Over the last 20 years, women have increased their presence in governments across Africa, but — like their peers elsewhere — they still lag far behind men. Through its Leadership Forum for Strategic Impact, Yale is working to enhance the knowledge and skills of senior African women leaders and to build a network of peers and thought leaders across the continent.
The forum — supported by La Fundación Mujeres por África (the Women for Africa Foundation) and Banco Santander — ultimately aims to amplify the effectiveness and influence of women in African governments.
Now entering its fourth year, the forum will bring a new group of leaders to Yale in May. The group will consist of 15 women from at least five different countries. The forum’s curriculum, designed together with the foundation, will explore governance and policy issues important to Africa’s social, political, and economic development: transparency and corruption; public policy development; rule of law; public health; environmental sustainability; gender equality; economic growth; food security; social welfare; financial systems; energy politics; terrorism and national security; and globalization.
The program will also include seminar-style discussion sessions, presentations, and meetings, all part of an intensive, interactive program, concluding with a trip to Washington D.C. to meet with leading figures in the U.S. government. These 15 women will join a growing network of African women who are working to advance the prospects of their nations and their continent.
The Leadership Forum for Strategic Impact is a keystone of the Yale Africa Initiative, announced by Yale President Peter Salovey in 2013 to further engagement with Africa, foster new directions in research, identify new partnerships with those on the continent, and strengthen Yale’s recruitment efforts, all while emphasizing teaching and learning. Ultimately, the forum aims to develop a network of empowered African women who will have a multiplier effect across the continent, not only among program participants themselves but also among their peers — both men and women — and among the younger generations they mentor.
“The forum not only enables African women to strengthen — and share — their understanding of the challenges facing their societies, but also helps them develop the tools, networks, and policies to address them,” said the program’s director, Emma Sky, an expert on Middle East politics, senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and director of the Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program.
“The Leadership Forum for Strategic Impact empowers women to contribute to their full potential for the betterment of their societies,” said Sky. “We are grateful to the Women for Africa Foundation and Banco Santander for their support of this important initiative.”
Past participants in the forum have included senior government officials and thought leaders, such as former prime ministers, ministers for gender and education, senators, and members of parliament. These women discussed and implemented strategies to help ensure that more women in Africa rise to positions of leadership, to create an advocacy and training network for African women’s leadership and governance, and to develop curricula for emerging women leaders. They have also worked to improve the effectiveness of lobbying and to develop a new vision for gender-inclusive education.
“The program made me look again at some of the ways we have approached to leadership and think again critically about issues of strategic leadership and how we mobilize people around an objective”, said Obiageli Ezekwesili, former minister of education of Nigeria.
“We need to develop a common vision, a common strategy so that we can help each other”, said Nouzha Skally, Morroco’s former minister of development, family, and solidarity.
“In this change of era we are living, it is particularly important to foster women’s leadership, a transforming leadership that brings new perspectives to solve new problems,” said María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, president of the Women for Africa Foundation. “The Leadership Forum has become a reference for African female political leaders who have the opportunity of meeting, sharing reflections, and shaping a network of empowered women committed with equality, governance, respect for human rights and improving democracy.
“I think that it is about a democratic necessity. You can’t deal with the problems of the world if you don’t take into account the input of over half the citizens, the women,” she adds.
The Mujeres por África Foundation is a private organization based in Madrid, which was launched in 2012 by Fernández de la Vega, the former first deputy prime minister of Spain. The foundation’s aim is to contribute to the economic, social and political development of Africa, through concrete projects geared toward empowering women and their role in society.
Banco Santander supports the Leadership Forum for Strategic Impact through its Santander Universities corporate area. For over 20 years, the bank has been working with universities and academic institutions through an initiative that is unique in the world and that distinguishes it from the rest of the bank and financial institutions. It maintains a stable alliance with more than 1,200 academic institutions from all over the world, among them, the Women for Africa Foundation and Yale University. Until 2018 a total of EUR 1,600 million will be allocated in support of higher education projects. In the U.S., the bank has established for the time being a total of 41 agreements with universities and research centers.