Learning to lead: what does it mean to be a young, African, female leader?

Insights from the second cohort of African Young Women Leaders (AfYWL) fellows during a leadership training that took place in Kigali, Rwanda, from 17 to 21 October 2022

November 10, 2022
African Young Women Leaders (AfYWL) leadership training

During the week-long training in Kigali, the fellows unpacked all facets of being a young, African female leader.

UNDP Africa

A leader is visionary, selfless and committed to transformation. She is compassionate, resilient, and proud to be a nurturer. A leader is driven by a purpose that is bigger than herself; and this gives her the courage to wake up and navigate the challenges of each day.

A leader invests her time in getting to understand those around her. She makes sure that her voice is heard ­– even if, on the inside, she feels unsure of herself. A leader also knows that leadership is a decision: something that can and should be learnt, grown and consistently practiced.

These are some of the insights learnt and expressed by the second cohort of African Young Women Leaders (AfYWL) fellows during a leadership training that took place in Kigali, Rwanda, from 17 to 21 October 2022. The timing of the training was opportune, as it allowed the 38 fellows to reflect on the first six months of their fellowship, and plan for the second half, and beyond.

What does it mean to be a young, African, female leader?

During the week-long training in Kigali, the fellows unpacked all facets of being a young, African female leader. For some fellows, this meant “being passionate, and putting a lot of energy into everything we do”. Others cited the need to remain humble, persistent and empower others. The importance of driving transformation and change also came up repeatedly. As Dominique Ngninpogni, who is from Cameroon but now working with UNDP in Côte d’Ivoire, described: “I want to be an agent of change – and not a spectator”.

 

“I want to be an agent of change – and not a spectator”
Dominique Ngninpogni, AfYWL Fellow, UNDP Côte d’Ivoire

 

Mentoring and being mentored

During the week-long training, the fellows benefited tremendously from generous and intimate engagements with high-level leaders and guest speakers, who shared their leadership secrets in a series of inspiring contributions.

Ahunna Eziakonwa, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administration and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, told the fellows: “You’ve got a voice now. You have a seat at the table. Leaders are listening to that voice that is so fresh, and so authentic.”

“Bring consistency, empathy and hunger,” shared Prudence Ngwenya, Acting Director of the Women, Gender and Youth Directorate at the African Union Commission, “and remember the four A's of leadership: aptitude, attitude, awareness and action!”

Similarly, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Former Deputy President of South Africa and Former UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, also emphasized the importance of speaking up. “When you’re in a space where decisions are being taken, never remain quiet,” she said. “Quietness never brought you anything. Learn to be heard. Occupy the space. Make your power felt”.

Innovative learning approach

The training was delivered by the African Leadership University (ALU) and followed a learner-centric approach that focuses on autonomy; immersive learning; meaningful collaboration; ubiquitous learning; and play. During a visit to the ALU, the fellows had the chance to engage with the founder Fred Swaniker, and also partner with and mentor women students.

In addition to the guest speaker contributions, three fellows also hosted master classes. Daniela Nianduillet (deployed to UNDP Republic of Congo) conducted a session on ‘How to affirm our identity in the workplace’ - unpacking in practical terms how young African women can navigate professional pitfalls without sacrificing their authenticity. Priscilla Plat (deployed to UNDP DRC) hosted a masterclass on personal branding. “Your personal brand should precede you; it means you can be present without even needing to be in a room. People will trust you and invest in you.” Tamiwe Kayuni (deployed to UNDP Kenya) provided a deeply empowering session on public speaking and effective communication.

During the training, fellows were also led to consider from whom to learn; each other as peers, the leaders who came before them – including to learn from past mistakes, and themselves, through identifying their internal leadership capital. Towards the end of the training, several fellows indicated that they hadn’t seen themselves as leaders before, but now they do.

While the training targeted the future leadership skills of the fellows, they were challenged to consider not just their own future, but also how they were actively shaping a legacy. Tatenda Zvobgo, originally from Zimbabwe and now working with UNDP’s regional office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia said: “A major thing for me was the knowledge that no matter what I do, I will have these sisters who will be cheering me on, celebrating my successes with me and working through the difficulties with me. It’s made us richer people.”

 

AfYWL second cohort

The second cohort of AfYWL Fellows (2022-2023)

UNDP Africa

 

About the African Young Women Leaders (AfYWL) Fellowship Programme

The AfYWL Fellowship Programme, a flagship initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the African Union Commission (AUC), focuses on building leadership skills and professional experience over the duration of the 1-year fellowship. The Fellowship cultivates a new generation of young African women leaders to drive change towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063. The second cohort of AfYWL fellows come from 22 African countries and have been deployed to UNDP duty stations in 26 locations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the USA.