Since its launch in March 2020, the EJS Center’s flagship program, the Amujae Initiative, and its inaugural cohort of Amujae Leaders have demonstrated their personal commitment to public service and the power of the program through their actions across the African continent.
Now, nearly one year on, we are delighted to have introduced the 2021 Amujae Leaders, who joined former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the inaugural cohort of 2020 Amujae Leaders, and a distinguished group of women leaders for a virtual induction event held across two days.
Highlights from Day 1
The first order of business was the introduction of the 2021 Amujae Leaders: 15 women from 11 African countries who, after undergoing a rigorous selection process, were drawn from an applicant pool of 200. The 2021 Amujae Leaders include current and former Ministers, a Governor, a Member of Parliament, senior government advisors, and activists engaged with issues that range from refugee rights to gender equality and youth empowerment.
On the first day, the 2021 Amujae Leaders were welcomed by Madam Sirleaf and the EJS Center’s Executive Director Ophelia Inez Weeks, PhD, and Director of Leadership Programs Rumbidzai Chisenga. Over the course of the first day, the Amujae Leaders heard from Amujae Coaches Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Board Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and EJS Center Board Member, and Zainab Hawa Bangura, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi. They were joined by Ambassador Deborah Malac, former United States Ambassador to Liberia and Board Chair of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Foundation, and Jamie Cooper, EJS Center Board Member and Founding Chairperson and President of Big Win Philanthropy, which conceived and launched the Amujae Initiative in partnership with the EJS Center.
In her remarks, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala spoke about the need for the Amujae Leaders to set ambitious targets and to keep their goals in sight:
“You look like people who dream big…and that’s why you’re here. But one of the things I would like to say to you is that even as you’re dreaming big, we want you to dream bigger.”
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also urged the Amujae Leaders to learn from those who had gone before them, turning disadvantages and challenges into opportunities. These thoughts were echoed by fellow Amujae Coach Ms. Bangura, who spoke about the importance of using the network and opportunities offered through the Amujae Initiative to open doors for other women:
“Our job as Coaches in this is to lend our shoulders to you…To share our experiences with you, so you don’t have to repeat our own mistakes. You just have to build on them, to learn from our mistakes, to be able to make sure you make better decisions…The more we support other women to be better than those of us who have gone before, the better our countries and our communities will be.”
Day one of the induction also included remarks from two women in the inaugural cohort of Amujae Leaders: Clare Akamanzi, CEO of the Rwanda Development Board and Member of the Cabinet of Rwanda, and Yvonne Aki-Sawyer OBE, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Reflecting on her experience being part of the Amujae Initiative, Ms. Akamanzi spoke about the power and potential of the program to increase the number of women leaders exponentially, if the Amujae Leaders learn from the Coaches and bring other women with them:
“Multiply, develop, and grow as leaders—that’s truly, I think, the hallmark of leadership: when you’re able to multiply other leaders.”
Mayor Aki-Sawyerr also spoke about what the Amujae Initiative has given her so far, from moments at the beginning of the program when she found herself in awe to be in the company of such accomplished women leaders, through to the power of the Amujae Initiative’s network and its ability to amplify messages:
“Start with inspiration. I have been so inspired…because of the quality of the leadership that we’ve been exposed to.”
Day one of the induction also featured comments from Ambassador Deborah Malac, who looked back at her 38 years as an ambassador and the connection she felt to Africa and the continent’s women in particular:
“The one thing I always lived for and thrived and learned a lot from was the African women that I met across the spectrum, from the market to the executive office.”
As the final speaker during day one of the induction, Founding Chairperson and President of Big Win Philanthropy Ms. Jamie Cooper spoke about the contribution the inaugural cohort of Amujae Leaders will make to continuing the success of the 2021 Amujae Leaders:
“The first cohort is exceptional, warm, smart, and brilliant. And I know they will embrace you, and I hope you will become one great wave, beginning with the first wave that will get bigger and bigger.”
Highlights from Day 2
The second day of the induction also featured a number of illustrious speakers, including President of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde; former President of the Republic of Mauritius Ameenah Gurib-Fakim; First Lady of the Republic of Namibia Monica Geingos; and Amujae Coach Ms. Bangura, who had also joined day one of the induction.
To kick off the second day, President Zewde delivered a keynote address on the subject of rising to the challenge and building back better. Noting that when the Amujae Initiative launched in March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to impact lives across the world, President Zewde recognized that in the months since the inaugural cohort’s induction, the Amujae Leaders have played a critical role in responding to the pandemic’s resulting crises. She commended the Amujae Leaders, saying:
“In short, you not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, demonstrating how women leaders seize the moment to take action that delivers results.”
President Zewde went on to highlight the opportunity for the Amujae Leaders to play their part in creating the wave of women leaders that is one of the founding aims of the Amujae Initiative.
“As you continue on your individual path of leadership in your home countries, you will be a beacon of hope for women and girls, who will realize that these are opportunities they can pursue themselves.”
2021 Amujae Leader and former Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry in Botswana, Bogolo Kenewendo, then moderated a panel discussion on courageous leadership with former President Gurib-Fakim and Ms. Bangura, with contributions from President Zewde. During the discussion, the speakers recognized the need to seize opportunities, and to have an appetite for risk, as well as a passion for every undertaking. Former President Gurib-Fakim said:
“I think what defined my career path is the appetite for taking risks. And also just do it passionately, just giv the best of yourself.”
Ms. Bangura spoke about the need to always be visible, proactive, and be well-prepared and ready to contribute to every conversation:
“I don’t take the status quo granted. I want to develop it, I want to make sure if I don’t accept something, I go for it, I change it, I fight for it.”
Former President Gurib-Fakim added a point about the need to be mindful of supporting other women to ensure that their value is recognized:
“I think what we have to do is start educating ourselves and learn to value women and the contribution of women…We have to bring on board because women tend to elbow out other women.”
The second induction session concluded with an address from First Lady of the Republic of Namibia Monica Geingos on the subject of taking personal responsibility for creating sustainable change. Ms. Geingos spoke about the welcoming space provided by the Amujae Initiative, and noted that, by being part of the group of diverse female leaders gathered together, she felt like she was talking to a group of sisters. She also spoke about the need to use such safe spaces to share vulnerabilities as well as exchange ideas:
“Safe spaces like this one created by Amujae are really critical in reducing that feeling of being tired, of being fed up. Because the truth is, even though the numbers remain insufficient, there are more female leaders moving upwards than ever before. And the more who come up, the easier it becomes for those who follow. And it is in each of our interest to ensure that there are more women in leadership structures and within our political and corporate and leadership ecosystems.”
Ms. Geingos concluded by touching on the great potential of the Amujae Initiative as more women join the program each year:
“There’s nothing more powerful than women coming together to ensure each other’s development. That’s real power…engendering systemic change is a long, complex, and frustrating journey. And I wish all of you patience and strength as we walk this treacherous path, knowing these sisters are in front, next to, and behind us.”
After two fascinating and inspiring days, Madam Sirleaf closed the induction event with a rousing message to all of the participants:
“Let me close by saying: as women our numbers are small. Our voices may be soft. But our message can be overwhelming. Let us know that we can claim it, we can demand it, we can be the change.”
You can learn more about the 2021 Amujae Leaders here.