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9-on-9: key highlights from the Forbes Woman Africa Leading Women Summit

Updated: Mar 26

“The emancipation of women is not merely a charitable act but a fundamental necessity for societal progress.” Samora Machel

8 March marked international women’s day - an annual commemorative day to celebrate the strides of women towards an inclusive and equitable world. On this day, the world joins in to celebrate the achievements of women, raise awareness about discrimination and to take action in driving gender parity.

Under the theme, Women Unscripted: Powering Innovation and Impact in Africa, the 9th instalment of the Forbes Woman Africa Leading Women Summit delivered an impeccable gathering with powerful and awe-inspiring speakers from across Africa and overseas. The day was jam-packed with so much wisdom, insights, laughter, tears and several aha-moments.

In her opening welcome, reflecting on the humble beginnings of the annual Summit, Managing Editor for Forbes Africa, Renuka Methil said, “the script of Africa is still being written. It is important to find what you love to do and do it with relentless passion.” Inspired is an understatement to how I left the summit. There’s a lot I can share but in lieu of the Leading Women Summit’s 9th year milestone, I will share only 9 things that stood out for me:

A poster of a speaker for an event
Credit: Forbes Woman Africa

1. Gaëlle Matumbu Munayi’s searing retelling of her story of childbearing - a story of hope and great resilience of a woman. Having suffered multiple child losses, Gaëlle’s story highlighted the untold or unspoken narratives of women who want kids but struggle with maternity issues. Poignant and relatable, I was forced to reflect on my own personal experiences. The truth is, our womb stories are sacred. However, as we walk towards our healing, opening up and sharing these stories leave an indelible and transformative mark on our ailing hearts. You can never forget a traumatic loss but each time you speak up about it, you heal not only yourself but others too.

"Sometimes, the single source of hope that one may need is knowing that they are not alone." - Refilwe Ramatlhodi Ndhlovu

2. Shut the noise down. A sense of belonging and acceptance is a prime part of our human fabric. However, the dreams we hold dear to us can quickly dissipate if we lean into too much of what society says or when we try to assimilate ourselves to fit into moulds not designed for us. Choreographer and DJ, Courtney Paul is one such example that shut the noise and focused on what she knew her destiny to be. The very same things she was criticised for in the early years of her career are what has turned her into the trailblazer she is today.

3. Age ain’t nothing but a number

A speaker caption including their image
Credit: Forbes Woman Africa

I know, super cliched but, at 21, Zuriel Oduwole is a global education advocate and filmmaker who has met one-on-one with over 30 World Leaders to address Global Social Development and Education Challenges. Who said anything about “the right age” to pursue one’s burning desires? Zuriel’s work is also testament to the importance of taking decisive action to stand up for what you believe, no matter your age. I loved it when she said, “find something you excel at and make it your own”. A reminder that to fulfil your life’s purpose, it is important to find your path and be consistent in pursuing it.

4.  Sabrina Elba on inclusion and creating sustainable ecosystems to support and advance growth. Until the enactment of policies enforcing inclusion of the marginalised, the topic of representation has, for a long time, been lip service. In particular, the pro-black movement has forced companies to think strategically about the topics of inclusion and diversity. In her conversation with Renuka, Sabrina highlighted the uncanny ways that various companies have tried to show that they are “pro-black”, mentioning that segregation in retail stores “where you’ll find products that are catered towards black skin, African skin and African hair in a separate section is creating more harm than good”. This further amplifies the divide which is not sustainable and does not support inclusive growth. To break these biases, she posed this challenge:

“Don’t buy black-owned because it’s a nice thing to do, but buy it because it works”. - Sabrina Elba

5. Being in power is underscored by our daily decisions. “Power is the ability to influence towards good. If you influence towards bad, the ecosystem will trump you up.” These were the thought-provoking words from Edna Montse, Group Chief Transformation and Sustainability at African Bank dissecting what power is in the modern-day world, together with her fellow panelists. These words served as a reminder that whether or not we sit in a corner office, we do have power. What we do with that power through our daily decisions, is a demonstration of how consciously responsible we are. She challenged us to answer this question for ourselves: “what do you do with the voice you have?”

“Power is not just the title; it is the influence you have on others.” - Jennifer Bash, co-Founder & CEO, Alaska Tanzania

6. It’s not just vibes, it’s all in the energy. With a journey that started out unconventional, South African singer-songwriter and Forbes 30 under 30, Shekinah, advocated the importance of acknowledging and embracing one’s masculine and feminine energies equally, including life-long learning. Knowing and understanding who you are plays a vital role in the ability to show up in the world as your true self. This is a premise that allows us to be able to celebrate each other and draw inspiration from one another – even when you are in the same environment, contending for the same opportunities. One piece of advice she gave is “believe in yourself … your biggest competition and enemy is yourself.”      


7. Unreserved parental support fuels big dreams. I didn’t know about Ama Qamata until Netflix’s popular series, Blood and Water. My admiration for her work blossomed from there. Her story about how supportive her parents have been towards her success stuck with me. From early school performances, the support of her parents fueled her big dreams. This made me reflect on the importance of supporting our children even when their chosen paths seem unconventional. The early support may seem insignificant, but it isn’t. This encouragement says to them, “I believe in you” – a key ingredient that shapes them into audacious human beings, who are able to step out and live a life of purpose.


8. Curiosity drives you to take the road less travelled. Taking the road less travelled is not something that’s appealing to everyone because of many factors like, the need to want to stay safe and comfortable, the fear of not knowing or even resistance to change. However, Sara Sabry, the first Egyptian, African and Arab woman to travel into space impressed that the ability to stay curious is critical to unleash your untapped potential. When we stop becoming curious, we limit the vast opportunities to live a more fulfilling life.


9. Perspective is everything. 

Credit: Miss Lira

When news broke two years ago that our beloved award-winning singer and songwriter, Lira suffered a stroke whilst in Germany ahead of scheduled performances, I was in disbelief. With regular updates from her social media pages, I like many of her followers would learn that the stroke was severe: she couldn’t speak, sing, or write.

She’s had to relearn all these things from scratch - like a baby. Sombering and heart wrenching indeed but hearing her speak about her journey with such poise, calm and peace attested to the power of perspective. She said, “I had fun over the last two years. I was fascinated with my mind. I had fun learning new things. The Lira I was, is gone. But I have a new life, in my 40s. I have an opportunity to recalibrate my life and, go (come along) with me as I discover what this new Lira is.”

Many times when we feel backed up in a corner, we tend to wallow in pity, denial and engage in behaviors of self-sabotage. In contrast, Lira chose the road less travelled. She is the epitome of a graceful and grateful heart, an optimist and all round phenomenal human being (woman). She reinforced the teaching that to rise above your circumstances, you have to rise up. But this requires you to make the decision about the approach you will take. What I loved the most is the emphasis on acceptance, self-compassion, and hope.

Lira’s story and insights from all participants at the Forbes Woman Africa Leading Women Summit serve as a reminder of our existing innate power to thrive in this lifetime. As Dr Gwen Ramokgopa said in her keynote address:

“Many of us have contributed to breaking many glass ceilings that we were told exist. In many aspects of our lives, we arrived there and discovered that there were never any glass ceilings. We just needed to pivot and step out.” - Dr Gwen Ramokgopa

Nothing beats a gathering of women in one room. The 2024 Forbes Woman Africa Leading Women Summit was presented by MacDonalds South Africa, and supported by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, VISA, Air Products, African Bank, L’ORÉAL Paris, KPMG, Hollywood Bets, Pura, PR Worx, Jacaranda FM, and CNBC Africa. The Forbes Woman Africa Leading Women Summit is a must-attend in 2025 – mark your calendars today!

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