“I Used to Think That Vulnerability Was Something We Should Hide”, Tiana Andriamanana on Leading With Courage
Tiana Andriamanana graduated with a degree in biochemistry and joined Fanamby as an assistant to the Executive Director in 2009. Over a period of 9 years, she climbed the ranks to become the organisation’s Executive Director.
Tiana strongly believes that local solutions will ensure sustainable management of the protected areas in her home country, Madagascar.
She shares her story with Damaris Agweyu.
Tiana, what are you passionate about?
Making real changes in people’s lives. I believe that a life that cannot translate to a positive impact for others is meaningless. My mum always told me this: you don’t learn to be happy; you just be happy, and however hard your life is, if you cannot make a change for those who need it, your life is meaningless.
What she meant is that your life should have a purpose, and that purpose should, in some way, give back. That is how she raised me. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa, just do your thing, and even if it positively impacts one person’s life, that is enough.
Do you feel like your work is creating the change you desire to see?
On some level, yes. Some organisations tend to talk about how they are saving people from poverty. Well, that’s not how we see it at Fanamby. We believe that everyone has the power to make the change for themselves and improve their own lives. As an organisation, all we do is empower people with the tools they need to make that change for themselves.
The sustainable extraction and sale of vanilla has been our biggest success story. So successful that people think it’s our Fanamby that produces vanilla; this is not the case. We identify producers at the local level that are strong enough to make their voices heard. We then train and equip them in a way that they can voice their concerns, opinions and needs to the government or the buyers from a place of empowerment. They don’t really need us, but they have been silenced for so long that they have lost all confidence to stand up and bargain for themselves.
We have reached about 12,000 people, a tiny drop in the ocean, but that’s still a chance for those 12,000 people.
We can still see that things are not changing quickly enough despite all our efforts. When you see people who are still not living within structures that enable them to lead decent lives, you wonder what more you can do. It’s complicated. The hardest thing is being patient enough to see real and permanent changes.
If you could create an ideal world, what would it look like?
My ideal world is one where we would get what we need from nature without putting so much pressure on it—a world where organisations like ours didn’t need to exist.
Tell me about your journey into becoming the leader that you are today.
I started my career as an assistant to the Founder of the organisation I currently work for. This was back in 2009. I was then promoted to a project manager and, later, a business engagement officer.
In 2017, I got the offer to apply to the Executive Director position. The organisation was restructuring, not because it wasn’t working well, but because our Founder, who was also the Executive Director, wanted to pass the mantle to me. I asked him to give me a year to think about it because while I felt that I made a great technician, I didn’t believe I could lead. I was afraid of everything that leadership comes with. And having worked with him for so long, I noticed the impact of leading a company on a personal level. I’d seen him travel for months on end without seeing his family. I had just had my children in 2014 and 2016. In 2018, having thought long and hard about the proposal, I accepted to take on the leadership position. It was scary. And difficult. I thank God that the WE Africa leadership programme came when it did because it taught me a lot about the kind of leader I wanted to be.
And what kind of leader would that be?
Someone who cares for their team. Someone who owns their mistakes. Someone who can be vulnerable. I used to think that vulnerability was something we should hide. I never thought it was a sign of bravery and courage. The We Africa leadership programme taught me otherwise. Today vulnerability is something that I apply, not just in my professional but also in my personal life. 2021 was the first year that I wasn’t in the bathroom crying my balls out because it was too much to bear. I became aware of how easy it is to just talk with the team about situations as they are and work together to find the solution. Before, I thought I had to bear every burden alone.
I’ve been telling my people to talk more, to slow down. If they are too mentally charged to take care of a situation at work or dealing with a difficult situation at home, they can take a break. There has been a lot of trial and error, but my approach to leadership translated to 2021 being the greatest year for us so far.
I still have so many things to work on, but I think I have an excellent baseline.
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