Story of the Month Archive

Each month we highlight the story of one woman who is making a difference in the world.  We invite you to celebrate these women, learn from and be inspired by their stories. We also invite you to share your stories of women leading the way, so that we might share it here.

< Back to the current Story of the Month

February 2016: Collaborative Leadership ~ Creating the Future We Want – TOGETHER

IMAGINE THIS! ! !  Oluwadamilola Apena,  (Dami) ~  an amazing YOUNG woman leader from Nigeria, who is currently completing her Master’s Degree at Antioch University, Seattle, shares her thinking about what leadership means, as well as some of the family experiences and early work experiences that enabled her to embrace her passion and her commitment to leading, not from a “position” above others, rather leading with others.


Family is most times the first earthly contact a child has to leadership. Thinking about my journey in leading the way, family comes to mind for me.

An incident struck me when I was in primary school, I was waiting close to the gate of my school for my dad to pick me when I saw a young girl whose face was familiar in my neighborhood.  She walked past hawking some goods and I tried to wave but you could see the sadness on her face. This was probably the beginning of critical inquiry for me, Why wasn’t she in school? Recalling similar incidents too, I further asked, why do I see so much unfairness? Is there anything that can be done about such? Who is responsible for making changes? Is it the government as I saw in newspaper? Community leaders?  Who?

Reflecting on the probable response to these questions, I found a bit in my upbringing.  My father was an ex-policeman, who encouraged self-organization when the community we lived in was experiencing high security challenges such as robbery, looting and the like. The men and women came to our house for meetings and discussed probable solutions such as doing household shifts for night watch, acquiring safety ammunitions, security training among other things. This got me thinking about community-based solutions and leadership.  If they had waited for the government to provide patrol cars for police officers and relied on them to provide security, we would have incurred so many damages and loss of lives. I am talking about (1995-1999) those times where seldom families in Mushin, Lagos, Nigeria had reliable home phones to call any police and police officers had seldom vans to timely respond to violent situations.

Dami's Family

Dami’s Mother and Father (left) and her brother (right)

My mum is also very influential to the values I hold dear; she is strong, diligent and multifaceted. She always makes our house welcoming for such community meetings, any other home functions and at the same time, she excels as a businessperson, caring mother and attentive wife. She makes me see leadership in a beautiful light that it is not gender limiting and that anyone who is passionate about giving their best can step with faith into leadership shoes. In fact, my parents brought me up and my outstanding brother (who is now a medical doctor) with the same amount of love and our differences were uniquely celebrated.



Young men and women of NCCF Bayelsa engaged in their building project. which required more than a year.

In addition, I have been part of many youth fellowships in my country such as TACSFONLASU, NCCF (Bayelsa) and the likes. I remember NCCF Bayelsa vividly; youths came together with mind-blowing initiatives to tackle societal challenges and organize community engagements, free medical services in unreached areas, and educational tutorials for orphans and vulnerable children. I have so much hope in the future of my country whenever I see such outstanding youth leadership in display.

At a juncture in my life, I began seeking God concerning purpose, and the question “What do you live for?” was at the core of my heart. I became very aware of a purposeful lifestyle and found my vision statement in Isaiah 61:1-3 in the Christian Bible.

This has been a driving force even in the face of counteracting situations and opposition. It can be referred to as spirited leadership, when one has a deep conviction in the existence of a higher authority and as a constant source of inner strength, direction, and courage irrespective of the storms. I ended up with a deep sense that I cannot change my entire world but by God’s grace, I will contribute my quota.

4 5

Dami is engaged in Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT),
an outreach project in a rural community in Nigeria.

Going back to one of the questions, who is responsible? The body system comes to mind for me, every part has a function. Everyone from individuals, to communities and the government has a role to play. For sustainable change to occur, it must cut across all levels. Relatively, I learned a lot as a child from the community-based solutions because it speaks volumes about the power of collaboration. We all have to come together and fulfill our parts, which is the essence of collaborative leadership.

“Fight Against Malaria” Campaign

More so, I remember a proverbial statement from my home tribe “Omode gbon agba gbon lafi da ile-ife”. Contextually, this means in order for us to get to our destination, we need the wisdom of the young and old to build. Meanwhile, I will add that, we need a world where males, females, the young and old can celebrate each other’s uniqueness and still explore our common grounds to build a better and sustainable world. In addition, despite the terrible things happening in our fast changing world, we need to hold on to the deep conviction that ‘light’  and ‘good’ always prevail.