Leadership lessons from Africa’s trailblazers
Graça Machel, an international human-rights and development advocate, is the founder and patron of New Faces New Voices, a pan-African network that focuses on expanding the role and influence of women in the financial sector. The program not only promotes women’s access to finance and financial services but also aims to bridge the funding gap for African businesses owned by women.
Graça Machel: I advocate for a social compact which would see governments, the private sector, academia, and civil-society organizations agree on shared responsibilities to solve Africa’s biggest social and economic challenges and achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Those goals are an ambitious, universal call to end poverty, protect the environment, and ensure that all members of our global family enjoy peace and prosperity. They require that we leave no one behind.
I see a central role for the private sector to partner in poverty-eradication efforts and collaborate with public-sector and civil-society actors to drive job creation on a massive scale. Business leaders should ask themselves, “If our country has a certain percentage of young people who are unemployed, what kind of creative, forward-thinking changes do we have to implement to accelerate job creation and increase employment opportunities for our youth? How can we move from producing 5,000 jobs a year to two million a year, for example?”
Those kinds of audacious goals require a change in mind-set for all of us. Entire industries—and leaders themselves—have to meaningfully transform; it can no longer be business as usual. Development doesn’t happen without transformation, first of people themselves, then of institutions, then of systems. That means we all have to move out of our comfort zones and move to a different level of thinking, operating, and engaging one another. Ultimately, business leaders should see themselves as responsible partners in a national pact for development.
Part of the change required is a set of very clear policies and strategies to bring more women into top leadership. Business leaders in particular should make women’s advancement part and parcel of their strategy of growth and sustainability for the next five, ten, 15, 20 years. Human-resources departments and CEOs need to make upward mobility for female staff part of HR strategy and succession planning and ask themselves, “How can we get more qualified women into the C-suite? How are we nurturing our female talent? How do we ensure more capable women are sitting at the highest levels of decision making?” You need to value diversity as an element of strength and make it part of a cultural and institutional transformation.
About the author(s)
The reflections of Nadia Fettah, James Mwangi, Aliko Dangote, Fred Swaniker, and Graça Machel are drawn from interviews conducted as part of a broader research effort underlying a new book, Africa’s Business Revolution: How to Succeed in the World’s Next Big Growth Market (Harvard Business Press, 2018), by Mutsa Chironga, a Nedbank executive and an alumnus of McKinsey’s Johannesburg office; Georges Desvaux, a senior partner in the Hong Kong office; and Acha Leke, chairman of McKinsey’s Africa offices, based in Johannesburg. The authors wish to thank Jalil Bensouda and Omid Kassiri for their contributions to the book and this article.