Regular readers will surely have noticed that we’ve been marking Women’s History Month and, to celebrate, Euronews Culture has been running a series of articles on the roles, rights and representation of women around the world.
One woman whose efforts are dedicated to educating and redressing the balance of power between the sexes across Africa is Francesca Uriri, the founder of Leading Ladies Africa (LLA).
The organisation promotes gender equality, champions inclusion, and enables the empowerment of African women and girls throughout the diaspora.
It also aims to provide African women with the skills they need to thrive in their businesses, careers, and leadership roles.
Through its Enterprise and Leadership Program (ELP), 5000 female entrepreneurs have received direct training, coaching and funding for their businesses.
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LLA has collaborated with organisations like the Coca-Cola Foundation, Union Bank of Nigeria, and the China Europe International Business School for training during this program.
Hundreds of other women have been paired with mentors to strengthen their workplace efficiency and effectiveness.
Tina Charisma spoke to Francesca Uriri about how LLA is driving some of the most important conversations that seek to address key issues and challenges that African women and girls currently face.
We are currently in Women’s History Month, and there are a lot of conversations about what can be done to better support women. But what’s often missed is how women’s movements have failed non-white women…
Francesca Uriri: LLA focuses specifically on African women and girls, as well as those of African descent, because our experiences are unique. For instance, my experience as a black African woman working in Silicon Valley is vastly different from that of a white woman. Therefore, it is essential to create tailored platforms and programs that recognise and address these intersections and nuances. Women are not homogenous, and even among black women, our experiences differ significantly. Therefore, there needs to be a greater emphasis on developing initiatives that speak to these nuances rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach that is ineffective.
At what moment did you feel that Leading Ladies Africa had to be born and why?
FU: In my twenties, I craved mentorship and guidance from women who shared my identity, but I couldn’t find any resources that highlighted their achievements. To fill this gap, I created a platform showcasing these women, knowing that others like me needed guidance, motivation, and inspiration. Over 11 years, the platform evolved into a non-profit dedicated to promoting inclusion for African women and girls, and advocating for gender parity and equality.
What are your organisation’s aims?
FU: Our mission is to build a diverse and inclusive community of African female leaders, who are equipped to provide sustainable solutions to Africa’s most pressing socio-economic, and cultural challenges. We do this through a targeted mix of programs, events, content, and targeted storytelling,
Our vision is to support the steady increase of female representation across the areas of Business (Enterprise), Career (Workplace), and Leadership (Politics and Advocacy), for African women and women of African descent – to achieve gender parity and equality.
What have you learned about leadership based on your work?
FU: I’ve learned several things, but perhaps the most crucial is the importance of being consistent and tenacious. Not everyone will believe in your vision or mission, not everyone will support the work that you’re doing, some will even work actively against it, but it’s up to you to keep pushing through, to achieve the goals you have set for yourself. In the same breath, I’ve also learned to raise my hands up and ask for help, to not be afraid or ashamed to say “I don’t know,” and to pause and stand still. In a world that is so fast-paced and frenetic, there is a place for standing still and not being in a hurry to achieve things. I truly believe that what is yours will come to you. Of course, you have to work hard for it and be diligent with your skills, gifts and talents. But what is destined to be yours, will come.
You decided to balance your responsibilities as a founder as well as building a successful organisation what can you tell those who have multiple roles and responsibilities as women?
It’s important to recognise that we all have unique experiences, and I don’t want to dictate what others should do. However, I urge everyone to prioritise self-care. Taking care of yourself first is essential, and it encompasses physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional aspects. As women, we often neglect our own needs. It’s crucial to make time to rest and recharge. Additionally, it’s essential to prioritize ruthlessly and accept that we can’t do everything. Focus on what you can accomplish in the time available.
How did you find your purpose?
I don’t think you “find” purpose. I believe that purpose is an ongoing journey that you “become” and express throughout your life. My purpose on Earth is to be a light to my family, friends, society and the communities that I serve. So I’m constantly in service to “being a light,” whether that’s with my family, with Leading Ladies Africa, with those I mentor, etc. Being a light is my purpose. And I’ll continue to express and be that in many different ways throughout my life.
There is so much focus on the crisis among black men and boys in the media, both how they have been constantly victimised by the police system and the opportunities presented to them what do you think is the connection between the focus on black men and women?
FU: I think that the connection is subjugation and oppression. Black men and women have been historically oppressed and excluded for centuries, so long that it has become normal. But it isn’t normal to subjugate people because of the colour or tone of their skin. And even though the oppression is expressed in different ways for both black men and women, the root is the same. And that’s what needs to be tackled. Like Martin Luther King Said: “no one is free until we are all free.”
What challenges do you think could have held you back but did not?
FU: I grew up in Nigeria, a patriarchal society that historically excludes women. However, my parents, especially my father, raised me to be confident and courageous. This gave me a voice, and I never saw myself as inferior to anyone. When I entered the global workforce, I noticed a lack of black people in leadership positions, but this didn’t hold me back. My African heritage gives me a unique perspective, which is an advantage. Ultimately, having a mindset without barriers is crucial to achieving success.
What are some ways that we could be advocating for women but especially and more specifically, black women
FU: Advocacy is good. Mentoring is good. But beyond this, black women need to be actively sponsored in their careers and funded in their businesses. It really is that simple. Give black women the same opportunities that you’d give white men, and watch us make magic.