Oley Dibba Wadda, director of Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development, AfDB
In this first edition of Inspirational Women, The Women’s Torch profiles Oley Dibba Wadda, the AfDB’s recently appointed director of Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development. She is expert in international development policy and programming, particularly on education and gender equality in Africa. A mentor, motivational speaker and a Certified Life and Spiritual Coach, Oley Dibba Wadda is the Founder, President and CEO of the Gam Africa Institute for Leadership (GAIL) and has led multicultural and multidisciplinary Pan African development organisations.
Inspirational Women will each month profile a West African woman of clout, a trailblazer whom we hope will inspire in particular our younger readers and women across West Africa to follow their dreams.
Who is Oley Dibba Wadda?
My Name is Oley, Lucretia, Clara Dibba-Wadda. I am of Gambian origin and the eldest amongst 4 siblings. I was born on 24 March 1967 to my father, Omar Baboucar Yusupha Dibba, and my mother, Lucretia Eleanor Clara Dibba (nee Carayol). I was born in the United Kingdom at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford where my father was a graduate student at the Oxford University at the time. As their eldest child I was named after my dad’s mother, Oley, and also given my mother’s middle names, Lucretia Clara.
I attended the Methodist Primary and Kindergarten School at Dobson Street in The Gambia and later went to St. Joseph’s High School at Box Bar, also in The Gambia. I graduated with a Masters in Gender Analysis in Development from the University of East Anglia in Norwich in the United Kingdom. I am married to Bye Malleh Wadda and have one daughter (Katty) and three sons (Omar, Mustapha and Samsudeen).
My determining life in my earlier years can be described as a teenager, I was a very sociable and outgoing person. I was also a great cook and still am. However, without realising it at the time, I always shared everything that I had; even when it meant getting into trouble. I would always give. I had not realised what I was doing at the time until many years later when it was brought to my attention and stories shared with me about the extent I went just to give and share what I had with others.
I am an advocate for gender equality and a champion for youth empowerment. I am a mentor to several young women and men across the continent and a motivational speaker and a Certified Life and Spiritual Coach. I support these young African women and men to aspire to achieve academic, professional and personal excellence in their life and career paths by providing financial support towards their education as well as using my influence to place them as interns and young professional programmes in international development organizations. I have travelled the length and breadth of the Global serving as keynote speaker, motivational speaker, special guest speaker, and panelist on education, girls education, gender and women’s rights in Africa.
I have been working in the international development sector particularly on education and gender equality over the past 15 years. I have lead multicultural and multidisciplinary Pan African development organisations and since July 1, Director in the Department of Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development (AHHD). I was also the Executive Secretary of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) hosted by the African Development Bank (AfDB); Executive Director of Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) working on women, peace and security in Africa as well as Executive Director for the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) working on girls’ education in 34 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Similarly, I worked with Oxfam GB in the UK as Global Programme and Policy Adviser and have held senior management and advisory roles such as Project Manager, Country Director and Regional Co-ordinator in other international organisations including the Commonwealth Education Fund, Concern Universal and the European Development Fund. I have raised and managed multi-million US$ budgets through multilateral and bilateral cooperation agencies, foundations, governments and private individuals and successfully cultivated and nurtured strategic partnerships on the same.
I sit on several Advisory Boards and currently the Global Ambassador for 10X10 and Concern Universal – I was also Chair of the Board of Trustees for Concern Universal and the first woman to head the Pan African institution – the Association for the Development of Education in Africa ADEA. I was awarded “Inspiring Woman of Excellence” in The Gambia in 2012; and “Women Leadership Award” in Mauritius in 2013. I recently authored a book titled, “MEMOIRS OF AN AFRICAN WOMAN ON A MISSION”
I am A “GIVER”! My Life Philosophy and well known quote towards my purpose and Life journey reads as follows: “My Life is to give and share all that I AM and all that I have to humankind. I get my inspiration from the longing for love; the search for knowledge; gratitude for all that I AM and compassion for the living – This is My Life”.
I have come to realize that the more I give the more I receive. The more I help others, and the more I express gratitude for everything I have, the more doors opened up for me and opportunities come my way. I am however on the other hand, a very determined person. In terms of who motivated me, I would say my great grand-mother. Her name was Mrs. Lucretia Ayeshemi Joof. She was the first female member of parliament in The Gambia. She had no children of her own, but she raised several children (including my grandmother, my mum and my mum’s siblings) under her wing. She was very independent, a go getter and “A Giver”. Her passion, energy and drive rubbed off on my mum, down to myself and to my only daughter. She was an inspiration to many.
What is your greatest achievement?
Three areas stand out as key achievements for me.
- My greatest achievement is the fact that I have successfully been able to balance and juggle my triple roles as a daughter, mother, wife and professional woman having led three pan African organisations as CEO in a patriarchal work environment.
- The second achievement is the fulfillment of having “found myself” and found my purpose in life.
- The third is the fact that I have been able to share my story and my journey in my memoirs to help motivate other women find themselves.
How have you overcome the barriers visible/or invisible to get to where you are today?
The work Executive and CEO work environment is still patriarchal. Women still have to work the required hours and travels expected of any CEO and return home to become a mother and wife. Juggling these triple roles can sometimes be challenging and more often than not, something has to give – it is difficult to have a work life balance.
Sadly, my social life had to give. I recall how in the UK, I had to work twice as hard to get to the top. I say twice as hard because, I had to break barriers as a black woman on the rise living in the UK and married with four children at school going age. For example, the most difficult time for me was when I was working fulltime then, as Global Programme and Policy Adviser with Oxfam Great Britain at its Headquarters in Oxford. I drove 100 miles to and from work every day and travelled literally six months of the year. I was in my second year as a doctoral student at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and driving to my University on lecture days – some 150 miles from home and doing my research raising 4 children. I wanted it all! I wanted to have the highest academic qualification. I wanted to reach the highest position possible. I wanted to be a mother and I wanted to be a wife.
However, the key drivers for overcoming these barriers have been have been the support and encouragement from my parents, my husband and my children at a time when my children were young and needed me most. They are now aged (28; 22; 20 and 12 years of age and all left the nest with the youngest at boarding school). But, more so, the sacrifice my husband made by retiring early from his professional career to be a “stay at home dad” – which is not a common choice for an African man (this was 11 years ago. He made this choice to allow me follow “My dreams”.
My professional and academic career at a time when I was working full time and in my third year as a Doctoral candidate raising four children in the UK. The second was having a clear vision of where I wanted to get to and focusing on the “goal post” without allowing distractions to get in the way of my vision. The third was being disciplined; committed; consistent and willing to learn. And finally, the ability to have an open mind and accepting my challenges as opportunities for my personal and professional growth.
What is your greatest failure or fear?
At this stage in my life and having “found myself”? I view fear or failure as a “limiting belief”. To be honest, right now, – non. At this stage in my life, I see every lesson as a blessing. I see every person crossing my path for a reason or a season for a purpose – to teach me something.
What advice can you give to young women who aspire to be leaders?
- There is no such thing as “right” or “wrong” – it is all about perspectives – who is looking at it and based on their experiences, background and knowledge.
- If you thought about it, then “DO IT” – nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it.
- Don’t’ be afraid to take risks – taking risks is part of the package to success. When you fall, get up, dust up and get on with it. Each time, repeat the same process. Eventually, you will achieve your dream – “no pain, no gain”.
- Nothing in life is free. You MUST work hard to achieve your dreams.
- Everything in life is about “Lessons” and “blessings” – see your challenges as lessons – as life preparing you for something bigger.
- People cross your life for “a reason; a season and a life time” – each to teach you something. So watch out for that lesson.
- “Gratitude”! – Be grateful for everything you have in life – no matter how small you may think it is.