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Mayor of Freetown Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr gives inspiring interview on her leadership journey

Reversing environmental damage, creating jobs, and steering inclusive urban development plans are top priorities for Amujae Leader and Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr. 

In a recent wide-ranging interview with London International Development Centre’s Charine John, she discussed what motivated her to run for Mayor of Freetown, and the inspiration behind her multisectoral plans to transform the prospects of the city.

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr described how a lack of planning and targeted investments had compounded the impact of rural to urban migration on the environment, housing, transport, sanitation, and health in Freetown. She added that the development plans she designed for the city through a participatory process resonated with its residents and are being successfully implemented.

In addressing the most pressing challenges facing Freetown, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr put the emphasis on three key priorities: environmental management; urban planning and housing; and job creation. Her Transform Freetown initiative includes the #FreetownTheTreeTown Campaign, which involves planting one million trees to reverse the environmental damage caused by urbanization and create sustainable local jobs. The campaign has made remarkable progress with more than half a million trees planted so far, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr said, with the prospect of further achievements to come:

“We’ve just received funding through a competition that we won with Bloomberg’s Mayors Challenge, which will provide us with a million dollars to enable us to plant the next 450,000 odd trees… There will be another 600 or so jobs as we grow and monitor the trees for the next three to six years.”

Her efforts reach beyond direct environmental interventions. A platform for impact investing is also being developed, while new technology is used to improve waste management across the city—through an app that connects households to independent waste management businesses:

“Through these different interventions, we are creating jobs. We are cleaning our city and we are meeting our objective collectively as Freetonians to transform Freetown.” 

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr also reiterated the heartfelt plea she made at a COP26 panel, where she urged world leaders to pledge financial support to the global south who are disproportionally affected by the consequences of climate change.

Highlighting the need to provide leadership opportunities to women and girls in Sierra Leone, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr revealed that she will soon be launching a new girls’ leadership foundation with the motto “Give them Wings, Watch them Fly.” It will coach girls, building their self-confidence and nurturing them into becoming the leaders of the future. This, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr hopes, will inspire other women to create new support structures for women and girls in Freetown and across Sierra Leone.

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