"African Women need to step up into leadership"

Monday, 4 March 2013
Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Ph.D


To mark International Women’s Day 2013, we invited contributions from a number of influential women from a variety of professional backgrounds, of both African and Non-African descent and all engaged with the progress of women on the continent around the world. We asked them a series of questions including what more needs to be done to address the challenges facing African women in the 21st century, which women inspired them and what words or quotes inspired them. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, founder of Akili Dada, a leadership incubator for young, under-priveleged girls in Kenya, is our first contributor. 

"African Women need to step up into leadership"

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, CEO, Akili Dada

Our greatest challenges are also our greatest opportunities. We need to re-envision what good leadership looks like for the continent. For far too long leadership across Africa has been incredibly hierarchical and domineering.  African women need to transform that model into one that is more democratic, that listens more, and that is built on a paradigm of care and service for our communities. It is a great challenge but African women are up to it. We need to step up into leadership. 

We need to break down barriers so that we can access decision making spaces.  And once we are at the table we must be brave.  We must speak the truth about what is not working and offer up our visions of a greater future for the continent.  This sounds grand but it’s very doable if we start within our own families and communities.

As an African woman I am proud to be descended from great women - women of great courage and sacrifice. I stand on their shoulders and feel the weight of responsibility to honour their sacrifices even as I bend my back so that a younger sister has a leg up and an opportunity to achieve even greater heights. We all need to work to improves women's lives.  The task cannot be left to government, civil society or even individuals alone.  The great news is that empowering African women means empowering Africans.  We are 50% of the population and our continent needs our wisdom, experience and passion. 

For far too long Africa has failed to benefit from the tremendous human resources that African women represent. We can change that. I am deeply inspired by the work of the late Prof. Wangari Maathai.  I also hold deep respect and admiration for Ory Okolloh and Graca Machel.

"I think a lot about philanthropy and the following words from Khalil Gibran touch me deeply. You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give...See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness"

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg is the founder and executive director of Akili Dada, a leadership incubator for young African women from under-priveleged backgrounds.