Yale University, in partnership with Fundación Mujeres por África and Banco Santander, convened the Women’s Leadership Forum in Lagos, Nigeria, on January 17. The Lagos forum was the third of the partnership’s events held in Africa since the program began in 2015. It brought together women leaders from across the continent to foster relationships between one generation of African women and the next, and to serve as a catalyst for open dialogue. It was the culminating event of a three-day visit to Lagos by Yale President Peter Salovey.
As a flagship program of the Yale Africa Initiative, the forum is part of a broader leadership development program for senior African women government officials. Additional components of the leadership program have included participation by women from African countries in events hosted on Yale’s campus. Previous forums held in Africa were convened in Accra in 2018, and Addis Ababa in 2019.
In Lagos, opening addresses were delivered by Peter Salovey, the 23rd President of Yale University, and Maria Teresa Fernandez De La Vega, president of the Spanish Council of State and president of Fundación Mujeres por África (Women for Africa Foundation).
In his remarks, President Salovey said, “Building a network of senior African women leaders is essential to promoting sound governance and economic opportunity across the continent and around the globe for generations to come. This program has not only enhanced the knowledge and skills of current women trailblazers but has also bolstered the pipeline for emerging leaders. They are advancing the prospects of their nations, their continent, and our world.”
During the forum, two panel discussions took place, one exploring personal journeys to leadership roles, and the other focused on women defining and creating the leadership they need to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Advocating for gender equality, during her opening address, Ms. Fernandez De La Vega said, “The road to equality is the road to the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The session on the “Role of Women in Achieving SDGs” was moderated by Emma Sky, director of Yale’s Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program and a senior fellow of the Yale Jackson Institute. In her remarks introducing the panel discussion, Ms. Sky emphasized the need to create spaces for women in leadership.
“Women are the hope of Africa. And it is women who are key to ensuring that Africa develops to its potential and to enabling human flourishing. This leadership forum convenes a group of highly accomplished women leaders from across Africa, who are making a difference, who serve as role models for other women, and who are committed to mentoring a new generation of women leaders to participate in addressing the challenges facing the continent,” she said.
During the discussion, which included the voices of strong African women leaders with a track record of significant contribution towards achievement of the SDGs, panelists and participants focused on the importance of empowering women in rural and capital areas, and the need to ensure that no woman is left behind.
Both panels featured program alumni: Obiageli Ezekwesili, former Minister of Solid Minerals and Education (Nigeria); Ramatoulaye Diallo, Minister of Culture (Mali); Adejoke O-Adefulire; Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs (Nigeria); Remi Sonaiya, independent researcher and consultant and professor at Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria); and Nana Oye Lithur, human rights lawyer and former Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection (Ghana).
The “Journey to Leadership” discussion, which featured personal testimonials from the panelists, was moderated by Olabosipo Sawyerr-Bassey, a graduate of the Yale School of Management (Class of 2007) from Nigeria, and Stephanie Busari, the bureau head of CNN Nigeria. A common thread from the stories shared pointed to the importance of African women in shaping the destinies of their countries.
The forum concluded with remarks from Ms. Obiageli Ezekwesili, Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow, presidential candidate in Nigeria’s 2019 election, and former vice president for the World Bank’s Africa Region. She urged participants to make conscious efforts towards connecting SDGs to everyday life so that people in communities can take ownership and demand accountability from the government on their efforts towards achieving these goals and improving their futures.