Living and Leading in a Post Covid-19 world #Covidconvo

Fellow Everyday African Leaders,

There have been many conversations going on during this time about what will happen in the days and years to come because of Covid-19. Our world will invariably be changed – for the good we hope. Your voice is so important in this time, we know that your experiences and knowledge can help better inform our collective understanding of what is happening now and what the future could look like. As you navigate the now, we want to be able to support and encourage you in your work.

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We Will Lead Africa: Returnees – Join the call.

by Yeniva Sisay [See Yeniva’s bio and full Call for Returnee Stories here]

“I am not an African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me” – Kwame Nkrumah

We have all heard the term Africa Rising. People are finally seeing what I’ve known all along, Africa is a mighty continent full of talent and treasures. I fell in love with Africa at a young age, however being first generation Sierra Leonean -American, it was difficult navigating identity while living in the west.

Yevina Sisay

Over a decade ago when I decided I would move to Sierra Leone, West Africa, most of my friends and family thought it was a brave but risky move that wouldn’t last. Living in Africa to them was backpacking and safaris. They couldn’t see the potential of Lagos, Dakar, Freetown or Accra. It seemed like such a far off idea to actually want to move to a third world country in Africa.

Fast forward to a few months ago my cousin tagged me in a post on Facebook which read: “Yo!! they are playing Davido on the radio!!!” I could feel her excitement beaming through the screen. I was excited too. Another win for us. I have a passion for following Africans doing great things. Today Africa is identified, recognized, and celebrated in media, fashion, music and food. There are cultural icons who are identifiably and proudly African. What a glorious time to be African! From Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” to the multimillion dollar film “Black Panther” ( #WakanadaForever), YES Africa is rising right in front of our eyes.

This kind of pride is a stark contrast to my years of growing up in the West; or even ten years ago. Being African was never celebrated. In fact, it was demeaned. “You are AFRICAN? Kids on the playground would gawk. It was difficult to tell a different story of Africa when combating popular images of naked natives, wildlife, extreme poverty, war and famine. It was not cool to be African.

The complexity of being an African in the Diaspora is only understood by those who have lived the experience. Explored by the documentary “Am I “ by Nadia Sasso, we are constantly being told, you are too African to be American, and too American to be African, or too British, you’re too European, you’re too ____fill in the blank.

2019 is a landmark year marking the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the United States. 1619 is widely recognized as the start of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade where millions of Africans were kidnapped and brought to America as free labor slaves. The United States Congress recently passed Act H.R. 1242 – 400 Years of African-American Experience Act – recognizing the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in 1619, thus commencing the beginning of the African American experience.

Africa Rising is not by chance. It is the intentional work of many individuals seeking to share and appreciate the beauty of Africa. There are many of us who have made the commitment to return home. In commemoration of 2019 declared the year of return, it would be my honor to collect and edit a collection of stories entitled: We Will Lead Africa: Returnees.

Despite its many challenges, Africa continues to draw young professionals back to the continent their parents once left. Nations are calling their children and there is an ever-growing number of the African diaspora returning.

Attracted by economic opportunity and a new sense of optimism, Africa has many advantages to attract “returnees” in search of better careers and a better lifestyle. According to research, returnees cite three main reasons for returning: the desire to have an impact on the continent (63%), an interesting professional opportunity (49%), and family and social pressure (22%).

In the last decade there has been cultural resurgence, a movement in which people of African descent are embracing and celebrating their heritage. Now when I tell people I am from Sierra Leone, I either get tons of questions about my life and how I like living there, or someone is trying to make a connection to Africa. Though challenges continue, it’s becoming cool to be African now. There are Instagram pages, videos and vines all dedicated to being African.

We Will Lead Africa would love to hear your stories of returning to the continent to contribute to progress there after being born and/or raised abroad. Our hope is that this collection will build a convincing argument for the huge potential on the continent and to encourage people of African descent to look at opportunities ‘at home’ and encourage those in the diaspora to return on their own terms.

Call to Action

Join #WeWillLeadAfrica to submit your story or tell someone else’s story of action, change and transformation. For submission guidelines more information please visit

Also please help us share the Call for Submissions. We are seeking to receive a variety of stories from different countries, religions, perspectives, and generations.

Reflecting on We Will Lead Africa: Women

“Writers from all minority groups, and women writers, and those from colonized nations—all of us who have been spoken for, instead of listened to, have had to seize our own narratives.” Aminatta Forna

In reflection, I see this volume putting into words the experience of constraints and challenge that women navigate in the world: restricted, underestimated, not allowed, undermined, violated… and it also speaks to our personal challenges of feeling scared, not enough, an imposter. But the volume does more. These voices, these words, these stories, are about action and impact in the face of all this.These women speak courageously and defiantly, of doing it anyway. Despite. They show us the power of faith, of doing it together, of pulling each other up, of partnering or co-founding with other women. They describe what it means to draw inspiration and motivation from those around us, those who have gone before, and those who will follow. And whilst these are stories of African women, they also bring to light how the other layers of our identity are intricately connected to our struggles and achievements. These are stories of women, and they are, at the same time, stories for and about all of humanity. It is an honour to hear all these voices and it is with true gratitude that we share them with the world. I hope these stories move you in the way they have moved me: to begin, to persevere, to be purposeful, to be bold, to take action, to rest, to trust, to connect and be in community, and to be yourself – your whole self.


In the process of putting these stories together, I had a conversation with a woman whom I deeply admire who is an innovator in her industry. She spoke about the idea of feeling insecure and crippled by an impending challenge. In reflecting on her journey to create alternative narratives she was reminded of the value and depth of her contribution to the African continent -both present and future . This volume is a reminder to us all of the incredible women who are overcoming fear and insecurity; emotional and otherwise on a daily basis. It is a reminder and invitation to acknowledge the challenges and continue to create pockets of representation of a new reality, a reality exploding with light and hope.


I am humbled and inspired after reading these stories that illustrate the solidarity, and differences; diverse experiences and the commitment of women across a wide range of contexts and countries, to Africa’s future. Stories are influenced by Ancestors, elders, Spirit, mentors, mothers, and relationships to make each achievement part of a larger whole. These are stories of women leaders’ determination to be part of creating and nurturing Africa’s growth. Women bring grit, creativity, vision, caring, intelligence and passion to shape the mystery of what it means to be a Woman; what it means to be African and to have Africa in you.


In our last week of finalizing this volume, I was part of leading an event where there was a talk on the Courageous Leadership needed for the future[1]. Although speaking in an entirely different context, I heard the speaker reference all the elements of our We Will Lead Africa framework – A focus on serving the collective, grit and leading at the margins, with, and on purpose. There was an additional quality that she said women struggle with, but when they find that quality, their impact is exponential. That quality, is the ability to be uncalcified to the norms expected of women: willing to be different, do different, and say yes to something she may have no idea how to do. Uncalcified! The word would not leave me – and as I thought of what makes the women in this volume follow the paths they have chosen to courageously lead in African contexts, it is because they are, Uncalcified! Positively defiant. So to me, the stories in this volume are ultimately about passion, identity, courage and positive impact. It has prompted me into an inquiry that I invite you to as we conclude: In what ways do we need to become (more) uncalcified in order to achieve the positive impact we want on the world?


As We Will Lead Africa Women launches, gratitude for the women ancestors who were and are so it could be. Toasting to our mothers, and their mothers, and we too as we do the work that ensures the future for our descendants.



[1] Talk on Courageous Leadership trends/needs in Canada by Joyce Drohan of Deloitte Canada, May 8, 2019

Introducing…We Will Lead Africa, Volume 2: Women

We are filled with such deep gratitude for the work represented in:

We Will Lead Africa


This volume is filled with the stories of everyday African women – leaders – with a desire to bring a vibrant future to life – one that is full, and manifold, and representative.

This work emerged out of a call for everyday African leadership stories for two separate volumes: Women and Governance. As we pushed out calls for stories, the pattern became clear. We were not receiving enough governance stories as defined by the Ibrahim Index of African Governance…and all the Governance stories we received were by women! In responding to what has emerged, we decided to create a combined volume of stories by African women.

It seems appropriate to us to be publishing this volume, this year, as we come towards the end of the African Union’s 2010 – 2020 AFRICAN WOMEN’S DECADE. As the generational spread of the women in the volume signals, African Women’s contributions to the prosperity of our continent has always been there and will continue to be amplified in the future. We also recognize that without the active inclusion and voice of women, Africa will never reach its full potential. Documenting our stories in all their breadth and beauty, will bring new perspectives and possibilities and will provide a space of inspiration and togetherness for a future that values, respects and learns from African women.

As always, we were looking for stories of leadership that align with our definition of everyday leadership and action for the future of Africa[1]:

We: Collaborative and accountable leaders, taking unified action.

Will: The leadership WILL, grit and courage to do something, anything, now and for the future, demonstrated through action-oriented and aspirational leadership.

Lead: Everyday leaders, motivated by service, in every sector, including emerging leaders from marginalised groups. Women with a deep authenticity and integrity in their leadership, focused on a values-driven path, even if it is challenging.

Africa: A focus on a prosperous continent, where divides are bridged and leaders work across boundaries and borders to achieve a broader success.

However, curating this volume was challenging… we, editorial team of this volume, each had personal and professional challenges. We balance our “day-jobs”, our families and responsibilities. Yet we continued to move forward, fueled by our desired to share our voice and to lead. This too was part of the process – as we received and reviewed stories, we encountered these same challenges in the African woman’s balancing act of life. We were living out the exact challenges our contributors also experience on a regular basis and give voice to in their stories.

The collective of these inspiring women leaders revealed some highlights of note:

  1. Our final volume includes 32 submissions by 36 contributors.
  2. We received a strong response from people of South African heritage, especially in academia. We included nine contributions that met the eligibility for the volume.
  3. Submitters represented all regions of the continent, many of whose work cuts across multiple countries on the continent and diaspora. The multi-racial, intersectional and diverse nature of our continent is evident in this small slice of 32 stories as it was in volume one.
  4. The stories in this volume cover a range of industries and topics for Africa’s advancement. Many of the stories cut across multiple sectors. How do you categorize leaders running awareness/advocacy platforms who are also artists and business women? A novel writer who is also an entrepreneur? Academics who are also mentors and community role models? These stories cannot be put in a box. So, we offer them in the following groupings only as a guide to the reader:
  • Six Influencers – These women are shaping domestic and international policies in public sector, gender, agriculture, trade and information technology. In this section, you will meet: Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Baratang Miya, Seno Namwandi, Eileen Bogweh Nchanji, Nitasha Ramparsad and Nomusa Taylor-Dube.
  • Three Health Innovators – Here you will meet the sister-team Yasmine and Heba Aguib who are advancing health research and innovation and catch a glimpse of the health advocacy happening on the continent through the stories of Vanessa Adebayo and Taíla Carrilho.
  • Six Entrepreneurs & Business Women – These women are leading the way in business, as well as creating opportunities for other girls and women. Meet Lynda Aphing-Kouassi, Sara Fakir & Tatiana Pereira, Ijangolet S. Ogwang, Sandra Onwuekwe, Bezawit Shewarega and Wacelia M. Zacarias Zualo.
  • Five Educators – These women span generations, showing that African women have and continue to leave their mark in the African Academy. Meet Stella Bvuma, Tshepiso Maleswena, Mbuywana Mbikusita-Lewanika, Audrey Msimanga and Tracey L. McCormick.
  • Five Bridge Builders – These women are creating platforms to enable and facilitate opportunities and spaces for other women to learn and grow together, support each other and gain access to opportunities that seemed beyond reach now. Meet Marcia Ashong, Vuyi Chaza, Marina Diboma, Kebone Moloko & Siyabonga Ntuli & Buyelwa Xundu and Diana Wilson.
  • Seven (De)Constructors – These leaders cross the arenas of Sports, Arts and Pan-Africanism. The stories are about women disrupting status quo narratives for social impact. They are pioneers for change in the fabric and culture of African identities. They are the stories of Marcia Tate Arunga, Celma Costa, Elizabeth Mwambulukutu, Dorothy J J Okatch, Caroline Pouw via Lydia Radoli, Peace Hilary Tumwesigire and Maame Afon Yelbert-Sai.

This volume exemplifies the We Will Lead Africa ethos and expresses the variety, creativity and magic that the inclusion of women brings. We are proud that this volume was wholly curated by African women – in addition to our editorial team and the contributors, we thank and acknowledge Romy Gad el Rab for her work on cover design with photos supplied by contributor, Elizabeth Mwambulukutu, Oni Aningo for her poetic submission of Steel Magnolia for our prologue and Cheryl S. Ntumy for her science fiction submission of the History of Her to help us imagine future possibilities for girls’ and women’s lives in our epilogue.

The volume will be available on Amazon on Africa Day, 25 May, 2019. We hope you get it and can promise that you will leave the reading of this volume as inspired as we have been in the curating and editing of it. They are stories of pain and triumph in a world that still underestimates and undervalues the contribution of women, and in which African women are often further unrecognized. We applaud every woman whose story is represented here.

In Service and Leadership,

Sarah Owusu,

Yabome Gilpin-Jackson,

Chenge Maruziva,

Moyra Keane.

[1] Gilpin-Jackson, Y. (2016). African Leadership: Now and for the Future, in Quist-Adade and Royal (Eds.), Re-engaging the African Diasporas: Pan-Africanism in the Age of Globalization. Cambridge Scholars

My Dear Child, by Sarah Owusu

Sarah Owusu

We are in the final stages of pulling together our next We Will Lead Africa volume, filled with stories of African WOMEN everyday leaders who are making an impact across African countries. Last year, in a moment of feeling creatively stuck on what the vision for this volume should be, I was challenged by my colleagues, friends and sisters Judith & Yabome, to write a letter to my future child about why this volume would be important…Today, International Women’s Day 2019, I share the letter with you. For the next few weeks, we are still accepting final stories for our volume (which I am co-editing with Chenge Maruziva and Moyra Keane) – see the end of this letter for more details.

My dear child,

I write and live and breathe and work to make alchemy with the pain that we – women – have all carried, are all carrying. As I write this, I write with that knowing ache deep in my bones and my texture… and also with an optimism and hopefulness for what is emerging from the cracks of a system that seems finally to be gasping it’s last breaths.

You will know suffering, and pain, and sadness and anger – because it is hard to be human – but it will not be because you are a woman, nor because you are African. I do not want to protect or shelter you from the full and fraught experience of being alive, but I want you to grow in a place that makes room for you and for all that it means to be an African woman.

The wounds that we – humanity – carry, in all their varying shapes, colours and densities have guided us a long time. Undermining, undervaluing and undoing the contributions that women make has been the norm, and has harmed us all for too long…our struggles have been different, and have been defined by the variety of expressions we embody, have depended on what intersections we lived in and with, and on the specific context and challenges through which we moved.

And despite this, we were leaders, scientists, mothers, activists, soldiers, artists, doctors, home-makers, academics, carers, farmers, politicians.

I hope my stories show you that when our contribution – our full contribution – is valued then the world comes to life. Potential bubbles over and possibilities open up. I hope they show you the story of everyday women, across African countries, leading for the prosperity of their communities and contributing extraordinarily to the future Africa.

In wisdom, power and hope,

An everyday African woman, leading and loving everyday.

Share your story with us: We are looking for stories of everyday magic of African women from across the continent. Our vision is for the volume to be as representative as possible, so getting a beautiful mix of stories (geographies, themes, sectors, perspectives, identities, struggles and insights) is important … help us reach beyond our network to the amazing stories that the world needs to hear. We want the volume to hold up your incredible lives and impact. We want it to be bursting with hope and inspiration. And we want it to honour the reality and fullness of life. If you want to share a story by the 22nd March, please contact us at and we will share the criteria and guide. Follow We Will Lead Africa on facebook, twitter and instagram.

Leadership Masterclass! Mandela & Obama to the world

by Yabome Gilpin-Jackson

This past week, Nelson Mandela’s legacy was celebrated on what would have been his 100th birthday. Simultaneously, leaders from all over the African continent gathered in South Africa to discuss all things leadership and change during the Obama Foundation’s Leaders: Africa program.

Both Mandela day on July 18 and the Obama leaders’ week-long program are designed as calls to leadership and action. This is not only crucial to Africa today but for leadership in the current global world state. Speakers at the Obama Leaders’ program reminded us that so much progress has been made contrary to popular press. The fact that I could follow the talks from Vancouver, BC and be mind-mindbogglingly engaged, inspired and provoked to new thinking is a case-in-point of our collective progress.

Obama Foundation’s Leaders: Africa program.

Both Mandela day on July 18 and the Obama leaders’ week-long program are designed as calls to leadership and action. This is not only crucial to Africa today but for leadership in the current global world state. Speakers at the Obama Leaders’ program reminded us that so much progress has been made contrary to popular press. The fact that I could follow the talks from Vancouver, BC and be mind-mindbogglingly engaged, inspired and provoked to new thinking is a case-in-point of our collective progress.

At the same time, the conversations reminded us that this is a time for leadership and action. “Worry less about what you want to become and worry more about what you want to do” 44th American President Obama urged. There is much to do. We cannot afford to rest on the legacy of our past icons or be content with the laurels that have already been achieved. The gatherings included conversation from iconic elders passing the baton to reminders to young leaders that they are the leaders of NOW and that no title is needed to lead. The emphasis in true Obama style was on the ‘office of the citizen’ – emphasizing civil engagement and action as our avenue for progress and change. Yet in his townhall conversation, Obama was also clear in noting that our changemaking cannot be completely separated from our politics and that political leadership and governance are different. The message was clearly that governance, civil society and business need to work together for the collective progress of our future. Accordingly, the gatherings and townhalls covered everything from ethical leadership to governance to entrepreneurship to education to social impact to business innovation to learning from failure to building transformative organizations and leading into the future.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Kofi Annan & Lakhdar Brahimi, summed up the leadership principles that seemed to be the ethos of the leadership dialogues in their various commentary during the elder townhall: You are never too young to lead, We are never too old to learn. You must lead by working with a team, you never work alone. Learn to trust your teammates and pass the baton. Dream (and act on) ridiculous visions. Be awake in your dreaming and be conscious of the sacrifices inherent in leading collective change journeys. Leading may require breaking boundaries and status quo systems (age, gender, social norms). Be willing to make hard decisions in the interest of the collective. Stay the course.

I think if Mandela can hear the conversations being had and what is emerging, he would rest easy and pause to celebrate. How different the world is 100 years after his birth and what a great contribution he played in those changes! However, he would remind us to rest long enough only to refresh for the journey of change still ahead. In his words and one of my favorite Mandela quotes that hangs in my home:

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

Mandela was indeed an iconic leader, but he did not lead alone and his call was for collective leadership and the engagement of all. As the Nelson Mandela Foundation reminded us this week, Mandela lived by three principles: free yourself, free others, serve everyday. In his words: “It is in your hands to make of the world a better place”

The events of this week have strengthened my resolve to a personal transformative leadership practice and to taking leadership action within my organizational work as well as in the leadership and social change issues that I feel called to. In particular, the dialogue from Mandela Day and Obama Leaders: Africa reinforced my committed to our mission for We Will Lead Africa. Our mission is to create platforms for sharing and inspiring everyday African leadership through storytelling. The dialogues on governance and women’s contribution assured me that we are on the right track for our 2018 calls for submissions.

We are indeed the ones we have been waiting for.


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On Black Panther and Leading African Narratives

by Yabome Gilpin-Jackson

Black Panther and Wakanda fever have abounded these past few weeks. It’s been contagious and nearly impossible not to catch the bug if you are of African descent living abroad. I’m not even a traditional superhero fan. I can boast only of new recruit status since I’ve had children – and I’ve been swept up in it all too. You may be wondering why the euphoria and why this fictional movie in a fictional African country called Wakanda, about superheroes, no less, matters. After all, it’s all made up, isn’t it? It is all made up…and so are all of the rules we live by. It’s all story. What we call fiction serves the purpose of reflecting ourselves back to us in ways that allows us to tell, share and yes, provoke change in some of those made-up rules we live by, when a story helps us see how ridiculous they are. Narrative and storytelling can be an act of social change. Remember, we make social rules…and we are the only ones that can change them. As one of our contributors to the We Will Lead Africa volume 1 says: narrative drives perception and perception drives behaviour. Therefore, to drive lasting change for issues that no longer serve our societies, we must start with the narratives we tell and live by and the perceptions that are thus created – anyone working in any arena of behavioural change will tell you that attacking behaviour is like attacking symptoms of an illness and not curing the root. Change may occur in the short-term but it will not be lasting.

Blank Panther is brilliant as a movie that addresses social change issues at the level of narrative and perception. It flips dominant racial roles (“Great – another white boy to save”/ “Don’t scare me like that, Colonizer!”). It defies normative depictions of dark-skinned women in mainstream Hollywood movies (hairstyles were afrocentric and Team Natural all the way!). It flips colorism by casting very dark-skinned leads. Beyond this, the Black Panther movie shifts the usual mainstream Hollywood narrative of peoples of African descent. The characters are everything I know the people I grew up among and continue to see around me to be – intelligent, humorous, relatable professional leaders, facing all the usual challenges humans contend with: fear of the unknown, negotiating difference, social justice, love and hate. I would usually say “duh,” because of course this should be unremarkable. Any good story should do these things, right? And therein lies why this wholesome depiction of the nearly all-Black cast of characters in Black Panther is remarkable – because it is a far cry (other than the generic African Hollywood accent) from usual stereotypical narratives of the poor, inferior, war-torn/conflict-infested, diseased and defeated peoples of African descent in Hollywood’s mainstream depictions. And this movie was not made by an independent or black-owned studio, nor is it in a movie genre where this (such as nearly all-black cast) would otherwise make sense. As I have written elsewhere, Black Panther is fundamentally about a holistic representation of Black/African identity, where it is usually under or misrepresented. For these reasons, it is a statement movie worth celebrating. In this sense, it may be as epic as movies like Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner or the Spike Lee blockbusters of the 80’s and 90’s that propelled black entertainment industry into challenging mainstream movie norms.

Perhaps my favorite part of the social commentary that Black Panther is, is in the way that it brings together issues facing continental Africans and African-Americans/Diasporan Africans. The movie bridges both places and spaces. It touches on issues of abandonment and the divisions faced by African-Americans/Diasporan Africans as well as continental Africans. It acknowledges our collusion and complicity in slavery and injustices against our own (“where was Wakanda when…”/”Bury me in the sea with my ancestors who understood that death was better than bondage”). It shows ongoing injustices in continental Africa with Nakia’s opening mission to free modern-day Africans from capture. Wakanda in Black Panther may be a fictional country in Africa, but the parallel of the beauty and richness of the African continent is real. Wakanda’s vibranium may as well be the tantalum that powers our information tech hardware found in abundance in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its environs; or the Blood Diamonds of Sierra Leone; or Oil in Nigeria or any of the other vast natural resources that continue to quietly and often illegally leave the richest continent in natural resources. Africa’s resources fuel the world’s economies, while “Africa” remains depicted as “uncivilized, at war, and poor and helpless.” This, of course was the exact plight the fictional Wakandans were concerned would occur – it is in fact the reality of what Africa and Africans have faced since her “discovery.”

The lynchpin and perfect example of how current mainstream narratives of Africa drive perceptions in the world around us rests for me in the outtake. TChalla, King of Wakanda and the Black Panther himself, brings his plan to the UN General Assembly to share Wakanda’s technology with the world. After he speaks, someone in the assembly responds: “With all due respect, what does your country have to offer the world?” Our belief, at We Will Lead Africa, is that we can already begin to smile the way TChalla did in response – that smile that says: just you wait and see what’s coming. The prosperous position that the fictional Wakanda finds itself in is in fact in our reach. Leaders on the continent in every industry ARE already leading. STEM and Tech acceleration is flourishing. The private sector is growing. Women are leading. We are posed to have the youth and labour force to further accelerate development in the next decade through entrepreneurship, innovation and new industries for job creation. And for the first time since our independence movements, social media and citizenship organizing are driving demands for governance changes needed to advance the continent. That is why our calls for stories this year will focus on our advances in governance, tech and women’s leadership. We are ready to lead and own our own narratives. We are moving from a narrative where what we have to offer is taken while we are perceived as worthless, to one where we own and set the terms for what we choose to share with the world. So watch out world – We Will Lead Africa.

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We Will Lead Africa (WWLA) launching! A Reflection on the Journey.

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.

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Reflections on what it means to lead.

My personal journey of change, transformation and radical leadership. By Sarah Owusu


Throughout my childhood I have moved around the globe because of my mother’s work. Born in Botswana, but never living anywhere for more than 4 years at a time (and often landing somewhere in short stints of just 6 months) until my late teens. I am half Ghanaian and half Danish, lived much of my adult life in London and now choose Maputo, Mozambique as my home.

You could say I have a fluid identity – what I call “a planetary citizen”. But the idea of a new start, or moving schools, meeting new friends, experiencing a new culture was never confusing, and always exciting to me. I loved the change. And I loved the process of discovery that began when my mother put the option of the next move on the table – and she always did put it on the table. Our relationship has been collaborative and one of joint decision making for as long as I can remember, even when the decision was about her next career move. It is from her that I know that leadership is inclusive and collaborative, a leadership for the collective.

That phase of my life taught me about change – and the skills you develop to navigate change. Adaptability. Versatility. Openness. Resilience.


Later, as I began my philosophy degree and as I entered the world of work, I was faced with differing perspectives and opinions, many versions of the truth and many ways to scale the same mountain.

In this phase I began to distinguish between change and transformation, with a clear preference for the renewal that transformation brings over incremental change but with an understanding that both have their place. I also discovered that I had a natural aptitude for leading or bringing along others on these shifting journeys. The same skills I’d learnt in childhood remained useful, but now their definition was broader and deeper:

  • Adaptability meant stepping into other worlds, perspectives and ways of being in order to better understand and empathise;
  • Versatility meant a growing comfort with ambiguity and complexity;
  • Openness meant making an effort to stay out of judgement, understanding my own prejudices and remaining curious;
  • Resilience didn’t mean overcoming everything without a scratch, but actually feeling and failing but knowing how to rebuild and practice self care.

Although this is not nearly an exhaustive exploration of what leadership means to me, these aspects of my journey and the impact they have had on me goes a long way to defining how I lead.

We Will Lead Africa

So, as we move towards the launch of the We Will Lead Africa volume I reflect on what is and has been emerging more recently, over the last few years… I notice that my energy and passion is most ignited when I am creating space for radical change and transformation.

I am interested in impacting the fundamental nature of things, and I know I am not alone in this. As the stories from our contributors came in from numerous African countries, a variety of contexts and from individuals with completely different life journeys, it became absolutely clear that I am part of a groundswell. And despite the diversity of submissions, I was struck by the common core: the burning desire to be in action, regardless of challenges, for collective impact and for “Future Africa”.

In particular, I was touched deeply by the way each contributor envisaged and defined the future they hope and dream about, and work towards everyday. They share a kind of practical idealism, simultaneously boundaryless yet structured and actionable. This to me, is a radical new trajectory for the continent and it’s people.

I have also been blessed with two co-editors, Yabome and Judith, who meet me in the most authentic way. Here, I have learnt that leadership is finding your voice, it is listening profoundly to the voices of others, and it is finding the connection and humanity between us, that fuels everything we do.

And for me, above all, We Will Lead Africa has been about intentionally carving out a space for voices that get overlooked. It is these voices that must form part of imagining a radical new narrative about what African leadership means. And with these stories we are bringing to life the impact of those that are dedicated to radical change and transformation on the continent. This leadership challenges and inspires; it invites others in; it encourages everyday people to do extraordinary things.

I hope that this volume, and the stories within it, can hold a space for you to reflect on what you will change, transform and what you will lead, radically.

The We Will Lead Africa volume will be available to purchase on from 25th May – Africa Day 2017. Find out more about our launch event here.

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What is your Olympic Sport? A reflection on the Olympic Refugee Team by Yabome Gilpin-Jackson

I love the Olympics and so does my family. It’s hard to believe the games were on barely a month ago. I seriously miss my nightly dose of catching up on the results of the day, especially for my favorites, gymnastics, swimming and track and field. During the games, our family was gathered around relishing in our nightly commentary as we watched the re-runs of the day. We traded our favorite past and present Olympic stories and highlights. We wondered how 16-year old Penny Oleksiak will fare coming back home to Canada to reintegrate into Grade 10 after breaking into the Olympics scene and claiming 4 medals. This reminded me of my university days and I shared the story of having an Olympian and several world champions on our campus. “They were stars” I said giggling. “They’d spend all semester strutting around, being jocks.” “But then…” I disintegrated into peels of laughter… “at exams, they’d run around looking frantic! Looking for notes and asking what to focus on for exam prep.” Still laughing, I said: “that was my turn to strut when the world champion in my class came to ask me for notes. I took my leisurely time to sort through books with him, gloating all the while!” By now, we were all laughing as my sister said: “I guess academics were your Olympics!!”

You see, I was a straight A student. I loved reading, studying and being on top of my school work. I was committed to academic excellence. I’d get my paper written and submitted on time and still make it to whatever party was going on. In general, I was always super prepared for tests, assignments and exams. My sister was right – academics were my Olympics – the thing I was committed enough to, to practice every day and put the proverbial 10,000 hours into. In many ways, it is still the sport I am committed to now, expressed in my ongoing writing, facilitating, publishing and conference presenting.

So my question today is: What is your Olympic sport?

I believe we all have a sport we are playing in this game called life. Ideally, it is the sport that brings you joy, in which you experience flow when you are in practice. It is the one thing you desire to practice until you achieve some level of mastery and make a contribution to the world through it. It is the thing that drives your purpose. And purpose, in our humanity, anchors our identities and the reason for our existence such that unless/until you are running your own race, there is a profound sense of emptiness, like you are missing something.

My inquiry into: “what is your Olympics?” is a call to each of us to find our own sport and as Saint Peter put it so long ago “let us run with endurance the race set out for us.” As in the Olympics, there is a competitive side to the game of life in which we play to win medals. However, far more important than that is the sportsmanship award. This is the award that goes to those who show-up, participate fully, endure to the end and inspire others as a result of their sportsmanship. This year, my Olympic inspiration came from the first ever Refugee Olympic Team. They win my sportsmanship award. This team of 10 chose to show-up and participate fully. They did not win a single medal, but right from being welcomed with the loudest cheer at the opening ceremony, they had already won. Their race was to remind the world, at this time of global refugee crisis, of the humanity of refugees. That refugees are people, like you and I, who have hopes and aspirations and who dare to dream of changing the world, and to live on purpose. They reminded us that “no one is ever just a refugee” as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi said in her World Humanitarian Day Speech on August 22, just a day after the Olympics ended. They showed us loud and clear, that refugees can and do achieve many other things once they are welcomed into new home countries and communities who dare to see the possibility of a shared future with those seeking refuge. Countries and communities that choose to show-up, endure the initial complexities of integrating others and then become an inspiration to the world when they show that it can be done. I have a feeling we have only just began to see the impact of this historic Refugee Olympic Team.

I share a piece of this Olympic Refugee Team’s story. I ran my academic race because I too had been a refugee and arrived in Canada determined to make-up for the years I had lost in translation. I won a kind of gold medal in return, graduating at the top of my class with the Dean’s medal. An award published in the university news online post and then released to the press under the title: “Refugee earns top business medal.” I was ruffled by the latter chose of title, resentful to have been pegged solely with my refugee experience for publicity of the story. And in many ways, that is a classic example of why part of my Olympic sport now is telling those stories less told, such as stories of African leadership and identities.

So how about you? What is your Olympic sport? How are you leading the African narrative?

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