Last September, I returned to my hometown of Lagos, Nigeria after a yearlong Atlas Corps Fellowship. Atlas Corps functions similarly to a “reverse Peace Corps,” where social purpose professionals from around the globe come to America to work with and learn from nonprofit organizations. I was placed with Practice Makes Perfect, and Evaluate for Change.
Within days of returning home, I had already hatched a plan for a training program for young professionals in the for-profit and social impact space, called, “Elevate Your Game!” We hit the limit for participation almost as soon as I announced the program.
How I got here – my own still-in-progress leadership journey – embodies the “ripple effect theory.” This theory of change refers to change which starts small and from one spot, but which expands, thereby leading to multiple ripples of good.
Leadership is a Marathon not a Sprint
The mail came in on April 21, 2017, and read “Congratulations! You have been selected to participate in the June 2017 American Express leadership Academy. As you know, the program offers 48 emerging leaders an opportunity to participate in a marquis leadership development training program that includes a feedback-intensive learning environment and hands-on activities to enhance your leadership capacity….!”
And thus, my journey to the American Express Leadership Academy – summer 2017 cohort, Seattle, Washington—became reality. I was nervous, but I was also more than ready to take advantage of the huge opportunity I had been presented with.
Participating in this #AmexLeads Academy taught me that leadership is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. Put another way, it is a journey, not a destination. American Express invests in the long run, in truly developing the capacity of leaders, who then “pay it forward” by investing in others and giving back as they have been given.
I had the opportunity to gain insights from the speakers and facilitators from Points of Light, Center for Creative Leadership, American Express and other leaders and participants . It was not just about what I could learn from the program, but also how much was I willing to take advantage of the resources that suddenly surrounded me. It was a time to learn, unlearn and relearn.
It also provided an opportunity to expand my networks, make new friends, and have access to a community where we all looked out for each other. It was no longer about succeeding individually but collectively.
Another advantage I gained from the Academy was the opportunity to be paired with an executivecoach– a new experience for me that helped provide clarity personally and professionally. As social impact professionals concerned about social issues, we often run the risk of wearing ourselves thin in the bid to play “Superman” and save the world. The Academy helped me identify my areas of strength, as well as hone in on my mission, and be clear on the specific problems I have been wired to solve.
Returning Home, Continuing the Work
After my year with my host organization and my experience in the Academy, I left New York for for Lagos, Nigeria, full of optimism and more than ready to play a role in nation-building.
The leadership training and capacity building opportunities that I had received in the United States prepared me for the task ahead.
Our training program, “Elevate Your Game!” was held at the American Corner at CCHub in Lagos. It brought together over 50 professionals from Lagos and neighboring states, in order to create a community of practice of young professionals who are willing to support each other, help each other grow, as well as develop their capacity to scale the impact of their initiatives.
The fact that we quickly sold out made me realize the need and yearning for platforms and programs such as these, where young professionals can upgrade both their soft and hard skills, as well as network, share and interact with peers.
By collaborating with my colleagues in the development sector, we arranged for three other facilitators to share stories of their journey, as well as lead sessions focused on such topics as: Design Thinking, Leveraging Social Media for Social Good, The Process of Gaining Clarity, as well as The Role of Volunteering in Continuous Personal and Professional Growth, among others.
Sitting in a session with my fellow social purpose leaders, hearing about their passion and leadership journeys, I found myself reflecting on another major advantage I had gained from the American Express Leadership Academy: clarity on who I am as a person, and the problems I have been wired to solve.
Now, my personal mission statement reads as follows:
I am passionate about raising ethical leaders to drive innovation, entrepreneurship and development in rural and urban communities, as well as empowering social change professionals to function effectively at the intersection of passion, purpose and impact.