Finding Moments of Awakening After Trauma
Dr. Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, “a proud Sierra Leonean-Canadian, who was born in Germany” and studied in the United States and Canada, is many things to many people—and they are all good.
Whether domestically or internationally, she’s known as a trusted leader to organizations, communities, and even to other leaders in search of possibilities and ways to “ignite transformation in the complex issues they face.” In other words, “I help leaders move from being stuck…to purposeful action that helps them move forward instead of spinning their wheels,” she shared in an interview about the independent work she’s done for a decade as a consultant and leadership coach.
Through We Will Lead Africa, the organization and publication she co-founded, Dr. Gilpin-Jackson is a modern-day griot, harnessing the power of storytelling, an inherent part of African culture, to compile volumes of everyday African leadership stories. She’s using it to spark imagination, drive change, and inspire everyday leaders to shape the futures they want for themselves as Africans and the continent. As a university professor in Canada, Dr. Gilpin-Jackson teaches the topics she’s long been passionate about—human development, leadership, and organizational change.
The multi-award-winning scholar-practitioner is a co-editor for “The Palgrave Handbook of Learning for Transformation,” released in 2022.
As Dr. Gilpin-Jackson tells it, the many things that she does represent “the intersectionality of who I am. I can’t flatten that. ”At the center of the packed life she leads has been her passion for human development, which she studied as both a master’s and doctoral student at Fielding. “No matter where we are, we can all develop further, and there’s always possibility for our thinking and our persons to expand. That expansion, for me, is about furthering our individual and collective potential as humanity, and I’m super passionate about that,” she said in a recent interview with “Room,” a feminist literary journal based in Canada.
As a young college student, a life experience would give her an early and pivotal lesson in how trauma could lead to growth and opportunities to help others do the same.
Transformation and Resonance
As an 18-year-old undergraduate student in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in the mid-1990s, the plans Dr. Gilpin-Jackson had for her academic journey were clear and within reach. The young woman from a middle-class family would “graduate with an honours degree in business by age 21.” An MBA and likely a Ph.D. was to follow.
But with only a year to go, before she would realize the first phase of that big dream, a civil war in the country erupted. Forced to flee Sierra Leone, Dr. Gilpin-Jackson became a refugee—and eventually an immigrant in Canada.
There were some academic setbacks and financial challenges along the way, but she made it. At 26, Dr. Gilpin-Jackson earned her MBA, graduating with honors from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Today, Dr. Gilpin-Jackson is the university’s first vice president for People, Equity, and Inclusion, a position she began in April 2022.
For Dr. Gilpin-Jackson, the narrative of her wartime trauma fueled her research and recent writing on transformation and the concept of resonance.
In her 2020 book, “Transformation after Trauma: The Power of Resonance,” she describes resonance as “the moment or moments when transformation happens. When lives are changed for the better. When you are fundamentally changed and propelled to action on what matters to you.” According to Dr. Gilpin-Jackson, “people, groups and organizations, or whole communities” can experience a kind of awakening that is resonance.
For the practical social scientist, her journey to resonance “started with a challenge” and a reminder from her Fielding dissertation chair to view all research as an “intervention into participants’ lives.” This became her focus, Dr. Gilpin-Jackson writes in “Transformation after Trauma.” She also fondly recalls the advice of Fielding faculty, who urged their students to “follow your passionate interests, choose dissertation topics that move you and arise from your personal interests.”
To ready students for the dissertation process, the faculty also asked students to list their research interests “anchored in our biographies.” To Dr. Gilpin-Jackson’s surprise, that exercise didn’t reveal a traditional topic or one related to organizational development. Instead, what emerged was “what transformation and thriving might look like in a world where trauma has occurred or is inherent.” She wondered why there were no stories of transformation to share alongside the prolific stories of trauma war survivors experienced. The void she discovered would be her spark.
“That led me to a deep exploration of the intersection of transformative learning, post-traumatic growth, and traumatic experiences for individual leaders,” she writes in “Transformation after Trauma.”
Empowered, the doctoral student focused her research “on the growth and development of war-affected peoples and the learning and development needs of immigrants and refugees.” Fielding recognized her work and named her an Institute for Social Innovation Scholar in 2010.
Today, Dr. Gilpin-Jackson said, “I am in a position to make a difference and to do something and to be a voice for the experience that I have had and feel what’s possible to support other people.” She is back in the Fielding community, now as a postdoctoral Institute for Social Innovation Fellow. In this work, Dr. Gilpin-Jackson uses short story writing and autoethnography to explore global African developmental journeys of identity, belonging and agency.
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