In celebration of Black History Month, we highlight an outstanding leader at Common Impact: Ola Dudu, Chief Operating Officer. Ola leads technology, finance, talent, and operations functions in service of Common Impact’s mission of creating stronger communities and a connected economy.
Ola describes equity as her professional north star. Driven by a passion for creating equitable spaces and opportunities for marginalized people, specifically Black and brown communities, Ola has dedicated much of her career to operational excellence in supporting those communities.
Black leaders don’t generate brilliant ideas only during Black History Month, so we can’t reduce efforts to a singular month. Supporting and amplifying the Black voice doesn’t end when the celebration ends. The work continues year-round, and leaders need resources and support to do that work.
You have a decade of experience creating and implementing operational excellence in the education and nonprofit sector. What inspired you to get into this work? Tell us about your path to leadership and your current role.
I came into operations somewhat by accident. When I went to business school in 2007, I knew I wanted to change my career path and move into nonprofit management, but I was still determining what that would look like. Growing up, the ideas I connected most with were the belief in education being a gateway to the world and wanting economic justice for the people in my country. During business school, I completed an internship in Malaysia that fueled my interest in economic justice. After business school, I joined a microfinance fund providing micro-loans to folks in my community. I loved the engagement with our clients and making some of their economic dreams a reality, but I didn’t love the other parts of the job. During that time, I had a friend involved in the charter world in NYC. He suggested I apply for an operations role at a few charter schools. That small suggestion launched my career to date. I got the operations bug when I joined an entrepreneurial team to open a new charter school in Brooklyn, NY. I loved the experience of building structures and systems that help education come alive. Creating something that impacts my community daily, focused on a cause I believe in, is what inspires me. That began in economic justice and moved to education over the last decade.
As I reflect on my career to date, the common thread is my commitment to equity, which is why I was interested in Common Impact. When I read the website and spoke with the team, it was clear that we shared a commitment to social impact work and specifically to focusing that impact work on equity.
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and elevate Black strides and equity in all forms. In the spirit of our theme, “Black History. Black Futures,” what actions can corporate professionals, social entrepreneurs, or philanthropists take to support and amplify the work of Black-led organizations beyond Black History Month?
I think the most pivotal action is including and referring to Black conversations. The Black leaders doing the work are a part of their communities. They are on the ground daily and know the most urgent community needs. We must center their voices in conversations around equity in the Black community and amplify those voices and ideas. Black leaders don’t generate brilliant ideas only during Black History Month, so we can’t reduce efforts to a singular month. Supporting and amplifying the Black voice doesn’t end when the celebration of Black History Month ends. The work continues year-round, and leaders need resources and support to do that work.
Can you share any lessons from your leadership experience that you would like to pass on to current or aspiring nonprofit leaders?
Here are two pieces of advice for folks in leadership: The first is to rely on your team. You can’t do it alone. You need folks in your organization to contribute their talents to achieve success. They are working on the ground, so they have the most relevant experience. Seek and trust their input in your decision-making. Inclusive practices will take you far. Show up as your whole self, flaws and all. When you stop dedicating energy to keeping up a façade, you can transfer that energy fully to your goals.
Additionally, when you show up as your whole self, you allow your teams to do the same. When folks see you succeed or stumble, they are given permission to do the same. It will build invaluable trust and commitment to their mission and to you as a leader.