Amujae Leader and Mayor of Freetown Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr’s leadership journey has taken her from high-level management positions in the private sector to serving her country Sierra Leone and helping it tackle its most pressing challenges.
Speaking with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on his podcast ‘Clear the Air’, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr reflected on her journey so far and discussed her ambitions for Freetown and the future of climate action.
A woman leader passionate about tackling injustice and “fighting for the underdog,” Mayor Aki-Sawyerr became involved in mobilizing international support for her country to help it deal with the consequences of the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Her work with the public sector eventually led her to stand for mayoral elections in Freetown, which she won in 2018.
It was the deadly mudslides that occurred in the year prior to her election that made her determined to tackle the environmental challenge and climate change through her position as Mayor of Freetown:
“Solutions to climate consequences had to be top of my agenda because it’s what my people are living with.”
She added that urban migration caused by climate change was harming the ecosystems and biodiversity in Sierra Leone, particularly in and around Freetown. Breaking that vicious cycle had become her mission, she noted.
A member of the global network of mayors, ‘C40 Cities,’ Mayor Aki-Sawyerr is one of the few city leaders to appoint a Chief Heat Officer responsible for tackling extreme heat caused by climate-related weather changes. Thanks to this new position, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr was able to gather data and statistics on extreme heat patterns in Freetown and develop projects to protect the most vulnerable populations—particularly women.
“60% of women are traders, and most of our markets are open-air markets. So they’re sitting in the sun all day long. There is a design that’s now being developed of market shades using heat-repellent material.”
Asked whether national governments are doing enough to address the climate crisis that cities like Freetown are facing, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr pointed out that accountability and commitment to implementing solutions are not always respected at the national level.
She added that national climate financing must trickle down to the city level to help cities not just mitigate the impacts of climate change but also develop appropriate adaptation measures.
She concluded her discussion with Mayor Khan, saying that the current multiple global crises—climate change, the cost-of-living crisis, and the consequence of the war in Ukraine—make her even more determined to work hard to create positive change.
“I feel a real sense of commitment to keep going, keep on playing my part, joining dots with others and linking arms with those who also feel this need to make a difference… to try to improve the lot of those who are less advantaged.”
Listen to the full podcast here.