USAID’s Frontiers in Development Forum highlights the work of women leaders

usaid frontiers in dev., PBS

The five current and former female presidents and the panel’s host, Judy Woodruff, a senior correspondent for PBS. Source: USAID

This week USAID hosted the Frontiers in Development Forum, an opportunity for leading figures in the world of international development to discuss new, innovative, and successful solutions to development problems.

I was particularly impressed with the Forum’s panel of Women Leaders on Foreign Assistance and Development, where five female leaders spoke about the key role that their leadership plays in development, particularly emphasizing participation of the people as a key to success. Two of these panelists were African women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, and Joyce Banda, president of Malawi.

Both Johnson-Sirleaf and Banda delivered key note speeches highlighting the success of development policies that they have implemented. Johnson-Sirleaf began her speech admitting that “throughout the eighties and nineties, Liberia was the poster child of what was wrong with Africa.” Much thanks to Johnson-Sirleaf’s leadership, Liberia has radically transformed over the past 6 years. For these improvements, she was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Now, instead of being an example of disaster, Liberia is held as a model of how a nation should reconstruct itself after a conflict.

Johnson-Sirleaf stressed that Liberia’s greatest asset is its people, and stated that “the strongest guarantee that our peace will last is to give all of our people a significant stake in maintaining it.” In order to ensure the sustainability of many of the commitments and changes that Johnson-Sirleaf has made, she announced the implementation of Liberia’s 18-year development strategy. She boldly asserted that Liberia will eliminate its dependency on foreign aid within the next decade, and that by 2030 Liberia will become a middle-income country. She intends to do this by setting in place institutions that will last beyond her term as president and by ensuring complete government transparency and accountability throughout the process.

Though Banda has only been president for almost 2 months, she has already implemented some significant changes. She emphasized the importance of a relationship between the government and its people, stating that to be a successful leader “You must fall in love with the people and they must fall in love with you.” One of her first decisions was to create a presidential initiative on maternal health and safe motherhood, which directly addresses one of Malawi’s most substantial problems. She has also moved to crack down on government corruption, selling the presidential jet as well as the fleet of Mercedes limousines previously used to chauffer government officials. Banda explained that many of her nation’s citizens will face challenges along the path to development, but that as a leader, “you must be the first to demonstrate that you can make sacrifices.”

Going along with USAID’s call for new solutions to persistent development problems, all five female leaders contributed inventive strategies for resolving some of the greatest development issues. Of the 127 heads of state in the world, only eight are women, but the brilliance displayed by these women may set a new standard for both female leadership and development progress.