Dr Yabome Gilpin-Jackson: My work is about developing our human capacity to be, think and do things differently and better

Dr. Yabome Gilpin-Jackson was born in Germany, grew up in Sierra Leone, and completed her studies in Canada and the USA. She is a social scientist, organization consultant, academic and writer. Dr Yabome Gilpin- Jackson considers herself to be a global African, dreamer and storyteller – a curator of African identity and leadership stories.

She’s been named International African Woman of the Year and Emerging Organization Development Practitioner 2017. The author of Identities: A short story collection, and initiator and co-editor of We Will Lead Africa, Volume 1.

Best known for: Her laugh. Yabome, who is married and the mother of 3 children, has also published several journal articles and book chapters and continues to research, write and speak. Most recently at Princeton University – on the importance of holding global mindsets and honouring diversity and social inclusion in our locally global world. 

What is We Will Lead Africa?

We Will Lead Africa is a platform for inspiring continued change and transformation on the African continent, in two ways: First, we collect, curate and share the stories of everyday African leaders who are making a real impact on the progress of the continent. Second, we encourage networks of everyday leaders to gather in their communities to share, learn and inspire each other to continue taking actions that make a difference.

At our root, our work is about sharing inspiration and action, through the power of storytelling. We know that the personal narratives of ordinary everyday leaders are in fact extraordinary. Our first volume shows this powerfully. It reminds us everyday that Africans are taking charge of their destinies and futures, despite popular opinions.


Africans are taking charge of their destinies and futures, despite popular opinions Click To Tweet

What inspired you to create We Will Lead Africa?

My inspiration came from a deep desire to be part of the movement of Africans reclaiming our own narratives. When you live in the West/Diaspora, you are bombarded by news, images, and everyday negative stereotypes, that imprint the challenges and deficits of the continent on entire populations that don’t know any different. As this is perpetuated, Africans ourselves become hooked into a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, even when we know that the dominant view is an incomplete one.

We do not hear about all that is going well, the innovations occurring, the industries emerging and expanding, the people and groups who are no longer waiting for our political leaders and foreign aid to fix all our problems. As we lose hope, our conversations become like the very dominant Western narratives we are subsumed in.

For example, I received a call for submissions to the Kwame Nkrumah International conference a few years ago and the list sparked a deep desire for change in me. The list was focused on all the historical issues that have led us to the political leadership challenges we face on the continent. Then, I thought what about leadership NOW and into the FUTURE? What does that look like? That was what sparked the idea for We Will Lead Africa.

When I met my co-founders and co-editors, Sarah and Judith, they shared similar thoughts and sentiments and off we went. It’s important to say also that we are not interested in a one-sided view or only the positives…we want to know and be inspired by the fullness of stories of everyday leaders. How do they navigate and overcome the challenges they face everyday, to solve complex problems on the African continent?


My inspiration came from a deep desire to be part of the movement of Africans reclaiming our own narratives Click To Tweet


What one story had the most impact on you?

This volume is so full of inspiration and examples of courage! I was impacted by all of them in different ways. But, the one that I keep remembering though is, Chris Mulenga’s story about starting a program to help get street children recognized for their resilience and innovative capacities and reunited with their families.

Chris describes how he has done this work that has a 90% success rate. He describes himself as poor when he started and says he is still poor. Yet at the time of writing the book he had helped over 6,500 children and has been recognized with international humanitarian awards.

He attributes his inspiration to the value of being hospitable-which he learned as a child- whereby his family would share what they had no matter how little; and to the orientation of service to the poor that comes from his Catholic faith.

I just keep thinking about the resources available to so many of us, and yet, we are stopped by the myth that we do not have enough to make a meaningful difference to the lives of others. What if we just tried? What if we just started now, with whatever we have?

What are the 3 main steps you’d advise for an aspiring author ?

1. Get clear what story you are passionate about telling and why

2. Get clear who you want to tell it to

3. Be focused and determined…and just start writing.

There really is no magic to it – it’s 90% determination and the willingness to make time to do the work needed.


Growing WWLA brand…

Our priorities are growing We Will Lead Africa networks and encouraging other African leaders to take on editing volumes as well. The three of us have identified a volume we will work on next, and we are documenting our process, which we will make available to others interested in editing a volume as well.

For now, stay tuned in the next 18months to 2 years for the following volumes: We Will Lead Africa: Technology; We Will Lead Africa: Women; and We Will Lead Africa: Governance.

Our priority is in growing our impact in inspiring everyday Africans to take action for the change and transformation of the continent. We are in this for the long haul and are choosing to go together so we can make real progress. As the often quoted proverb attributed to African wisdom goes: If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.


If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together- African proverb Click To Tweet


Your roles include: social scientist, consultant, academic, writer, curator of African identity and leadership stories. How do you prioritise all your roles?

My overarching anchor is that I am an applied social scientist in the field of Human and Organization Development. My work is about developing our human capacity to be, think and do things differently and better than we are doing today.  What excites me is the idea of human potential and what we are capable of- under the right conditions.

Everything else is attached to my work as an applied social scientist, whether I am working with a single leader, an organization, a community or students on a campus. My consulting to leaders is about how they can lead in ways that helps their teams and groups reach full potential.

My teaching in the field, is to help students develop the capacity for complex, systems-thinking about human concerns. My writing and research is also to spark transformational change in the issues I write about.

Before and beyond all this, I am a wife and mother and that person who loves my close and extended family fiercely. I pray for strength to always be a decent human being in the world. At the end of the day that’s my first priority. Living and loving well, such that who I am and what I do makes a difference to others. Even if it’s just my smile…or my crazy laugh.

Do you have a positive story to share about an African initiative?

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.