One Year Later: We Are Going Up!
Today, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS Center) marks one year since its official launch. The EJS Center was founded to be a catalyst for political and social change across Africa by helping unleash its most abundant latent power—its women.
Reflecting on the last year, the EJS Center’s work to amplify the voices of women and girls in all spheres of life by increasing the representation of women in public service leadership roles across Africa has never seemed more important or urgent.
Emerging at the cusp of a global health crisis, the EJS Center forged ahead with launching its flagship program, the Amujae Initiative. Amujae means ‘we are going up’ in Kru, a Liberian language. Over the course of the year, the initiative stayed true to its name, as accomplished African women in the program advanced in their careers, and in some cases, while overcoming significant challenges.
The past year was filled with noteworthy milestones—from welcoming the 2020 and 2021 cohorts of Amujae Leaders, to convening local civil society leaders in Liberia, and engaging and growing the EJS Center’s online community. The EJS Center continues to advance its mission to champion women’s ascension to the highest levels of leadership and challenge systemic barriers to girls’ and women’s advancement.
Highlights from the year
In March 2020, the EJS Center hosted its first Amujae Leadership Forum in Monrovia, Liberia. The inaugural cohort of Amujae Leaders hailed from eleven African countries across four of the continent’s five subregions. With the support of luminary African women leaders like President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (former President of the Republic of Liberia), President Joyce Banda (former President of the Republic of Malawi), President Catherine Samba-Panza (former President of Central African Republic) and Dr. Thelma Awori (Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Liberia to Uganda), the Amujae Leaders were taken through a carefully curated program that facilitated meaningful engagement, as they interchanged ideas on the rigors of ascendance in public leadership.
Following the inaugural forum, the Amujae Initiative held a series of workshops centered around the diverse paths to public leadership. In addition to the trainings, Amujae Leaders received one-on-one coaching and mentoring from some of the most accomplished African women leaders.
Select achievements of the 2020 Amujae Leaders
- Clare Akamanzi (Rwanda) was appointed an inaugural member of the World Health Organization Foundation.
- Fadzayi Mahere (Zimbabwe) was appointed the spokesperson of her political party.
- Malado Kaba (Guinea) was appointed Board Chairperson of Orabank Guinea, making her the only woman who currently holds such a position in a privately owned bank in Guinea.
- Two Amujae Leaders contested in parliamentary elections in 2020; Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings retained her seat in Ghana while Upendo Peneza retained a designated parliamentary seat in Tanzania.
- Two Amujae Leaders, Fadzayi Mahere (Zimbabwe) and Yawa Hansen-Quao (Ghana) were recognized by Avance Media and Africa Youth Awards on the ‘100 Most Influential Young Africans’ list for 2020.
- Two Amujae Leaders, Yawa Hansen-Quao and Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings were featured on the Young Global Leaders Network’s list of ‘40 Most Inspirational Female Leaders in Ghana.’
- Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, OBE (Sierra Leone) was named in the BBC 100 Women 2020 List and was one of four mayors whose solutions were featured in the CityLab Global Cities Summit, convened by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute. She was also shortlisted for the 2021 World Mayor Prize.
On April 1, 2020, Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, PhD joined the EJS Center as Executive Director, overseeing administration, programs, and strategy, to implement the EJS Center’s vision. As the EJS Center’s programs and activities continue to grow, it has re-organized and expanded its team, in step with its newly adopted three-year strategic plan. The strategy outlines three focal areas, which guide the Center’s activities: the Amujae Initiative, the Presidential Library and Archives, and Strategic Research and Communications. The EJS Center believes they will create irreversible momentum toward a new norm of women as leaders in top positions across the African continent.
Throughout 2020, the EJS Center took on a critical public advocacy role. With the publication of nearly 150 blog posts, hundreds of social media posts, and dozens of op-eds and articles, it reached hundreds of thousands of people across Africa and around the world. The EJS Center’s communications activities over the course of the year highlighted the crucial work undertaken by the Amujae Leaders and other accomplished African women who worked to protect their communities from COVID-19 as they also tackled other pressing challenges—from education in crisis to maternal mortality.
In January 2021, the second cohort of 15 Amujae leaders was introduced during a virtual induction ceremony. These dynamic women were selected from a pool of over 200 applicants, from all of Africa’s five subregions. The 2021 Amujae Leaders represent 11 African countries, and include current and former government ministers, a governor, a former member of parliament, senior government advisors, and activists engaged with issues ranging from refugee rights to gender equality and youth empowerment.
As it welcomed a new cohort of Amujae leaders, the EJS Center also bid farewell to a number of its inaugural Board members, individuals who served their term with distinction and continue to avail themselves as needed in support of the Center’s mission. The EJS Center extends its profound gratitude to these Board members for their invaluable guidance and support: Molly Cashin, Seward M. Cooper (inaugural Board Chair), Alexander B. Cummings, Susan Edwards (Interim Executive Director), Prof. Angela L. Ofori-Atta, Dr. Raj Panjabi, Joyce Mends-Cole, Antoinette Monsio Sayeh, Judy Slotkin, Masséré Touré Koné, Betsy Williams, and Barkue Tubman-Zawolo. Their contributions have been critical to the Center’s establishment.
The EJS Center also welcomed several new additions to its Board, Nathalie Delapalme, Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Dr. Awele Vivien Elumelu, Chairperson of Avon Healthcare Limited, Madam Monica Geingos, entrepreneur, lawyer and First Lady of Namibia, and Jendayi E. Frazer, President and CEO of 50 Ventures, LLC. They join Cherif M. Abdallah, Jamie Cooper, Khalil Abou Jaoude, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and George Kronnisanyon Werner to form the current Board.
The EJS Center would not have been able to do any of its work without the generosity of its partners and funders, and it is truly grateful to them for believing in its mission and coming alongside the Center during this time of significant uncertainty.