David Moinina Sengeh
David Sengeh is a biomechatronics engineer who currently works with IBM Research in Nairobi, Kenya. His research and development efforts have led to multiple patents in the area of comfortable prosthetic interfaces. David was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 in Technology for 2013; was a 2014 TED Fellow; was selected for the Wired Smart List 2013; won the Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize in 2014; and was named a 2015 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, among other awards and recognition. He is president and a co-founder of Global Minimum Inc., a charitable organization that encourages young innovators and leaders in Africa to tackle challenges affecting their communities through applying critical thinking skills and hands-on learning programs.
Paul Bottino introduces David Moinina Sengeh:
I first encountered David in the summertime before his freshman year, when he cold-called me from overseas about an idea he had for a prosthetics bank for the amputees of Sierra Leone. I think we talked for two hours and considered almost every facet of the idea from every angle. When summer ended and he came to school, David started visiting me in my office, about once a week, every week, for four years. Usually the visits came unannounced as David was moving between classes, but our conversations were always welcome and became the highlight of my week, as he brought news of his developing ideas, stories about people he’d met and drawn into his circle, connections to new things he’d been learning, and questions, questions, questions. David leads by doing, by setting an example of how the world can be explored, how connections can be made, how things can come together, and how a little bit of order can be wrought from the chaos. I think I learned more from mentoring him than he did from me, but that’s a big part of his leadership; to always be teaching and learning at the same time.
Innovative leaders are always changing our view of what is possible, and David does that with unabashed enthusiasm, buoyant spirit, and open arms. With childlike wonder and scientific analysis, he absorbs the world around him, channels vast amounts of its scattered light through the prism of his globally humanistic values, and focuses intently on what he sees as a clear ray, immersed in its potential. You can’t help but be drawn to the glow of an idea that he has once he’s isolated it; then he starts to connect all the people and support he needs to cultivate it, and you are compelled to follow along. He carries an idea on his probability-defying enthusiasm and reaches out relentlessly, giving of himself and welcoming what others can contribute. There is seemingly no stasis with David. He is kinetic and evolving and always probing, through experimental action, the boundaries and limits of a concept; and the incarnations of that concept as it grows.
Paul Bottino is currently Executive Director and a lecturer at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University’s School of Engineering.
David Moinina Sengeh talks about his mentors:
(Transcription of video interview 7/2017)
My name is David Moinina Sengeh, and I work with IBM Research Africa in Nairobi, and I am here [at Switchpoint Idea in Saxapahaw, NC] mostly to learn, to engage with other people who think in similar and different ways, and to explore new ideas.
People who inspire me—it’s hard to think about one person. I feel like there are lots of people who inspire me. My parents do inspire me, and it’s not just a classic ‘I want to thank my mom and dad’ kind of thing, but they gave me a lot of freedom; created freedom, and always reaffirmed that I had freedom; I had wide worlds to explore and a high ceiling in terms of what I could learn and what I could apply.
Academically, I’ve had great mentors who almost never say no to a new concept, but rather just say, “That’s interesting, and . . .” and one of these is Paul Bottino out of Harvard. And in terms of people in the real world, lots of good people like Megan Smith; like Nicholas Negroponte; and then I actually do get a lot of inspiration from younger people. So a lot of my mentees inspire me and a lot of people; young kids in how they think and how they play. So that was not one; sorry!
Paul Bottino by David Sengeh:
We’re talking about Paul Bottino!
Paul is one of my favorite people! I literally saw him once or twice a week every day for four years in college, and each one of those times I had a new idea that I’d share with him, and he always listened, and he always had feedback, and he always asked questions. And if I have a concept or a new thought, the first person that I want to share it with is Paul.
And tell us what is it about him that makes—why does he bring that out in you?
Paul Bottino is the kind of guy who knows how to listen and knows how to ask questions, and always finds the positivity and the interesting element in an idea, and uses it to—and allows you to explore that concept even further. And he’s not—and he’ll give you honest, critical feedback, but it always is about exploration and it always is about elevating your thoughts in your own head; in his own—what he’s seen. It’s not—there are not that many people who can do that, who can listen to a thought—a new, crazy, silly, whatever idea; brilliant, and just ask you questions that will clarify it in your head. He’s a good guy; he’s a good friend.