Governance challenges are often solved by bringing people together to work towards a common good. Diana Sididi is passionate about showing that a misunderstanding of each other’s differences is the root of much of the conflict in Mali and that part of the solution lies in highlighting the beauty in these differences. By Kibo Ngowi
Diana Sididi is the founder of Derhane, a vlog that advocates for the acceptance of people living with attributes that are different from the norm in Malian society. The groups that Derhane advocates for extend from those with physical disabilities to people from minority ethnic or religious groups.
“In Mali, many people are stigmatized for being different but we believe difference is beautiful so we create videos that allow people who have experienced this kind of stigma to speak out,” explains Diana. “They talk about what they’ve been through, about how they live, how people perceive them differently and what makes them strong enough to continue their life in the face of all they experience.”
Derhane also features videos of people who have experienced some form of trauma such as asylum seekers who live in refugee camps and women who have experienced domestic abuse. What ties this together is Diana’s belief that the conflict seen in many parts of Mali is fuelled my mistrust and suspicion among different groups so it can only be solved by spreading a message of unconditional acceptance for all.
“We explore the beauty of every culture and ethnic group in Mali because we believe this is how we can help solve the many conflicts between different ethnic groups. Many people in Mali have never interacted with people from minority groups and have been conditioned to believe negative stereotypes about these groups. We believe that if we help people see each other and each other’s’ cultures clearly, we can all begin to recognize the senselessness of conflict.”
It was her own experiences that inspired Diana to create Derhane and gave her the courage to see it through despite her young age. She was 23 when she established the blog with the support of two partners early last year.
“I live with a physical disability in my legs and when I was in university people often told me that I wasn’t normal and it got into my head. So, I went to Tunis where I received four surgical interventions in just one year because I desperately wanted to be “normal”. After that experience, I realized that it’s really stupid to think that because you have a disability you are incomplete and you can’t do things that other people can.”
Diana came to realize that her disability never made her incomplete as it never prevented her from performing well in school and pursuing other things she cared about. So, she decided to create a platform that could help other people accept themselves for who they are and spread the message of accepting each other for our differences.
“It starts with accepting yourself before other people can learn to accept you. That’s what I learned through my own life and it’s what I hope to spread to other people. That’s why I created Derhane.”
Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Communication from the Catholic University of West Africa, Diana decided to put her storytelling skills to good use and follow her passion. One story featured on Derhane that was especially close to Diana’s heart was that of Fatoumata, a 10-year-old girl who had experienced discrimination due to living with albinism.
“In Mali there is a high amount of discrimination against albinism and Fatoumata told us that schoolmates would often call her a witch and treat her differently. But speaking to her I saw how beautiful she is inside and out and how she does so many things to inspire other people. In spite of how she’s often treated, she’s such a joyful person that people call her by the nickname La Joie – “Joy” in French.”
Another important story was that of a young man who lost his sister to domestic violence. His sister Mariam was killed by her husband, stabbed 37 times, in the presence of her children. Diana interviewed him about the aftermath of losing his sister in such a devastating way.
“We spoke to him about what happened to his family after the incident, how they came to terms with this horrible experience and what he’s doing now to help other women who are experiencing domestic abuse.”
Derhane has a website where all the video interviews are available as well as a presence on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Diana is supported by a team of three other people including a videographer, a personal assistant and a graphic artist.
However, having no previous business experience, Diana decided she needed the support of an incubator program. She started searching for one in Bamako but after struggling to find one that would match her needs and the vision of Derhane she remembered the organization a friend had told her about two years earlier.
“My friend had worked for Accountability Lab and he told me about the organization’s mission to advocate for accountability in the country and help young social entrepreneurs. When I spoke to him again, he convinced me that the Lab would be a perfect partner for Derhane because they would understand how to support a social enterprise.”
Diana adopted a hybrid business model through which Derhane could continue its advocacy work while also generating money through paid video projects from other NGOs. Despite early success, she realized that she still needed support in understanding how to successfully run a social enterprise.
Diana joined the 2020 cohort of AL Mali’s Accountability Incubator earlier this year and says she’s already gained from the experience. “So far, it’s been really good. I feel like I’m a part of a family because the team always calls us to check how we are doing and tell us about opportunities, encouraging us to apply.
“Sometimes I would feel lost because I really didn’t know anything about business or social entrepreneurship before I started Derhane. My goal is for the incubator to help me master the working model of a hybrid social enterprise and structure it in a sustainable way.”