by Yabome Gilpin-Jackson
We are standing on the eve of the launch of We Will Lead Africa Volume 1, a first-of-its kind edited volume of 30 everyday leadership stories. I’ve just re-read the opening sentence 3 times. Staring at the words, I am breathless with excitement. I pinch myself and can hardly believe that we are here. We did it. Sarah Owusu, Judith Okonkwo and I, along with our 30 wonderful contributors who wrote and rewrote their stories to capture the vision we had in mind. Fifteen months after our first conversations, we are delivering what we hope will spark new conversations about leadership in Africa and inspire further action. We continue to dream of a prosperous Africa for all, driven by the pioneering and relentless action of everyday Africans, who choose to be in service and leadership for the continent. This first volume tells the story of only 30 of the people we interacted with on the journey to getting submissions – there were so many more and exponentially more out there quietly working! I come across and read about everyday African leaders in action on and off the continent every week. We have only scratched the surface. We hope to go deeper still and further inspire action for change and progress on the continent by helping to tell and share these stories of what’s already working.
“It always seems impossible until it is done.”Nelson Mandela
I believe our editorial team came to this work fully qualified to do it. So when I say “I can’t believe we’ve done this!” I do not mean that in the sense of incredibility but with wonder and awe in what can get done when passion, dedication and the power of vision come together. This may sound cliche but if there’s anything the past 15 months has reminded me of, it’s that competence alone accomplishes nothing! I had dreamed of, journalled, talked about and written notes about We Will Lead Africa for a full year before I (we!) did anything about it. When I met Sarah and Judith, they likewise had touched on and worked on the edges and front lines of leadership in Africa. The difference was that we met (very briefly!), and in two short Skype calls after that, alchemy happened. Our scattered individual visions became our shared vision. They both said: “let’s do it!” And on that second skype call, Sarah, the perpetual activator and planner started a Google Doc and asked: “What are our next steps?” Within the hour, we had an action list and the next call scheduled. Fuelled with the power of passion and dedication, we all three followed through on our initial actions. As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Two or 3 months later, we were still talking weekly or bi-weekly and consistently following through on our commitments to each other to launch the project, in spite of incredibly busy lives. We all three have also been leading and doing other work while at this as well as Sarah and Judith have also shared in their posts.
This journey has been easy because of the incredible partners and friends I’ve found in Sarah and Judith. They were already partners in business but they fully welcomed me and never once made me feel excluded. We continue to work as equals. I am so grateful to you two! I remember one of my sisters asking me early on: “Who are your partners in WWLA, again?” I chuckled, replying: “You know what’s funny? I don’t even know these women!” I then described our brief meeting – seriously less that 30 minutes and maybe 5 sentences shared between us – and what followed. My sister agreed with me that sometimes when things feel right, it is worth just stepping out in faith and trust. That week, when we got on our call, I mentioned my conversation with my sister. In the quiet wisdom and depth that I have come to love in Judith, she responded: “You do know us, Yabome. You already knew us because everything you said aligned with everything we’d been thinking and standing for. We already knew each other.” She couldn’t be more right (she always is, dammit!). Sarah simply replied in her quacky get-over-and-on-with-it voice: ‘You know us now!” They heard my quiet unspoken, closed question: Will we make it through this journey with the brief history we have together? On another call, I remember saying I was waiting for the honeymoon to end. It never did. The kinship of Africa joined us even before we physically met. We have now laughed together till we are giddy and crying. They’ve known me enough to scheme behind my back to appreciate me which made me cry for real (an incredible feat!). We have shared joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. Simply put, I have grown to love these women. I stand with these two now (and all of you!) in sisterhood, solidarity, faith and trust that We Will Lead Africa.
We, Sarah, Judith and I, are committed to advancing stories and action for everyday leadership in Africa. We are committed to modeling the leadership we are telling stories about. We are committed to the idea and promise that We – the collective of everyday African leaders, Will – by sheer determination, grit and courage to see beyond the improbable, Lead – in service in every sector and sphere we find ourselves, Africa – vested in the prosperity of the whole continent in all its diversity. I want to dwell on We for a moment longer. In a recent workshop I led on leadership a participant said: “Look across your cities, where have you ever seen a statue of a committee?” I was struck by this and have been thinking ever since that that is especially the leadership mindset that needs to shift for Africa and Africans. I believe we need to go back to celebrating individual excellence in the context of collective action and impact in Africa, because we need to scale our impact for the advancement, prosperity and self-sufficiency of our continent. Isolated action will not give us the reach and scale we need. We, need to do this together!
This journey has deepened my commitment to passion work, soul work and to leading by example. So again, I invoke a cliche that I have found to be true…please follow your heart. Please do the work that your soul leads you to. Take your passion for what seems simple and small in your eyes, build a vision around it and watch it grow. One of our contributors, Modupe Taylor-Pearce wrote back to me after seeing an initial draft of the full volume: “Congratulations to all of you for successfully assembling powerful stories of hope (“Chicken Soup for the African Soul…”)…This is chicken soup for the African soul! It will be hard to read the volume without being inspired by these incredible leaders! But we are not satisfied simply to inspire you for a moment. We exhort you to take action. Please. Africa needs it. We need each other.
Africans. Let’s Lead Africa.