The Courage to Make a Difference

07/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Peter Reiling Executive Director, Henry Crown Fellowship Program & Executive Vice President for Leadership and Seminar Programs, Aspen Institute.

Each year, people from all over the world emigrate from their countries -- fleeing unstable or dangerous situations or in search of greater opportunity. Dele Olojede's story is just one example of this collective experience. What renders him strikingly different is his decision to return to his home country to change it for the better.

Born in Nigeria, Dele came of age as a journalist in the early 80s. Determined to create a space where journalistic integrity would not be compromised, Dele co-founded Newswatch, a Nigerian news magazine committed to journalistic integrity and speaking truth to power. In 1986, Dele was cruelly reminded of the hazards of Nigerian journalism when his friend and editor of Newswatch was killed by a mail bomb, apparently sent as a message by the ruling regime. It was clear that his work in Nigeria was becoming increasingly dangerous, and Dele was "encouraged to leave."

Dele arrived in the US in 1987 with the intention of staying only a short time; but Nigeria's dictatorship kept him away for years. Dele earned a master's degree from Columbia University and launched a successful career at Newsday. Indeed, his 2004 coverage of the Rwandan genocide earned him the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. The happily married father of two could have easily stayed on enjoying the America dream and the benefits of his acclaimed journalism career. But, although he had left his roots far behind, he had certainly not forgotten them.

The turning point came when Dele became a Fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI)/South Africa. Over two years, and with twenty other successful African leaders from all walks of life, Dele explored his own leadership, his responsibility to his community and society, and the causes that inspire him. As an ALI/South Africa Fellow, Dele joined some 950 other Fellows from 43 countries in the Aspen Global Leadership Network (AGLN) -- created to prompt a new generation of leaders from around the world to embark on a journey "from success to significance."

He attributes his experience as an AGLN Fellow to his decision to return to Nigeria, and, no matter the cost, to finish the work he started there years before. As the founder of Timbuktu Media, he is now right back in the thick of it -- using this media platform to promote unbiased journalism free of political or financial motivation. He is courageously tackling corruption and the many other ills that inhibit Nigeria's growth and democracy. The risks of his venture are no smaller; just see the story of Nigeria Leadership Initiative Fellow Nuhu Ribadu who was threatened, shot at and then fired for doing his job of fighting corruption (see Africa's Anti-Corruption Hero - BusinessWeek )

The 160 AGLN Fellows who gathered this weekend in Aspen, Colorado for "ACT II" -- the official launch of the AGLN -- to share their personal journeys and challenges got what they bargained for, and more. Many of these successful, dynamic men and women from 23 countries left the Rockies inspired to do more... to stretch themselves even further in their leadership: Two Fellows decided to expand their community leadership projects -- a requirement of the Fellowship intended to move them "from thought to action" -- geographically with the help of Fellows from the Central America Leadership Initiative. Another has committed to mobilize a team of US public education reformers to share their experiences building out a charter school movement with Fellows in southern Africa. These are just a few of the actions coming out of this gathering and that prove what we already know: when Aspen Global Leadership Fellows get together, they become inspired and reinvigorated, and new commitments are made to "make a dent in the universe."

For more on Dele Olojede's story see a">blog in the words of Henry Crown Fellow Crystal Hayling.

For Dele's story in his own words, and other videos of keynote speakers at ACT II.