Administrator Samantha Power at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Office of Human Capital and Talent Management Assistant to the Administrator Adetola Abiade

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good morning everyone, and thank you Paloma for kicking us off. It’s so great to have folks joining us both in-person and virtually to swear-in someone who is taking on a role of tremendous importance for this Agency: Adetola Abiade.

Luckily, as Adetola’s friends, colleagues, and family will tell you—I think we have the right woman for the job. About that family—we are lucky to have her father Samuel, her mother Margaret, and her sisters, Adenrele, Adeshola, and Adekemi, as well as her nieces on the line with us.

I can only imagine the pride that Samuel and Margaret must feel today. Samuel shared that he would often discuss his own journey from Nigeria, and the role USAID played in helping people in that country thrive. Today, he and Margaret are witnessing their daughter being named USAID’s top talent officer, our Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Human Capital and Talent Management. As he put it, this is a story that “can only happen in America.”

Adetola was raised with her three sisters by Samuel and Margaret to be, as Adenrele put it, worker bees instead of show horses. Her story is an immigrant story, one that unites me and so many other appointees of the Biden-Harris Administration—of parents coming to this country hoping to give their sons and daughters a better life. Hoping for days like this.

“Our parents went through so much,” Adenrele said. “(They) worked long hours, endured prejudice and systemic discrimination—but they taught us the value of education, integrity and having strong morals. “They struggled,” she said “so we could soar.” And soar, Adetola did.

For 25 years, she helped startups, non-profits, and Fortune 500 companies do the essential work of hiring, recruiting, retaining, and investing in their talent. She’s managed countless staff reorganizations, business transformations, training initiatives, and she’s helped companies like JP Morgan Chase and Bank of New York Mellon innovate, educate, and live up to their values of increasing diversity, prioritizing staff equity, and fostering an inclusive culture.

One of her colleagues recalls sitting in a meeting with Adetola, watching her command the room, listening to her explain difficult concepts in simple language, confident yet humble, authentic without being arrogant. After the meeting, she and a colleague shared a glance, a smile of admiration, and said, at the exact same time “I want to be her when I grow up.”

Another colleague said: “People often use the phrase ‘no sweat.’ Adetola is that phrase, personified. She gracefully bounds over hurdles that topple others without ever breaking stride. It’s so rewarding to run alongside her and share in her many victories.”

Others share the same story, about a leader who realizes her job is not to concern herself with her own potential, but help others realize theirs. About taking on tough challenges while keeping her sense of humor. Of modeling infinite grace under pressure as our workplaces have difficult but necessary conversations about structural racism, explicit and implicit bias, and power imbalances among protected classes.

Oh, and she can sing, too. In fact, she used to sing the national anthem at state events, and her rendition of “Amazing Grace” will bring tears to your eyes according to her dad.

And now, she’s joining us here at USAID. It’s not her first time in government service—she previously served at the Small Business Administration—but I’m guessing she’s not leaving the world of New York finance for the salary. I’m guessing it has more to do with joining an Agency that looks at the world’s toughest challenges—COVID, Climate, Humanitarian Crises, Corruption—and says, yep, let’s get to work.

In this role, Adetola, you will have your work cut out for you. We cannot build a brighter future unless we are staffed for a future. We must expand our civil service and foreign service to meet the demands we face in the world. But we must staff up in such a way so that people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds can contribute to the development of our policy and programs. To reflect the best of what America has to offer to the world, then we must reflect America, in all her diversity.

And we can’t stop with recruitment. We must nurture and strengthen our workforce, and do so equitably, regardless of how someone joins the Agency. We need to strengthen the role of our locally-hired Foreign Service Nationals and give them the pathways and opportunities they need to grow and thrive. And we must make the reforms needed to give our contracted staff the basic benefits they deserve, from health and life insurance to parental leave.

In short, we must put the humanity into human capital. Over the last few years, under the leadership of Bob Leavitt, our Human Capital and Talent Management Office has taken important strides to do just that—developing new education and training resources for our colleagues, automating and streamlining so much of our HR and benefit paperwork, developing new Staff Care resources to support us in times of need, and transitioning us into a digital age that helped USAID whether the disruption of the pandemic without losing our ability to manage, mentor, onboard, and coach one another.

Adetola will be joining that exceptional team, led by Peter Malnak and Jeffery Anoka, and I know that Adetola’s rock-solid experience, inclusive leadership, and commitment to public service will help to supercharge their efforts.

When Adenrele reflected on the fact that a first-generation daughter of Nigerian parents will work at, in her words “one of the most influential and impactful government entities in the world” she said: “This is what makes America great.”

I would disagree slightly—its people like Adetola and her sisters, like her parents, like so many native-born, immigrant, and Indigenous worker bees out there—that help make America great. Now, it is my privilege to swear in our newest Assistant to the Administrator, Adetola “no sweat” Abiade.

Last updated: June 29, 2022

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