Thursday, 1 September 2016

My Experience Volunteering with OXFAM for the African Women Leadership Symposium (AWLS)

The past 1o days have been an eye opening experience for me. I spent a week in the OXFAM Nairobi Offices volunteering with a team of great young people to make the African Women Leadership Symposium (AWLS) which was held in Safari Park on the 24th and 25th August a success.
If you follow what happens in the women’s movement closely, then you probably know that this was a huge symposium that brought together powerful women leaders from all over Africa to Nairobi including our very own Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Amina Mohammed and Cabinet Secretary for Defense, Raychelle Omamo.
Preparing for such an event has its ups and downs/pros and cons. The pros include the experience and the exposure you get of course dealing and meeting with high profile women leaders across Africa, the less empowering moments and experiences, well, read ahead!
The week at the Oxfam offices was intense, among other tasks included, putting up a list of all the women who would be attending and their details, including their flight details, organizing for their airport transfers, et al. We had a team from Oxfam who we worked directly with led by Saida Ali who was the project manager for the AWLS, who did a difficult job really well and set the standards for us.
One of the Cons according to my experience was the fact that we spent too much time working on the list that some of the other critical issues as the AWLS drew nearer fell through the cracks. For example, the final list was to have been sent to the printers for name tags printing sooner than it actually happened. At the beginning, part of the tasks the volunteers were given was to provide logistical support which included picking guests from the airport. This didn’t go as planned and due to some miscommunication, some guests arrived without having people to meet them at the airport, there was a case of a guest who arrived and found that she had no transport waiting for her at the airport, which resorted to her making her own arrangements to get to the hotel. At the same time, human is to error, but as a great mentor always tells me, some errors are expensive. If you ask me, this was an expensive error!
I met and networked with different women leaders, Ministers, former ministers, executive directors, etc. I have to say however, leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example. In my leadership training, I have learnt to be very keen and observant in my environs and surroundings, and honestly, I did not see the actions and the examples in some women I interacted with. I think I gave my total commitment and dedication during the symposium, I worked extremely hard, including late nights and early mornings to ensure that I delivered and that I did not disappoint the team I was working with
Over the years, I have learnt to always pursue excellence in everything that I do and getting reaffirmed goes a long way to ensure that excellence is pursued. Collectively, we got reaffirmed a lot by the Oxfam team we worked with during preparations of the AWLS.
I don’t know about the other individual volunteers but during the symposium, I met different women leaders who appreciated the support we were giving them to settle in, find their way, among others. They were polite and thanked us. But there were others who felt enough was not done for them and perhaps because of their status or professional positions, would feel offended if asked for their names or even denied a second conference bag. Which begs the question, isn’t leadership making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that the impact you make lasts even in your absence? Just as some Sisters were pleasant, others were dismissive and arrogant and made some of us volunteers feel very inadequate.
All in all, the Symposium was a huge success and I got very inspired by the stories told by younger sisters and older sisters. I took advantage of the space to network with powerful women in various sectors and learn from stories told and shared by different individuals. For this, I sincerely thank Saida Ali and the Oxfam team for such an opportunity for exposure, learning and experiencing African women’s leadership in action!

The Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of any agency.

Article by
Ivy Nyawira
RCWG Staff and Alumni 

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