Championing Women’s Superpowers
For most of my 35+-year career, I have had the good fortune to lead teams, as either manager of direct reports or as manager of a project effort. Providing strategic direction for people and programs and supporting colleagues to do their best work are part and parcel of my work life. When I became a senior vice president, I gave myself another role—that of champion. As a champion, I advocate and promote the contributions, accomplishments and, quite frankly, the superpowers of others. I choose superpowers because just like the superhero who can mix among society until called into action, these superpowers sometimes go unnoticed. And just like the superhero who “saves the day” without public accolades, those exercising their superpowers might not be recognized.
On a recent work trip to visit RTI International staff and project sites in Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Kenya, I met some remarkable women whose superpowers I witnessed firsthand. There were too many to mention, so I champion a few of them for you here.
In Tanzania, the Kwakuchinja wildlife corridor (KWC) connects Lake Manyara National Park to Tarangire National Park facilitating wildlife movements between the two protected areas. The KWC allows for movement of wildlife including antelopes, buffaloes, elephants, lions, giraffe, warthogs, and zebra. To monitor these movements and to keep wildlife safe from poachers, a team of scout rangers sleeps in tents each night and walks miles each day documenting wildlife movements and distribution, population data, and tracks animals under threat of encountering poachers. It’s a physically and mentally demanding role and one that is typically occupied by men. So, it was amazing to see a group of women scout rangers when I visited the KWC this summer. Female gender representation in the traditionally male-dominated scout ranger role is vital as these women also serve an important role of taking the message of conservation back to their communities. Superpowers: Grit and bravery
In Zanzibar, children ages six to 11 attend primary school, yet many are at risk of being out of school due to factors such as poverty, gender-specific barriers, and lack of interest in schooling. Providing a setting successful at attracting and keeping children in school is challenging. Head teacher and principal Saada Mwalimu at the Urafiki Primary School located in Kewerekwe Area West B district in Zanzibar meets this challenge every day. With a warm and welcoming smile, she might remind you of a favorite teacher—the one who always made it a better day. Exuding a quiet determination, she and her team of teachers educate children at the school twice a day, in a morning and an afternoon “shift,” to accommodate as many children as possible. Her belief in providing a better future for children imbues the entire school. Superpowers: Dedication and warmth
In Kenya, sanitation is a nationwide concern. Millicient Oyieng is a community health promoter and assured salesperson making a difference in the lives of her customers through improved household sanitation. Millicent knows her customers and knows that what she is selling—improved toilets—has the power to transform people’s lives. I witnessed her in action on a day in Kisumu, Kenya where a tough client, having finally succumbed to Millicent’s strong marketing and persuasion skills, was having a new toilet installed at her home. The negotiations behind them, Millicent and the homeowner, Dorothy Oketch were ribbing each other on who out-negotiated who. “We both won,” was Millicent’s closing comment. Her ability to forge strong relationships rooted in trust is evident in the warmth exuded by her customers who willingly let others tour their homes to see the impact of the product firsthand. Superpowers: Persistence and confidence
These women amazed me through their actions—and their superpowers—and it is my honor to preview their stories, of which there is so much more to tell. On that note, I would like to give a shoutout to a few more amazing women from East Africa—Dr. Jessie Mwambo, head of training and research consultancy at the Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania and Jael Ronga, entrepreneurial owner of Jael Juices, and KenGen Geophysicist Dr. Anna Mwangi—both working in Kenya. These women are all diligently improving lives in their communities, and I applaud each of them.
Champions don’t always need to defend or protect others. Indeed, these strong, capable women don’t need protection. They need promotion, support, and the spotlight. I hope I have done that by championing them here as inspiring women making a profound difference in their communities. I also hope to have inspired you to think about the superpowers of others and how you might champion them too.