YPO member Ronnie Kwesi Coleman believes that where you are born should not determine your destiny. The CEO of Meaningful Gigs, a platform connecting creative talent in Africa with global companies needing short- and long-term design and other creative support, emigrated to the United States from Ghana to chase his dreams.

“When I grew up in Ghana, I couldn’t get a job that would make even USD3,000 a year. And the only option for people like me was to leave. There was no remote work,” he explains.

Coleman, only 19 when he left home, quickly dove into the world of startups in the United States. After a few gigs, he became a founding employee of StayNTouch, a hotel property management software company that was acquired in 2017. It was then that Coleman paused to find a way to bridge his love of entrepreneurship with his desire to support others back home, so they didn’t have to leave Africa to provide for their families or pursue their dreams. 

Finding meaning 

For personal and business reasons, he landed on Meaningful Gigs. He says he felt strongly that creativity was what made a difference in his life.

He explains, “When I was a kid, I watched one movie over and over – Eddie Murphy’s ‘Coming to America.’ It was the first time I’d ever seen a Black man, especially an African man, portrayed in a movie as the rich, eloquent hero – not as a slave or a poor person. That inspired me to want to do more than what I had access to in my little Ghanaian world. I’d always believed that creativity made somebody with less feel like they can do more.” 

Africa is also a ripe market for talent. Coleman points out that by 2035, every year more young Africans will enter the workforce than in the rest of the world combined. It’s the youngest continent, and by 2050, one in four people on the planet will call Africa home.

“It is mind-blowing,” Coleman says, acknowledging the business opportunity. In his work at various startups, Coleman says, “We would hire people from India and Eastern Europe. But nobody was hiring from Africa. I knew hundreds of millions of people were super educated, super skilled, had access to the internet and could work for companies.”

Every time people try to put you in a box, ignore them. Follow your heart and do the things you care about. That will serve you better than trying to fit into someone’s idea of who you should be. ”
— Ronnie Kwesi Coleman, CEO of Meaningful Gigs share twitter

He knew he had found an untapped market and set to introduce American and global companies to the talent in Africa, building a bridge of creativity using technology. He and his two co-founders, Stephanie Nachemja-Bunton (also his wife) and Max Farago, launched Meaningful Gigs in 2019 with designers they vetted in a few African countries and small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. 

Embrace the unexpected

“Covid was a huge accelerant to our business,” Coleman acknowledges. He explains the company was initially working with startups used to hiring remotely. “The Amazons, Googles and Johnson & Johnson’s had invested a lot in their campuses, so they weren’t using remote talent.” 

The pandemic hit just as Meaningful Gigs was getting off the ground. “These bigger companies realized their productivity stayed the same and their costs were lower with remote work.”  

Coleman credits the internet for making Meaningful Gigs possible. But to achieve his goal of providing 100,000 skilled jobs for Africans by 2028, he says “something else needs to shake that Etch-a-Sketch.” That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in.

“People are scared that AI will take jobs, but AI is going to give a kid in Lagos the same technology, the same opportunity as a Steven Spielberg,” he explains, with excitement.

Like any new tool, fear will diminish once people realize the good it can do. “There’s always fear when something is new,” he explains. “From farming to industrialization to the electric light bulb, it is always a threat until the people who used it properly actually did better than the people who rejected it.”

Coleman and his team are using AI to build tools for their creatives and their customers to make them more productive. “Even if you’re a kid in Nigeria who never went to design school, by using the right AI tools, you could be a hundred times more productive than somebody who went to some top design school,” he says. 

Dream big and don’t let others define you

Coleman’s goal is broader than creating 100,000 skilled jobs for people in Africa. 

“We want to affect a billion people on the planet and impact their lives whether it’s through creativity or beyond,” he says. “Africa is just the first step. There are kids in South America, Southeast Asia, and people who are super talented and just need a shot. That’s our next long-term frontier.”

Coleman doesn’t settle. His drive can be attributed to his family and his upbringing. His first language is Russian, having been born in Ukraine to a Ukrainian and Jewish mother and a Ghanaian father. They lived in London for a few years before settling in Ghana when Coleman was 10. 

We want to build something big, that has scale, that can impact lives for hundreds of years, not just the short-term. ”
— YPO member Ronnie Kwesi Coleman share twitter

“People try to put others in a box too much,” he says. “In Ukraine, I was the Black guy. In London, they considered me biracial. Then in Ghana, I was considered white. Back in America, I’m Black. My advice to anyone is every time people try to put you in a box, ignore them. Follow your heart and do the things you care about. That will serve you better than trying to fit into someone’s idea of who you should be.”

Coleman uses his life experience to help others thrive and dream. 

“It’s not enough to just build a business that does good. We’re not a nonprofit,” he adds. “We want to build something big, that has scale, that can impact lives for hundreds of years, not just the short-term.”