On Thursday, March 8 and Friday, March 9, Wellesley College will host a first-of-its-kind African Women’s Leadership Conference. The conference was organized in collaboration with the Mastercard Foundation and specifically the Mastercard Scholarship Program at Wellesley, which gives students from economically disadvantaged communities a chance to further their education and then bring their knowledge back to their communities. In the spirit of change and leadership brought by the Mastercard Scholarship Program, this conference will present some of the most influential African women leaders and showcase how they are transforming their communities and countries. The conference will involve lectures, breakout sessions and informal discussions, providing the attendees with a deeper appreciation of the challenges these women faced and the courage with which they overcame these obstacles.
The two-day conference is filled with lectures from seven speakers, ranging from leaders in education to politics to healthcare. For instance, Kakenya Ntaiya is the founder and president of Kakenya’s Dream, an organization that empowers girls in education, ends harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and helps rural communities in Kenya by paving the way for women in leadership.
The conference will also feature Agnes Binagwaho, MD, Ph.D., the current vice chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE), former minister of health in Rwanda and a member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). A skilled leader, she worked for 20 years in the public health sector of Rwanda helping with the AIDS Control Commission, first as permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health and later as the Minister of Health herself.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, known as “Africa’s Iron Lady,” will also be present. She was Africa’s first elected female president (2006-2018) and led Liberia through the Ebola crisis and post-civil war recovery. Not only is she an adamant fighter for women’s empowerment, democratic rule and justice, she has also won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Anne Kansiime is also a speaker. She is a Ugandan entertainer, comedian and actress and the current host of the TV show “Don’t Mess With Kansiime.”
Another guest is Farida Nana Efua Bedwei, a co-founder of Logiciel (Ghana) Ltd., a company that helped install a banking system for the microfinance industry in Ghana. She believes that Ghanaians do not need aid, but instead must use the resources they have more efficiently.
The conference will also feature Nigerian human rights and Shariah law attorney Hauwa Ibrahim, founder of the Aries Law Firm and author of the book “Practicing Shariah Law: Seven Strategies for Achieving Justice in Shariah Courts.”
The last of the conference’s seven speakers is Mfoniso Udofia ’06. She is a Nigerian-American storyteller who received the 2017 Helen Merrill Playwright Award. Her play, “Her Portmanteum,” will be adopted by Pasadena’s Boston Court Performing Arts Center in the spring of 2018.
Wellesley College faculty will be moderating these lectures. Moderator Kellie Carter Jackson, an assistant professor of Africana Studies, will be present at Bedwei’s lecture, which is titled “Coding my way to an empowered life.” This integration of Wellesley faculty into the conference demonstrates the interconnection this conference hopes to inspire within the Wellesley College community. Topics on the schedule such as “Creating Movement: African Women’s Bodies in the American Theatre” and “If Your Dreams Do Not Scare You: A Conversation on Advancing Women’s Leadership in Africa” are meant to involve the community in the conversation and foster a deeper appreciation for the speakers and their experiences. Isabella Roberts ’21, a volunteer for the African Women’s Leadership conference, said, “I hope that what is discussed during the conference will be brought into the Wellesley community by attending Wellesley students and staff.”
Roberts hopes that students and faculty will not only show up to the conference, but also take ideas of leadership and perseverance away with them. As represented on the African Women’s Leadership Conference website, this is one conversation that Wellesley College and the Mastercard Foundation want to continue. Although the conference is only two days long, the hope is that the themes will persist for much longer. Registration for three of the keynote speakers, Kakenya Nataiya, Anne Kansiime and H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is still available free of charge on the conference website. There will also be a live stream of the conference on Wellesley College’s website.