Africa is a continent with incredible hope and opportunity along with incredible challenges. When visiting Africa, one hears about challenges regarding basic human needs such as nutrition and health care. One also hears about the leadership challenges South Africa currently faces. Upon further reflection after visits to several organizations, including Olam International, Philani, and the African Leadership Academy, it is clear that women in Africa are uniquely positioned to move the continent forward economically and politically. Based on the author’s experience in South Africa, there are three key areas where women can have a substantial impact: (i) agriculture, (ii) health education and (iii) leadership in politics and business. These areas will be the focus of the analysis below.
Agriculture, which is dominated by women in Africa, should be the continent’s top priority as it transitions from reliance on commodity exports. From a health perspective, a continent with 16% of the world’s population has almost 70% of the global HIV/AIDS cases, 88 % of the global cases of malaria and significant maternal and infant mortality rates. Health education and disease prevention continue to be a major concern. And in 2015, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, 14 of the 25 countries perceived to be most corrupt, are in Africa, highlighting the need for strong leadership in Africa in the coming decades.
Marieke Shukla manages the Presales development program at Workday, an enterprise software company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having grown up in India, Kenya and the Netherlands, she gained a cross-cultural perspective and continues to be passionate about travel and learning. She graduated from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and now attends the Wharton Executive MBA program. She lives in Denver, CO with her husband.