Lola James is a first-year dual Master of Public Policy and Master of Business Administration candidate at Duke. She recently joined the CCFP community, working as a research assistant with Katie Rosanbalm on the North Carolina Resilience and Learning Project, which supports trauma-informed education in schools across the state.
Learn more about Lola in our CCFP Community Spotlight Q&A below.
What were you doing prior to CCFP?
I was the program manager for a non-profit called The Young African Bookworms Initiative, which helps marginalized children in Northern and Western Nigeria access quality education. The non-profit is the social impact initiative of Noah’s Ark, a top advertising agency in Nigeria.
One of the programs I introduced at the Young African Bookworms Initiative was a social-emotional learning program called the Paragon Training Club. It teaches children coping and resilience skills such as empathy, kindness, mindfulness, respect for other’s opinions, and how to speak up when someone is being oppressed. It’s like lighting a candle in a child so that they can light the next candle and the next.
What made you interested in pursuing your master’s degree at Duke?
CCFP first informed my decision to choose Duke because the Center’s Resilience and Learning Project aligned exactly with what I was doing back home, which was introducing a trauma-informed approach to the learning experience in underserved schools.
A second factor in my decision was the fact that I can get two graduate degrees in three instead of four years. Having worked in non-profits all my life, I felt the need to understand how social impact can be sustained in ways that benefit stakeholders in all sectors of an economy. Since I already have the heart for social impact, the MPP/MBA program will help me develop the hand for public policy and the head for business. This way, I’ll be a tri-sector leader working with all sectors to make lasting changes in the lives of people.
I was introduced to Duke by one of my professional mentors, who happens to be the Chairman of World Connect, an American non-profit that funded some of our non-profit’s programs in Nigeria. After I learned of the Duke program, I looked through the website, and the first thing that made me realize that this was where I wanted to be was CCFP, because I connected immediately with the Resilience and Learning Project.
How did you connect with Katie Rosanbalm?
I connected with Dr. Rosanbalm for the first time in April via her email on the CCFP website. She was excited to learn that we had a socio-emotional learning program like hers at a non-profit in Nigeria. We set up a virtual meeting two weeks after exchanging a couple of emails. Dr. Rosanbalm encouraged me to reach out as soon as I came to Duke, and that was exactly what I did. In fact, she was the first Duke professor I met after I arrived in the U.S. Our first in-person meeting was amazing. We were literally finishing each other’s sentences and affirming each other’s experience with the trauma-informed programs we ran, albeit on different continents.
The Resilience and Learning Project is exactly like what we were doing at The Young African Bookworms in Nigeria, through the Paragon Training Club. The Club is an afterschool program with essentially the same model – creating more trauma-informed schools and giving children skills to cope with their anger, changes, fears, and whatever trauma they have gone through. Giving kids effective tools to thrive – I hate the term ‘survive’ – to thrive in those kinds of settings.
It is exciting that there could be so much learning both ways – that I could learn so much about what’s working with this CCFP program and help my team incorporate it back home. But also, that I can share experiences from Nigeria that could also improve the Resiliency and Learning Project here.
What are you most excited about in terms of the research you’re participating in at CCFP this year?
I’m excited about the fact that I get to contribute. Learning goes both ways and there are lessons I can share from the program back home. Right now, I’m working on developing surveys to help us monitor and evaluate the Resilience and Learning Project in the past year.
I am also excited about the chance to be part of a child’s success story. The fact that today’s child will be tomorrow’s adult with a positive experience. The adult can look back at his childhood and think, “If I didn’t develop those coping skills, my story could have been different, and the outcome might have been worse. I know how to handle anger... I know how to handle stress... I know how to handle pressure.” That’s what keeps me going.
What are you hoping to do after you complete your master’s degrees?
I intend to work in social impact consulting where I can help companies identify opportunities to sustainably solve social impact problems that increase their financial bottom line at the same time.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It was from my mom when I was about 7 years old. She said, “When you borrow something from someone, return it in a better condition than they gave it to you so that they look forward to lending it to you next time.”
In my work life, I apply my mom’s advice by intentionally leaving my jobs or companies better because I was there. In my relationships, I am deliberate about leaving people better than I met them.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I read self-help books and I like to watch romantic comedies and documentaries. I also like to host friends for home-cooked meals, board games, and interesting conversations.
Do you have a favorite movie?
Pretty Woman all the way. I could watch that movie a million times.
What’s something that most people at CCFP probably don’t know about you?
That ‘Lola’ is the last four letters of my 15-letter name. My actual name is Oluwafunmilola, a Yoruba name that means “God gave me wealth.”