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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Alice Gathekia: Young People Need to Step Up and Take Their Rightful Place

On Paper, Alice Gathekia is the perfect match for any legal department in corporations. She has worked for the Law Society of Kenya and with COMESA Court of Justice.

However, despite her consistent efforts dropping her application in town, she remains unemployed. She founded Kenya Youth Professionals with fellow youths that were facing the same plight in an effort to fight for better employment for young people.

Why does the youth need to step up now?

“Our government had promised about 30% of employment slots to youths in their campaign manifesto. This includes formal employment or tender allocation. It is time we held them to their promises.” She says.

Alice is the deputy director of Kenya Youth Professionals (KYP) and has petitioned the members of National Assembly on the issues that plague the youth in general when seeking employment.

This includes a reduction in experience in the job descriptions put out to give the youth a chance. She is also keen on getting a youth-friendly Principle Secretary in the Youth Docket to deal with Youth Affairs, and reduce the amount of government certification is needed prior to an interview.

When asked the major issues that have inhibited youths from getting jobs, she says without hesitation that the absence of generational change is a major cause. It has impeded the youth from accessing opportunities ideally designed for them.

The advanced retirement age and the scarcity of jobs leave the incoming youth out of the employment slots given that there are genuinely no jobs to go for. The lack of mentorship has also led to the degradation of the employment scene.

This scarcity accelerates corruption as well, which, to be honest, is really a buzzkill in Africa’s economy.

It is time for the youth to step up and take their rightful place Click To Tweet

Alice’s faith in the Kenyan youth

Alice described the Kenyan youth as innovative, creative, and hard working. To her, it is really wrong that there is an unfair distribution of jobs despite the qualifications. She believes that it is time young people fight for their space in the political, economic and social world.

She believes that once given the chance, the youth is equal to the task of leadership.  After all, young people have more to lose in the future if they make wrong decisions.

This motivates Alice to spend her time petitioning the government institutions to fight against the odds that are stacked against the Kenyan Youth.

What are the challenges she encounters?

Some of the challenges she and her team face includes the politicising of the agenda. Some rival groups and ill-willed people often accuse the group of having a political ‘Big brother’.

This is a conditioning of the political mindset where people fail to realize that young people can fight as well as wage wars against systems set in place discriminate against the youth. This campaign aims at ensuring that the youth catch up from previous injustices visited upon them.

For her, this is a lifetime mission not only in Kenya but also in Africa in general. It is time for the youth to participate in making decisions that will benefit them in their future rather than a span of short time.

This does not need to be the grandest action and a simple start can go a long way.  It is time for the youth to step up and take their rightful place. KYP stands by their motto: “Nothing for us without us”.

A normal day for Alice

Alice wakes up about 6 am, and her morning routine often involves putting herself together (which includes makeup because…why not).

She travels to the city, and depending on the day, spends several hours in meetings discussing the issues that surround youth employment and how to resolve them.

Alice intends to globalize this movement, which, to her and the rest of us, is a few years late.

Alice Gathekia is the modern day Khaleesi of Youth Revolution Click To Tweet


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7 unusual signs that you might just be a go-getter

leadership

From the get-go, society encourages young people to learn quickly and strive to lead. We’re bombarded by mainstream notions on what it means to be a go-getter —a true leader. And, although these notions are true to some extent, they don’t necessarily encapsulate all qualities of bad-ass leaders in today’s millennial-driven world.

So, here is a list of 7 uncommon traits of impactful leaders and go-getters.

1. You’ve got a lot of fears

Fear is usually seen as a painful weakness and an inhibitor to leadership. Ironically, it probably has the opposite effect on you. Fear grounds you to reality. It makes you practical and risk-adverse. Fear acts a constant reminder of your limitations, but also reminds you that there are ways to work around them.

Fear empowers you. You’ve got high standards for yourself and those around you. You dream big. The stakes are higher and you may not have many resources at your disposal. But the role of fear in your life makes you incredibly ingenious, inventive, and a go-getter.

2. You’ve failed often and failed hard

Failure and fear go hand-in-hand. In the realm of impactful leaders and entrepreneurship, success is difficult and rarely guaranteed. Although failure might be likely, you don’t let the possibility stop you.

The great thing about being a 20-something is that you’ve got time and opportunity on your side. If you aren’t failing occasionally or at all, you’re doing something wrong. A life without failure is a life without risk. A life without risk is a life without measurable success. And is that a life really worth living?

3. “Disorganization” is your middle name

You probably have a written schedule that you never follow. You’ve got work assignments and projects strewn across your apartment. Your mind is a composition of deadlines, reminders, and goals to accomplish – high hopes and dreams.

You weirdly find order out of your chaotic life. The fact that you have a multitude of commitments makes you feel like you’re on track. Even if it’s in an unorganized way.

4. You’re not the loudest voice in a crowd

But you’ve often got something important to say. In any setting, what you comment on resonates with people, even if your voice doesn’t carry through the room. People tend to listen intently to those that speak softly or only on occasion.

With speaking, less is often more and you always use that to your advantage.

5. You hold unique perspectives

You always offer advice or insight that diverges from mainstream ideology. And although it makes you worrisome that your thoughts never align with what most people think, they’re often always valued by your peers.

People often ask you for advice and it usually catches you by surprise. You’re not convinced that you’re the leader in a group but almost always you’re nominated to take the role. You probably don’t realize you have a propensity to lead, but others probably do.

6. You put people first

A leader only gains presence through the conviction of her followers. You know this all too well.

The defining quality of a true leader is one who leads to allow others to take their place one day.

You hope to pass on what you’ve learned and are passionate about to the next generation.

7. You have no idea where life is taking you

Confused, disoriented, and possibly disillusioned with occasional quarter-life crises sounds a lot like you. You don’t have all the answers and you’re still on a steep learning curve. You don’t exactly subscribe to the 5-Year Career Plan and that’s OK with you because the world is your oyster, and you can do just about anything with it.

A life of mystery and unknown opportunity is what you’ve always sought out. You’re not sure if the goals you have now will be the same in the next two years. But you don’t mind because you live in the present. And, you live to lead.

Are there any unconventional attitudes or beliefs of go-getters that we didn’t list? Share them below.