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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf discusses the importance of building confidence as a public leader at the Accountability Breakfast 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a great threat to the hard-won gains for women, children, and adolescents around the world. In this context, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined the Accountability Breakfast 2020 to discuss the importance of women’s leadership and how to strengthen accountability and secure the rights of those at the most risk in the COVID-19 era. 

Coinciding with the UN General Assembly, this live event, hosted by The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) in partnership with Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) and The White Ribbon Alliance, brought together prominent figures in areas ranging from performing arts to leadership and advocacy.

For the ‘Women’s leadership and accountability in the COVID-19 era’ panel, moderated by PMNCH Board Chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, Madam Sirleaf was joined by a list of distinguished women panelists, including Kersti Kaljulaid, President of the Republic of Estonia and Co-Chair of the High-Level Steering Group for EWEC; Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; Barbara Lee, Congresswoman of the United States of America; Shukti Anantha, Adolescent Leader at The YP Foundation in India; and Naina Subberwal Batra, Chairwoman and CEO of the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN).

Madam Sirleaf started her remarks by addressing why building confidence is a key aspect of taking accountability, especially when it comes to public leadership. She recalled her own experience leading Liberia in its fight against Ebola, when taking responsibility for all the strategies designed to handle the crisis – whether they were successful or not – was essential to build public trust and ensure an effective response in her country. 

“Accountability for me, simply put, is compliance with rules, laws, regulations, systems, ensuring honesty in words and deed, in what everyone does and their responsibility– more importantly, I think, earning the confidence of those who are served by the functions and responsibilities we carry out.” 

Madam Sirleaf also spoke about what governments can do to manage a pandemic in a way that responds to the needs of women, children, and adolescents worldwide:

“As I listen and reflect upon twelve years of what I like to think was a successful presidency, I just conclude we have so much more to do. We’ve missed quite a bit, and I just hope that COVID-19…can really become that wind of change, can really address all of the inequities and injustices that we have faced.

What else can a government do? Listen to the people, ensure that there is a compact, listen to the voices of the children. Because in our area, Africa, our population is young, and tomorrow they are going to be the leaders. And if we do not prepare them for that leadership that they have to take, then we are failing ourselves.”

Learn more about the event and watch the full discussion here.

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