Remarks by EJS at the inauguration of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Center for Women and Development
Friends, colleagues, participants in the Amujae Initiative, honored guests, fellow Liberians.
In closing my remarks when I accepted the Mo Ibrahim prize, I said “this restless soul cannot rest as there is more work to do”. In similar view, when leaving office as America’s first female Secretary of State, a journalist asked Madeline Albright, “how do you wish to be remembered?” She replied, “I don’t want to be remembered. I am still here and have much more I intend to do!”
Those sentiments say why I am here today. And no doubt, why you all have kindly accepted to be an active participant in this bold endeavor. Regardless of our ages, or where we come from, we are the same. We have so much more to do to lift women up in our own countries, in Africa and around the world.
We are a proud bunch here. We are ambitious, driven, and unrelenting. But we also have our fears, and self-doubts and only pretend to wear those “thick skins.” And we recognize that when we put ourselves in the public arena, we may lose control of our own narrative, and therefore must hold tight to our beliefs and values.
However, today we come together to launch the flagship program of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development – The Amujae Initiative – with its goal to inspire women to unabashedly and unapologetically excel in the highest echelons of public leadership.
Our ambition is to help capable women across the continent achieve their goals in political life and public service, to provide a lift for emerging public leaders. We aim to create a real and virtual space where women and girls can learn from, and lean on, one another, a network with peers across the continent. A place to gain skills in leadership organization, fundraising, research and polling techniques, and most importantly, become each other’s advocates and storytellers.
Such a place – a sense of true belonging – is something that I never had. And I know it did not exist for my dear sister Joyce Banda from Malawi. And Joyce and I have our war wounds to prove it! We both had to prove – over and over – that an African woman was capable of being a leader – in a corporation, in a political party, and finally as head of a nation. I believe Catherine has a similar experience.
Dear friends, it no longer needs to be that way. For future girls and women who desire to become leaders, to be changemakers, to move from the margins of relevance to the center of governance and political power – are resolved to bond, to unite in diversity for the achievement of a common good.
And today, we extend our hand to each other, we teach the hard lessons we have so painstakingly learned, we mentor young women, we pull each other up, help each other along. We move together. I am also proud that as Patron, we will work with the African Women Leadership Network as a strong partner in this endeavor.
I would like to recognize the triumph of our dear Liberian Antoinette Monsio Sayeh, who last week was nominated to be the Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If confirmed, she will become one of the highest-ranking women in the world defining our global economic policy! She builds upon a similar success of another member of our Board, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
You all are and can be Antoinettes or Ngozis! Taking a chance for something bigger than yourselves, with the hope that you too can contribute to your countries and be a role model for the next generation of women and girls.
I salute you!
With these remarks I hope to do more than inaugurate the opening of the Center and the Amujae Initiative. I hope to encourage everyone here today to participate in any way you can. Become a mentor. Lend expertise. Tell a story. Tell other people’s stories. Give support. Dream big. Come together and dream even bigger!
In closing, I am reminded of the words of Wangari Maathai, Kenyan scholar, environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who said, “I’m very conscious of the fact that you can’t do it alone. It’s teamwork. When you do it alone you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it.”
Go out Amujae Leaders, and claim it. You have earned it.