Last week was a watershed for early-career women working at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In partnership with the African Union Commission (AUC), over 30 women in the 2022 AfYWL cohort participated in a leadership workshop in Kigali. This leadership program was established in 2019 to equip outstanding young African women leaders with the leadership skills and experience required to contribute effectively to decision-making in public, private and multilateral institutions. It is in line with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It builds on the AU’s “1 Million Next Level” initiative that seeks to connect 300 million young Africans to opportunities in education, employment, entrepreneurship, health, and well-being.

My experience in women’s leadership spaces in Africa has helped me see that there are two key moments in a woman’s career where she may leave the workforce or stop an upward trajectory of advancement. First, there is a weak bridge linking female university graduates with their first job out of school. Second, insufficient family support means many women stop working or stop advancing after the birth of their first child. If women can overcome these two hurdles, their chances of being leaders and decision-makers in their fields are greater.

In support of African women in international development and policy-making, I was honored to lead a session for the Fellows on “Empowering Networks Among Women Leaders for Sustainable African Development.” The participants’ energy and engagement were contagious. They asked insightful and relevant questions, and we did experiential activities in which they practiced networking skills in real time. For example, we modified how they introduce themselves to new people, switching from the “name, job title, organization” model to the model I teach my students at ALU. Instead of using your current job as your identity, introduce yourself with an active verb that tells me what social justice or global challenge your work solves.

“Hi, I’m Esther and I am an accountant for my government ministry” becomes, “Hi, I’m Esther and I monitor government spending to reduce potential corruption in my country. This ensures tax revenue is used to provide vital social services to the vulnerable citizens who need them.”

Such a difference, right?

We also discussed how to identify and foster a relationship with a mentor, how to compose a cold email to a new contact, how to design and market our abilities online, and how to grow our careers with grace in an ever-changing global marketplace for development. Of course, the greatest beneficiary of our workshop was me, as I was able to better know these incredible women improving development practices across Africa.