Michelle Ndiaye is the Director of the Africa Peace and Security Programme (a joint programme with the African Union Commission) at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) in Ethiopia.
Ms. Ndiaye started her career in 1995 as a program officer at the African Institute for Democracy (IAD), a UNDP project based in Dakar, Senegal that promotes democracy and governance in Africa and particularly in 15 West African Countries.
She is also the Head of the Tana Forum Secretariat, an annual high-level gathering of African decision makers in peace and security in Africa.
She has worked on a variety of projects with local and international organizations in the fields of peace and security, democratic and local governance, post-conflict and community recovery, sustainable development and environmental issues, transitional justice, communication for development and research.
Before joining IPSS, she was the Managing Director of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS) in South Africa.
Prior to joining MINDS, between 1999 and 2011, she consecutively headed several African and international organizations as Executive Director of Greenpeace Africa, CEO of the African Institute for Corporate Citizenship (AICC), Founder and Manager of Africa Projects for Akena Research and Consulting.
Having implemented projects in 48 countries in Africa made me wonder what a waste it is that Africans do not know Africa - @MichelleNdiaye1 Click To Tweet
You play a leading role in peace and security, a field normally perceived to be a preserve for men. What is your take on this?
The area of peace and security has for a long time, been considered as an area where only men have a say. However, in recent times this perception is changing because of the initiative and role played by women.
Whether at a community level (grassroots level) or international level, women are voicing their concerns. There is evidence that shows that women play an important role as drivers of change in achieving sustainable peace and development.
For instance, women have been involved in peace negotiations in many African countries as well as led development efforts at the grassroots level. The Ebola epidemic of 2014-2016 is one example.
I believe now is the right time for women empowerment and the right time to prove ourselves. Every woman should be able to reach the forefront in any field.
What would you have been if you had not pursued this career path?
Perhaps a diplomat. However, my work today involves socio-economic, human rights, socio-political and developmental aspects of society so I have no regrets.
Who influenced you the most in your professional life?
Aside from my family, my largest influence was my first supervisor at the African Institute for Democracy (IAD) in Senegal.
Professor Babacar Sine, a brilliant Senegalese intellectual, taught me that leadership can only have an impact when it is a leadership of service.
What would you say is Africa’s greatest strength?
Our resilience and our capacity to absorb shocks. We face so many societal and developmental challenges in our nation-building processes that we have developed the ability to find solutions even in situations where we are threatened.
Have you encountered any challenges in your role as a peace and security professional?
Penetrating and making an impact in a male-dominated field has various challenges, from changing people’s perceptions to taking decisions and standing by them.
You have to focus on demonstrating strong leadership and rigor in whatever you do.
What would you tell a young person seeking a meaningful and successful career?
Have a vision, believe in it and share it with others. I also believe in ethics and professionalism at all levels of my work.
What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement to date?
I have worked on a variety of continental programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa with both local and international organizations in the fields of peace and security, democratic and local governance, post-conflict and community recovery, sustainable development and environmental issues, transitional justice, communication for development and research.
But I must say, having implemented projects in 48 countries in Africa made me wonder what a waste it is that Africans do not know Africa!
Have you ever received a painful rejection in your career? How did you handle it?
I face painful rejections all the time. It’s part of how you build yourself into a strong leader. I handle it by having clear objectives, relying on my team, and being driven by professionalism and ethics at all times.
Do you have any regrets? Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I have no regrets when it comes to my professional career. I believe I embraced the right career path and I also feel that I have achieved most of my objectives in my field of work. As a lesson to any young person starting a career, I would say be focused, be professional, be rigorous and allow yourself to dream big.
What have you learned in your career about women in leadership? Any advice for women who aspire to leadership positions?
As a woman in a leadership position, you are expected to deliver 10 times as much as a man and be able to sustain it. No failure is allowed. You have to be resilient and strong.
Women are increasingly facing burn out trying to juggle career and home lives. What can they do to prevent burning out?
Have clear boundaries between your home and work life. It’s impossible to do both. Deal with one expectation at a time.
As we live in a digital world, what is the one website that you must visit daily?
IPSS and Tana Forum websites. I also visit the African Union website almost daily.
Do you have a must-visit destination list?
Too many! Ile du Saloum, Senegal; Lake Malawi shores, Malawi; Gorée Island, Senegal; Drakensberg and Paris (North West), South Africa; and Bahir Dar and Hawassa, Ethiopia.
Which book is currently on your reading list?
Winnie Mandela, A life!