Now the winner of a number of prizes for entrepreneurial excellence, Malamine Koné, first arrived in France from Mali at the age of 10 unable to read or write, and without speaking a word of French. He attended school there for the first time, and went on to graduate with a degree in law. At the same time, he developed a love of boxing, and became double champion in the French middleweight amateurs. After a serious road accident in 1995 shattered his sporting dreams, he changed courses and created his own brand of sports clothes, “Airness”, which has become, in the space of 10 years, the most popular brand in France.
We caught up with him at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum…
Why do you think that it is important to reach out to young people and get them more involved in what we are doing?
First of all, I would like to congratulate Ms Irina Bokova and all of the team for the fabulous initiative that is the UNESCO Youth Forum. I think it is an excellent idea to allow the world’s youth to get their voices heard by putting forward their recommendations to representatives of the 195 UNESCO Member States – and an idea which makes sense, as young people are the world’s future.
Moreover, I think that no one is better placed than young people themselves to speak about the problems, ambitions and dreams of today’s youth. As such, it is essential to listen to them, and to include them in all debates and all decisions that concern them in any way.
You have had to overcome many obstacles to get where you are now, from arriving in France at the age of 10 without having received a formal education, and later, suffering a serious road accident.
What is it that has sustained you in pursuing your dreams? And what advice would you have for young people who are facing their own challenges?
Indeed, since my earliest years, my life has been synonymous with fighting, in a real sense as well as figuratively. What always gave me the strength, and still does today, to keep trying and to pursue my dreams are the values instilled by my parents, combined with the values of sport, such as the will to keep persevering, to keep struggling, and to surpass yourself. Furthermore, I’m an optimist and I don’t accept any sort of inevitability. I never think that I cannot do as well as anyone else…I simply refuse to jump to conclusions before I have tried something, regardless of the obstacles that rise up ahead.
Concerning my message for youth, as I said whilst speaking at the UNESCO Youth Forum, I would like young people to know that success has no age, no origins, and no colour. I take advantage of every meeting with young people to remind them that they must believe in themselves, in their skills and their ideas, and above all, give themselves the chance to pursue their ambitions.
Today’s youth must not dream of success; it should get up and fight to make these dreams come true. If there is one thing of which I am convinced, it is that everything depends on one word: work. It is my own personal experience that leads me to say this. I have worked extremely hard myself, as when you do not have the technical or financial means to realize your dreams, it is your hard work and your perseverance that makes the difference. This is why I chose a panther as my logo, to symbolise this combat, as we live in a society where life is a struggle every day, where you have to fight tirelessly to win your place.
You have always been highly involved in helping African youth. What is the best way in which we can assist the young people of Africa today?
Several years ago I committed myself to struggle hand in hand alongside this new youth, this new African civil society which has decided to create a new Africa. A dynamic, competitive and ambitious Africa.
As regards the best way in which to assist these young people, I think this must be the creation of employment and support for entrepreneurship. This is, in any case, how I have supported young people with projects for several years, especially through donations, giving my advice and my personal accompaniment.
What role can sport play in the lives of young people who are looking for a way out of poverty and misery?
I would say that sport is an extremely effective instrument for social inclusion, constituting a major step in the fight against poverty.
Sport is indisputably a vital tool for integration because it naturally brings with it the values of respect, tolerance and endurance. It also has the power to unite people and cultures, to shatter social class and racial barriers and to overcome discrimination and prejudice.
Sport can and should be used more by young people as a motor of integration and a means to fight against all forms of social exclusion.