Ten current and former African first ladies joined former U.S. first lady Laura Bush and Cherie Blair, wife of the former U.K. prime minister, today at a Pardee RAND Graduate School-organized forum focused on becoming more effective leaders.
The first ladies had a rare opportunity to meet with peers in a private, facilitated discussion that covered the opportunities and challenges of their unique roles. The conversations were designed to help first ladies become champions of change in their home countries on issues such as women’s health, girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment.“Today’s discussions were indeed very useful. I am convinced that as role models, change-makers and leaders in our respective countries, we are increasingly realizing our potential and must now take specific steps alongside our development partners to improve our existing projects and programs to positively change the lives of our people,” said Penehupifo Pohamba, first lady of Namibia and chair of the Organization of African First Ladies Against AIDS.
The half-day gathering, held at the Ford Foundation in New York, was part of the RAND African First Ladies Initiative. The initiative, co-led byCora Neumann, Gery Ryan and Anita McBride, former chief of staff to Mrs. Bush, has been partnering with the spouses of select presidents and prime ministers for four years.
“Active and engaged first ladies have the opportunity to provide vital leadership on vexing health and education issues—important problems that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people,” said Susan Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School (PRGS).
Today’s meeting will be followed by a five-day seminar for the first ladies’ senior staff. The PRGS-led training will focus on topics such as evaluating the effectiveness of health programs, strategic planning and developing successful partnerships.
Along with Mrs. Pohamba, first ladies participating today included Salma Kikwete of Tanzania, Traore Mintou Doucoure of Mali, Antoinette Sassou N’Guesso of the Republic of Congo, Hadidja Ikililou of Comoros, Dr. Christine Kaseba-Sata of Zambia, Chantal Boni Yayi of Benin, Jeannette Kagame of Rwanda, and Chantal Campaoré of Burkina Faso, as well as the former first lady of Malawi, Callista Mutharika, and the wife of the Vice President of Nigeria, Hajiya Amina Namadi Sambo.
Sponsors and partners of the RAND African First Ladies Initiative include Merck & Co., General Electric, ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, the George W. Bush Institute, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, the American Cancer Society and the Ford Foundation.