Yasmine Bilkis Ibrahim: No Act of Change is Small

Yasmine Bilkis Ibrahim is an educator, feminist, social entrepreneur, blogger, and podcaster.

As an embodiment of all five, she believes in nurturing and stimulating young minds. Her philosophy is simple: no act of change is small; everyone has a role to play in their community.

This is reflected in her social business Ori from Sierra Leone or Ori which manufactures unisex shea butter-based hair and body products infused with essential and carrier oil.

This enterprise is set up mainly to support Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone where I serve as Founding Director since 2016.

Her educational background is in French and Global health and she has spent the past 5 years teaching in Sierra Leone. She has been involved in education, civic engagement, girl empowerment, and agricultural projects.

Yasmine loves writing, researching, photography, traveling, acting/playing drama games, watching movies and doing yoga.

She speaks to SLA on her aspiration to expand Ori and grow Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone into a training center in West Africa for girl child capacity building.


What motivated you to become a social entrepreneur?

I didn’t actually plan or aspire to be an entrepreneur ever let alone become a social entrepreneur.

When I left the United States in February 2014 and returned to Sierra Leone I didn’t have a job.

After 3 months of job searching I found one at a school in June 2014, however, Ebola engulfed the nation and schools were shut down in July 2014 after a national emergency was declared by the then-president.

During those 9-10 months of schools being closed, what saved me was private tutoring. I did that throughout and in April 2015 when the emergency was uplifted I started searching for formal employment and got a placement to commence September 2015.

Returning to a harsh job market in 2014, this catapulted me into entrepreneurship – @MinaBilkis Click To Tweet

From September to December 2015 my tutoring “side hustle” grew and it surpassed my salary — it was then I took a calculated risk and decided to quit formal employment and grow this newfound business.

I registered my tutoring/translation business as Mina Bilkis & Co in 2016 and started catering to teaching adults in the evenings who work in NGOs, offices and it expanded to private tuition classes as well.


The proceeds of the tutoring business I reinvested in buying photography equipment and a camera (as I mentioned earlier, I love photography) and added the photography division to my business.

In July 2017, I opened the shea butter business but at the time it was called Karité (French for shea butter) with the aim making it a social business so as to make Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone (which was founded in 2016) more sustainable and by designating 5% of our proceeds to Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

However, in early 2018 I decided to shut down productions for 9 months. Upon further research, I discovered that the name Karité was already trademarked. So I went back to the drawing board and in October 2018 Ori was born.

In March 2019 it was officially launched where our beneficiaries of Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone gave some of their testimonies of the program and how they have benefited from Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

Returning to a harsh job market in 2014, this catapulted me into entrepreneurship, moreover living in such a astoundingly beautiful country yet endures so much pain and suffering and is victim to the paradox “resource curse”, I don’t see how one wouldn’t want to help and build your community in your own way.

Tell us about your work with Girl Up Vine Club, and how it is impacting communities in Sierra Leone?

Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone or Girl Up was founded in January 2016 and operates at the government-assisted secondary school called Vine Memorial Secondary School for Girls (VMSSG) in Freetown at the Junior Secondary School (JSS) (middle school) level targeting girls ages 11-17.

We aim to promote the health, safety, leadership, and education of adolescent girls in Sierra Leone through community outreach, advocacy, and public speaking workshops.

Our main projects are Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM)/Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR), Digital Rights and Sexual & Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).

We meet once a week for 90 minutes and discuss a topic of the week outlined in our monthly curriculum.

Our topics stem from social issues ranging from mental health, peer pressure, self-care, health and body rights, and feminism. Every year the new girls (who get inducted at the start of every year) are given journals to log in their thoughts and are given assignments on a topic discussed or are asked to research new words or expressions.

As English Language and speaking is an underlying issue for many, we do English classes often to strengthen their Grammar and Vocabulary so they are able to facilitate workshops or speak in public confidently in addition we offer internal public speaking and self-confidence building sessions.

So far, our beneficiaries have facilitated workshops in Kambia Port Loko, Moyamba and other parts of the country sensitizing, educating and engaging different communities in the scope of our aforementioned projects.

Do you have success stories of the girls that you’ve mentored so far?

In my 2018 Tedx talk entitled “Creating Safe Spaces in the Global South”, I highlighted my work at Girl Up and our success stories and our beginnings and mentioned the following girls:

Suad Baydoun

Suad Baydoun served as the first President of Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone. I met Suad in October 2015 at the US Embassy when I was co-facilitating the International Day of the Girl Child.

She was actually the reason why Girl Up was launched at her school. She was a Junior Secondary School student at the time preparing to take her middle school exam: Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) that upcoming academic year.

Three years she has blossomed to socially driven and motivated young woman. She has now taken her West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) waiting for her results to go to university.

She has founded her own safe space for girls at her senior secondary school — St. Joseph’s Secondary School and she is a TV presenter.

Mariam Jalloh

Mariam Jalloh was very timid and withdrawn when we first met three years ago and wasn’t academically strong.

She graduated as the highest-ranking student of her year and was also selected as class prefect. She aspires to study Accounting in university next year upon her WASSCE results.

She currently serves as our Co-Program Coordinator and Teen Advisor at Girl Up Vine Club Sierra Leone.

What are some challenges you faced while growing your vision for the organization?

To impact change — long-lasting and sustainable change it doesn’t come easy and anything easy I tend not to want (haha).

Nothing good comes easy I believe but sometimes you can also become fatigued by not seeing the fruits of your labor manifest sooner than anticipated.

A challenge starting Girl Up was deconstructing what girls have been learned and taught their entire life — which translates in the way they speak, think about/perceive themselves and surroundings and the way they interact with one another and loved ones.

Wanting to unlearn something as an informed person is one challenge, but educating others on how to is a different ballpark and that was a challenge at first in growing my vision and molding Girl Up Vie Club Sierra Leone.

There is no right or wrong way or answer to combat this and I am not someone who is easily defeated so I persisted and continue to persevere. I myself continue to unlearn toxic societal “norms” and patriarchal stratification.

What helps me is surrounding myself by like-minded people I can express my grievances to, laugh with and I partake in guided meditation sessions and do yoga to recharge and recalibrate myself.

As an organization, we learn and grow together so when we hit these hurdles in regards to

Identity isn’t stagnant, it’s dynamic as are human beings. We evolve. I have evolved and grown and will continue to do so – @MinaBilkis Click To Tweet

Do you have role models that have influenced your journey?

I would be doing my entire existence a disservice if I do not start with my family. I owe my mindset, strength, and determination to my parents but most importantly my mother — Dr. Aisha Fofana Ibrahim.

My mother is a feminist scholar and activist who teaches Gender Studies at both the undergraduate and masters level at Fourah Bay College (FBC) – University of Sierra Leone (USL).

It is with her love, encouragement, and support I am who I am and do what I do. So my mom has played an exponential role in my journey.

Outside of my family dynamic, I would say Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I am her secret child she doesn’t know about. Chimamanda is fearless and speaks her mind unapologetically (even if it is deemed “controversial”). I like that.

I also adore Oprah Winfrey. Always have as a child. She is the epitome of inspiration and motivation. I admire her business mindset and when I have my Ori and Mina Bilkis cap on, I say to myself “What would Oprah Winfrey do?”.

Also, I think of how she began her career and see how she has from TV and transcended throughout the decades and is relatable to all walks of life. I like that because I aspire to that.

Recently, I’ve been looking up to Rihanna as well. From a successful singing career to becoming a successful businesswoman with more to come.

Identity isn’t stagnant, it’s dynamic as are human beings. We evolve. I have evolved and grown and will continue to do so, therefore I like that about Rihanna. She’s unstoppable.


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ILHAN OMAR: From Refugee camp to US Congress

When I think of a Boss Lady in 2019, I think of Ilhan Omar. Omar echoes Lupita Nyongo’s Oscar speech when she said

“No matter where you come from your dreams are valid”.

Ilhan Omar took this to heart as she began her campaign to the House of Representatives in the US Congress. She is now known as Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, but her journey to Congress has been something of a dream.

Omar is a Somali native, who was a refugee in Kenya before she relocated to the United States. She was recently elected to the US Congress in a historic fashion.

She is the first East African (Somali) woman as well as the first of two Muslim women elected to the House. The US House of Representatives today is comprised of Boss Ladies who have worked their way to the top.

Ilhan Omar’s story stands out because of her resilience and compassion as she introduces new bills on the US House floor.

THE BEGINNING

Ilhan Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1982. She grew up in Somalia until the civil war when she and her family were forced to flee the ongoing civil unrest.

Omar spent four years living in extreme poverty at the Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa, Kenya. She and her family overcame obstacles and were able to relocate to the US after securing asylum in 1995.

She was raised in the United States from the age of 12. Her upbringing in the United States sparked her interest in politics. Omar shares stories of her youth when she went to political meetings with her father and saw the lack of female leaders in the political sphere.

She went on to study political science at North Dakota State University. Her studies of politics gave her the tools needed to embark on the journey to becoming a political pioneer in 2019.

THE BUILD UP

If you have been following Ilhan Omar’s story, you will quickly realize that she is an outspoken politician.

Her journey to the US Congress is a buildup of courage in the face of opposition to anything that goes against the status quo. Being that Omar is a Muslim immigrant, she is considered a threat because of her identity.

Omar’s political stance on many issues, especially immigration comes from her experience as an immigrant. She once said in an interview…

“For me as an immigrant, who didn’t speak the language, when I had struggled as a kid, my dad would say: Once you are able to communicate with people, they are able to connect with you beyond your otherness…”

Omar’s ability to connect with the fellow immigrant who may be struggling with their new environment struck me as a compassionate quality. She understands the immigration issues and can give a voice to the concerns of the immigrant population in the national conversations happening in the US Congress.

BOSSING UP


Although many people may not see Ilhan Omar as a “boss lady”, she has made some big moves in her career thus far.

She was the Director of Policy Initiatives for the Women Organizing Women Network, based in Minnesota USA, where she was advocating for East African women to take initiative in civic and political leadership roles.

According to the WOWN website, the purpose of the organization is to “Empower all women, particularly first and second-generation immigrants to become engaged citizens and community leaders regardless of political affiliation”.

The WOW Network seeks to encourage Diaspora women to engage in civic conversations that bring light to the issues that immigrants face in the United States. From the role as director of this network, she was able to gain the confidence to launch her campaign for office in the United States Congress.

The boss lady emerged as she fought hard to win a seat in the House of Representatives. She was elected to the US Congress in 2018.


This month of July, we’re telling stories about boss ladies breaking boundaries, and how you also can hit your #BossLadyGoals

The HealthCare Giant of Botswana

“Bridging the gap between Policy and Implementation in Gender, Reproductive Health, and HIV/AIDS”

Professor Sheila Tlou – whose surname translates literally to ‘elephant’ is a veritable giant in the gender, health care and sexual and reproductive healthcare space in Botswana, Africa, and the world.

To Professor Sheila Tlou, the themes are inseparable, and much of her work includes activism at the intersection of these spaces.

Professor Sheila Tlou is the co-chair of the Global HIV Prevention Coalition and the co-chair of the Nursing Now Global Campaign. From 2010 to 2017 she was Director of the UNAIDS regional support team for Eastern and Southern Africa.

She is a former Member of Parliament and Minister of Health of the Republic of Botswana (2004-2008). 

Also, Professor Sheila Tlou was the former Professor of Nursing at the University of Botswana and Director of the WHO collaborating center for Nursing and Midwifery Development in Primary Health Care for Anglophone Africa. 

Professor Sheila Tlou has conducted research and taught courses like nursing, pre-medical and social science students on Gender issues relating to HIV/AIDS, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and Ageing and Older Persons.

She has played a key role in the development of national nursing and medical education curricula, working to broaden the scope of Health Sciences education in Botswana.


Her work on HIV/AIDS

The first case of HIV in Botswana was reported in 1985.

As was the case with the pandemic in the early years, the virus spread quickly, and with Botswana’s small population, the implications for social and economic stability were devastating.

However, Botswana responded to the pandemic and implemented a number of health care reforms and programs including the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) in 1999 and universal access to ARVs (antiretrovirals) to those who were at an advanced stage of the disease.

The management of the virus in Botswana is due in large part to the role that Professor Tlou played in those years, and she continues to lend her voice, wisdom, and expertise to the healthcare space worldwide, today.

For example, the transmission of HIV from mother to child decreased from about 30 percent in 2003 to about 8 percent in 2008. Maternal mortality due to AIDS also decreased from 34 percent to 9 percent under her leadership.

Her work is ‘numbers’ and report-based, however, one cannot forget that the work that Prof. Tlou continues to do has a major impact on the lives of women, and by extension, their families and communities.

“I am hoping that what I say will inspire young people to be able to ask themselves how they will be able to participate in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals because as far as I’m concerned, all 17 of them are… Click To Tweet

Professor Tlou worked tirelessly at the intersection of gender and health, to generate research and forge important partnerships between academia, government, and civil society.

She advocated for real change at the grassroots level in Botswana.

As Minister of Health, she led a forward-thinking and focused HIV care, prevention, treatment, support, and care programme that is used as a model all over the world today; a testament to her knowledge, resolve and leadership.

One of the hallmarks of great leadership is the ability to translate ideas into plans that are actionable – Professor Sheila Tlou Click To Tweet

Professor Tlou is aware of the role that young people have to play in continuing the challenge of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths – effectively ending the disease by 2030.

Her work on gender health

Professor Tlou is the United Nations Eminent Person for Women, Girls, and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. She is also the International Council of Nurses Goodwill Ambassador for Girl Child Education.

In her past assignment as UNAIDS Regional Director, Professor Tlou provided leadership and Political Advocacy for quality sustainable AIDS response in 21 African countries, from Eritrea to South Africa, including the Indian Ocean Islands of Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Comoros.

She has been instrumental in the formation of advocacy bodies such as The Pan-African Positive Women’s Coalition (PAPWC) and the High-Level Task Force on Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV in Africa.

Professor Tlou initiated and chaired a High-Level task force on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Services for Young People in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Because of the uniqueness and peculiarity of the cultural context of African societies, HIV/AIDS thrived in a thick cloak of ignorance, denial, and secrecy that Prof. Tlou has recognized as a deterrent to the success of any programs that may be implemented.

Again, her sensitivity to the fact that women empowerment is a key issue that lies at the heart of HIV/AIDS prevention means that her work is alive to the issues that are particular to African women.

“Gender inequality, gender-based violence, including sexual violence and sexual exploitation, are at the core of young women’s vulnerability and need to be addressed if we are to achieve that SDG of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030″.

This very goal gives us a platform to deliver services based on rights, inclusiveness, universality and ensuring that no one is left behind.

Her Recognitions/Awards

Professor Tlou has received many national and international awards. Among them are… “the Botswana Presidential Order of Honor, the Florence Nightingale Award from the International Red Cross Society, the Trailblazer Woman Leading Change Award from the World YWCA, the Leadership in Health award from the Global Business Council (Health)”.

She also got “the President award from the US National Academy of Nursing, the President award from the US National League for Nursing, the Princess Srinagarindra award from Thailand, the Christianne Reimann award from the International Council of Nurses, and The Princess Muna Al Hussein award from the American Nurses Credentialing Centre”.

“Leaders who are able to communicate the importance of their activism are often able to inspire groups to pull together towards a common goal”.


Botswana is one of Africa’s success stories, from one of Africa’s poorest countries to a vibrant, developed, middle-income African state.

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Kenim Obaigbena: on becoming a Media Mogul – woman in film

“I wanted to tell stories that matter”.

Kenim Obaigbena is a Nigerian-British-American filmmaker and entrepreneur.

With a background in fine art painting, creative writing, photography and photoshop editing, Kenim began her film career in 2007, now she’s focused on her production vehicle OVG Media where she produces and directs films, documentaries, drama series and other scripted content for broadcast TV and digital media.

She was raised in the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Togo, and the USA. She has lived in many cities around the world, making her both a true global citizen and a versatile filmmaker. At the age of 15, Kenim founded Scoop Magazine with her two sisters, the teen publication was distributed across Lagos, Nigeria. While she formed a lucrative business in three years, she decided to focus on her studies and attended Tufts University. At Tufts she discovered her love for filmmaking and spent her summers interning for music video directing legends Chris Robinson and Benny Boom as well as the production company Anonymous Content. By her junior year at Tufts, she was producing and directing music videos for her fellow schoolmates and billboard artists like Timeflies and All Out. In school, she also covered high fashion events like Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and global music festivals, including ThisDay Music Festival, which brought in pop stars like Beyonce and Rihanna. Graduating from Tufts in 2011, soon after the versatile filmmaker worked on big budget film sets, some including ‘Selfless’, and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. For several years, she produced live news coverage and documentaries for the 24-hour news network, Arise News, and worked on various projects with high profile global leaders, from former US Presidents Obama and Clinton to Nigerian President Buhari. Kenim has dabbled in other business ventures from real estate investing, to tech and her pop-up bus service, Rainbow Shuttle. Now she is focused on her production vehicle OVG Media where she produces and directs films, documentaries, drama series and other scripted content for broadcast TV and digital media.

Making a film is like starting a new business - Kenim Obaigbena: @ovgmedia Click To Tweet

Tell us a little about your background. Did you study filmmaking?

I studied communications and media studies. But I did start making videos in college.

I’ve been in film for 12 years and 14ish years in media. I’ve done every type of filmmaking under the sun, from News to music videos, commercials, Promos, docs, dramas, and even artsy film, you name it. Right now my focus is on docs, tv dramas, and features.

A few years ago, I came to the realization that I wanted to tell stories that matter. Stories that inspire a progression of nature in people. That could be a documentary, a sci-fi, a drama, whatever it is, it hopes to inspire people to be better in their lives.

Has filmmaking and storytelling always been your passion? How long have you been in the industry for?

I’ve always loved telling stories. I started young. My sisters and I started a magazine when I was 15.

I’ve also always done creative writing as a child. It runs in the family. When I was in high school I started taking painting seriously, it then evolved into photography and photoshop editing. But I wanted more so I moved into film. I’ve been in film for 12 years.

As a filmmaker, do you always have a full picture of what the story is going to be at the start, or does it reveal itself to you along the way?

It always starts out as a clear vision, but as I develop the story the vision can change, or become a more tangible version of its original state.

With documentaries, it’s a bit different. Yes, the story reveals itself along the way. But with a doc its important to be focused. Have a hypothesis and stick to it as much as possible.

Otherwise, you can easily fall into the trap of making a film for 10 plus years/.

Your recent documentary – This is Nigeria, highlighted Nigeria’s culture of corruption and election rigging. Why did you decide to investigate such a sensitive socioeconomic topic?

 In Nigeria the poor are invisible. They are neglected, underpaid and mistreated. I wanted to give them a voice. I also feel we live in a demokery, and more people in the media need to speak out. People should be encouraged to vote for who they believe in and not who they think everyone is going to vote for. It’s the only way to make real change in this country.

What motivates you? How do you come up with ideas and stories to tell?

 Purpose.

My best ideas come in intense and vivid dreams. I give God all the credit for that.

In Nigeria the poor are invisible. They are neglected, underpaid and mistreated. I wanted to give them a voice - Kenim Obaigbena: @ovgmedia Click To Tweet

Besides -This is Nigeria, what other documentaries have you created?

At this stage, I’ve created so many for broadcast tv and youtube. I’m always creating digital content as well which you can find on my YouTube channel.

 How do you go about funding your films/ documentaries? And what advice do you have for others wanting to fund their projects?

 Keep making DIY content until you either create enough wealth to self-fund or get someone to believe in your talent and business structure (because every film is a business)  to invest in you. If you are creative and lack business acumen, partner with a solid producer that can bring in financiers.

I’m designing an online course that goes into the practicalities of independent filmmaking. How to get funding, how to make films on a budget etc.

I will announce it soon, but for now, I have a series on my youtube channel called ‘The DIY Filmmaker’, which also gives practical filmmaking advice.

With a lot of Nigerian women in film coming out to create and show their talent, do you think the filmmaking industry is still male dominated?

Yes and no.

When I started out in Hollywood in Los Angeles, my experience was quite sexist. It was a boys club, and even the few black men and women allowed in were walking on ice.

I’ve never been one to think because I’m a woman I can’t do this or that. I generally don’t see gender or race. That’s just how I was raised. So I didn’t really understand why they wouldn’t allow me in the “clique” until recently.

It took me understanding the nature of the film industry to overcome this.

Make sure you hire the right people for the job they occupy and ensure they are all equipped, efficient and positive - Kenim: @ovgmedia Click To Tweet

Firstly…

Film is generally a very cliquey industry. It’s not easy to get into people’s crews. Over time I have learned there are a lot of reasons for this.

At the end of the day making a film is like starting a new business. Literally, people often register a new LLC or LTD for their film.

As with any business you want to make sure you hire the right people for the job they occupy, and they are all equipped, efficient and positive. Aspiring filmmakers aren’t often experienced enough and you can really only take on so many interns.

So it wasn’t necessarily because I was a woman, that I was often not allowed into the boys club, but because I wasn’t part of their clique. And being a woman, especially being a black woman in America, it made initiation harder.

Secondly…

Regardless of one’s gender and race, as a producer/director you are an entrepreneur and you have to build your own team. So really I was wasting my time trying to fill in other jobs on those sets.

Ultimately you should not be looking for a seat at their table, you should build your own table and hand out your own seats.

Sure, not everyone wants to be a producer/director, and even to you, I would say find a way to build your own table. Find some up and coming directors and producers and attach yourself to them. So they call you for every shoot.

Honestly, if you offer your services to an aspiring director/producer pro bono, they will look at you as a co-founder of their career, and they will likely make you a part of their team in the long-run.

People are more loyal to their day ones.  But don’t just do this with one director/producer. Do this with as many as you can.

To conclude, yes the industry is male-dominated, but if you build your own pathway, it does not have to be.

Nigerian women in Nollywood have done this, and their movies are more financially successful than that of their male counterparts. It’s inspiring. 

What advice do you have for women filmmakers in general when starting their own projects?

 Focus on craftsmanship and expertise. Put in your 10,000 hours to become an expert. These days you can learn how to do anything on youtube. Purchase gear, so that you can go out and shoot any day you wish. I go into more details about this on my online course. The more you learn the more you realize you don’t know everything - Kenim Obaigbena: @ovgmedia Click To Tweet

 What are the top 5 skills every aspiring filmmaker needs to have? And what tools will they need?

    • Attention to detail
    • Willingness to learn. The more you learn the more you realize you don’t know everything. Be an open book and consume information and practical experiences.
    • Be honest and recognize your flaws and weaknesses. So you can hire or partner with someone else with strengths in areas you are weak in.
    • Have patience, but at the same time put your destiny in your own hands
  • Only seek advice from experts in a specific craft. Don’t ask your Uncle or aunt that’s a random businessperson what business practices you should use in film. Go on youtube or find a mentor with adequate experience.

 What’s next for Kenim? How do you plan to further grow your career and business?

 I’ll be creating more documentaries, more tv dramas, feature films, you name it!
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5 African Women Who Should Have Been on the 2018 Forbes Power Women List

Every year, Forbes publishes its list titled: ‘The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’. The women on this list are some of the most intelligent, resilient and influential leaders of today. Making their mark in the world in all fields including politics, business, philanthropy, media, technology, and finance.

They are creating solutions for some of the world’s biggest problems and leaving lasting legacies along the way.

Members of the 2018 Most Powerful Women list represent women in six categories.: Business (27 honorees), technology (18), finance (12), media & entertainment (16), politics & policy (22), and philanthropy (5).

Combined, the ‘Power Women’ control or influence nearly $2 trillion in revenue and oversee 5 million employees.

While I know this list is highly competitive and the women on the list all deserve the honor, there is a serious problem when it comes to diversity.  

Only 1 African woman made the 2018 Forbes 100 power women list, at no 97. Why? Read more... - @lizgrossman87 Click To Tweet

Just look at the numbers: North America has 50 women represented, Asia and the Pacific has 22, Europe has 24, (with the United Kingdom boasting 7 from that number), the Middle East has 3,  and only one in Africa – the newly minted President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde at position 97.

Of course, picking the Power Women is no easy feat. Forbes uses four metrics every year:

  1. Money – net worth, company revenues, assets, or GDP
  2. Traditional, digital and social media presence
  3. Spheres of influence
  4. Impact – analyzed both within the context of each woman’s field (media, technology, business, philanthropy/NGOs, politics, and finance) and outside of it.

Criteria number one, money, can place African women at a disadvantage. According to the IMF, in 2017 Nigeria had the largest nominal GDP of any African country at $376 billion, but ranks 30th globally, with most African countries trailing far behind.

The top ten African businesses range from $58 billion (Sonatrach) in revenue to $8 billion (Imperial Holdings), none of which have a female CEO.

Fortune’s top ten global companies range from over $500 billion (Walmart) to $242 billion (Berkshire Hathaway). These simple numbers and economic imbalance alone may explain why so few African women make it on the Power 100 list, but it is reductionist to define power in terms of money.

Power can be defined as the ability or right to control people and events or to influence the way people act or think in important ways.

 African women have historically been influential leaders, dating back to the 17th century with Queen Nzinga from Angola, through to the struggles for independence by women like Yaa Asaantewa, Rose Chibambo, Graça Machel, Winnie Mandela, Joice Mujuru, Lillian Ngoyi and Albertina Sisulu, to the modern historical figures such as former female Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Dr Joyce Banda, Ameenah Gurib Fakim and Catherine Samba Panza.

Businesswomen like Njeri Rionge from Kenya, Sibongile Sambo from South Africa are running multi-million dollar enterprises. We must also praise countries like Rwanda, for having the most number of women represented in parliament.

African women leaders are resilient, influential and changing their societies and the world. And they wield significant power.

Forbes has recognized African women on past lists, such as Folorunso Alakija, Dr. Joyce Banda, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ameena Gurib Fakim, Gail Kelley (the only African woman to ever be named in the top 10, #8 of 2010), and others.

However this year, I would like to suggest five African women who should have been considered for the Power Women List.  

Here are 5 African Women who should have been on the 2018 Forbes Power Women List - @lizgrossman87 Click To Tweet

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, a position she has held since August 2013, expanding the agency to raise the most revenue in its history and provide financing for almost 50,000 beneficiaries globally.

She boasts over 83,000 followers on Twitter, speaking engagements on some of the world’s most influential stages, and sets the policy agenda for gender equality in the core of the United Nations.  

She uses her experiences as an active leader in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, as well as serving in some of the highest positions of government, including Deputy President, to influence the lives of all women across the world.

Obiageli Ezekwesli 

With a glowing career in civil society, government, policy-making, and advocacy, Obiageli Ezekwesli spearheaded the #BringBackourGirls Campaign, creating a global movement to insist on returning the Chibok Girls.

More than one million people, including the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama have tweeted the hashtag.  HBO has recently released a documentary on two of the girls, which is a result of this campaign.

She was a 2018 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in transparency in the extractive sector.  She is currently running for President of Nigeria and using her global platform to disrupt Nigeria’s politics of failure, as evidenced by her interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour, and through a strategic campaign targeting young Nigerians.

Tsitsi Masiyiwa

Tsitsi Masiyiwa is a Zimbabwean philanthropist and social entrepreneur who has devoted much of her life to empowering the lives of young people through education and technology.

She and her husband, billionaire Strive Masiyiwa, founded the Higher Life Foundation in response to the AIDS crisis, and now provide education, access to technology, and healthcare in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi, and Lesotho.

Every year, the Higherlife Foundation provides 20,000 scholarships for African students and gives 600,000 students a month access to education through the Ruzivo online learning platform they developed.

Tsitsi is a sought after philanthropist and speaker, serving on boards such as the Global Philanthropy Forum, PATH, the Giving Fund, and the End Fund, where she uses her expertise to influence decisions about major philanthropic investments globally.

Amina J Mohammed

Amina J Mohammed serves as the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations,  the second in command of the entire UN system, with a budget of $5.4 billion.

After years in the private sector, Amina served in government under three Nigerian Presidents, including as Minister of the Environment,  before joining the United Nations as Ban Ki-Moon’s advisor on the post-2015 Development Agenda.

Sharing stages with major world leaders, she is working to better share the humanitarian work of the United Nations, and encourage reforms within the system, including on climate change, the Every Woman Every Child initiative, women’s health,  and developing future African political leaders through the African Women Leaders Network.  

Bozoma Saint John

A top executive hailing from Ghana with a career spanning PepsiCo, Apple, Uber, and now Endeavor, Bozoma “Boz”  St John is disrupting music, pop culture and business as we know it.  

She was the mastermind behind Beyonce’s Superbowl Halftime show in 2013 and created Apple Music’s ad campaign with black celebrities. Boz’s work has been featured on superlative lists including Billboard Magazine’s list of top women in music, Fast Company’s 100 most creative people, and the Hollywood Reporter’s 2018 Women in Entertainment Power 100.

At the 2018 BET Awards, she encouraged entertainers and executives to use their platforms to advance various agendas, and use their power for good. She also sits on the board of Vital Voices, a powerful international organization identifying women leaders and supporting their visions.

I encourage everyone to keep an eye on these women, as well as the growing movement of African women leaders both on the continent and across the globe.

As Africa continues to produce top talent, as nations grow, and policies are written and implemented invest heavily in women and girls, I am confident the Forbes Power Women list will become more geographically balanced and reflect this growth.


 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

CHARLENE MACHARIA: As Africans in the diaspora, we’re shaped by our experiences on the motherland

In the last two decades, there has been an increase in the number of platforms that are providing opportunities for women to develop their leadership skills.

Platforms like TEDx, for example, create a space where women can present their ideas and thoughts freely using slideshows and speeches that have gone on to inspire other women around the world.

More specifically, platforms that provide a space for African women in and out of the diaspora have begun to increase as well.

I recently had the chance to interview Kenyan-born, Charlene Macharia who is the Program Coordinator at UCSB Academic Initiatives to discuss the importance of such platforms.

We also spoke about her experience with the Women’s Economic Forum as the All Ladies League (ALL) -a women’s empowerment non-profit based in India with chapters around the world.

Being the chairperson in Santa Barbara, she also highlights the reasons why there should be more platforms that give African Women a voice. 


How did you get involved with the All Ladies League and become a member?

All Ladies League (ALL) is a women’s empowerment non-profit based in India with chapters around the world. ALL hosts a conference which takes place annually in India. 

I am a Gates Millennium Scholar and I found out about this conference and organization through a fellow scholar, Kaity Yang.

She had posted on our Facebook group that she was in India doing her own research when she got the opportunity to meet the founder and global chairperson of ALL, Dr. Harbeen Arora and her partner Dr. Vinay Rai. They were impressed to hear about the Gates Millennium scholarship program and they extended the invitation for 10 gates scholars to attend the very first Conference.

They generously waived our conference registration and lodging fee so all we needed to pay was for our flights. When I heard about this incredible opportunity I was very interested in attending. I didn’t know how I would come up with the funds for the round trip flight but Kaity Yang was helpful by giving me ideas for fundraising like using GoFundMe and also requesting a travel grant from my school.

Ms. Kaity also connected me with Dr. Harbeen Arora who answered my questions about the organization and encouraged me to join my local chapter. Since there was no chapter in Santa Barbara, where I currently live, she challenged me to start one. She actually appointed me as the chapter chair right then and even sent me business cards and gave me a social media platform. Just like that!

I was really humbled and honored that she would entrust me with leading a local chapter so I accepted and this motivated me to make it out to the conference to find out what I was really getting myself into.

As Africans in the diaspora, we must rise and share our stories, paint a picture of the world we would like to see and let our light shine by all means, and on our own terms. Click To Tweet

How has the platform impacted you as a woman and as a young African in the diaspora?

Participating in this has been really impactful to me by validating my voice and my experiences as a young African woman in the diaspora. It does this by providing the space for anyone to lead a workshop, give a talk, or participate in a panel discussion.

My first time attending the conference I just decided to attend as a delegate since I mostly wanted to listen and observe but in my second and third time attending the conference I decided to participate as a speaker.

This allowed me to share my perspectives on topics I am passionate about such as education and spirituality, and to also share my personal experiences. This is such good practice for public speaking and communicating clearly.

I have challenged myself each of those times to attend as a speaker not because I’m a pro but because even as a young woman I have something to share, and this is an opportunity for growth.

Do you think there should be more platforms that give a voice to African women in the diaspora specifically?

YES! I definitely think that there should be more platforms that amplify the voices of African women in the diaspora.

But I think it’s up to us to be proactive in creating them or in utilizing the platforms that already exist. We can’t afford to wait around for the rest of the world to put the spotlight on us -that rarely happens.

So we must rise and share our stories, paint a picture of the world we would like to see, and just let our light shine by all means, and on our own terms.

What is the significance of platforms that allow you to share ideas and create a space for women to develop their leadership skills?

Organizations such as ALL are so significant since just by creating a platform for women to connect, share resources, and develop their leadership skills, they are literally changing the world.

There is a leadership imbalance in most sectors of our society and there’s an underlying narrative out there that women are inferior and weak.

But now is the time for the empowering of women to fix this imbalance so that together we can create lasting change in our world.

What could we learn from the voice of an African diaspora woman?

I think that the voice of an African woman in the diaspora is quite unique. We have a unique perspective of life shaped by our experiences on the motherland (for those of us who had that privilege) in comparison or in contrast to our experiences living abroad.

These experiences have forced us to grapple with our complex identities, propelled us to create inclusive communities, and to come up with creative ways of problem-solving. 

I am grateful to have met amazing African women leaders from various African countries and within the diaspora - Charlene Macharia Click To Tweet

What do you enjoy the most about being active in the conferences?

I love that the conference is hosted in India since it provides an opportunity to travel and experience new cultures. 

What I enjoyed most about participating in the conference are all the wonderful women I have been able to meet from around the world. I am especially grateful to have met amazing African women leaders from various African countries and within the diaspora.

It was awesome to network and fellowship with them. We were able to bond and stay connected through social media. 

When I attended the first conference I met Tia Walker, an African American woman from Santa Barbara! It was surprising that we never met while we both lived in Santa Barbara (which is a small town) but we just so happened to meet at this conference in India. It was truly a divine connection!

After the event, we kept in touch and met up when we got back to Santa Barbara. Tia was such a wonderful connection to have made, not only because of her kind nature – she is truly a genuine, dynamic and compassionate person- but also because she is a respected leader in the Santa Barbara community.

She helped me launch the Santa Barbara chapter which was such a blessing and lots of fun. I am grateful for all the soul-sister connections I get to make at these conferences.

Tell us about your recent recognition at the conference

I was one of the awardees for the “Iconic Women Leaders Creating Better World for All” which was graciously extended to me for my participation as a chapter chair for the Santa Barbara chapter.

I’m thankful to Dr. Harbeen Arora for seeing the potential in me and calling it out.

 What advice would you give to young African women who want to be leaders in their community both at home and abroad? 

I would advice young African women not to be afraid to be themselves. We were created just the way we are – with our personalities, passions, and strengths. We have our big hearts and brains for a reason. And we have so much to offer the world, so nothing, including ourselves, should hold us back.

At the same time, we need to prioritize our own healing before we can go out there trying to change the world. We need to take the time to know our worth, to feed our minds and our spirits with the truth. We have to erase all the lies that have been projected onto us and embracing our real God-given identities, in order to live full lives and to fulfill our destinies. 

I would also like to encourage us not to be too hard on ourselves when we make mistakes and live small, to forgive ourselves quickly, and to be patient with our growth and restoration.

There is grace in the journey so just take joy in the process. 

Charlene’s story is just an example of how significant these platforms are especially for young women in the African Diaspora. We can learn a lot and share ideas that are changing the world.


 

The United Nations is using it’s Women’s Global HeforShe initiative to drive gender equality

Gender equality is a fundamental human right but remains a distant dream for many women worldwide.  The United Nations’ HeforShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of gender equality.  Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging both genders to partake as agents of change and take action against negative stereotypes and behaviors, faced by people with feminine personalities/genders.

Grounded in the idea that gender inequality is an issue that affects all people—socially, economically and politically. It seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as “a struggle for women by women”.

The HeForShe movement is gathering momentum globally as a cohort of select leaders from both the public and private sectors join the drive and stand out as visionaries on gender equality.

On behalf of Standard Bank Group, Chief Executive Sim Tshabalala, has become one of the global “Thematic Champions” in the HeForShe movement. These leaders have committed to implementing game-changing policies and concrete actions towards gender parity.

“Achieving gender equity is a moral duty, a business imperative, and just plain common sense. Women embody half the world’s talent, skill and energy – and more than half of its purchasing power.

So every sensible business leader must be committed to achieving gender equity in their company and to contributing to gender equity in the societies in which we operate,” says Tshabalala.

Sim Tshabalala
@StandardBankZA will improve the representation of women in executive positions from the current 35% to 40% by 2021. #HeforShe Click To Tweet

In the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, it is estimated that it will take more than 217 years to achieve workplace equality after gender parity took a step backward in the past year.

Concrete commitments made by Standard Bank Group in order to bring about tangible change include:

  • Reaching parity in executive positions and to improve the representation of women in executive positions from its current 32% to 40% by 2023.
  • Lift the representation of women on the Board from 22% to 33% by 2021.

Standard Bank is also committed to increasing the representation of women Chief Executives in its Africa Regions network from 10% to 20% by 2021, while Standard Bank South Africa will improve the representation of women in executive positions from the current 35% to 40% by 2021.

While progress has been made in certain countries in Africa to close gender gaps, others remain behind the curve. Namibia and South Africa both score in the Top 20 in the WEF global report on gender equality – after closing 78% to 76% of their gender gaps – but Sub-Saharan Africa still displays a wider range of gender gap outcomes than practically any other region.

Launched by Emma Watson and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014, HeForShe represented the first global effort to actively include men and boys as change agents for gender equality at a time when most gender programs were only targeting women.

The U.N. recently reported that nearly 20 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the previous year. #HeforShe Click To Tweet

It was the beginning of a trend that only seems more relevant as stories emerge of sexual abuse and harassment suffered by women in the workplace.

The Sustainable Development Goals call for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, but campaigns such as the most recent International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women highlight that there is much work to be done.

The U.N. recently reported that nearly 20 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the previous year.

Originally conceived as a one-year media campaign to raise awareness about the role of men and boys in gender equality, the HeForShe website garnered more than 100,000 male supporters in its first three days.

These males affirmed their commitment to the cause by declaring themselves “HeForShe” and saying that gender equality is not just a women’s issue. Early adopters included a clutch of celebrities and politicians, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and actor Matt Damon.

Since then, 1.6 million men have signed up online, including at least one man in every country of the world, and its “Impact Champions” include the presidents of Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, and Indonesia, among several other heads of state. 

The issue has also been the subject of 2 billion conversations on social media.

But HeForShe is not without its critics. Many in the gender equality community say they would like to see the movement make more concrete demands of its male champions, and have called for civil society to play a greater role in developing and monitoring the movement.

“Now is a good moment for reflection and discussion about HeForShe, which has achieved high visibility, clear successes, and also drawbacks,” said Gary Barker, co-founder of Promundo, an NGO working to engage men and boys for gender equality, which has advised the HeForShe campaign since its launch three years ago.

“Having that amount of reach and star power on board means there’s huge potential, but we need to harness it before the movement loses momentum … [and] we need to push UN Women to go further and ask more of men,” he added.

Johannesburg : 9th October 2018.


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Ayisha Osori: Demystifying the Idea of African Women in Politics

What is the view of politics amongst young women in Nigeria? Read this article by @OnukoguFavour Click To Tweet

The right to vote as women was the main demand for the women’s movement in history. Fast forward to 2018, at the eve year of another fast-rising, monumental election in Nigeria, It seems women are less interested in politics, voting and running for office as compared to their male counterparts.

It seems another year of time changing decisions will be made and women will not be part of the decision making.

Regardless of what the government has done to break that re-occurring malady, women still occupy a mere 19% of every political office in Nigeria, sadly the same is to be said for almost all African countries.

There are varied notions women have about politics in all. Politics is the most bizarre part of the public system. What do we know about politics except for the things we see on the news, and how many young African women are interested in politics enough to source out vital news in that field.

It seems like the average African woman has given up on politics, she doesn’t believe in her public officers and she has completely washed her hands away from anything concerning politics, calling it brutal, aggressive and bad.

So in general what is the view of politics amongst young women in Nigeria?

  • Politics is not for women
  • Politics is not for young women especially
  • A woman cannot be a Public Leader, and a good wife and mother at the same time
  • Politics is for greedy people who want to have a share of the National Cake
  • Politicians cannot be trusted, once you become a politician you lose your trust. Stay away
  • Even if we want to change things, we can never change things by voting or leading a Public office

If you have ever had one or more of these myths in your head you’re not peculiar, so does millions of young women in the country.

Ayisha Osori, is a writer, activist, lawyer and a fellow from the who ran for the office of the House of Representative in 2014.

In her book _ Love does not win elections, she completely destroys all we think about Politics and tells all, beyond emotions what politics in the state of Nigeria really means.

Her book is an eye-opener as it details her journey by becoming a member of a politic party, running for an office, experiencing the challenges of Godfatherism, and losing an election.

She says from her experience running for a position, she understood that by the election date, 80% of decent leadership is already lost. This because not a lot of people get to vote for the representative of the party at the primaries.  

From her own words:

“Political parties won’t change themselves without pressures from within and without. We’ve been putting pressure from outside.  What might work would be going into the party and forcing change from within If young people join political parties several things happen”. 

“First they become part of the conversation, they can become delegates and they stand a better chance to be elected when they vie of an office,” says Ayisha Osori

“Our political parties are generational. Nothing is going to die out. It has become a system, a process, and a culture. I met fathers who are preparing their sons to take their positions bearing the same mentality.  Whether we have old people or young people it would be the same if we do not develop a different strategy to make things work” she continues.

The 21st century has ushered young women in science, technology, and engineering, in all aspect of the society women are taking pace and leading.

When it comes to politics, it seems we are only crawling at snail pace. Nigeria has never had a Female President and it doesn’t look like we will for the next twenty years.

Coming down to the grassroots, towards and local government, only 19% of women are in the government.   And most of them would be gone with this generation that is they have served for long they’d soon have to hand over.

Do we have enough successors that are going to take their place? Do we have enough women right now who are active in political affairs?

And why do we have to be interested in politics, after all, we can change the world through entrepreneurship?  We can only do so much as entrepreneurs, small business is like small building blocks for a LEGO house, little by little can create a magnificent edifice.

Politics is like the bond that binds them all together, if we have a decaying system, people will grow businesses that will only crumble due to forces beyond them.

Through politics, we can create better incentives for smallholder farmers, startups, and budding entrepreneurs.

All of these will be possible if we have good governance down to our grassroots level.


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Ms. Ebba Kalondo: Being a black African woman in leadership is not for the faint-hearted

Ms. Ebba Kalondo is the spokesperson in the Chairperson’s office of the African Union Commission. Prior to that, she has held several senior positions in strategic and Risk Communications at the World Health Organization, Foundation Hirondelle, France24, and Reuters.

In this interview, Ms. Ebba talks about her work as a leader in the African Union Commission.


Be the exception to the rule. Go to that meeting that no one invites you to, sit there like you belong and speak up - @EbbaKalondo Click To Tweet

 What was your ambition growing up?

Growing up I read a lot and questioned everything around me. I was always inquisitive and analyzing the information presented to me with a desire to learn more. So upon reflection, I must say that my ambition was always to learn more.

Would you say your family environment/childhood shaped the person you are today?

My parents’ relationship which each other forged my personality. They were and remain a strong united front.

They had five daughters and a son. We were always allowed to ask questions and encouraged to read. My mother was soft-spoken but strong. She was a disciplinarian and my father taught us the importance of family.

Did you ever think you would end up in international affairs, or at the AU specifically?

Yes, I worked in international news and in development with a strong focus on security and the humanitarian industry.

With my desire to constantly learn, I grew a desire to ignore the headline and discover the more nuanced reality behind the story.

What was your path to working at the AU? What factors helped you along the way?

It is the people I met on this path that I walked and the rich experiences that brought me to where I am. I always knew that I wanted to be of service to my continent and I am very fortunate that I have been able to do so.

The AU is the platform to do this, and I will always be grateful for the call to be of service.

Can you compare the AU with other organizations you have worked with?

The AU is a microcosm of the state of its evolving Union – a 55-member Union of nations with different governance systems, varying levels of socio-economic development on a continent that is home to a third of humanity but that is still fighting for its rightful place in the world as a primary actor of its own development and indeed that of the world.

Born of a unique history of colonialism not seen in any other continental grouping in contemporary history, the African Union is also the largest intergovernmental in the world.

There is no other organization quite like it, that I know of.

The AU is currently undergoing a process of institutional and financial reform. Why is the reform of the AU essential?

Our continuing existence in the new world we live and engage with depends on making our Organization more fit for purpose to better serve the needs and aspirations of the people of the Continent.

This is not a choice, this is a stark existential reality and an obligation to the founding fathers of our Union.

Are the reform’s youth and women targets attainable by 2025? (35% of AU staff as a youth and 50% as women).

Why should they not be? Self-belief and the ambition we have set out for ourselves is key.

What do you say to critics of the AU who point to its bureaucracy and who doubt its capacity to change?

The AU Commission is a bureaucracy like other multilateral intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union Commission. And like all institutional bureaucracies, it is a slow-moving ship.

It is not as agile as say a start-up. This is not unique to the AUC. What is unique is that unlike the UN and the EU, the AUC has started to implement its reform agenda.

Who influenced you the most in your professional life?

Not one person in particular. There have been so many people who have, through their experiences, mentored and supported my journey.

Have you ever received a painful rejection in your career? How did you handle it?

Not rejection per se, but definitely some occasions where I could and should have acted differently. The first thing is taking responsibility and then fixing it and learning to do better.

In case of a rejection, the first step is taking responsibility and then fixing it and learning to do better - @EbbaKalondo Click To Tweet

When have you felt most out of your comfort zone?

On the contrary, I actively avoid comfort zones, I feel most comfortable pushing myself outside of comfort zones. Growth has always been more important to me than comfort has.

Having worked in war zones where putting oneself in harm’s way is part of the job, I’ve learned that security comes from within.

What have you learned in your career about women in leadership? Any advice for women who aspire to leadership positions?

Being a woman in leadership is tough, but being a black African woman in leadership is not for the fainthearted.

Be the exception to the rule. Go to that meeting that no one invites you to, sit there like you belong and speak up. Your opinion matters. Even if there are other women there, and none are speaking up, be the one that does.

Stay informed about everything around and never take the bait of being treated as the “affirmative action” or “gender sensitive” presence. Your results will not be judged on your gender.

You got the job, not your gender, so do it. Never fear ridicule. Ever.

I've learned that security comes from within - @EbbaKalondo Click To Tweet

Have you undertaken any measures to support women in the professional workplace?

There is nothing I can teach, but I can share my experiences truthfully and what has worked for me, and what has not. I find that we support each other not so much by saying or doing, but by really being there for each other, making the time to listen without judgment and simply accompanying each other on our journeys.

That I do by instinct, not by obligation. Empowered women should empower women, through service and support. Always and without exception.

What’s your advice for fresh graduates looking to join the AU?

Don’t fear to start at the bottom, in fact, it is always instructive to see how those who think they have power treat those they think don’t have power.

Study by doing. Don’t fear failure. We are who we are despite it. And again, never fear ridicule. Those who laugh at you and make fun of you while you are learning will learn from your courage.

Even if they will never acknowledge it. And the job has nothing to do with your feelings. Do the job. Keep your feelings.

What do you struggle with, in the work environment?

I strongly believe that struggle is inevitable, and contrary to popular belief, I believe we hone our survival instincts through struggle. But the struggle to maintain a life-work balance is real, and it never gets easier.

What are some of the most challenging things in your current role?

That’s a tough one. But in a world where the everyday person doesn’t trust politics and politicians in general, it is important to stay honest and credible despite the challenges. And to be honest, it is the challenges that most attract me. No two days are the same.

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment, both personal and professional?

My biggest personal accomplishments are my children. They have taught and continue to teach me some of my most important life lessons.

Professionally, I’m proud of where I am but the road ahead remains long and I’m still working at it.

Do you have any regrets?

Being far away from my family is not easy.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing today, what other career paths would you have taken?

I would have become a psychiatrist.

What is your dream destination?

As a child, I was fascinated by Genghis Khan, so Mongolia remains a mythical place for me. Samarkand, Timbuktu, Kano, and Isfahan are also cities that I dream of visiting.

What are you currently reading? What genre of books do you read?

I’m reading a few books simultaneously:

  • Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes
  • Rene Girard’s Violence and the Sacred

In French, I’m alternating between a book on mindfulness by Christophe Andre – a French psychiatrist, Alexandre Jollien – a Swiss philosopher, and Matthieu Ricard – a Buddhist monk, called ‘Trois amis en quete de sagesse”.

I just finished Behave by Robert Sapolsky and Aisha La Bienaimee du Prophete by Genevieve Chauvel.

What’s something your friends and family might not know about you?

I’m an open book to those who know me, so I would like to think that they know everything necessary to know. Those that don’t know me, probably don’t need to.

How do you stay motivated?

I am motivated by my desire to keep on learning, there is so much I don’t know. And working at the African Union, having a front row seat in the process of working towards the Africa we want, and it is within our reach, is enough motivation every day.

I am also motivated by my family.

What do you do in your down time?

I read. I read and reread. I buy and rebuy books.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women?

I frankly don’t know, but what is certain is that challenges will remain. The important thing is to keep on going and that no one can make you feel illegitimate unless you allow it.

So it is our responsibility to focus on the solutions together, and work towards our goals and achieving our ambitions.


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6 Ways To Participate In The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) – As A Non-Diplomat

If you’re in NewYork this September…tis’ the season to network with diplomats.

Every September, the Big Apple is buzzing with diplomats, world leaders, advocacy organizations, nonprofits, foundations and even celebrities, who come to participate in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The General Assembly is one of the six organs of the United Nations, and the only one in which all 193 Member States have equal representation.

All members are called to discuss global policy issues in the General Debate. This year is the 73rd session, and the debate theme will be ‘Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies.’

@lizgrossman87 highlights 6 ways you can participate in the @UN General Assembly, even if you're not a diplomat. Click To Tweet

UNGA 73 opens on 18 September 2018, with the first day of the high-level general debate set to happen on Tuesday, 25 September 2018.

The debate is scheduled to last for nine working days, and will be presided by Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, an Ecuadorian politician and diplomat. She is also the 4th woman in history to be elected President of the General Assembly.

This year on September 24, the  Nelson Mandela Peace Summit: UNGA High-level Plenary on Global Peace will be held to commemorate the centenary of his birth.

There will also be high level dialogues on the fight against tuberculosis, the prevention of non-communicable diseases and many other topics related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

But what if you aren’t a UN delegate?

Fear not. UNGA is a gathering where anyone can make contacts, learn about current events, and even contribute to policy making. So how can you get involved and join the conversation?

Here are a few tips on how to get in on the action.

1. Attend side events

Because so many people travel to New York for UNGA, organizations capitalize on this and host their own related events to dive deeper into the topics they work on.

In recent years, major campaigns such as Global Goals Week and Climate Week NYC offer opportunities for gatherings on the sidelines of the General Debate. You can also use the UNGA Guide to search by keyword, date and sector to find relevant events, or browse Eventbrite.

2. Contact your permanent mission

You can get in touch with the permanent mission to the UN of your country to see what events they are hosting or partnering with.

Sometimes, you can get lucky and snag a ticket or pass if they have extras simply by inquiring.

3. Hang out in the lobby of the Millenium Hilton New York One UN Plaza

 Set yourself up working remotely, having coffee, reading, or swiping through your Instagram feed from the lobby of the hotel where most of the diplomats are staying. You may start up interesting conversations with some VIPs (or those who know the VIPs) just by being present.

Disclaimer: don’t break any federal or international stalking laws, and don’t be too aggressive, especially when someone is clearly working or busy.

To attend the @UN General Assembly, you can set yourself up working remotely, having coffee, reading, from the lobby of the hotel where most of the diplomats are staying. Click To Tweet

4. Register to attend or volunteer at related conferences

In the same spirit of side events, some major conferences also happen on the sidelines of UNGA, such as the Social Good Summit, Concordia Summit, World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit, Goalkeepers and more.

These may be by invitation only or involve a registration fee, but you can also reach out to the organizers to see if they need any volunteers. Getting your foot in the door is the first step.

5. Just show up

Some of the most meaningful connections you can make during UNGA is when you just show up. Even if you don’t have a ticket or you don’t know the organizers,  If you are confident enough, sometimes you can just walk in and sit down like you own the place.

If you need security clearance to get into the UN headquarters, you may just meet a kind stranger who is willing and able to escort you as a guest.

If all else fails, and you remain outside, you may still be brushing shoulders with people you can network with.

6. Use social media to contribute to the debates

 Most UN agencies, leaders, and attendees tweet, publish live videos, and share their thoughts during the debates. Follow the UN on Twitter for updates, as well as the different agencies most relevant to your interests.

Different events, sectors, agencies and groups use different hashtags, but you can follow the overall debate using #UNGA and #UNGA73.


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