First virtual FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit a global success

Pivoting to adapt to the new socially-distanced environment, the innovative FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit brought a well-co-ordinated digital event to audiences across the globe, while still maintaining the high-calibre standard of this impactful event in its sixth edition. Running from 8 to 9 March 2021, the free-to-attend #LeadingWomanSummit – presented by Mastercard – welcomed dynamic leaders and power women to speak on this year’s theme, Africa Reloaded: The Power of The Collective.

Building on five successful, in-person events, the 6th #LeadingWomanSummit attracted an audience of 1936 attendees from 103 countries to listen to this year’s insightful panels, one-on-one interviews and #IntheSpotlight talks, led by prominent speakers from across the continent and the world. The #LWS2021 panel discussions gave audiences insight into several business-driven topics that considered the ramifications of the global pandemic in future operations.

“The FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit is an editorialised event that gives the audience a chance to engage with the hard-hitting stories and inspirational change-makers that always feature in our titles,” explained Renuka Methil, Managing Editor of FORBES AFRICA and FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. “After such a disruptive year and the resultant outcome on women and work worldwide, we felt that this year’s summit was more necessary than ever. And, considering the response to this year’s event, it’s evident that the topics engaged by the high-profile speakers made an impact on the audience, paving the way for a more productive 2021.”

Day 1

Panel discussion highlights

Speaking on ‘Agility and Flexibility: Culture Change in the C-Suite’, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qasimi, an Emirati Businesswoman, Author and Artist, said: “Unfortunately, women are always being overlooked, whether they deliver or not. This is why women have to work twice as hard.

“You have to give women milestones, and you have to see them achieving those milestones. And a lot of women are achieving those milestones because they’re used to multi-tasking. This is their second nature.”

Spanish-American businesswoman, founder and CEO of BBES, Bisila Bokoko, spoke on the topic ‘The Isolation Economy and Double Shift for Women’, emphasising the impact on different cultures and countries: “In the United States, we are in a caregiving crisis as a lot of women don’t have childcare. We have also experienced that women in Latino and black communities are suffering more. They have a tendency to get jobs where they cannot work from home. In Africa it’s similar. It’s not working for everyone. But in some cultures, such as Muslim countries where women find it difficult to go out to work, we have realised that the isolation economy works for them. They can do a lot of business online and work from home. A lot of entrepreneurs tell me that it was great to go out to work and have two separate lives, where right now, everything is together. These are challenges we have to face and find a way to move forward.”

Advocate Jackie Nagtegaal, CEO of Lipco Law for All, unpacked workplace policies and labour laws, post-Covid-19, highlighting the need for gender neutrality in boardrooms, salaries and childcare: “I welcome and applaud summits like FWA LWS and the work that FORBES does in highlighting the role of women, who must be at the centre of designing the way forward. For too long the decision power – even in the epidemic response – has been devoid of the woman voice, and it’s the same in companies. That means most workplace plans are made without sufficient representation of women, perpetuating the exclusion of women. It’s critical as we re-build…to take a critical approach as business to proactively shape the world we want to see. We should choose to challenge companies to be progressive… to look at parental leave policies, are they gender neutral? Are we placing women solely in the care economy or are we including men and normalising them taking time to care for loved ones?”

Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Epidemiologist and Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA, spoke about ‘Warriors in Healthcare: What’s life like on the Frontline?’: “In the first wave, we were better-prepared than in the second wave. Other epidemics that we’ve prepared for in Africa – Ebola and HIV – laid important foundations for our ability to respond. In Africa, we invite knowledge generated in other parts of the world, so while we have the ability to do the testing, we realised there were shortages in PPE, testing kits, and now we’re at the end of the queue for vaccines. The lesson we’ve learned is how much more we need to be investing in our healthcare delivery systems to ensure we have equitable access to healthcare.”

Tanya van Lill, CEO of SAVCA unravelled ‘Private Equity: Still a Man’s World?’: “A lot of times, as women, we are our own worst critic. We stand on the side lines and don’t take centre stage. We have a lot to be proud of and really need to own that space. But do your homework and articulate your value proposition for investors.”

One-On-One Talks

Renowned model and activist, Alek Wek shared her journey ‘From South Sudan to the World’, going from a refugee in Somalia to becoming the first African model to feature on the cover of Elle magazine, helping change perceptions of beauty in the fashion industry: “Going through the civil war as a young person was difficult and I never want to see another young person go through it. That’s one of the reasons I’m active with the UN Refugee Agency. They’re there for first-aid and basic necessities. We all have a platform that I believe we should use to shed light on important issues, such as safety for another human being. We all can make a difference.”

Folorunso Alakija, Entrepreneur and Vice-Chair of Famfa Oil, addressed ‘How to Become a Billionaire’ and discussed her recipe to success: “As you progress in life, you meet hurdles, and I’ve come up with my own mantras that guide me. I spell out ‘SUCCESS’ – Seek God, Utilise your time and talent, Credibility and reliability, Consistently focus on your goal, Educate yourself, Say ‘no’ to discouragement agents, and Sacrifice daily by going the extra mile.”

#InTheSpoltight speaker

Saray Khumalo, the Zambia-born South African explorer and first black woman to summit Mount Everest, discussed the impact of her township upbringing and the need for her single, immigrant mother to fight to be seen, heard and to belong. “She would continuously tell my sisters and I, ‘the sky is the limit’, ‘work hard’, ‘be diligent’, ‘don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do’. Ubuntu Everest – Summit with a Purpose. Armed with my mother’s words and my grandparent’s social consciousness, this became my personal journey to change my world, one step at a time, and change the narrative for the next generation of Africans.”

Inspirational Talk

Ilwad Elman, Founder of the Elman Peace Centre in Mogadishu and a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, spoke about the work being done by herself and her mother, Fartuun Adan, in rehabilitating child soldiers, feeding street children and re-homing displaced women.

“My arrival in 2010 coincided with the devastating famine in Somalia where hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation, and nearly a million people became internally displaced – mostly women and children,” said Elman. “I witnessed the horror of a disaster within a disaster. The indiscriminate and widespread rape and abuse of women and children happening in these relief camps without any repercussion. We had a moral obligation to respond…my mother and I started a journey that would generate a discussion on sexual and gender-based violence that never before existed in Somalia. And it led us to opening the first Rape Crisis Centre in the country.”

Day 2

Panel discussion highlights

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice Chancellor of UCT, added her voice to ‘The Lost Generation? The Gendered Impact of Covid-19 on Education’, looking specifically at the impact on female graduates in tertiary institutions: “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, levels of violence against women have increased, exacerbated by mandatory lockdown. That has been a key issue for us, particularly at university. Covid-19 brought to the fore the challenges we’ve always known existed – poverty, inequality, gender-based violence…it just made them visible. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the disruption of the pandemic is what we needed to get into action.”

Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth Secretary-General addressed the audience on ‘Why the Covid Pandemic Has Become a Gender Pandemic’: “The issue of domestic violence is key. We have learnt a huge amount in the last 30 years and have launched ‘The Commonwealth Says No More’ campaign which tells what business, bystanders, parliament and local government can do about it. What each of us as individuals can do about it. When there are disasters, women and young people suffer the most. Mainstreaming this, so we cannot be forgotten, is critically important.”

One-On-One Talk

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, British Actor and Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency, spoke on her impactful work that seeks to help the 35 million displaced Africans: “My dad is from South Africa and many of my family have been impacted by the legacy of apartheid and displaced, so for me there were personal resonances to understanding what it means to flee your home or not feel welcome or free in your home. With Covid-19 and climate change, the world is dealing with huge shifts and refugees really are the most vulnerable. It’s about humanising their stories.”

Inspirational Talk

Miss Universe 2019, Zozibini Tunzi, the first black South African to win the title, spoke on being a ‘Beauty Queen in the time of Covid-19’ and her role as an African icon for young women: “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of hair and my skin, was never considered to be beautiful. I think that it’s time that that stops. I want children to look at me, to see their faces reflected in mine. The first Miss Universe pageant was held in 1952 when black women weren’t even allowed to be a part of global beauty pageants. As of today, only six black women have won the pageant in 68 years. We are all here because of women who came before us.”

Keynote address

In her keynote address on the final day, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first female African Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, shared her recipe to success and advice to other women: “In my career path I didn’t set out to look for every promotion, to me, success was defined differently. It was defined as enjoying the job I was doing. Wanting to get out of bed and run to work. I have my 70/30 recipe – I have to get out of bed 70% of the time wanting to go to work, whether out of commitment or love for the job. Nobody can be 100% ready to work all the time. What I’m saying is, firstly, pick something you enjoy, because when you’re doing something you enjoy, then the promotion comes. The second thing is to give it your all, go at it wholeheartedly. The third thing is making sure it’s about serving others.”

Lianne Williams, Head of Marketing at Vuma and a featured panellist, said that the impact made through platforms such as the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit should not be underestimated.

“We are incredibly proud at Vuma to have played a part in bringing so many remarkable stories to life, and producing this powerful knowledge-sharing platform,” said Williams. “Now, more than ever, there are boundless opportunities created through celebrating and supporting our communities. The women who took part in the summit serve as crucial examples to so many others – from all generations and walks of life – on what can be achieved through opportunity and commitment. It is our hope that the experience will inspire future leaders to reach higher and further.”

Concluding the event, Ebehijie Momoh, Country Manager & Business Head, West Africa, Mastercard said: “We are proud to present the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit, an event that has grown to become one of the biggest platforms in Africa to celebrate and enhance the contributions of women, recognising the many roles they play, and the many passions they tenaciously pursue. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women, and we must collaborate to ensure that we apply our collective capabilities towards consciously including more women in more sectors on more levels. Mastercard remains committed to gender balance as a business strategy, and to using our technology and network to enable all women to realize their potential – bringing us closer to a world where everyone can access the future’s brightest possibilities.” 

There are many exciting opportunities for involvement in the 2022 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit including event sponsorship, exhibiting at the on-site marketplace or by sponsoring a mentee. For more information, see contact details below.

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