In early November 2016, Arterial Network celebrated the close of the 2016 African Women in Cultural Leadership (AWCL) programme in Nairobi attended by mentors, mentees and various arts and cultural stakeholders with an awards ceremony, performances and a panel discussion titled Creative Leaders of Tomorrow: How to Turn Lemons into Lemonade. The pilot programme closed on a high note with reflections on the successes of the programme’s first iteration and renewed commitment to the need for a programme dedicated to the empowerment of African women within the arts and cultural sector.
Ciro Githunguri (art activist, critic, photographer and Nairobi Womens Rep for 2017) opened the event with a stirring keynote address that focused on her own experiences throughout her career and the various challenges she has faced as a woman. In many cases, women are discouraged from sharing their negative experiences in the work environment as this may reflect badly on them, or worse still, be disregarded as ‘overreacting’ or being too ‘emotional.’ For this reason, Githunguri opened up about her experiences of abuse within the work environment and encouraged women not to keep quiet when they suffer discrimination. She urged those present to always “stay true to yourself.”
The panel discussion centred around the future of female creative leaders in Africa and the practical aspects of How to Turn Lemons into Lemonade. Taking inspiration from Beyoncé’s hit 2016 song, the discussion had a strong and positive atmosphere of female empowerment and emphasised the need to work hard together to achieve this common goal, after all, “The squeezing process makes you stronger and better,” said one of the panelists. The panel comprised esteemed female leaders from both the arts and the development sectors, namely Purity Kagwiria (Executive Director, Akili Dada), Dr. Mshai Mwangola (Research and Communication Officer, African Peacebuilding Network Hub - APN-Hub), Marion Op het Veld (Executive Director and Founder of Sarakasi Trust) and Margaretta wa Gacheru (art critic, author and cultural lobbyist). Following in the same vein as Githunguri’s keynote address, the panelists shared their own experiences in order to assist and bolster the efforts of women in the arts and cultural sector. One of the issues raised, that the panelists offered some practical solutions to combat, was the difficulty of managing a personal life and work life, particularly within traditional societies where the family roles of women restrict upward mobility to achieve positions of leadership. According to the panelists, surrounding oneself with reliable teams (both at home and at work) will produce a winning combination and lead to greater success. Dr. Mshai also reminded the audience that “leadership is not a new place for African women” and that they should “stop being apologetic.”
With regards to the AWCL programme itself, the panelists reiterated the importance of dedicated capacity building programmes that can address the needs and difficulties that women face. In addition, the panelists took time to congratulate the various successes of the 2016 mentees, Marie Sachet (Arterial Network Project Manager - Capacity Building) highlighted the following in particular:
Millicent Muthoni has created opportunities for herself as a media agent, consultant and advocate of the arts. Her writings have included articles for Music In Africa and a short story featured in the new African Writers Trust (AWT) anthology. She has also been invited to speak by various platforms, such as the Art Critics Forum and the Kenya Art Fair.
Faith Oneya has had two of her stories published in the East African Magazine and by the Nation Media Group, as well as a short story that was accepted by Kikwetu Journal. She is now planning to organise writing workshops for young people in disadvantaged areas.
Wambui Lamu has started an online lifestyle magazine that caters to those interested in natural hair and living - Hairpolitan Magazine - that has already been read by 7,000 visitors. She works closely with a team of nearly 10 to put the magazine out every two months.
Kawira Mirero has managed to grow the revenue and the brand of her business, Mambo Pambo, and start mentoring young interns. She has received a scholarship to study for a Social Impact Entrepreneurship MBA at the Catholic University of Milan in conjunction with Tangaza University in Kenya.
Nyokabi Githahu has managed to completely rebrand her beading business, Handcrafted Nyokabi African Beads, that is now represented in various shops across Nairobi and has begun approaching international platforms, while also organising a mentorship programme called Big Brother Big Sister.
Ivy Kimtai has strengthened her organisation, Young Clover Media, now working as an experiential marketing agency, the first of its kind in Eldoret. She was identified by Ashoka as one of the emerging social innovators for 2016.
Shery Abraham has started her own film production company and has already signed important clients. She is taking the time to get ready for TV and has produced three web series - one of which is already available online.
Susan Wanjiru has improved the focus of her company, Lokhem Kids Entertainment, and has explored multiple opportunities for partnerships. She is about to launch the second edition of a kids magazine and creative leadership programme that aims to impact a million children in the next five years.
Christine Gathiuni has developed the client base and products offering of her business, AFRI SHIQ. Meanwhile she has been using this entrepreneurial platform to empower people, a first group of former street boys has been offered counselling and training to engage with the business.
The awards ceremony proved to be an emotional moment for all present, participants reflected on all that has been achieved in the last year. Mentors and mentees alike were presented with individualised awards to show appreciation for their involvement in the programme and acknowledgement of their individual successes. The mentees gave moving speeches that gave thanks to the programme, and their mentors - taking the opportunity to express how their relationships with their mentors allowed them to push themselves and achieve more than they had expected. Wambui Lamu (mentee) reminded those present that, “it is actually very rare to have someone taking the time to listen to you, ask how you are doing and what you need.” Faith Oneya (mentee) shared that, “The AWCL programme opened up networks that I previously would not have had.”
In sharing her closing remarks about the programme, Marie Sachet urged the audience to ‘watch this space’: “We hope that after tonight you will continue to support AWCL, in Kenya, but also in the rest of the continent. We need a united voice in this fight, we all have a responsibility to assist the amazing talent of women in the arts to reach their full leadership potential.” Indeed, this is the crux of the matter - it is only in working together and benefitting from the lessons learned by women who have achieved positions of leadership within the arts and cultural sector that we can possibly hope to empower more women to follow suit.
Following the panel discussion, the evening closed with an informal cocktail event and performances, specifically a dance performance coordinated by the Sarakasi Trust, and a music and poetry performance by Labdi Ommes and Leila Maranga. The performances were dedicated to strong female role models.
Arterial Network would like to thank the mentees for 2016 who gave their trust, showed incredible dedication, and ultimately achieved professional growth, as well as the overall success of the programme. The 2016 mentees were: Millicent Muthoni, Christine Gathiuni, Nyokabi Githahu, Faith Oneya, Wambui Lamu, Kawira Mirero, Sue Wanjiru, Ivy Kimtai and Shery Abraham.
Special thanks must also be given to the programme coordinator in Kenya, Charity Wanjiru; the mentors for 2016, Sitawa Namwalie, Judy Ogana, Njoki Ngumi, Mutheu Mbondo and Sylvia Gichia; and the team at Creatives Garage for their partnership in bringing the programme to life.
The #AWCL2016 Closing Ceremony took place on Wednesday the 2nd of November 2016 at Pawa254, Nairobi, Kenya.
To view photos from the event, click here.
Photo Credit: Creatives Garage
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