Margaret Badjan left The Gambia in 1997 for the US where she pursued further education. Starting to build a career from scratch in a distant land was not easy, but Margaret managed to weather the storm. Today, besides working in one of the world’s most respectable brands, JP Morgan, she also runs a consulting firm that focuses on human development. She trains people, ranging from start-ups to business executives.
How was it like living in the US, leaving your parents behind, as a young woman?
As a girl who was born and raised in a family that is very protective, I had never been out alone. I was born and raised in The Gambia. I didn’t even understand how to make decisions without my mother and father being involved. So, it was a culture shock. I had to learn a lot of things and I had to learn them quickly. One thing I had to learn quickly was to mature, to be able to make decisions on my own, to trust my judgment, to trust my instincts but most of all one thing I had to learn was to remember my culture and where I came from and what shapes me.
I had to always remember the words of my parents; actually, it resonated with me. You are a woman, respect yourself, remember your family, remember where you came from and those things keep ringing in my head. So, for a moment, it was a moment of mixed emotions.
So, you had instances when you were tempted to go astray?
Correct! Like every young lady, I am not innocent. I am regular; I am just like any other girl that you see. This was the first time I have been away from family. The world was before me and I could make my own decisions. But the values that were ingrained in me from childhood, the family values, the culture that I am from, the respect that I have for my parents and my family, the position I think I have in my family and the fact that even my older siblings respect me, those were things that held me back.
Every time I thought of doing things that were out of the ordinary, I always remember the impact of loved ones, people that love and care about me. So, those were my guiding principles.
At some point you had to work in a restaurant to sustain yourself. That probably illustrates the struggle you went through to earn a good education?
Nothing was delivered to me on a silver plate. I’m from a family that is like any average family in The Gambia, where we eat meals our parent provide. That lifestyle taught me appreciation, taught me to value what I have because every time, every step I take, even today, I look back at what I have left behind me and look back at the past with a spirit of gratefulness. So, yes, I did not leave a family behind me that was able to pay for everything for me. They were not able to send me money. I had to make a living and I had to make a living decently and respectfully. So, while I was in college, I did work as a waiter, and I also worked in a bakery, baking deserts, earning very low income and depending mostly on tips. But with the culture and the way I’m raised, for some reason, something about me stood out. And in the midst of all that, I supported my family. I never forgot home.
Tell us about your work experience?
From the restaurant, I started progressing. I worked at a gas station, rose through the ranks, from cashier to assistant manager. Then, I transitioned out of that and into the banking system. From the banking system, that’s when my career began to blossom. I stayed in the banking system to this day, but I have explored different areas of the bank, not just one section. I started with the branches as a teller and then I worked my way up all the way to a branch manager and then I decided to leave the branch and go into a corporate office because I needed to learn other sectors of the bank.
You are probably the first Gambian to work or rise to such a respectable position in JP Morgan. How did you make it?
Well, I cannot take that kind of credit. I am the least successful Gambian. There are many, many successful Gambians in all arenas. We have doctors, I mean Gambians are so blessed, we are one of the most highly educated Africans out there and I say that with pride. I know just a hand full of Gambians. I do not even know half of the Gambians outside of The Gambia.
We are talking about JP Morgan; we know this is not just another bank.
I would say on that yes, I am thankful to be a part of the JP Morgan brand. It is a very big brand, very respected. I am so thankful to be part of that brand. That is the most I can say.
So, you accept that you’re the first Gambian to rise to such an important position in that bank?
Well, I don’t want to make such a claim just because JP Morgan is so wide. It is a very big company. We have many locations worldwide with thousands and millions of employees and I don’t know with all the employees in JP Morgan; who is Gambian and who is not, so I would not want to make that claim that I am the most successful Gambian, that would be exaggerating what my position is.
Tell us what your work with JP Morgan entails.
I was in the learning and performance development organisation where we focus on professional development for employees of the bank. Recently I have branched out a little bit from directly delivering training to another area within the same organisation but at a different area I am contributing at a higher level than I was in the past couple of years.
Outside your area of work a bit, what is your take on the ongoing racial problems in the US?
The racial problem has always been an issue, but that is not the issue I want to dwell on just because I hate to talk about things I do not fully understand. I hate to talk about things that I am not really sure about. Yes, the issue exists just like every other country has its own issues, it could be race; in our culture it could be tribe, or violence against women. But for the race issue, it exists, that is the most I can say about it. I cannot elaborate on it because I do not have full understanding of everything that is going [on], I do not have all the pieces of the story.
You can be taken for any other African American; I mean do you experience instances when you will be discriminated against, as it is being claimed by so many people of colour?
This is the country that makes me who I am. However, what I am doing now was already in from creation. Yes, I have my experiences, but it doesn’t bother me. It bothers me if people don’t know me.
We are talking about black teenagers being shot and killed. You’re a wife, and a mother. Even Obama did say that if he had a son, he could be a Trevor Martin. Why won’t it bother you?
Let me clarify that – anything that destroys life bothers me; anything that destroys an individual’s future bothers me. The situation itself is not something I am turning my eyes away from. I am watching and I am listening. I think what I refused to do was to give my opinion on what is going on; to talk about what is right and what is wrong if I do not have the full picture or I am not in the minds of the people that are actually executing and doing whatever is going on. I don’t know where it started. That is what I am saying. I refused to give my opinion however; yes it does bother me because they are human beings.
We have seen some US-based Gambians changing gears, going into politics. Do you see yourself going in that direction?
I know the skills that I have; how they can help my own fellow Gambians to be better than me and that is what my goal is. My goal is not to involve in or engage in any activity or any event that will not yield success. My goal is to touch lives and to touch individuals’ lives here in The Gambia and wherever I am in the US as well. So, whatever I can do to touch lives, that’s why I am here. That’s why I am coming and sharing my knowledge, I am sharing what I know with the people because I believe that with every trip that I make down here, with every interaction that have with Gambians, if it is ten people that I have interacted with, I touch one person and one person is my goal per day. I cannot make a difference in everybody’s life, but if I can change one person and touch one person’s life, that is my goal, I feel accomplished. And so again to answer your question, I am not interested in criticisms that don’t have solutions. I am interested in solutions and that is why I am here, it is why I am calling on professionals. That is why my focus is on young people and old people and all generations of people who are interested in moving forward and developing themselves. I am partnering with them to see how we can all accomplish that together because I want all of them to be better than I am; to accomplish way more than I have accomplished because that is exactly what we need in our country.
What’s your take on the economic and political conditions in The Gambia? You might want to compare and contrast.
What would I compare it to? I would not want to compare apples and oranges.
Essentially, The Gambia as a country is on a journey. You left at some point. What are your impressions or otherwise?
I am impressed with the people that I see in The Gambia. I think that as a people, we are trying to move forward. I come from Lamin. Before I left here to travel to the US, travelling back and forth Lamin was not as easy as it is today. Yes, there is shortage of transportation and all of that. But I am grateful for a lot of things. That’s not to say I am completely satisfied with everything.
When I stepped at the airport, I have arrived in The Gambia. And, my mind set, my thought processes are focused on where I am. So, I focus on the mission that brought me here. I have seen this, I don’t like it’, what can I do to change it? If I see there is no good customer service, I don’t like it sometimes how am treated. That is why I here offering training. I would share my knowledge with them and my goal is to change their lives.
Briefly, what are the things that you are impressed with and others that you’re not?
Some customer service places that I went to have exceeded my expectations. They wow me actually. They wow me not because they baby sit me, not because they pamper me. It is just because I see that they value their job, they respect the value of the brand they belong to, [and] they appreciate the customers who come there. And that’s not thanking me a thousand times. I have gone to other places and I haven’t received that kind of service. Those are one of the things I am not totally satisfied with. Those are little things – that’s just people and society, that sometimes I am not satisfied with.
You have been frequenting the country in recent years. What’s your objective?
Like I said, we have a business that has a goal. Our mission is to change lives. We introduce a business that would give us an opportunity to interact with people. While we have the people in our presence, our goal is to share with them knowledge and information that would transform them as an individual and eventually transform our country. So that is our mission. We do have a consulting firm – it is a Gambian US-based registered business and is Classik Consulting. Our main goal is to touch lives through training, consulting, speaking, coaching and that is why I have been frequenting The Gambia to take care of business, to deliver training, to facilitate courses, workshops.
Your father was a teacher. At some point, it was to be a case of like-father-like daughter. But you later chose a different path and it seems you’re coming back to tradition.
I have not strayed away from what is natural for my family. I am one of the children of my Dad who really look like him. When I think about myself, I know where I am from. Yes, I was a teacher. I didn’t even know why I love teaching back then. It was an opportunity that was presented to me. I graduated from high school and did not have a job. Teaching was an opportunity that was presented to me. I took it.
I kind of switched career a bit, but then I found that in whatever position I held, I was constantly manoeuvering my way to teaching people the job, the skills et cetera. So, I found myself always going back to teaching, unconsciously. I wasn’t even conscious of it, but once I started getting training people how to be a trainer, I realised that I am called to this. Which is why it doesn’t matter what I do as a career, I would always find a way to get back to teaching. My organisation right now, Classik Consulting helps me to keep grounded and stay in touch with people and keep on teaching.
What is your dream Gambia and what would it take to reach there?
That is a tough question. My dream is to see our society advancing. I am not talking about infrastructure. I am talking about individual development. I believe that we are very talented people; we are highly skilled, highly educated. I am not talking about degrees, but we have a lot of knowledge and wisdom. We are not tapping into it. I know we can do better, we can exceed expectations. This society can be transformed to be the best African country. When you take a Gambian to any other country, and give them any position, they thrive because already the skills we need to thrive are in us.
And what do we do to get there?
If we use the skills we have, use judgement, and if we embrace our nation, if we all can see where we want to be, then we all can take a march to take that direction.
What condition should be created for people like you to stay put?
We should make [the] environment conducive for everybody. We should make this place welcoming. I have my personal experiences. I am coming from another place, even though I was born and raised [here], the society thinks I am not part of it any more.
Well, you’ve lost your accent.
But if we make it welcoming, there is room for everybody to come back and utilise their talent. But are we going to make room for them? Are we supportive of what they are trying to do? Are we making an attempt to understand their mission and vision? We should allow people to share their skills with us. I don’t think my presence takes away from anybody’s knowledge.
Interviewed by Saikou
Transcribed by Alagie Manneh]]>