Women’s History Month: Francesca Uriri, how we can better support African women to thrive in business

Regular readers will no doubt have noticed that we are marking Women’s History Month and to celebrate, Euronews Culture has published a series of articles on the roles, rights and representation of women around the world.

One woman whose efforts are dedicated to education and redressing the gender balance of power in Africa is Francesca Uriri, the founder of Leading Ladies Africa (LLA).

The organization promotes gender equality, advocates for inclusion and empowers African women and girls throughout the diaspora.

It also aims to equip African women with the skills they need to thrive in their business, career and leadership roles.

Through the Entrepreneurship and Leadership Program (ELP), 5,000 women entrepreneurs have received direct training, coaching and funding for their businesses.

LLA collaborates with organizations such as Coca-Cola Foundation, Union Bank of Nigeria and China Europe International Business School for training during this program.

Hundreds of other women are paired with mentors to improve their effectiveness and efficiency in the workplace.

Tina Karisma talks to Francesca Uriri about how LLA is having some of the most important conversations that seek to address key issues and challenges facing African women and girls today.

We are currently in Women’s History Month and there is a lot of talk about what can be done to better support women. But what is 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 experience is unique. For example, 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 customized platforms and programs that recognize and address these intersections and nuances. Women are not homogenous, and even among black women our experiences vary greatly. Therefore, more emphasis should be placed on developing initiatives that speak to these nuances, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach that is ineffective.

At what point 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 featuring these women, knowing that others like me need guidance, motivation and inspiration. Over 11 years, the platform has evolved into a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the inclusion of African women and girls and advocating for gender equality and equity.

What are the goals of your organization?

FU: Our mission is to build a diverse and inclusive community of African women leaders who are equipped to deliver sustainable solutions to Africa’s most pressing socio-economic and cultural challenges. We do this through a targeted mix of programs, events, content and purposeful storytelling,

Our vision is to support the continued increase of women’s representation in the fields of business (enterprise), career (workplace) and leadership (policy and advocacy), for African women and women of African descent – to achieve gender equality and equity.

What have you learned about leadership based on your work?

FU: I learned a few things, but perhaps the most important is the importance of being consistent and persistent. Not everyone will believe in your vision or mission, not everyone will support the work you’re doing, some will even actively work against it, but it’s up to you to keep pushing it to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. In the same breath, I learned to raise my hands and ask for help, to not be afraid or ashamed to say “I don’t know” and to stop and stand still. In a world that is so fast-paced and frenetic, there is room for standing still and not rushing to get things done. 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 meant to be yours will come.

You’ve decided to balance your responsibilities as a founder with building a successful organization, what can you say to those who have multiple roles and responsibilities as women?

It’s important to recognize that we all have unique experiences and I don’t want to dictate what others should do. However, I urge everyone to prioritize self-care. Taking care of yourself first is essential and includes physical, mental, spiritual and emotional aspects. As women, we often neglect our own needs. Taking time to rest and recharge is critical. It’s also important to ruthlessly prioritize 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 family, friends, society and the communities I serve. So I am constantly serving to ‘be a light’, whether it is with my family, with Leading Ladies Africa, with those I mentor, etc. To be light is my goal. And I will continue to express and be that in many different ways throughout my life.

There is so much emphasis on the crisis among black men and boys in the media, both how they have been constantly victimized by the police system and the opportunities afforded to them, what do you think is the relationship between the focus on black men and women?

FU: I think the relationship is subjugation and oppression. Black men and women have historically been oppressed and excluded for centuries, so long that it has become normal. But it is not normal to subjugate people because of the color or tone of their skin. And although oppression expresses itself in different ways for both black men and women, the root is the same. And that is what needs to be resolved. As Martin Luther King said, “None is free until we are all free.”

What challenges do you think could have stopped you but didn’t?

FU: I grew up in Nigeria, a patriarchal society that has historically excluded women. However, my parents, especially my father, raised me to be confident and brave. It 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 that didn’t stop me. My African heritage gives me a unique perspective, which is an advantage. After all, having a no-holds-barred mindset is critical to achieving success.

What are some of the ways we could advocate for women, but especially and specifically for black women

FU: Advocacy is good. Mentoring is good. But beyond that, 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 you would give white men and watch us make magic.

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