“When women are empowered to speak on their own behalf, change comes more rapidly.” This was said by Cheryl Francisconi, director of the Institute of International Education (IIE) in Ethiopia, at the launch of a new program called African Centers of Excellence ACE for women’s leadership, which took place on May 11.
Funded by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the ACE program will be implemented by the IIE through four leading institutions: Organization for Women in Self Employment WISE from Ethiopia, Akina Mama wa Africa from Uganda, Young Women’s Leadership Institute YWLI from Kenya and Akilah Institute for Women from Rwanda.
“By working with these organizations committed to women’s development, it will be possible for women to access more easily outstanding and comprehensive leadership courses,” explained Francisconi adding that this will take place as the chosen organizations take stock of, expand and strengthen their leadership programs and continue to interact for continued learning and improvement.
Expressing her joy at being one of the centers of excellence for women’s leadership, Lisa Martilotta, the executive director of the Akilah Institute for Women, remarked that this will help them to build a strong internal leadership at the institute. “We have been here for 3 years now and we are constantly refining our curricula,” she said pointing out that their students will be able to have a better and relevant leadership program through this new program.
Martilotta explained that they will partner with women in leadership, especially those from the Forum for Women Parliamentarians, to look at the realities that are on the field -not only for the leaders but also the issues of all women in the community- and fill the gaps that have been identified while also searching for other gaps that may be existing.
“This will help to see where women leaders need to focus their attention, the challenges and issues which they need to tackle,” said Martilotta. This will be through the networking opportunities provided by the center and exchange of experiences on best practices. “Then the findings will not only benefit those leaders, but also our young students as the findings will be applied to the training modules they receive.”
This will be in line with the focus of the ACE program which is to reach both established women leaders and, more importantly, empower young African women who have precious skills and good experience but are not necessarily leaders in their field.
All this will ultimately lead to the achievement of the program’s long term vision, as Francisconi highlighted. “Our vision is that women at all levels in sub Saharan Africa are champions of issues that affect women’s development,” she said. “Those issues are especially reproductive health, economic empowerment and education, and we would like to ensure that the women are demonstrating leadership in these and other important areas that lead to the transformation of their communities.”
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