Daniel Athior Atem: Reflections on My Leadership Journey
While research has shown that to a large extent, leaders are made rather than born, I believe I was born a leader. Born in Maar, Twic East County, Jonglei state of South Sudan, growing up was close to impossible. I grew up during a time when there was a lot of insecurity, violence, and chronic poverty. Rural Maar village had a population of fewer than 3,050 people and less than 85 pupils schooling under trees. The only people I knew who had been to school were my teachers. Many of the girls got pregnant and dropped out of school while the boys resorted to pastoralism and the others were recruited by rebels. I had no role models in terms of academic or career aspirations.
These horrible living conditions are what pushed me to flee to Kenya via lorry. On getting to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, I studied under the (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) UNHCR schools. This experience greatly shaped my perspective on life and from then I committed to bring about change in my community.
Being raised in a traditional African extended family, I was always assigned responsibility such as looking after domestic animals as well taking care of my youngest siblings while the parents were away which I accepted and executed well. Despite being among the younger children, I was the eighth child in a family of more than ten children and nephews, my parents found that I had the leadership qualities and was able to lead the rest of the family. These responsibilities coupled with my education career have progressively shaped and molded me as a strong leader. My leadership aspirations have also been inspired by great African leaders especially Nelson Mandela.
Throughout my career, there have been peak events that have greatly shaped my perspectives on leadership. Over the past six years, I have worked in different reputable organizations including a financial institution as well as consultancy firms. Serving in different leadership portfolios in the above organizations as well as social bodies only changed my perception of leadership. I have always thought of leaders as great people in political organizations, top company officers like General Managers, or Chief Executive Officers. However, I have come to realize that lots of ordinary people championing change around us and we fail to praise them the way we should, while we keep thinking about the great men. I have nothing against the great men; however, I think we should pay tribute to the people that surround us and that strive to make the world a better place each day for all of us and future generations. Such people include student association leaders, young people who have come up to address societal challenges, mid-level managers in business organizations, village chairpersons, teachers as well as religious leaders in local churches. These people have touched and changed many people’s lives, but they always go unnoticed.
Constantly seeking new knowledge and finding solutions to society’s challenges is at the heart of great leadership. Leaders with great research skills can easily confront emerging challenges as well as learn new leadership best practices. Like they say, ‘knowledge is power’, research unlocks potential in leaders, it makes them think out of the box since they become creative.
By going through the Master of Science in Development Finance Programme at Strathmore University Business School, I have gained research experience from the various lecturers and professors. I came into SBS as a Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS Africa) scholar, the first student to benefit from the MINDS Africa scholarship scheme. I have also gained inclusive experience that led me to write and emerged as the first World Bank ‘Blog 4Dev 2019’ winner for South Sudan that was then published on the World Bank website. Further, I have written many articles including the Developmental Challenges and Opportunities in Africa which was featured in the Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS Africa). I am passionate about knowing what is going on in the world. I therefore read and follow both local and international news. I write articles on pressing societal issues such as corruption, bad governance, girl child marriage, child solider, and nepotism in local newspapers (Juba Monitor) and PaanLuelAwei (Online media) in South Sudan. Leaders of creative work identify and coordinate requisite expertise for projects, create shared mindsets about mission direction, define strategies for carrying out the work, and orchestrate an environment characterized by intellectual stimulation, communication, and productive conflict. This, therefore, makes research a key skill for contemporary leadership.
My quest to influence and inspire others saw me take on leadership roles at quite an early stage of my education journey. I have been in the Strathmore University Community Outreach Programme which aims to help needy families and students from informal settlements. I have developed several leadership qualities through volunteering including getting space to try out new things, developing the spirit of giving, learning, building, and widening my networks, gaining confidence, and passion to influence others. My leadership character is premised on serving people while expecting nothing in return, always focused on change, always admitting and learning from mistakes, active listening, promoting diversity, and working together to achieve more. I also believe that true leaders have a quest for knowledge, they keep learning to better their skills in communication, technology, project management, social work, business administration, and several other fields which affirms the saying that leaders are made. Learning history further heightened my passion to influence others after getting to know of great leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro.
Social Impact Project
I believe leadership is about bringing change in people’s lives by finding solutions to society’s challenges. To improve myself, first, I need to be able to give people more freedom of choice, let them make more decisions, and support them. Even if those decisions are not what I stand for; however, they are better for the majority or for the group itself. Therefore, I have tried to bring about change in the lives of refugees by establishing a social development club called Helping Others like You (HOLY Africa) that focuses on books drives and the establishment of libraries in Kakuma Refugee camp. I believe that only knowledge can unlock the minds of refugees, many of whom have almost lost hope.
Refugees and asylum seekers often constitute very heterogeneous groups, hailing from various countries with various languages and cultural backgrounds. In the beginning, libraries can therefore offer them only general services. The contribution of libraries to a welcoming culture consists of facilitating access to information, knowledge, and encounters. Only once interest is awakened can libraries target the specific needs of the individual.
I have touched on several aspects of the leadership process, which I have collected through my childhood upbringing, work, and school experience. In summary, I have come to see leadership as a dynamic process that occurs in human organizations as actors perceive emerging possibilities and choose to take action. The willingness to do so is strongly connected to the actor’s internal states and engagement of the fundamental state of leadership. Finally, the effectiveness of the actor may be impacted by the actor’s sphere of influence and by his/her formal or informal status and authority to act, and organizational readiness to embrace the change. I look forward to further developing these understandings as I continue on my leadership journey.
Daniel Athior was part of the Pioneer Msc. Development Finance Class which graduated on Friday 4th December 2020. Congratulations Daniel!
Learn about the Master of Science in Development Finance Programme
Article By: Manyuon, Daniel Athior Atem, MSc. Development Finance Student