Last week, Barnard hosted the inaugural Baraza: Young African Women’s Leadership Initiative, a two-day conference that brought together African college students from New York, and as far away as North Carolina and Georgia. Organized by Barnard students, the event aimed to connect these students with exceptional women leaders from around Africa. The event provided a forum for brainstorming ideas for entrepreneurial projects aimed at improving education, the environment, and women’s health, as well as increasing the participation of young women in business and politics throughout Africa.

Prior to the event, student organizers Clare Korir ’12 and Shilpa Guha ’12 answered a few questions about the Baraza, which is Swahili for “meeting.” An economics and history major, Clare is from Kenya. Last spring, she served as a student fellow at Barnard’s third annual global symposium, “Women Changing Africa.”  Shilpa is a political science and human rights major, and in March she will attend this year’s global symposium, “Women Changing India,” as a student fellow.

Clare, last spring you served as a student representative at Barnard’s symposium in Johannesburg.  How did this experience inspire you to plan this conference?
CLARE: For all of the student fellows, one of the big questions after the symposium was how we could bring the wonderful experiences that we had in Johannesburg back to campus. We were also looking for ways of applying some of the lessons we learned from the panelists and other people we met. Mbali Zondi (another student fellow) and I thought that it would be great to have a conference on campus to encourage young African women to give back to Africa. We approached Kathryn Kolbert of the Athena Center with the idea and she enthusiastically agreed to support it.

Shilpa, how did your involvement with planning this conference inspire you to apply to be a global symposium fellow at this year's program in Mumbai?
SHILPA: I heard a lot about “Women Changing Africa” from Clare, who is a close friend.  But taking part in the Baraza planning process, I really saw what an impact the global symposium could have -- it was clearly not just a one-time event; rather, it was an experience that had the potential to generate future ideas, projects, initiatives, and continue some incredibly important conversations. I just had to apply.

In what ways will this event continue/expand upon the conversations and connections that started at the Global Symposium last spring?  
CLARE: During “Women Changing Africa,” President Debora Spar posed a question to the panelists that really stuck with me.  She asked, “What can we say if we want to urge the next generation and our own generations to keep fighting for things?  What should they be fighting for? What should they be leaving this room inspired to go do?” I remember Gill Marcus, governor of the South African Reserve Bank, responded by saying that everyone in that room had a sphere of influence and that we have got to start where we were. As an African student in the US, this is my sphere of influence, and young women in the Diaspora are especially privileged with resources that could be used to effect positive change on the continent. So, it seemed as though a great start would be providing a platform for African female students to discuss and brainstorm ways of improving various facets of Africa, while also honoring and learning from those who have already established successful initiatives.

Who will be speaking at the Baraza and why do you think their experiences will interest Barnard students?
CLARE: Attorney General Athaliah Molokomme of Botswana will provide the keynote address. She is an extremely powerful woman to have on campus, because she exemplifies women’s leadership in many ways. Not only is she a leading figure in Botswana—a nation that is considered an African success story—but she has also been at the forefront of incorporating gender into various aspects of government and development in southern Africa.

SHILPA: There will also be a panel discussion among three leaders from organizations that serve African women. One is Susan Mboya, who was a panelist at last year’s global symposium--her appearance will be an exciting continuation of last year’s conversation. Mboya is an executive at Coca Cola, and the founder of Zawadi Africa International Fund, an organization that provides scholarships to African girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them attend U.S. colleges. Another panelist is Peg Snyder, a vice president on the board of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, an organization that supports market women’s efforts to rebuild their communities in post-war Liberia. With the recently awarded Nobel Peace Prizes that have highlighted the women’s movement in Liberia, hearing from Snyder will be timely and very inspiring. Kim Feinberg, another panelist, has developed a number of educational initiatives to promote tolerance and cultural sensitivity in post-apartheid South Africa. Her current initiative, The Tomorrow Trust, focuses on educating and supporting children affected by AIDS. 
The Baraza is sponsored by The Athena Center for Leadership Studies, with additional support from Barnard’s Department of International Programs.