Holly Irasubiza: The young Rwandan mentoring the next generation of Young African Leaders

Holly Irasubiza is an activist, researcher, and mentor committed to building a stronger, more equitable Rwanda. She served as a 2017-2018 Global Health Corps fellow at Partners in Health.

Born and raised in Kigali, she blossomed into a vocal leader during her time as a student at Bugema University, where she headed multiple student organizations and worked as a teaching assistant and instructor.

After graduating, Holly mentored other female students to encourage them to dream big and work towards a brighter future. Passionate about the power of leadership to transform societies, Holly authored a piece titled “Why Care and Compassion Are Core Leadership Competencies.”

In this article, Holly talks about the powerful impact of mentorship, both for mentees and mentors.

As a mentee, I grew significantly both personally and professionally - Holly Irasubiza Click To Tweet

What inspired you to become a mentor?

I have a passion for people development, and being a mentor is a way to share my knowledge and experiences to impact another’s success. It is fulfilling and keeps my motivation high, knowing that I am touching a life by giving back.

My life has been shaped by the mentors I have met throughout my journey, and I hope to support the younger generation to go beyond their limits and change the world.

Why should mentorship be important to young African leaders?

The African continent has struggled under bad leadership, and some of the consequences are still faced by the African population.

But it has also experienced some of the most brilliant and visionary leaders, which have shed the light, banished the darkness, and brought hope for today and the future of Africa. To maintain and develop great future leaders of Africa, we need to be proactive, starting with the empowerment of our youth.

By some estimates, up to 60% of the African population is the youth, and they need to be empowered and encouraged to explore their potential and use available resources to their advantage. This will not only provide us with great leaders in the future but will also speed up the continent’s development now.

With mentorship, young leaders can learn from past experiences and success stories, and stand on the shoulders of giants to go further.

What makes a good mentor/mentee relationship?

I sum this up as the 4 C’s:

Commitment: The mentee must identify the right person for mentorship, including past experiences and areas of expertise, to ensure that the mentor is in a position to help them to achieve their goals.

Communication: The mentee should have clear goals and communicate the agenda they want to be mentored on, how often they would like to check-in, and a preferred communication line (email, Skype calls, or face-to-face meetings). This will help both mentor and mentee to schedule their regular meetings and track their progress.

Compassion: It is the responsibility of the mentor to create a positive and friendly environment for the mentee to share openly their opinions and challenges. They should check if they are meeting the set goals, and maintain objectivity throughout the course.

Care: The mentor should take ownership of the program, make sure that they listen clearly to the mentee’s needs, and use their best abilities to support their growth. The mentee should respect the mentor’s willingness to share their time, wisdom, knowledge, and experiences to support and guide them towards achieving their life goals.

Read how this @ghcorps fellow - Holly Irasubiza is mentoring the next generation of African leaders Click To Tweet

What do you hope for the next generation of African leaders? How can mentorship help achieve that future?

I am very optimistic about the next generation of African leaders. Having worked in multicultural settings, I have had the opportunity to interact with amazing, bright young women and men across the continent.

My peers are very ambitious and innovative, with brilliant ideas. Their aspirations for African development are incredible, and they have already made a remarkable impact in their respective communities.

I have no doubt about the great future leaders they are.

The youth are eager to learn from leaders’ experience and take up their wisdom. Mentorship will guide them and show them how to apply this knowledge to make them better future leaders.

How has your career in global health impacted your mentorship skills – and vice versa?

Global Health Corps provided me with great opportunities to interact with leaders and experts in different areas. So many willingly shared their experiences and wisdom, and they are still great resources for my success as an alumna of the program.

I am provided with guidance, encouragement, and support to achieve my goals. This experience has strengthened my passion to give back.

How have you benefited from mentorship—both as a mentor and a mentee?

Being a mentor has improved my leadership skills; my mentee looks up to me, so I have to set a good example and be the type of leader I want to see.

It has also boosted my communication skills and keeps me engaged by offering me fulfillment, seeing the impact it makes. Mentorship has broadened my network and offered me opportunities to learn from my mentees as well.

As a mentee, I grew significantly both personally and professionally. Learning from the best offered me different opportunities and extended my professional network. The leader that I am today is the result of these relationships.

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Mwandwe Chileshe: My career in nutrition stemmed from my own struggles with ill health

Mwandwe Chileshe is a Global Health Corps alumni who has carved out a meaningful career path in Zambia’s health and nutrition sector.

In this interview, she speaks on how to trailblaze a career that’s both challenging and rewarding—while working to ensure the safety and health of generations to come.

  What inspired you to build a career in nutrition/health?

My work in nutrition and global health stemmed from my own struggles with ill health. As a university student enthusiastic and eager to learn, I was suddenly struck with multiple abdomen complications.

This led me through many hospital corridors and multiple surgical procedures. The experience included severe pain, days of no food, and wards where I saw people in even worse conditions. After three years of this situation, I realized that my opportunity to access health services gave me the best shot at life.

The experience took a financial and emotional toll, which would have been hard to survive without the goodwill of my family.  In the meantime, many women and girls are living through worse, and some of their lives are cut short as they are unable to access the health services they need.

When I started to work on nutrition I was exposed to the dire effects of hunger and malnutrition on women, girls, and children.

Children who lack access to adequate nutrition and consequently suffer from chronic malnutrition (stunting), their fates are decided even before they can make their own decisions. A stunted child is more likely to fail at school, fall sick with other conditions, and struggle to find work as an adult.

My first-hand experience of the heavy price of inequitable health services coupled with my early work experience in nutrition motivated me to build a career in global health advocating for improved nutrition.

What does the future hold for this sector? How can young leaders plugin and cultivate their own careers here?

So many people worldwide are affected by hunger and malnutrition. More than a billion women and girls do not have the access to the adequate nutrition that they need. It is a health and development issue that requires a critical mass of young minds to solve.

Political will has been stated, global commitments have been made, and yet nutrition remains insufficiently funded globally. For an issue that affects so many of us, it is important that we get involved and we pursue careers that will have lasting impacts.

It is a space that still needs people to see its importance and its linkages to so many other health and development issues.

What does it mean to be an anti-poverty advocate? How does this show up in your daily life?

It shows up in the little and the big decisions in my life. Straight out of undergrad I started to work for one of Zambia’s leading commercial banks in a high-density area.

What stood out for me at the time was how during a 30-minute bus ride, the landscape changed from posh malls to people living in shacks. The disparity was so apparent and jarring. Every morning was a trek to where the people strung along their savings. Within four months I knew I couldn’t stay.

I quit at what was considered a prestigious and income-secure job and went right back to work on nutrition and health. For me, being an anti-poverty advocate means that I cannot be satisfied with just my own income security.

When faced with the small choices or the big ones, I will always choose that which impacts more than just me.

After my work at the bank, I went on to lead and contribute to efforts to raise the profile of nutrition and increase political will to address it. I played a significant role in the startup and growth of Zambia’s Civil Society Scaling up Nutrition Alliance (CSO-SUN), the first organization in the country solely dedicated to advocacy on nutrition.

I took the lead within CSO-SUN in ensuring creative approaches towards advocacy efforts.  I became a Global Health Corps fellow working at 1,000 Days in the U.S. as a Global Advocacy and Outreach Associate, working to mobilize greater resources for nutrition initiatives.  In early 2017, I became a global citizen campaigner and was recognized as one of their leading youth advocates.

Through this role, I have led and supported significant campaigns and advocacy on nutrition. Most recently, I was part of the Global Citizen team that worked to secure commitments for the Mandela 100 festival in December 2018.

Why is it important for young leaders to build careers that are socially-minded? How has your career shaped your identity?

The problems arising from hunger, malnutrition, poverty are not new at all. The world needs new solutions to these old problems! It is so important that young people get involved.

We are open-minded, and we have fresh voices and new ideas. We cannot sit by and wait for phantom changemakers – it is us that we need.

My friend joked to me just a few days ago that when someone asked what my hobbies are and what I do for fun, she responded by saying “That’s easy, her nutrition advocacy work.” We laughed, but I interpreted the exchange as a sign that my career deeply shapes my identity.

Perhaps more importantly, I believe it means that the joy that I get from the work I do is evident.

The work you do isn’t easy. How do you stay focused, committed, and well?

There are moments when fighting for health equity is overwhelming and challenging. I imagine that this is true for all careers working towards a better world.

I find that it is important for me to always remember why I do what I do to stay focused and motivated. However, this also includes acknowledging burn out and cultivating time for self-care, which allows me to always bring the best version of myself to my work.

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Public Health Career anyone?: Buckle your seat belts

So a public health career is your choice, and you are you are ready to go? Here is a checklist that could facilitate the journey.

Pre-professional experience

Some say is the polite form of very polite form of getting your hands dirty. You may have heard this a gazillion times ‘Voila!’ A career in this field is not an exception to the rule. Get some practice of a profession before you embark on your studies.

‘Exposure before training, is this even possible?’ I hear you ask.

It is quite simple really, volunteer, take time to work as an intern, join a fellowship programme…put yourself out there

 There are plenty of organizations out there seeking volunteers and its unimaginable how the spirit of volunteerism not only creates a positive awareness about health but gets everyone involved. I did volunteer during my soul-searching period with a humanitarian organization, the Red Cross, and Red Crescent movement.

The range of health activities ranged from disaster management, health promotion, logistics in supplies delivery in areas with conflict, this sort of exposure enabled me to relate to the human needs during emergencies while giving me the chance to help others.

This was more than I could have asked for a soul-searching period but I digress. Getting back my point be willing to work in a team and the knowledge gained will be immense.

You could schedule this during the weekend, summer break or better yet take a couple days off during your holiday and take volunteer abroad placements… Volunteer Vacation!

Some internships may be paid while others unpaid. As a volunteer, the organization may cater to your needs such as meals, accommodation, laundry while others may not.

However, this should not deter you to remember the core of public health is service to humanity. You may be receiving way more in expertise than you are actually giving…. food for thought!

School vs Time

So exposure is off the bucket list and you need technical knowledge. You need to hit the books again. here are options to explore, most degree courses in public health contain compulsory units also known as core subjects, while non-degree certificate courses allow one to focus on what captures your interest like health promotion, emergency relief, outreach nutrition, climate change and health.

Here are some timelines undergraduate courses range from 3 to 4 years, graduate courses take 1 or 2 years and could lead ultimately to doctorate/ Ph.D., diploma and postgraduate certificate ideally will take 6 months to a year to study. And guess what! most institutions of higher learning are now offering various short courses which take up to 4 weeks ………so no excuses.

Time vs Location

So you have the time but you currently working…. wait… not so fast don’t hang in the boots just yet! There’s actually an answer to this dilemma. Get online!

Welcome to the era of digitization and take a moment to thank the worldwide web for this one.  You can study from the comfort of your home. What you get will be access to learning material, webinars with tutors from across the globe and my favorite discussions with other students from all over the globe just a click away.

Self -paced learning could not have come at a better time, be the holder of a verified certificate, earn your credits and pick a public health topic you wish to learn.

Location vs Fees

Start saving early if you wish to carry out your degree in Public Health, that said the amount of payment for education depends on the university you will be attending.

Some good news though most teaching institutions may have a scholarship database which is something you should explore. If you think online your organization could actually assist in your professional development.

Again take advantage of the free online courses. Some of the certificate in public health courses are free and offered by some of the top universities across the world.

Finally remember when in doubt, tap into your resources these include your mentor, a teacher in the field, an expert who has been out in the field get some coffee.

Hearing others experience could guide you in the Public field…ENJOY THE RIDE!

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Meet Oxfams Humanitarian Superwomen Making Local Change

While humanitarian work is often portrayed as “Westerners” coming to provide aid, it’s often “local” people who do a big part of the important field work. This is because they understand the context better. 

Here are three young women who are inspiring us with their humanitarian work. While working with Oxfam, they sometimes spend weeks working in remote areas to ensure aid is provided to vulnerable communities and families. 

In this interview, we learn more about Oxfam’s humanitarian superwomen who are working hard on the field to bring impact to their societies. 

Tell us about your job

Umulkhair: I am currently a Food Security Officer working for Oxfam in Somaliland. I love my job because besides delivering food and creating livelihoods to people in need, I get to change the way communities view Muslim Somali women.

Gloria: My first ambition was to become a doctor but I instead became a water and sanitation engineer. As a WASH coordinator for the Burundi Refugee Response Program in Tanzania, my work includes conducting topographical surveys in villages.

I also design and supervise the construction of water supply systems to ensure that people don’t get sick from sanitary issues. Finally, I am a leading advocate for HIV/AIDS and women’s rights in my community.

Aimeline: I joined Oxfam in 2011 and have since been working as a Public Health Engineer assistant in South Kivu, DRC.  I was inspired to join the humanitarian field so that I could save lives and make a difference in people’s lives. For the last 5 years, I’ve made an impact on building springs and waste latrines for communities.

Gloria Kafuria

As a local NGO worker,what makes you special?

Umulkhair: Despite all the challenges the country is facing, my work at Oxfam provides me with a platform to give hope to people in need. We try to show people that both the local and international NGO world is aware of their suffering and are trying the best to provide relief.

Gloria: It feels different and great to show your own people that it’s possible to make a real difference. More than that, I feel that as a Tanzanian and Swahili speaker, I can relate better to the problems for the host communities.

Umulkhair Mohamed

Have you faced any challenges in the humanitarian field?

Umulkhair: One challenge I’ve faced is the pastoralists lack of support and confidence for young women. However, though they often believe women should lead men when they see our achievements, they apologize for their judgment.

Gloria: I also encountered difficulties leading men as a young female engineer. Many times, it felt as though I was trying to prove myself. Luckily, I had support from Oxfam which places gender equality at the center.

Aimeline: Working in sensitive areas has been difficult. One of these difficulties I faced is the fear of the unpredictable. Recently, in my current zone of intervention, the Tanganyika region, there were ethnic conflicts leading to the displacement of nearly 600,000 people. Safety is always a concern.

Aimeline Elukesu

What is it like spending significant time away from home?

Umulkhair: As a young, Somali woman, it was difficult to enter the humanitarian field because we often spend many days away from our families in remote areas. Though my father supported me, other family members were critical of this lifestyle.

Gloria: It has been tough to see all family members together and you are the only one away. But knowing that I need to support our communities with food insecurities and emergencies has helped me persevere.

Aimeline Elukesu

How has this job shaped and inspired you?

Umulkhair: This job built my self-confidence and made me have a positive impact on people’s lives. Dealing with communities who don’t have confidence in young women has also made me more mature.

I also get very inspired by the people I meet on the field. Recently, I met two divorced women who had children but no source of income. After participating in an Oxfam training and receiving a start-up kit, they started their own shop. This helped them send their children to school.

Aimeline: A few victories here and there have truly inspired me to keep going. One of my first victories was when I mastered the operation of the gravity water supply and motor adduction. I had also learned how to build latrines that improved the protection of people against waterborne diseases such as Cholera or Typhoid fever.

Gloria Kafuria

Any advice for young women wanting to work with NGO’s?

Gloria: Working with these organizations starts with getting good grades. However, it’s important to work hard and deliver the best. You should also try and find support or guidance from women in the NGO-sector. Because of the gender imbalance in many African societies, it’s important that we support each other as women.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Meet the Young African Women Shaking Up the Global Health Sector

Around the world, women make 75 percent of the health workforce and continue to be the primary caretakers in communities and families. They also experience heightened health risks.

This is thanks to persistent gender-based violence and stigma that prevents access to preventive care and treatment. Despite these realities, women occupy fewer than 25 percent of leadership roles in the health sector.

Adanna Chukwuma, Karen Maniraho, and Favorite Iradukunda are slaying the game when it comes to demonstrating that young women of African descent can lead – and are leading – the global health equity movement.

As Global Health Corps (GHC) alumni, these ladies are committed to playing their part in realizing health as a human right for all. 

GHC’s Brittany Cesarini caught up with these ladies to learn about how they’re crafting their own unique leadership journeys. And how they are disrupting the status quo in global health leadership along the way.  


Adanna Chukwuma

Why do you think we need more women leaders in global health?

Adanna: There is overwhelming evidence that diversity of team membership and leadership promotes creativity and productivity in teams. Therefore, increasing the proportion of female leaders in global health will increase our effectiveness at addressing the pressing health problems we face.

One can also make an ethical argument. We know that bias partly shapes the gaps between male-female representation in leadership. This bias does not always reflect performance. It may be a matter of discomfort with the idea of women in leadership. This is a wrong that must be righted.

Karen: Health and who has access to it will always be a discussion of power. Without women in positions of power, we cannot tackle the systemic inequalities that affect women and our communities.

Favorite: I think this is a matter of logic and holding true to what we believe. If global health values equity, equality, and social justice, if we are advocating for these values for other people. Doesn’t it make sense to start at home?

Where is equality and justice, when women make up to 75% of the healthcare workforce but occupy less than 25% of the leadership positions?

We are all leaders and learners - @favourtieiradukunda Click To Tweet

What lessons did you learn from the Women Leaders in Global Health conference at Stanford University last October?

Adanna: In one session at the conference, Laurie Garrett and Agnes Binagwaho shared personal stories about the bias they encountered and overcame to excel in their careers. Their conversation stuck with me because of the understanding that excellence can be female, and it can be black African.

A paraphrased version of my favorite quote, uttered by Laurie Garrett, is: 

Women need to shove their modesty through the back door. There are billions of lives at stake - @Laurie_Garrett Click To Tweet

Karen: It was quite inspiring to hear Dr. Afaf Meleis talk about the ways “women are vulnerable and at risk in their productive and reproductive lives.” 

There was also a panel titled “How to Become a Change Agent in Global Health” moderated by Donna Shalala. It featuring Ambassador Deborah Birx, Patricia Garcia, and Vanessa Kerry, among others.

They all so candidly discussed successes and the importance of failures in their global health journeys in refreshingly honest ways.

Favorite: Dr. Afaf Meleis brought up the issue of missing nurses. Nurses are continuously under-represented in global health leadership. They have also missed out on discussions meaningful to the advancement of healthcare, yet we all know that nurses are the backbone of healthcare.

Karen Maniraho

What advice can you give young women aspiring to have leadership roles in global health and to those supporting them? 

Adanna: We can start where we are to influence the gender imbalance in global health in the right direction by challenging ourselves to take risks and more responsibility in our careers. 

Karen: 1. Mentoring at least one girl will help change the status of women in leadership today. Secondly, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, failure is something we should celebrate. 3. Don’t “lean in” if it’s only to replicate male models.

Our work as women leaders can’t simply be about breaking the glass ceiling. Rather, it must be about rebuilding the whole building so that its doors are open to all. 

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. — Marianne Williamson Click To Tweet

Favorite: We have a lot of female leaders in global health, yet they are not considered as leaders because we measure their leadership abilities against a biased definition of leadership.

We need to redefine leadership and not be intimidated by all the biased definitions out there. We need to realize that women are not just leaders but also innovators. 

Favorite Iradukunda

How are you committing to investing in your own professional development as a young leader in global health?

Adanna: I recently joined a Lean In Circle primarily so that I can be intentional about confronting my fears, taking career risks, and developing strategies for dealing with bias.

Karen: After my Global Health Corps fellowship in Burundi, that I realized elevating underrepresented voices through storytelling had a key role in amplifying health conversations. Also, reconnecting with my homeland and working with people taught me innovative ways of communicating health and social needs.  

Favorite: I have always considered professional growth as a result of receiving and giving. receiving 2. giving. My mentors’ help in achieving my goals is part of the receiving.  

With regards to giving, I have invested in younger women. However, I need to redefine my mentorship strategies to be more intentional with clear expectations and deliverables on both sides.

Have the courage to use your own reason - Karen Click To Tweet.

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Mwiche Siame: Influence and leadership is much more than having a “position”

Mwiche Siame's drive to work in health came from a place of having lost close family & friends to HIV Click To Tweet

Mwiche Siame grew up in the small town of Kitwe, Zambia. As a Global Health Corps fellow, Mwiche worked at the Ministry of Health Zambia as a Senior Research Associate. She stayed at the Ministry of Health and is currently working as a Strategic Information Officer in the Ministry’s Department of Policy and Planning. Her work involves ensuring that health workers obtain training in data quality and use of data/health information for decision making.

Previously, Mwiche completed her Bachelor of Science degree in biology at the University of Zambia, becoming actively involved in the AB (abstain, be faithful) club, which focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention. In this club, she and other college students travelled to primary and secondary schools to give lectures and mentor students about the risks of HIV/AIDS.

She worked for the Macha Research Trust, which is a nonprofit organization with the mission of improving healthcare through research. In 2011, she continued her education at the graduate level, obtaining a degree in epidemiology with her thesis research focusing on prevention and treatment of risk factors of malaria in pregnant women.

Why did you decide to work in the health sector even though you didn’t study medicine or train to be a health professional?

I studied biological sciences and could have worked in another sector but I strongly felt that I could still make a difference in global health. Initially, I worked in a lab for infectious diseases, focusing on malaria. After about five years, I decided to go back to school and study public health.

When I went back to doing lab work I struggled to find my place. I decided to become a Global Health Corps fellow and then it became very clear that I needed to get back to my first love, which is working in HIV from a public health angle.

In college you worked on HIV prevention. How did you mobilise other students to get involved and take action?

I was a passionate student leader and an advocate of HIV prevention among my fellow college students and those in secondary. My drive to work in health came from a place of having lost close family and friends to HIV.

I was able to share personal experiences with others on how HIV impacts young people and also on reproductive health, specifically among young women.

And you were placed at the Ministry of Health in Lusaka as a Global Health Corps fellow. Did you expect to stay there beyond your fellowship year?

Absolutely not! I had no idea what my next career would be three months before the fellowship ended. The opportunity was unforeseen but I was in the right place at the right time and I took it.

What has surprised you about working for the Ministry of Health?

I initially did not have a clear understanding of why the system was so bureaucratic, and now that I have worked there I know better and appreciate the need to have such a structured system.

When people think of health, we often think of medicine and tools rather than data. Why does data collection and analysis matter for health outcomes?

I often have to explain my relevance at the Ministry of Health as I am neither a doctor nor a nurse, especially to my grandmother! I work in the Department of Policy and Planning and work primarily on quality improvement of health services through data use.

Data collection and analysis matters as it is the backbone for measuring performance and is the basis for decision making and policy formulation in health. Without data, there is no evidence! And without evidence, there is no strong justification to have interventions that improve health outcomes.

People often think that leaders are the ones who are out on the front lines protesting and leading rallies but we know that’s only one type of leadership. What’s your own personal leadership style?

My leadership approach is strategic and participative. It entails encouraging each member of the team to maximise their strengths and be active in making a change.

I feel that influence and leadership is much more than having a “position” – it’s more about deliberate efforts to pool the knowledge and experience of all players. A multi-sectoral approach is critical.

Can you tell us about a mentor who really impacted you?

My grandmother! She did not have a college education, was married at 15 years old, and has had many health challenges, but she still remains a leader in her own right against all odds. She has taught me a lot about life and given me career advice based on following my heart, being true to myself, and challenging myself to do and be better.

Her hard work and advocacy for women’s empowerment has been a great source of inspiration to me.

What’s your favourite way to relax and renew your energy when the fight for health equity gets tough?

I love music – singing and listening to music relaxes me. I am fortunate to have a strong support system of friends and family to talk to and hang out with, and this helps a lot. Also, I do take some time to meditate and pray too, and that keeps me grounded and present.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Dinnah Nabwire & Mary Ajwang: Raising awareness for reproductive health with Voices for Health Uganda

I was drawn by the role women had in giving life but distressed by the hurdles they experienced Click To Tweet

Dinnah Nabwire and Mary Ajwang are transforming their society by focusing on sexual and reproductive health. They are both behind the Voices for Health Uganda, a platform that harnesses young voices on the needs of reproductive health.

Drawing from their diverse experiences and being from different parts of Uganda brings much-needed balance to their work as co-founders.

You’ve both chosen to build careers in global health, and particularly in reproductive health, despite having very different backgrounds. What was the moment you each knew that this was the field for you?

Dinnah: Working with Marie Stopes International through Global Health Corps gave me an opportunity to refine my career path with a focus on sexual and reproductive health. Through supporting programs related to advocacy and research on access and utilization of services, I have come to appreciate that sexual and reproductive health is central to all development interventions.

Through supporting programs related to advocacy and research on access and utilization of services, I have come to appreciate that sexual and reproductive health is central to all development interventions.

Mary: My initial exposure to reproductive health was during my clinical training and working as a frontline health care provider in health facilities in rural Uganda. I was drawn by the role women had in giving life but also distressed by the enormous hurdles they experienced.

I, therefore, decided that I was going to take on career opportunities that refine my ability to prevent maternal death through amplifying the safe motherhood message.

Did you both have a specific career strategy around addressing family planning?

Yes, we wanted to close the gap in access and utilization of family planning services. So we conceptualized the Voices for Health Uganda as a platform to harness young and often marginalized voices on needs and aspirations of productive health.

What are your predictions for your industry considering the recent moves by the US presidential administration to cut funding to global reproductive and sexual health initiatives?

Knowing that the US government is the largest bilateral funder for sexual and reproductive health globally, we are aware of the negative implication this has on financing for services in countries such as Uganda that are among the 24 family planning priority countries.

Globally, 225 million women have an unmet need for family planning whereas in Uganda the unmet need stands at 62%. This means that funding cuts towards family planning can impede the progress that has been previously made on access and utilization –this is unfortunate.

We, through Voices for Health Uganda, are working to close this gap by raising awareness on the need to connect global and in-country challenges to funding for reproductive health.

Globally, 225 million women need family planning in Uganda the unmet need stands at 62% Click To Tweet

You two are quite the dynamic duo in advocacy and in life! What’s been your favorite part of leading alongside each other? What’s been the most challenging?

Favorite part: We enjoy debating concepts and taking the time to draw real life experiences to our work. Mary and I come from different parts of Uganda and thus each share different realities sometimes informed by our communities. Struggling to strike a balance in such cases has been the most intriguing.

Most challenging: Integrating our expectations in the voices for health Uganda within our daily activities and commitments remains a work in progress for us –we just know it has to work.

Sometimes as young women carving out our professional paths, we fear that asking for help, not knowing all the answers, and making mistakes are signs of weakness. What has your partnership taught you about this?

We were drawn to working together based on our different expertise, knowledge, and experiences. These have taught us to continuously appreciate each other’s competencies and encourage us to keep focused on our goal.

In the midst of your hustle, how do you each like to unwind and take care of yourselves?

We make time to hang out over caramel milkshakes at our fave place, #CafeJavas.

Mary, what’s one thing that inspires you about Dinnah?

Dinnah is intelligent, hardworking and has had exposure working with non-profits –things I wanted to learn and grow in.

Dinnah, what’s one thing that inspires you about Mary?

Working with Mary has continued to shape me into a positive-oriented and goal-focused person. There are times I would have preferred to step out, and all I needed is a positive guide.

What’s one thing you’ve each learned lately that you want to share with other young advocates interested in pursuing a career in social good?

Invest in growing networks through offering a clear value addition and seeking the opportunity to leverage skills, information, and engagement with others in the space.

For instance, we offer to take up high-level networking opportunities during partner-led events such as meetings and conferences.

What three words come to mind for each of you when you think of a true leader?

This was hard for us to choose! But, we think courage, resilience, and empathy are foundational for a true leader.

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Webinar with Jacqueline Nassimbwa: Becoming a leader in the health sector (May 25)

Jacqueline Nassimbwa is a public health specialist and project manager who is extremely passionate about advancing sexual and reproductive health rights in Uganda. Join us for a webinar with her on May 25th as she shares with us how she’s moved up the ladder to a leadership position in the health sector.

When you think of a career in health, what comes to mind? If it’s an image of doctors, nurses, or community health workers, you’re not alone!

But it turns out we need more than medical professionals to improve and save lives. There is a need for finance experts, design gurus, communications bosses, IT whizzes, and more.

Join this webinar with @ghcorps alumni on Thur. May 25 and learn to become a leader Click To Tweet

Before you count yourself out of the running for a job in the health sector, join us for a webinar on Thursday May 25th with Jacqueline Nassimbwa. She is an alumni of Global Health Corps and is #SLAYing without white coats or stethoscopes. Learn how Jacqueline built her career around her passion and get inspiration and advice for your own journey!

Register below to get the exclusive link to the webinar.

Some of the topics we’ll cover

  • Building a career in the health sector
  • Developing your unique leadership style
  • Integrating leadership with professional development

 Webinar Details:

  • Date: Thursday May 25th 2017
  • Time: 8am NYC // 1pm Lagos // 3pm Kampala

Watch here:

About Jacqueline

Jacqueline Nassimbwa  is skilled in scientific writing, research, project management, and quality improvement. She currently leads research efforts for advocacy teams focused on sexual and reproductive health issues at the Center for Health, Human Rights, and Development in Kampala.

As a 2011-2012, Global Health Corps fellow at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, she assessed government structures in the delivery of maternal and child health (MCH) services and designed interventions to integrate HIV and MCH services.

Combining her expertise in technology with her passion for improving maternal and child health (MCH), Jacqueline designed a cloud system to improve data quality and service delivery in clinics.

Jacqueline holds an BSc in Food Science and Technology from Makerere University, and an MSc in International Health from Charite Institute of Tropical Medicine, Berlin; University College, London; and Karolinska Institute, Stockholm.

Fatsani Banda: Self-ship is the enemy of leadership

Fatsani Banda
Fatsani Banda's passion comes from the desire to leave the world better than she found it Click To Tweet

Fatsani Banda is a young woman carving a path for herself in the world of global health. Born and raised in Malawi, Fatsani studied journalism and worked in a number of organisations before gaining a fellowship at the Global Health Corps (GHC).

During her GHC fellowship year, Fatsani worked as a Procurement and Logistics Coordinator at Partners in Health stationed in Malawi. She helped manage a $500,000+ budget for the purchase and delivery of clinical items as well as the construction of new surgical wards. In partnership with the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, Fatsani helped implement an electronic stock management system for tracking drugs and essential commodities.

Following her fellowship, Fatsani remained with Partners in Health Malawi as an Operation Manager for two years. When Ebola hit Liberia, Fatsani was spurred to action and joined the Partners in Health team in Liberia, working as an Operations Manager to support in strengthen the country’s health systems

In a former life, you worked at a bank. We’re always inspired by bold career moves, but tell us -why did you make the switch to global health?

My main drive in life comes from the desire to leave the world better than I found it. Global health is a platform for me to give back to this world.

Only healthy people can contribute to the development of society – even those who work in the bank have to be healthy to render their services.

Global health is a platform for me to give back to this world - Fatsani Banda Click To Tweet

When most of us think about health, we think about doctors and nurses. How are you leading efforts to solve global health challenges despite not having any medical training?

When I stepped into the health sector as a Global Health Corps fellow in Malawi in 2012, I had a similar perception. Over the past five years, it has become very clear to me that factors beyond medical training are important determinants of health and access to healthcare.

Fatsani Banda shows that you can have a career in health despite having no medical training Click To Tweet

There are remote areas in developing countries that have a good number of physicians, but patients still do not get the essential drugs they need to prevent and treat disease because there is no functioning system to make this medicine accessible. This is where I fit in. My job is to collaborate with medical personnel and vendors to bridge these gaps and strengthen supply chain systems.

Fatsani Banda 3

In the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, many people moved away from the region. What motivated you to leave your home country of Malawi to help with relief efforts in Liberia, one of the hardest hit countries?

Just as I did nothing to earn decent health services throughout my life, those born in Liberia with a dearth of health resources similarly did nothing to deserve such conditions.

Perhaps because of my undeserved good fortune, I feel an obligation and a desire to help rectify inequity. It’s been so rewarding to serve the people of Liberia, whose health system was in shambles before the intervention by Partners in Health (PIH).

The Ebola situation has calmed down, but you’re still working on rebuilding health systems. What does a typical day look like for you?

Most developing (and even some developed) countries have entrenched health problems, and Liberia is not spared. Working with PIH to strengthen the health system in Liberia has been quite thrilling in many ways.

On a daily basis, we see our interventions impacting, and often times saving, people’s lives. We provide modern healthcare options and supply essential medicine in communities which are far from the capital.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work as a health equity leader so far? What’s been the most challenging?

Progressive service delivery is what makes me happy. As part of PIH’s Operations department, I work with a team that is the hub of all functionalities of the organization. Seeing patients getting the lifesaving drugs they need in the rural facilities that we support really keeps my heart at peace!

The flip side of this is the challenging part –Liberia’s road network, especially in rainy season, is very poor and is often the cause of delays in operations. Accomplishing our planned tasks becomes hard in this situation, but we have to carry on.

Fatsani Banda 2

It seems like your work, by nature, is very collaborative. What it’s like to join efforts with people across sectors and borders to improve health outcomes?

The greatest ideas are the ones that are dreamed up by teams of people. When two or more people gather and brainstorm around a challenge, the probability of getting an excellent outcome is high.

Fatsani Banda: The greatest ideas are the ones that are dreamed up by teams of people Click To Tweet

I find the nature of my job very thrilling as it involves cooperating with other people who have different perspectives from mine. Together we think up and implement solutions to the difficult challenge of strengthening the health systems of Liberia.

You also supervise and mentor other young health equity leaders who are following in your path. What’s the best piece of advice you share with them?

Everybody has a role to play in this work. Title and rank do not matter as much as people think –anyone can step up as a leader and come up with an idea.

The supervisors and managers in any work environment depend highly on their subordinates. I usually share with my team that we need bottom-up efforts, collaboration, and a commitment to long-term change to be successful.

The world feels very chaotic right now, and new health and development challenges are emerging every day. What motivates you to keep working for a brighter future?

We all hope for the best, but the best cannot happen whilst we are just seated. We have to have our minds focused on making good health a reality for all at all times.

Whilst new health challenges are cropping up, building equitable systems is what will allow us to deal with them. I constantly remind myself that change is possible and celebrating progress keeps me motivated.

What three words would you use to describe the best boss you ever had?

The best boss I ever had was supportive, hardworking and a team player.

What is one leadership mantra that you live by?

Self-ship is the enemy of leadership.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Becoming a leader from the inside out

The Growing Ambitions CoFounders_Lusungu Kalanga, Chikondi Chabvuta & Umba Zalira

Irene Umba Zalira is a women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health advocate. In this piece, she shares the impact of Global Health Corps on her views on leadership and how she engages with her work. 

Global Health Corps is a leadership development organization that places young leaders under 30 from all backgrounds in year-long paid positions. Applications for the 160+ positions for the 2016-2017 class are due February 2nd, 2016. You can apply here

Is leadership something you’ve always desired?

I never wanted to be a leader, never saw myself as one. I took on small roles throughout my primary and secondary school life but nothing too serious. At least that is what I thought. I didn’t know these small roles were preparing me for bigger leadership roles that I would take on later in life.

Last year, I spent a year serving as a Global Health Corps fellow at the Ministry of Health in Malawi. Prior to being a Global Health Corps fellow, I shied away from leadership positions, aiming for roles with  less responsibility.

From your experience, do you think leadership skills can be taught? Or is it simply an innate skill?

People who know me now would never believe I once shied away from leadership roles. I truly believe my Global Health Corps experience molded me into the leader I am today. None of the leadership workshops and trainings I ever attended mentioned the need to work on your self-esteem.

Everyone spoke of leadership as something you did on the outside: how you talk, how you influence people and how you convince people. No one mentioned self-acceptance and confidence are the source of leadership. And because I was struggling on the inside, I couldn’t see myself as a leader.

What has been the greatest inspiration for you?

I remember being at Yale University in a room full of 127 young amazing people who had done extraordinary things in their lives: 127 change makers. There was one specific story that stuck with me.

One of the program participants had lived in Vietnam, and taught kids in the village how to swim because there had been a lot of drowning incidents during the rainy season. It made me think: ‘wow, I don’t even know how to swim!’

Global Health Corps

There were people younger than me who had already started organisations and initiatives in their own communities. That was definitely not me!

But there is something about being in such a space, a safe space with peers, where you can be vulnerable to say: ‘I am scared’. ‘I don’t know how I am going to do this.’ ‘Hell, I don’t even know how I got here!’ But, by the end of those 2 weeks at Yale, I was ready to own the GHC slogan of ‘change maker’.

The sessions with GHC staff and my peers, helped me see myself as a leader. I started working on my fears, passions, abilities, strengths and even weaknesses.

That must have been a huge inspiration for you. What did you then do with all that fire?

I got back to my country and I was ready to serve! I was serving before, but this time around, it was different. I was more than willing to lead initiatives and own the title of a change maker. I was one of the founding members of the Rotaract Club of Lilongwe and served as the Director of Community Services in the first year.

The Rotaract Club of Lilongwe is a service club of young people between the ages of 18-30 from different professional and educational backgrounds. We use our diverse skills and resources to improve the communities we live through the implementation of various projects and programs.

We understand you’ve been involved in different projects. Tell us about them.

Two friends and I started a community initiative in Kauma, a peri urban area on the outskirts of Lilongwe City, Malawi after we noticed teenage pregnancies was prevalent, resulting in high school drop out rates for girls. Initially, the plan was to go through the project a local church in the area had started to address the issue, to talk to the girls and encouragement them, then move on with our lives. But my drive to make an impact didn’t let me be. When you start doing something you are passionate about, you have to see it through.

So 17 months later, we found ourselves as co-founders of an organization called Growing Ambitions. We are currently supporting more than 20 girls with school fees and school materials. We recently enrolled one of our girls, Esther, a 19-year-old mother of a beautiful baby boy, into Stella Maris, a prestigious catholic secondary school.

Our mission is to help girls make informed decisions through mentoring and career guidance. We envision a Malawi where girls, regardless of their socio-economic status or negative experiences, take charge of their lives and thrive.

Growing ambitions

Tell us more about Growing Ambitions

Growing Ambitions primary target group are girls and young women who have dropped out of school due to unplanned pregnancy. We re-enroll them into schools and provide support to ensure they stay in school. We conduct monthly sessions on different topics ranging from sexual reproductive health, human rights, feminism, gender, time management based on the girl’s interests.

So far, the initiative has been self-funded along contributions from well-wishers. But, seeing that we’re growing, there’s going to be need for an alternative source of funding. Currently, we are in the process of getting registered as a non-governmental organization with the Malawian Ministry of Justice, and look forward to serving more girls and young women in Kauma and beyond.

What inspires you to keep the initiative alive?

It’s been a new, and sometimes arduous journey for me, my co-founders and the girls as well. These girls and young women live in communities where their rights are disregarded and they’re treated as second class citizens. But every small step in the right direction ensures more girls complete their education, and knowing that keeps me going.