Women leaders can help solve challenges of the 21st Century

Managing Director of Isuzu East Africa Rita Kavashe. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

History has recorded extraordinary feats accomplished by women leaders in government and the private sector.

More women have risen to the top levels of companies across the world in the last decade, following in the footsteps of trailblazers across the globe.

There is evidence that women on boards provide unique insights that contribute to business focus from short-term profit to longer term growth. They are more collaborative and adept at balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders. Data continues to show that women are accelerators of economic growth, great at creating new market value, reputation, driving profits and development goals. It is in their nature to push for ending hunger, poverty reduction, inequality and tackling climate change.

Women have been known to be resilient, flexible, listening, empathetic as well as courageous in making bold decisions in organisations. Offering different perspectives in male dominated boardrooms has contributed to collaborative success in scores of organisations.

A 2016 study by the Peterson Institute of International Economics surveying 91 countries, found that organisations with women in the C-suite were more profitable. This is supported by a 2018 McKinsey & Company report, “Delivering through Diversity” which showed companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27 per cent more likely to have superior value creation.

At the onset of Covid-19, women led Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark – demonstrated better crisis management traits, hence recording lower deaths and infection rates. Women leaders seemed to be particularly successful in fighting the pandemic

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel took a stand early telling Germans to “Take it seriously” and introduced testing and lockdowns in the early days.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed lockdowns early and self-isolation for people entering New Zealand when there were just six cases in the whole country. A World Economic Forum study found that these measures helped these countries to save lives as evidenced by the significantly lower number of deaths in those countries.

Closer home, “Beyond Zero” an ambitious health initiative conceptualized by Kenya’s First Lady Mrs Margaret Kenyatta in 2013 focused on ending preventable maternal and child deaths in Kenya’s remote rural areas by 2023. The challenge was lack of essential pre and post-natal care for mothers in marginalized areas. The Beyond Zero medical staff worked closely with engineers from local automotive assembler Isuzu to develop a mobile clinic design that would adequately meet the programme objectives.

These women walk in the footsteps of great world leaders who displayed grit and determination. Former United Kingdom PM Margaret Thatcher also known as the Iron Lady showed remarkable steel as she grappled with the 1982 Falklands Island crisis and the miners strike in 1984. Mrs Thatcher won three consecutive terms in office setting an unbroken record.

In 1988 Benazir Bhutto became the first woman PM of Pakistan. In 2005 Angela Merkel emerged as the first female woman Chancellor of Germany and became the third longest serving Chancellor in German history until 2021 when she retired.

In Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served as President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018. She was the first woman elected head of state in Africa. As president, she secured millions of dollars of foreign investments and established a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to probe corruption and heal ethnic tensions in her country.

More recently, Samia Suluhu Hassan made history in 2021 when she was sworn in as Tanzania’s first female President after the death of her predecessor, John Pombe Magufuli. Kenya’s very own Prof Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

These great women have inspired and empowered fellow women to invest in self-development and perfect how to harness the value that women bring to the table. Women are critical in helping to safely navigate through crises. The time is ripe for Africa to tap into these strengths of women in leadership to inspire optimism for the future and tackle the global challenges of the 21st Century.

-Ms Kavashe is the Managing Director of Isuzu East Africa