Australia-Africa Women’s Forum: shaping the agenda on women leadership

Women attended 2014 Australian Awards

“Inspiring, empowering, eye-opener, fabulous” are just a few of the words women attending the Australia-Africa Women in Leadership Forum used to describe their experience at the Forum. Hosted by the Australian Government, this two-day forum focused on Shaping the future: increasing leadership and opportunity for African women. It was held in Pretoria, South Africa, on 7 and 8 July.

Over 30 delegates from 13 African nations converged at the Forum to participate in discussions around best practice in leadership, in particular leadership for and by women. Male and female leaders from the region joined Women Network members in sharing their personal leadership journey with Forum participants.

“The Women Network is an ongoing legacy of the Australia-Africa relationship,” said Jamie Isbister, Head of Development Cooperation in Africa, at the event’s opening ceremony at the Australian High Commission in Pretoria.

There were plenty of inspiration, reflection and interactive discussions at the Forum.

“African women are about strength, and we must celebrate their strength,” noted Theo Sowa, CEO of the Ghana-based African Women’s Development Fund, who delivered the keynote address at the Forum. She reminded participants of the importance of collective and transformative leadership, and urged leaders to bring other women along and expand the leadership table.

Dr Snowy Khoza, CEO of South African-based Bigen Africa, offered an intimate view of her journey to becoming a leader. Starting from humble beginnings, Dr Khoza rose through the ranks and stood out as the ultimate example of tenacity, determination and drive to success no matter the difficulties faced. “As a leader, I am determined to succeed,” she summarised.

Speaking at the single panel hosted at this event, Rajo Daniella Randriafeno, former Malagasy Minister of Mining, candidly shared her High Office courageous experience in bringing about change in the mining sector in Madagascar, as well as the many challenges she faced in being a woman engineer in a male-dominated sector. In contrast, Juster Nkoroi talked about her “commitment to see change from within” the Kenyan public sector in her role of Principal Administrative Secretary.

Bringing a male view to the discussions around leadership, Allon Raiz, Founder and CEO of Raizcorp, the largest business incubator on the African continent, shared his personal story of following his heart and succeeding. His leadership journey was also marked by determination, commitment and the ability to take risks. He spoke high of women entrepreneurs, indicating that recent studies have shown that “women are better [more profitable] entrepreneurs than men”.

“Now that you have your educational qualifications, you need to open pathways for others. […]. This is your leadership obligation,” urged Isabella Matambanadzo, Zimbabwean author and gender activist. She challenged Forum participants to find ways to continue to bring women leadership back onto the agenda.

A reception held on 7 July at the margins of the Forum was attended by over 60 delegates, including representatives of the South African and Australian governments. Ambassadors and High Commissioners from some of the countries represented in the Forum were present at the function.

Representing the Hon Susan Shabangu, Minister of Women in the Presidency, Director-General Veliswa Baduza spoke about the accomplishments achieved by women representation in political spaces in South Africa, though acknowledging that challenges remain in increasing women’s participation in decision-making structures across sectors. She welcomed the Women’s Forum and commended the Australian Government for the initiative.

“The Department of Women will be looking at forming strategic partnerships […]. Platforms such as the Australia-Africa Women in Leadership Forum, which seeks to bring together leading figures from Africa to discuss best practice in leadership, are therefore very strategic and key […]. We therefore commend the Australian Government for this initiative,” she noted.

An important part of the Women’s Forum was the participation of the Australia Awards – Africa Women in Leadership Network. The Network was launched by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia in 2013 to promote Australian Government Scholarships to potential female applicants from eligible countries in Africa and to support Scholarship recipients embarking on their postgraduate studies in Australia.  It also encourages members to engage in and provide leadership for gender and development initiatives in their home countries. The Network currently has over 230 members across 39 African countries, with many members involved in efforts to empower women in Africa.

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