“If your dreams do not scare you,… -As EJS Launches Ambitious Project – Presidential Center, The Amujae Initiative for Women Across Africa

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For the first time in two years a major international event that brought together well known dignitaries from around the world took place in Liberia at the Farmington Hotel in Margibi on March 8, 2020 -. The event was the launch of Ellen Johnson Presidential Center and its flagship – The Amujae Initiative, with its goal to inspire women to excel in the highest echelons of public leadership. Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the mastermind of ‘The Amujae Initiative’, sees the initiative as ambitious, driven, and unrelenting though, but noted, “We also have our fears, and self-doubts and only pretend to wear those “thick skins.” Madam Sirleaf admittedly recognized that when “we put ourselves in the public arena, we may lose control of our own narrative, and therefore must hold tight to our beliefs and values.” She however implored the Amujae futures who were just trained to “go out as Amujae leaders and claim it; because they have earned it.  In his introductory remarks, the Chairman of the Board of EJS Presidential Center, Mr. Seward Montgomery Cooper agreed that dreams leading to Sunday’s launching at the Farmington Hotel are scarily big, but added, that the size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them and pointed out using the famous quotation of Madam EJS that “if your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough”. Mr. Cooper however said the Center was founded to be a catalyst for change across Africa. The Analyst’s Managing Editor Stanley Seakor attended the occasion and reports.

The Weather was fairly sunny as convoys of dignitaries, especially foreign guests trooped to the Farmington Hotel near the Roberts International Airport (RIA) were dignitaries such as Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former US Ambassador to Liberia and former US Assistant Secretary of State Linda Greenfield, 15 international female future leaders trained by ‘The Amujae Initiative,” a proxy of Pastor Chris of Christ Embassy, the Dangote’ Group represented by Madam Fatima Wali-Adurraman – wife of  late former Nigerian designated Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia; Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director of the World Bank, and former Minister of Finance, Federal Republic of Nigeria and Dr. Antoinette Sayeh, Deputy Managing Director-designate of the International Monetary Fund, and former Minister of Finance, Republic of Liberia; amongst other dignitaries were received to graced last Sunday’s occasion.

Others include, President George Weah; Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor; Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi; Catherine Samba Panza, former President of Central African Republic; Speaker, President Pro-Tempore, and Honorable Members of the 54th Legislature; The Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia; The Dean and Members of the Cabinet; The Doyen and Members of the Diplomatic Corps; and US Ambassador Christine Elder, United States Ambassador to Liberia.

The glamorous occasion also started with reception of guests to the Conference hall of the hotel followed by the usual program format whereby Mr. Seward Montgomery Cooper, Chairman for the Board of Directors of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Center for Women & development introduced the occasion.  After Chairman Cooper, the next to come on the podium was Former President Sirleaf who proudly gave the inaugural remarks for her foundation with its Flagship – The Amujae Initiative.

Commencing her address, Madam Sirleaf reminded the audience of her remarks when received a prize in Nigerian for good leadership. “Friends, colleagues, participants in the Amujae Initiative, honored guests, fellow Liberians. In closing my remarks when I accepted the Mo Ibrahim prize, I said “this restless soul cannot rest as there is more work to do”.  In similar view, when leaving office as America’s first female Secretary of State, a journalist asked Madeline Albright, “how do you wish to be remembered?” She replied, “I don’t want to be remembered. I am still here and have much more I intend to do!”

She said those sentiments have driven the efforts that climaxed the launch for which they all gathered to be active participants in her bold endeavor. “Regardless of our ages, or where we come from, we are the same. We have so much more to do to lift women up in our own countries, in Africa and around the world,” she said.

Hear Madam Sirleaf: We are a proud bunch here.  We are ambitious, driven, and unrelenting. But we also have our fears, and self-doubts and only pretend to wear those “thick skins.” And we recognize that when we put ourselves in the public arena, we may lose control of our own narrative, and therefore must hold tight to our beliefs and values.

The former Liberian leader disclosed that the flagship program of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development – The Amujae Initiative –was established to inspire women to unabashedly and unapologetically excel in the highest echelons of public leadership, and stated that the ambition of founders is to help capable women across the continent achieve their goals in political life and public service, to provide a lift for emerging public leaders. “We aim to create a real and virtual space where women and girls can learn from, and lean on, one another, a network with peers across the continent. A place to gain skills in leadership organization, fundraising, research and polling techniques, and most importantly, become each other’s advocates and storytellers,” Madam Sirleaf averred.

She admitted that “such a place – a sense of true belonging – is something that I never had. And I know it did not exist for my dear sister Joyce Banda from Malawi. And Joyce and I have our war wounds to prove it! We both had to prove – over and over – that an African woman was capable of being a leader – in a corporation, in a political party, and finally as head of a nation. I believe Catherine has a similar experience”.

“Dear friends, it no longer needs to be that way. For future girls and women who desire to become leaders, to be changemakers, to move from the margins of relevance to the center of governance and political power – are resolved to bond, to unite in diversity for the achievement of a common good,” she emphasized, and expressed pride that “… as Patron, we will work with the African Women Leadership Network as a strong partner in this endeavor.”
In this vein, former President Sirleaf recognized the triumph of former Liberian Finance Minister Antoinette Monsio Sayeh, who last week was nominated to be the Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Saying that if Dr. Sayeh is confirmed, she will become one of the highest-ranking women in the world defining global economic policy, Madam Sirleaf indicated that the female Liberian financial expert has built upon a similar success of another member of our the EJS Board, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The first female African president implore the young female future leaders to make higher strides as they all are and can be Antoinette or Ngozi; “taking a chance for something bigger than yourselves, with the hope that you too can contribute to your countries and be a role model for the next generation of women and girls.”

Hoping to do more than inaugurating the opening of the Presidential Center and the Amujae Initiative, EJS said in closing that she is reminded of the words of Wangari Maathai, Kenyan scholar, environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who said, “I’m very conscious of the fact that you can’t do it alone. It’s teamwork. When you do it alone you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it.”

The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development was founded to be a catalyst for change across Africa, by helping unleash its most abundant untapped power — its women.

As the first democratically elected woman president in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led Liberia from 2006-2018. Having been recognized internationally for her leadership, she is passionate about supporting the next generation of women in public life across the continent.

Through a unique blend of programming, advocacy, and research, her presidential center seeks to become the premier institution dedicated to advancing and sustaining women’s public leadership and social development across Africa.

Introducing the program earlier, EJS Center Board Chair Mr. Cooper said it is almost a decade since Ellen Johnson Sirleaf dressed in regal purple took the podium and delivered her lecture when she received the Nobel Peace Prize, at which time she famously declared: “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

The Board Chair who said dreams for the EJS Presidential Center for Women & Development are scarily big, noted that they are dreams to build foundations to enhance women’s representation in public service through a project styled “Amujae”; dreams to create publicly available archives of her life’s activities – official, private, and professional; dreams of exhibitions that would help inform and inspire generations; and dreams to provide tools for research about EJS, and about her country, Liberia, our continent, and the world.

“We know each generation, each individual, through life’s journey, leaves a legacy. That legacy is reviewed through various prisms,” Mr. Cooper said, and added that invariably, the prisms are viewed with our biases. Biases founded on facts or perceptions.

“Those prisms might be too broadly developed after a full review of our times; or they might be narrowly constructed. In any event, in some measure posterity is made better or worse because we journeyed here,” he intoned, saying that a great challenge for humanity is to fairly assess others based on clear lenses not on skewed prisms.

“One might argue that, in fact, removing these prisms allows light to shine clearly through enabling more accurate perspectives. Perhaps it was with this in mind, Again, on the occasion of her Nobel Peace Prize, Madam Sirleaf urged: “If I might thus speak to girls and women everywhere, I would issue them this simple invitation: My sisters, my daughters, my friends, find your voices,” Mr. Cooper exclaimed

He said it is with those words and conviction that they Sunday gathering was possible on the International Women’s Day, to launch the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development.

“The Center was founded to be a catalyst for change across Africa, by helping unleash its most abundant untapped power — its women. The presidential center seeks to become the premier institution dedicated to advancing and sustaining women’s public leadership and social development across Africa.

“And so, here we all are as sisters and brothers, sharing a common humanity, seeking to unite efforts that ensure our mothers, sisters, and daughters participation in the public space will not be marginalized but centralized; that our mothers, sisters, and daughters will not be subordinated but will be full participants in building for our societies better and prosperous lives,” Mr. Cooper said

He maintained that “The Center’s first program, the Amujae Initiative, has begun this week. It intends to help shift the landscape for women in public leadership in Africa, moving from a culture of tokenism to one that truly values women leaders. Its mission is to inspire and prepare women to unapologetically take up roles and excel in the highest echelons of public leadership, and to bring other women along.”

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