Habiba Cooper Diallo
Habiba Cooper Diallo is an award-winning writer, public speaker and women’s health advocate. She is the founder of the non-profit, the Women’s Health Organization International that works to end obstetric fistula, a devastating maternal health condition that is common in Africa and Asia. Diallo was one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 leaders in 2013 and an American Express-Ashoka Emerging Innovator in 2014. She was one of six finalists in the 2018 London Book Fair Pitch Competition and was “highly commended” for the Manchester Fiction Prize. Most recently, Diallo was selected to be a Young Director as part of the Girls on Boards initiative. She was recently selected by the Government of Canada and CanWach to attend the Women Deliver 2019 conference in Vancouver, BC.
Born in raised in Toronto to parents of different cultures: West African and Caribbean. Loves Malian music and peanut butter stew. Avid dancer and reader. Lost her father at 14-years old but stayed motivated nonetheless to pursue her dreams and honour is legacy.
What are you most proud of professionally? And who or why?
Creation of my book: Yeshialem Learns About Fistula in 2015. It’s a testament to my passion for building awareness about obstetric fistula. I was inspired to write it given my dedication to this maternal health injury and the need for more fiction about it. There’s hardly any literature or creative media, apart from medical research, that speaks to the issue.
What’s your vision for Atlantic Canada in 10 years? What’s our biggest opportunity now?
Better infrastructural development: a transit system that works and functions regularly.
What was your greatest stage of growth? What made it a shift for you?
Middle School years: 12-14, I was in a nurturing learning environment. I completed those years in Toronto. I was part of the IB, Middle Years Program (MYP) and every day we were challenged to embody a certain IB learner characteristic, such as “Knowledgeable. Open-Minded. Risk-taker.” It was a period of great growth for me and one in which I was able to explore my interest in local and world issues, human rights, and religion. I applaud my educators, guidance counsellors, principal and vice-principal. They encouraged us to soar. Students came from mixed economic and racial backgrounds, but because we were all part of the same rigorous MYP program, we were all encouraged to achieve.
What’s your favourite or most read book or podcast? Now or at each of your greatest stages of growth?
The God Who Begat a Jackal by Nega Mezlekia- It’s an incredible novel that delves deep into the folklore and culture of Ethiopian people. I quite love Ethiopian history and literature, so this one was a huge treat for me.
No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I was pulled into it by the author’s deeply intuitive style and rich sensibilities about the people of Botswana, in particular the women whom he writes of. I am still getting into the work of Alexander McCall Smith. This is the first book of his that I’ve read.
What’s your deepest learning from this past year? How did/will you apply it?
Listen to those who are more experienced than you are.
Who’s inspired you, directly or indirectly? How have they inspired you?
My mother - her courage. She’s taught me that sometimes it’s okay to give second chances. She’s shown me how to be compassionate even when you’re wounded- to me that’s strength.
What would you have done differently?
What were your priorities and how did they help you overcome some of the struggles you’ve faced? What motivated you to make the choices you’ve made? What are the principles you live by?
Integrity. To me this means keeping your word or following-up on something if you say you will. It’s simple, but sadly we live in a world that lacks integrity. It’s important to me because I have a hard time creating meaningful connections with people who lack this quality so I try to uphold it in my own life as well.
Advocate, Feminist Entrepreneur