As women, we are born with the full potential to be great. We should do the right things and not the easy things for progress.
To mark the 2018 International Women’s Day, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the AGRA President, offered some insights into what it means to be a woman leader in Africa. Based on her experience and journey to the apex of African agriculture leadership, she knows that getting ahead as a woman depends largely on personal commitment to excellence and consistently doing the right things.
She also recognizes that where one is born contributes significantly to a woman’s growth. No amount of personal commitment, ability or skill will enable a woman to rise in her career if the social norms, and even the laws of the land, prohibit it. ‘It helped being in Rwanda – a country that believes in women and gives them opportunities’.
By speaking of women’s ‘full potential to be great’, Dr. Kalibata reminds us of a profound truth. If women are prevented from taking their proper place in development, business or education, the world loses half its potential, half its brainpower, half its energy. The least that women need is to be allowed to be part of the story – striving alongside men for the social and economic development that will make their children’s lives better.
In terms of the pathway to her current role as President of AGRA, Dr. Kalibata noted:
‘I was out there working very hard. I believed in myself. I did not look at myself as ‘a woman’ and did not allow that to limit me. Being here is a product of working hard. I was not reached out to because I was a woman but because I delivered value’.
Since completing her PhD – which involved the sacrifice of living far away from her family, Dr. Kalibata has steadily risen to become a leading authority on African agriculture. She has worked hard for her achievements: in laboratories, in the field with farmers and in government policy roles at different levels. She has honed her skills and proved herself in the tough competition of the professional world. Along the way, she has had to make choices and decisions that, typically, a man would not face.
But whatever the challenges, Dr. Kalibata is still striving for success in her work, as well as finding balance with her family life. So, for her, what does success look like?
‘Success means we can feed our people. It means we can grow our economies in Africa like most other countries in the world have. Success means ensuring that every African can earn money. They can feed their children. I am glad we have a few countries that are focused – and that are now reducing the number of people who are hungry. Success will mean growing the number of these countries.’
On juggling work and family, Dr. Kalibata said that this can only succeed if you find the right support system – at work as well as at home. To this end, Dr. Kalibata deliberately creates teams of people with skills that overlap with hers to ensure that work does not stop if she has to attend to family issues. ‘It also creates a succession plan,’ she added.
Knowing what she knows today, what advice would Dr. Kalibata give to her 20-year-old self and by extension to younger women today who aspire to scale the same heights as her?
‘I would say, do not postpone your life for your career. Opportunities come later in life as well as long as one has the right motivation and drive.’
As is the case with all visionary leaders and parents, Dr. Kalibata is alert to the kind of world she’d like to leave for her children.
‘I worry about the children of Africa and the kind of future we want for them. I do not want our children to know hunger and the conflict that has characterized our lives. We have a duty to leave a peaceful world when we are gone. We have a responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it. We also must ensure that our children have the right values and fully understand that nothing happens by accident. The kind of world we want depends on our actions to create it. Above all, I am committed, with so many others, to creating a base for our children to build from.’
Dr Kalibata signs off with a personal message to all of the women who work alongside her in AGRA.
‘AGRA’s work on agriculture touches people that most other sectors do not think about – the unreached. I am proud of the women from diverse backgrounds that we have in the institution, all of whom are well qualified. Mine is a reminder to them that, as women, we have a particular responsibility to create a better future for our children. We should bring our passion and empathy to work every day.’