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We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For | My Week on the Obama Leaders: Africa Program

IMG-20180726-WA0010For over a decade when asked to introduce myself at networking events, my standard response has been “I’m Lesley, a Pan-African Globalist”. My tone would range from calm to fierce depending on how engaged I sensed the audience to be. In the past week however, I found myself surrounded by kindred spirits who responded to the rallying call “WE ARE THE ONES WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR”!

I am one of 200 privileged people hailing from 44 countries across Africa who are called #ObamaLeaders. The Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program is described as a year-long initiative to inspire, empower, and connect 200 emerging leaders from across Africa to take on the biggest challenges in our communities, countries, and continent.

Reflecting on the week I spent with so many diverse perspectives where my thinking was challenged, affirmed and often provoked as I engaged with peers from civil society, business leaders, entrepreneurs and parliamentarians with the common intention of creating inclusive radical impact. The Obama Foundation values are our container of engagement which are an aspirational way of showing up in the world: Team, Humility, Integrity, Inclusivity, Stewardship, Fearlessness, Imagination. Each speaker took us on a journey of how they have role modelled these values – often in times of adversity – in their careers and each workshop gave us the strategic tools to apply it in our context. Below is a summary of the lessons I’ve captured:

Insights from Mo Ibrahim:   

Photo credit: The Obama Foundation

Insights from Leadership in the Face of Adversity panel with Graca Michel, Thuli Mandonsela and Bogolo Kenewendo:                      

Photo credit: The Obama Foundation

Insights from Trends in Africa panel discussion with Fred Swaniker, Sangu Delle, Maraya Iskander:

Insights from The Future of Africa panel with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Kofi Anan, Lakhaar Brahimi:

Insights from Innovating for the Next Generation panel with Aliko Dangote, Trevor Manuel, John Collison:

A conversation with Ryan Coogler, Writer & Director of Black Panther: 

Ryan Coogler

I was moved by the work of Ryan Coogler without knowing who is when watching the movie Creed, the second movie he had directed. His name however catapulted in my world because of Black Panther that I watched twice in the first 2 weeks of opening. It was interesting hearing his story of growing up in Oaklands, the chance he took when landing a meeting with Forest Whitaker and his evolution as an artist. His contribution to black imagery and role modelling in Hollywood as well as the positioning of Africa is well documented. What really stood out for me is how his character is grounded despite fame and his appreciation for the people in his life that supported him on his journey, particularly his wife; it was not all about him. I’m also naturally proud as a South African that his first visit to our continent was my home country; inspiring scenes in one of the most successful movies in the world! Wakanda Forever! 

Townhall with President Barack Obama:

Photo credit: The Obama Foundation

President Barack Obama was inaugurated on my birthday in 2009 on the 20thJanuary. I celebrated like no other with this historical event and it would seem too far-fetched to ever imagine the possibility of someday meeting him and engaging in conversation, albeit briefly.

I suspect that more of his gems of wisdom will land in my head and heart over the coming weeks as I am called to act. These are some initial thoughts; to see his address in our Townhall meeting, please refer to:

It has only been a few days since the group has departed from the first leg of our time together but I can already feel a shift within me despite not having the language to name it yet. I know that I have made lifelong friends and have a renewed thirst to study the history and condition of countries in Africa that I have not explored yet. I have always had a heart for my continent, my ability to act strategically is now being sharpened.

I am proudly and appreciatively an Obama Leader! 


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