On the 18th of May, 2017, a day after my birthday, I delivered a lecture titled: 'My leadership experience: Synopsis of signposts in my career' at the University of Abuja main campus. The lecture was delivered to a potpourri of undergraduates and graduates of various universities and disciplines across Nigeria. There was animated discussion under the Chatham House rules. The session was indeed interactive.
My lecture was scheduled for the third day of Global Leadership Experience (GLE), initiated by Common Purpose in collaboration with MacArthur Foundation and University of Abuja. GLEs are run for University students in 'Magnet Cities' across the world, where large numbers - at least 100 nationalities - of the world's talent convene to study. In 2017, GLEs are taking place in Abuja, Auckland, Bangalore, Boston, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jakarta, Lagos, Melbourne, Montreal, Sao Paulo and Singapore.
According to Common Purpose GLE, 'we live in a world that faces challenges which transcend national boundaries, demanding smarter, more inspired and globally connected leaders'. One challenge is set each year and participants on each GLE taking place that year will tackle the same challenge. The challenge for this year is 'How can you increase civic engagement in your city?'
With more people than ever before residing in cities, our urban areas are constantly under pressure as regards the environment, food security, community cohesion, housing and security. With over 75% of the world's population expected to be living in cities by 2050, governments, whether at local or national level, can't solve these issues alone. Civil society needs to be involved, and students are a critical mass of the sub-set.
Stanford University Professor and civic engagement authority, Thomas Erlich, defines civic engagement thus: 'working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community through political and non-political processes'.
Rendition of my own real life experience as a leader inspired the students to get involved in the community. I told them about how I was a student leader in the University of Ife in the 1970's as an undergraduate. Though I did not seek any elective post in the Student Union, I was a 'kingmaker'. No candidate could secure the votes of the female population on campus without consulting me and my group of progressive female students.
That was why when I voluntarily changed my course from Chemical Engineering to Political Science, I led my class at graduation in 1980 with a high Second Class Upper Division and a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 4.2. I started my working career as an Advertising Executive after my M.Sc in Political Economy from the University of Lagos in 1982. After that I joined the Guardian newspaper at inception in 1983 as Senior Reporter and the very first National Assembly Correspondent. That was where I met my husband, Femi Kusa, who was then the News Editor.
I needed flexi-time to care for my young children after marriage. I chose to start a career as an academic in Lagos State University (LASU). I lectured there for about 20 years, where I rose to become Head of Department of Political Science and the first Director of the Centre for Refugee & Conflict Studies. In fact I set up the Centre in 1997. Then the Sierra-Leoneans and other nationals were harboured by Nigeria in Oru camp, Ogun state. The leader in me made me plant lemon grass in the camp to alleviate the incidents of malaria. Condoms were also provided to the refugees. Within a year, my leadership initiatives led to a drastic decrease in the number of unwanted pregnancies/HIV/STD/Malaria among refugees.
From LASU, I was appointed the first Director of the Department of External Conflict Prevention & Resolution, Institute for Peace & Conflict Resolution (IPCR), The Presidency. There, as a leader, I formulated the project, 'Post-Conflict Peace-Building in Africa' which was the very first project approved for IPCR by the National Assembly! All other departments had to latch on to my project in order to get busy and make my project relevant in some way to their department. Another first by me!
I retired in 2010, and instead of sitting pretty and living the idle life of the typical retiree, I set up a viable Consultancy: 'Dayo Oluyemi-Kusa & Associates', where along with my dynamic team we have been involved in conflict transformation in the Niger Delta & North-East Nigeria at various times. In retirement, I am a Senior Fellow of Centre for Democracy & Development (CDD) - a think tank for social/political engagement. It was after retirement that I concluded my Ph.D in Peace Studies on line. The title of my thesis is: 'Mediation: A viable method of conflict transformation in Nigeria'.
My audience was indeed fascinated by my leadership odyssey. I have shown that you can be a career woman and also be a successful wife and mother. My marriage to Femi Kusa, a veteran journalist/herbal medicine practitioner is 34 years young and still counting. Our three adult sons have turned out very well. My first son, Tope Kusa is a medical doctor (MBBS) with an MPH degree from Harvard University. He is a Clinical Research Coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. My second son, Seun Kayode Kusa, a lawyer, is now a content provider for start-ups/herbal medicine enthusiast/Chartered Mediator & Conciliator. He is a law graduate of the University of Abuja, where I delivered the lecture. My last son, Ayokunnu Kusa, is a graduate of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (Animal Breeding & Genetics - Upper 2nd, GPA 4.09). Ayo is now an M.Sc student in the Department of Animal Physiology, Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi.
There are major points to ponder from my leadership experience:
*It is not what you study in the University that would eventually put food on your table. I read Political Science, but ended up with Peace & Conflict Transformation.
*Seize every opportunity at your disposal, never take anything for granted. I attended all the courses as a Director in the Presidency. Some of the papers I presented at conferences became useful for my Ph.D
*For female mentees: It is quite possible to be a career woman and also a successful wife/mother. I am a living example. My husband, Femi Kusa, has been very supportive.
*You can pick up leadership qualities in the most unlikely places, even while watching children play.
*Always pay attention to detail
*Serve your superiors diligently, just like you would like your subordinates to relate to you when you become a leader.
*The fact that I was the first Director of the Centre for Refugee & Conflict Studies stood me in good stead to become a Director in the Institute for Peace & Conflict Resolution, The Presidency. Moral of this: Do your very best in every position you find yourself, it may be a stepping stone to bigger things!
It was indeed pleasant to share my leadership experience with the students. I also met the amazing Common Purpose GLE 'crew' that came to Abuja:
*Archana Bhaskar, Director Asia-Pacific, Common Purpose GLE
*Adeola Ogunkolade, Founder, African Fashion Development & Empowerment Centre (AFDEC)
*Kosi Okolo, Programme Manager, Common Purpose GLE
How can I forget Ridhima Tomar, the first person to contact me from Common Purpose via Linkedin. Pity Ridhima could not be with us in Abuja due to logistics issues. However, she stayed constantly in touch via email throughout. It was an exciting time mentoring the younger ones as regards my leadership experience! Kudos to the Common Purpose GLE team. Bravo!