The 2020 cohort of Amujae Leaders recently joined a virtual session with former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Amujae Coaches Vera Songwe, Zainab Bangura, and Thelma Awori to discuss their pathways into leadership and the lessons they have learned along the way.
The three Amujae Coaches shared insightful advice on overcoming barriers to career progression, building strong support networks, and seizing opportunities in the session moderated by EJS Center Director of Leadership Programs Rumbidzai Chisenga.
One of Africa’s leading economists, Dr. Songwe has been at the forefront of mobilizing the continent’s economic response to COVID-19. She is currently serving as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), having previously held positions at the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank. Throughout her accomplished career, she has led efforts to boost the African continent’s development, including through the use of innovative financing mechanisms.
During the session, Dr. Songwe shared some valuable advice with the Amujae Leaders:
“You need to be able to have the substance to defend your argument in a way that convinces people of what you are trying to say, and then do it in a humble way…The minute you have a good idea you don’t need to be combative anymore, because the argument speaks for itself.”
Ms. Bangura, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi, complemented Dr. Songwe’s remarks by pointing out that being driven to excel in leadership is not enough. Her experience serving in two ministries for the Government of Sierra Leone as well as her relentless advocacy for conflict resolution and reconciliation, women’s political empowerment, and human rights have taught her that for women, being heard requires taking initiative:
“When you have an opportunity, take advantage of it. You have to be good at what you are doing, but you don’t have to wait until you are called upon. If you wait, they will never call you.”
Dr. Awori, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, is one of the preeminent champions of increasing women’s leadership at all levels. She is currently a member of the Steering Committee of the African Women’s Leadership Network, where she coordinates programs that empower women in agriculture and support women market vendors across the continent. Dr. Awori emphasized the importance of building networks like the Amujae Initiative, where women can organize themselves and build up their capabilities:
“The sisterhood is very important and we must work to really make sure that it is working for us and it is carrying us somewhere.”
To close the session, Madam Sirleaf expressed her appreciation for the three Amujae Coaches, highlighting their invaluable contributions to the advancement of women’s leadership worldwide:
“You’ve paved the path that has put women at the center of people’s consciousness. Today, that’s why we have so many women being appointed, being recognized, taking a role, and leading the way for more to follow. And that’s our challenge at the EJS Center.”
You can learn more about the Amujae Initiative here.