Debisi Araba

Alumnus Profile

Debisi Araba

Debisi Araba

Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow
Harvard Kennedy School, Mid-Career MPA ‘16
Regional Director for Africa, International Center for Tropical Agriculture

What specific leadership lesson did you take away from any of the co-curricular sessions or activities at CPL?

The main lesson that has had the most impact on my career, post-CPL (and HKS) has been on understanding the difference between authority and exercising leadership. In my role as the Africa Director of International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), I have assigned responsibilities as an authority figure. However, exercising leadership requires that I help my team learn, articulate and identify challenges and initiate the process of introducing solutions. Without exercising leadership and learning to appreciate the perspectives of my colleagues, I would have faced significant challenges in achieving work-based objectives when I stepped into my new role.

With each passing month, I have renewed appreciation for the ability to move between the ‘balcony and the dancefloor’ and explore hidden perspectives of colleagues in getting work done. This has helped me improve my ability to initiate change and support my colleagues to exercise leadership.

Talk about the elements of the fellowship experience that were most meaningful within your specific cohort.

One element I wish to highlight is the dream trust exercise we carried out within my cohort. Coming to HKS, I was at a crossroads in my career and was unsure of which area to focus on after my Fellowship. The insights and diverse perspectives from members of my cohort helped me to prioritise my options and identify the career path I wanted to be on. The weekly Fellowship meetings also served as a time to connect personally with my cohort and to forge friendships. With the fast-paced life of a student at HKS, CPL was always a rewarding and welcoming sanctuary of calm and reflection.

In what ways do you think your experiences at CPL and HKS have helped you get better at what you do or hope to do?

My current work involves engaging with a diverse audience—from field scientists to senior government officials and donors. I have to articulate the complexities of improving agriculture systems and increasing food security in Africa and build global partnerships and coalitions to work toward these goals. Utilizing tools that I gained from faculty lectures and workshops on behavioural insights, as well as strategic management and organizing courses at HKS, has helped me filter out distractions and focus on the high-level aspirations I wish to achieve in improving the lives and economic prospects of people involved in agriculture across Africa.