought, make time to speak to people and listen to what is really going on in their life to be able to identify how you can support them. Be there for people’s milestone moments and seize these opportunities to deepen your relationships further.

Finally, you should not hesitate to give. When you think about building long-term and purposeful relationships, it is things such as giving that strengthens the relationship. We should compete to be good, to be kind and to give.

Technology has brought a different dimension to the aspect of connecting and relationship-building. Tools such as Zoom have allowed us to connect with people far and wide even in this age of social distancing. But as technology advances, I believe it’s important to take time to make that extra effort to connect with people.

Many years ago, I resolved that I would become more intentional and personal around the New Year. With everyone sending generic messages, I instead spent the first few days of the year genuinely connecting with my friends and family over a phone conversation where I would check-in, pray for them and also iterate my gratitude for their friendship. Even with technology, we can make an extra effort to build meaningful and personal relationships.

Taking into consideration how we give is a crucial way of leaning into The Room. This community has a diverse mix of great individuals. It’s important that everyone comes to the table with the desire to give, build and find various ways of connecting with others. I would personally love to host a women’s retreat for women in The Room to come together, share and learn from each other’s stories and journey’s. Through such events, members can walk away re-energised as they continue pursuing their mission.

Additionally, like any room, the atmosphere in The Room will be shaped by the energy we all bring. We all bring something different, and we should be conscious of what that is. Like a person can walk into a room and uplift people’s spirits, we should all look into ourselves and be cognizant of how we influence the energy and the vibe at The Room.

Rama is the CEO of Orange Money, Sénégal and Director of Mobile Financial Services in the Orange Sonatel cluster across 5 countries. In her stellar 22 year career, Rama has been a driving force in promoting economic growth and entrepreneurship in telecoms, technology and e-commerce in Africa. She has held leadership positions including Managing Director Maison Adalay, an entrepreneurial investment firm, Deputy Director of Finance for Etisalat Nigeria and was the founding Managing Director for Endeavour in South Africa.

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