Thursday, May 23, 2013

Women's Leadership - Why Africa is Rising. Report on Vital Voices, WIMBIZ Forum

Hi Everyone,

It has been ages since I last blogged and though I've missed it I've kept busy :)

Thanks to the encouragement of a fantastic person I know however, I've decided to share a few pictures and thoughts from a forum I attended today. It was nothing short of inspiring for me because as a writer who focuses on real women and their experiences in business and leadership in Africa, it's always exciting to put a smile and personality (not just a face) to the names and accomplishments.

Of all the interviews I have conducted, perhaps only two have been face-to-face; a feat made possible by technology. Today I met three of the extraordinary women I have written about in the past and it was truly exciting. The Vital Voices and WIMBIZ (Women in Management, Business and Public Service - Nigeria) forum titled Women's Leadership - Why Africa is Rising was the outcome of the many activities that Vital Voices, a US-based international NGO that supports women in leadership and business, has been doing in Africa.

The forum brought together delegates from several African countries including Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Cameroon to address women's issues in the area of leadership both in corporate governance and in the public sector. I won't go into a lot of detail at all about what was shared at the forum but here are key points that I took away:

  • All conversations that aim to change the landscape on which women attempt to work and lead must include men; and men in power for that matter - men with the ability to support the movement in every way. (Ps: Maybe at such women's events there should be a quota for men of influence? ;-) who knows...quotas certainly was a hot topic)
  • Women mustn't wait to be handed influence, push for it. Adeola Azeez (WIMBIZ Chairperson) encouraged us: Network! And when you're networking, employ the principle of Bond AND Bridge. Bond with other women, friendly smiling faces, people you know and people within your normal comfort zone. But don't stop there. Bridge! Go out of your way to meet those far outside of your comfort zone but with great potential for adding value to your life and career. Don't approach only smiling faces, you offer the smile. And always go into a networking session with a strategic plan of what you want to accomplish. (Maybe I shouldn't admit this publicly but I certainly did not have a strategic plan today... I was just excited to go lol. But I did have an idea of what I wanted and by both luck and design I got exactly that and far more)
  • Women make up 70% of Africa's informal sector and about 30% of the formal sector. It's unsurprising then, that only 1 of 26 women in the continent's formal sector are in senior management positions compared with 1 of 6 men. There is much room to grow. A panelist put up an interesting view that rather than trying to formalise the informal sector, focus on providing the basic services that will enable informal sector women to boost their productivity and they will in time make the shift to the formal sector. That struck me, I'm not sure I agree, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered but the various perspectives from business, government, legal etc certainly broadened mine (and I'm sure everyone's thinking.
I have not attempted to do justice to the diverse and enlightening conversations that took place today. These are just a few things that stuck to me. Thanks to the organisers and all the women that contributed their wisdom. What to do with all this is now the big question I am seeking to answer. That, I think will come out over time. In the mean time, enjoy a few pictures from today. I'm the one who for some reason dressed like a banker :-)

With the inspiring Kah Walla, CEO&Founder STRATEGIES! Consulting Firm and 2011 Cameroon Presidential Candidate

Madam Due Process! Obiageli Ezekwesili, Former Vice President of Africa Region of World Bank and former Federal Minister of Education & Minister of Solid Minerals; radical pioneer of sector reforms. 

The incredibly fabulous Eniola Mafe (in the middle), Africa Program Manager, Vital Voices (and new friend!) and Eva Muraya, CEO & Founder Brand Strategy & Design, Kenya (middle)

During Oby Ezekwesili's keynote address from my too-far-back sit.

Please stay tuned, I have a few really exciting writing projects coming up that I will start sharing on here (repentance!). I am particularly excited about book reviews and the first will be a review Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Watch out!

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