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International Women's Day Portrait: Oley Dibba-Wadda


On the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, we shine a spotlight on eight women plus one – the Director of Gender, Women and Civil Society – who are making a difference at the African Development Bank. This is the fourth in the series.

Interview with Oley Dibba-Wadda, Director of Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development

First, please introduce yourself by sharing an anecdote or an experience, personal or professional, that has made you who you are today.

My Name is Oley, Lucretia, Clara Dibba-Wadda. I am of Gambian origin and the eldest of four siblings. I am married and have one daughter and three sons. From a personal perspective, a defining moment in my life occurred in my earlier years as a teenager: I was a very sociable and outgoing person. I was also a great cook and still am. Without realizing it at the time, I always shared everything that I had. I had not realized what I was doing at the time until many years later when it was brought to my attention and stories were shared with me about the extent I went just to give and share what I had with others. I therefore believe that sharing what I have with others and being grateful in life has made me who I am today.

From a professional perspective, I am a strong advocate for gender equality and a champion for youth empowerment. I am a mentor to several young women (in particular) and a Certified Life and Spiritual Coach. I support these young African women 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 received an “Inspiring Woman of Excellence” award in The Gambia in 2012, and a “Women Leadership Award” in Mauritius in 2013, and was also one of the nominees of the 2017 New African Woman for Education award. I recently authored a book titled “Memoirs of an African Woman on a Mission”, which shares my personal and professional journey.

In your view, would you say being a woman has been an obstacle or an advantage in the evolution of your career?

I would say that being a woman has been both an obstacle and an advantage in my career. The work environment women are exposed to today in 2018 is still a patriarchal work environment: women still have to work the required hours, weekends and weekdays and are expected to travel and return home and continue to be a mother and a wife, as well be involved in social activities. Juggling these triple roles can sometimes be challenging and, more often than not, something has to give – it can be challenging to have a work-life balance. For me, 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 who were then at school-going age. For example, the most difficult time for me was when I was working full-time then as Global Gender Adviser with Oxfam Great Britain at its headquarters in Oxford in the UK. 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 at the same time, and raising four children in Europe. At the time, I wanted it all! I wanted to have the highest academic qualification. I wanted to reach the highest leadership position possible. I wanted to be a mother and I wanted to be a wife. Having said that, however, the key drivers for overcoming these barriers for me 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 the most. 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 12 years ago). He made this choice to allow me to follow “my dreams”. 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 does March 8th mean for you? In your view, should every day be International Women’s Day?

The month of March in general, is a special month for me. I was born in March. Mother’s Day, for most countries, in particular in the UK where I was born, falls in the month of March. International Women’s Day, falls in the month of March. My great grandmother, who was my role model and icon was born in March. Need I say more? But more generally, Women’s Day should be celebrated every day because “we hold half of the sky and gave birth to the other half”. As such, women (as daughters, wives, mothers, and sisters), should be celebrated every day, every hour, every minute and every second.

What advice or words of wisdom would you give young women who would like to learn from your career and follow in your footsteps?

  • There is no such thing as “right” or “wrong” – it is all about perspective: 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 yourself off and get on with it. Each time, repeat the same process. Eventually, you will achieve your dreams. “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 pass through 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.

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