The AJALA Project presents Sebastian, a camel herder and a nomad, who is changing the world through filmmaking.
Give us a brief description of what your initiative is all about? We tell stories. What Took You So Long? is a documentary film production company specialising in supporting development and communications entities around the world. WTYSL? has been operational since 2009, incorporating as a US-registered company in 2012. As a production company we have six years of experience in 100+ countries working on projects that highlight the “Change Mak- ers” and “Change-Making” organisations of the world. WTYSL? productions range from short documentaries (1–22 min) to full form documentaries (20–45 min), and have been produced for a wide spectrum of clients, from UN agencies to a small betel nut business in Papua New Guinea, global corporate coffee companies and TED.com. WTYSL? is currently represented by 14 filmmakers. Each individual filmmaker is capable of operating as a producer, DOP, sound tech and/or editor. We have bases in Beirut, Barcelona, Stockholm, Marseilles, Washington DC and London, and collectively speak 8 languages, including Kiswahili, Spanish, French and Arabic.
You told us the purpose behind WTYSL? is to promote positive media, visual literacy and human relationships. How are you able to achieve this? We open minds by bringing together people and stories through film, with a key focus not only on making high-impact documentaries but also training and empowering virtually any-body to become a guerrilla film-maker and action taker.
What message are you trying to promote through your initiative?
We are all interconnected and to reestablish the balance on earth we must realign our ability to connect, relate and understand each other and our responsibility towards the planet. In today’s world apathy, negativity, and cynicism work tirelessly to break us apart, often taking center stage in the collective consciousness. We must work just as tirelessly to show the world just how many people there are who have taken the decision to create impact and spread positivity.
What inspired your change-making journey? How did you pick your cause?
I’m back where it all started; on a journey through the African continent. In my early 20s I spent a lot of time in Ghana and set up an NGO with two Ghanaian friends. On one of the volunteer trips with Chinese students in the north of Ghana I bumped into an American filmmaker, Alicia Sully. I told her I was planing an Africa overland voyage, only using public transport, to film and tell the stories of untold and unsung heroes. Traveling with a diverse team from around the world, across 16 countries for 2.5 months, shifted my worldview. Beyond nations, beyond our egos, humanity is so connected, so similar, so vulnerable at this moment in our shared evolution. I felt a strong urge to find a platform to enable these stories to be created, and so What Took You So Long? was born.
How do you build a community of likeminded people around your cause?
I spend most of my time traveling this earth in between communities and film projects; it is only inside a prosperous community that you can be truly vulnerable, exercise trust through the act of give and take. Sometimes you give more, sometimes you take more; a strong community allows you to do what you need on your quest to be the best version of yourself. The community that What Took You So Long? has built around the world consists at its core of 14 filmmakers. Diverse and with their own network of humans who support them ; together we inspire storytelling to flourish. The people we live with, the filmmakers we collaborate with in each country we work in, the media people we collaborate with, the fixers, the UN staff, the embassy people, all become members, if they feel inspired, of our global tribe of neo-nomads; we have created a new breed of nomadism. Loyal to the planet, beyond nationality but respectful of what it can mean to many people. Hope of an alternative future inspires us to continue our work. Random connections with people who we meet on our journey keep us grounded. Collaboration is as basic as breathing.
Our team has worked in 110 countries around the world in the last 8 years; every year we go to all corners of this earth for a broad variety of projects.
Our community is fluid, it’s quick to activate. One team member is having problems in Mogadishu; 2 minutes later we have spoken via WhatsApp with the head of security of the biggest hotel company in the country. In most of the places we go, when security is not tight, we stay together in the homes of friends, the client or preferably with the people we are filming. This immersion strategy enables us to feel the pulse of the community, it enables us to create a pop-up community that brings us closer to the core of what it means to be a human, it enables us to better see life unfold through the eyes of those we film. Strong communities are created because people feel that they are equal as humans; living together, cooking together, dancing and drinking camel milk.
What are some of the obstacles you have faced and how did you resolve them?
At one point we were in the process of setting up a NGO in the US, we thought that would enable us to get grants that would give us the financial means to tell the stories that we thought were the most important. After a year of working with a pro-bono lawyer we decided to instead set up a B-corp; a vehicle that now enables us to produce much more content with higher quality. Rather than asking for grant money we bid on film projects from the United Nations and similar outfits, we win them and make the stories.
As a nomad constantly on the move, it’s sometimes easy to get stuck in a bubble, stuck underneath a non-physical rock! When you are on the move it’s so easy to always surround yourself with people, but with time and growth you realize that inner strength comes from inner peace ; and that inner peace can only be achieved from within. Meditation daily, in a perfect world twice per day, helps me to get grounded and think more clearly.
Who inspires you to do what you do?
The potential that we won’t exist in 100 years inspires me to support solutions that will inspire humanity to evolve towards a higher consciousness.
How do you go about cultural sensitivities and minimizing potential negative impact your actions might have?
Ask to understand, not to respond. Every day understand how your privilege is present in all your interactions. Collaborate with a broad spectrum of stakeholders in all projects; assume that at best all we have is surface knowledge, assume nothing. We make mistakes, acknowledge them, learn from them and then jump back on the camel. We do not fear mistakes, political correctness is a flawed idea peppered with good intentions.
People do not come to know us through our limitless knowledge and cultural uniformity, they watch us go through the sometimes uncomfortable process of entering a foreign culture, they watch us mess up, and they see how we deal with it. Some people do this only a handful of times in their lives, but this very process has become our lives. With all my flaws and limitations, everything starts with a clear intention. Revisit this intention as often as you can; mediate, be generous and present. Your presence is the greatest gift one can give.
What is the one piece of advice you would have given yourself when you were starting out, now that you have the experience that you have?
Start early with meditation. No technology. Look inside rather than outside for happiness. Read more books; don’t forget about fiction. Not judging is not the same thing as being naive. Allow yourself to give birth to your inner child. Write. Figure out what you like, what you don’t like. Be open to change, true change .. change of your core believes, change of perceptions, change in love. Understand that the best learning environments are the ones without a teacher or student ; it’s the place where two or more humans come together and share knowledge that leads to new thoughts. Some people call that creativity and that’s where I’m going — towards the forefront of creativity.
What do your friends and family feel about the work you have done?
Right now family relations are solid. In the past during my personal evolution my father temporarily gave up on me after I spent 1 year full-time traveling between countries filming the human connection to the white gold of the desert, camel milk! 2–3 years later he said that I could do what I wanted, I don’t have to find a job or create a job in the space where I conducted my studies (Business). My mother always asked me if I made money on the projects I was doing… the first few years a core- crew of 3 people survived on kickstarter funding linked to the film projects we were doing; a few thousand dollars could keep us floating for months… Later on, small budgets started to emerge; then we set up a vehicle in the US; that enabled us to get a whole new spectrum of potential clients and boom, we expanded.
My current understanding is that friends world-wide find inspiration in my continuous philosophy of not having a home. At parts during my nomadic upbringing (from age 19 to 26 years old) I felt that sometimes I would intrude or be in the way when I lived with friends and different families around the world. Since then I have become much better at contributing to the environments where I put down my head at night. Washing the dishes is just one fundamental way you can support your shared living space ; sharing food costs, participating in family events and connecting people with opportuni- ties beyond their reach is next level. I am now experiencing a very interesting phenomenon; people are reaching out to me asking to stay with them when they hear that I’m coming to their town ; it touches my heart and gives me hope that after all these years as a semi-nomad I’m on a healthy path of sharing, learning and living in the communities on my path.
What have been your biggest successes since the start of your mission/initiative?
A few weeks ago I was in New York during the UN week; that week when all world leaders arrive to New York to participate in the General Assembly. UN Women, our client for many years, celebrated the 2nd year anniversary of the HeForShe campaign ; a global movement inspiring the men of this world to take the lead towards gender equality. WTYSL? was tasked with creating short documentaries on this project. Only 3 weeks before this event we had to make 5 videos in 5 different countries; these videos were then launched at this event with great success. Presidents from 6 countries were present, head of UN Women and other development heads were there
Other successes include bringing the Camel Milk revolution to the next level. Our visual outputs of camel milk and the network we have built around the world enabled Walid Abdul-Wahab of Saudi to start Desert Farms (www.Desertfarms.com); America’s biggest distributor of camel milk. 90% of the milk is consumed by children with autism, supporting the healing of their stomach that enables them to develop.. for me that’s success. Our global tribe of people we collaborate and live with ; even though supporting can potentially put them at risk, they do it. Our shared vision of a better world unites us ; that’s my tribe and that’s the collection of humans we have built since we started our movement.
What are two of the most important issues that should be addressed in our current society?
One. An inability to relate ; apathy. Someone else is going to fix the world. (You are me and I am you)
Two. The illusion that you have no choices. (We have infinite opportunities readily available to activate)
How important is it to have a community like The Ajala Project for you and future recipients? Where do you see the greatest value to you and your project?
A global community of nomads? It’s crucial, and when you bridge the access points between communities around the world, we are on a path of creating a global community with enough influence to connect humanity with itself again ; together with nature again, together with the source. This kind of community is a natural evolution of human connectivity, and is easily one of the most important ways we can drive progress as a species. The future holds monumental changes we must be capable of absorbing, this is how we are going to succeed.
Sebastian Lindstrom is a mystery to himself and a camel herder to others. Sweden made him, the world shaped him. Academically curious at 5 universities in west and east; he studied everything and ended up working with something totally different (classic). He co-founded What Took You So Long?, a guerrilla filmmaking organization, with Alicia Sully in 2009. The organization films in complex post-conflict environments at the edge of accessibility, focusing not on suffering and pain, but on the magic and love that transcends them in places of hardship. He also smuggles Camel milk cross continental left and right, you need some? He got some.
Follow Sebastian on his camel-milking expedition on whattookyousolong.org