Positive Leadership

Unlocking human potential through mentorship (with Angeline Murimirwa)

December 20, 2023 Jean-Philippe Courtois Season 8 Episode 1
Positive Leadership
Unlocking human potential through mentorship (with Angeline Murimirwa)
Show Notes Transcript

There's no substitute for lived experience, and Angeline Murimirwa as CEO of the Campaign for Female Education, CAMFED, is an incredible role model for the network of young African women she mentors and supports.

On the latest episode of the podcast, JP speaks with her about the principles and practicalities of collective leadership, and how the game-changing model of sisterhood is breaking the cycle of poverty.

Subscribe now to JP's free monthly newsletter "Positive Leadership and You" on LinkedIn to transform your positive impact today: https://www.linkedin.com/newsletters/positive-leadership-you-6970390170017669121/

JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Hello and welcome to another edition of Positive Leadership, the podcast that helps you grow as an individual, as a leader, and ultimately as a global citizen. Angeline Murimirwa is CEO of CAMFED, the Campaign for Female Education. It is an incredible Pan African movement that supports young women facing poverty and inequality to gain independence and confidence and to become changemakers in their own communities and beyond. 

CAMFED builds a support network around girls from the moment they enter the classroom to years after they graduate. Collective leadership and mentoring, is a major part of their model. The CAMFED alumni have formed what they call a Sisterhood. But they were given it, to pass on, to make sure that girls don't have to walk that path alone. 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Because in the communities that we grew up in, there are no relatable role models to even signal what it could be. And thanks to the CAMFED Association, we have got breathing, talking, young women that are in these communities. I was in Malawi last week and all the traditional leaders I met, kept saying, "Oh, you know, we've got our daughters who have just graduated from university." 

"You know, this medical doctor at this local hospital is" - So it was amazing to see communities also see just this power. So, this Sisterhood is not just actively keeping girls in school itself. It's also modeling and embodying what's possible for these rural communities where girls never went that far. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Angeline models and embodies those possibilities herself. Before she became CEO of CAMFED, she was one of the first girls in Zimbabwe that the organization helped to attend secondary school. And I was really excited to speak to her about the principles and practicalities of collective leadership and how the game changing Sisterhood is breaking cycles and molds. 

It's an amazing conversation. She shares lots of incredible insights about how to unleash people's potential, and how to drive impact at scale, and how to go about measuring that impact. There's also lots here about mentorship too, about the skills you need for successful mentoring, how to build a solid base of trust with a mentee. 

And importance, authenticity and vulnerability in leadership. So, let's start, Angie, by talking a little bit about your own circumstances growing up and the challenges you face with your family, the role played by your parents and expectation they had of you as a girl a few years back? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Wow, feels like decades ago. 

So, I grew up in rural Zimbabwe. I'm the first in my family. So, I was born to subsistence farmers, which basically means that we grew enough for us to be able to eat. When we were lucky in those years, would have enough to then sell so that you could pay school fees and levies and all of that. But I just want to be able to say that I had very ambitious and supportive parents. They always supported me through and through.  

And then talking about expectations of my own education, it was a very funny mix. So when they were unguarded, they would tell me about all the wonderful, beautiful things I could do with my education. But there was always a temperance, you know, anticipation and expectation, given our, you know, financial circumstances as a family. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Any particular memory you have in mind, either of your mom and dad, in terms of their expectations, going to school, succeeding, and doing more?  

ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Well, I'll tell you about my mom. So, my mom only went as far as Grade 6. You know, and so, coincidentally, my mom's Grade 6 teacher was also my Grade 6 teacher. And he was the first person who really made me understand how bright my mom was, but also the injustice of her not having the means to go to the next Grade. 

So, you know, he would always say, “You know what? If only your mommy had gotten the opportunity, you would see where she would be.” And, you know, she would say to me, “There was no reason why I wouldn't be the minister, or I couldn't be the president.” But you know, poverty, poverty just cuts your life like that. 

Those were the unguarded days, I should say. And then she would say, “There's no reason why you can't be that. You know, with your ambition, with everything. And you've got me to support you.” And then very quickly she would say, “You know, but we work hard to give you what you need. So, it was painful to see that about my mom. 

And I grew up actually thinking she had migraine headaches, because on the days that I would come back with my school report having passed very well, she would say, oh, congratulations and everything. And when she went to bed, in the morning she would come up and her eyes are red, and she would be sneezing. And she'd say, “Oh, it's my allergies again.” 

But it was, I think just her reliving her life, and just saying, “I don't want what happened to me to happen to my daughter.” So those are some of the things that I remember from my childhood. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It's wonderful to hear the role modeling of your mom, obviously, and the fact that she had extreme ambitions for you already very young, and that you live up to those ambitions for sure. 

It's obvious, Angie, listening to you, we discussed together before, that you work super hard. And you also enjoyed your primary school, but did you realize at the time in primary school that you are supposed to stop studying one day? And how did you and your family hear about CAMFED, which was to eventually change the trajectory of your life? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: That’s interesting. So, I knew without a shadow of doubt that my days at school were numbered. I knew, because of our financial means, we're even struggling to keep me in primary school. At secondary school you needed more things. So, I knew that actually I had very few years to stay in primary school. And so, for me, one critical example that I can give is when I got my Grade 7 results. This is the final year of primary school in my country.  

So, I got my Grade 7 results. I had straight, you know, ones, which was, like straight A's. And when I got the results at this primary school, it was the first time that they had these results at that school, it was a very remote school. And so, you know, at the school, we had the other parents from the community who had come to celebrate and congratulate me. And so, they gave me the results and I started crying. And, you know, everybody was thinking that I was crying because was overjoyed. But for me, it was just a bittersweet memory because I knew this was going to be the end of the road. I had set out to say, “I'm going to go out with a bang.” It might be just my final year at school, but I'm going to go with the best results possible. And fortunately, you know, just to say at that point, that's also when CAMFED was being introduced in my community. 

I got the financial commitment to say, you know, we'll support you through high school. We'll provide for the first time new decent clothes, uniforms. We'll provide the school fees, the stationery. It was just too good for me at that time to be true. And I'd never heard of anything like that. That's why it just didn't simmer into my head that I really could go on with my education at that time. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It must have been one of the biggest days of joy in your life, I guess, Angie, right? At the time. And I can almost imagine you and your parents celebrating that day saying, wow, Angie is going to go to the next level.  


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: It was. I just think, you know, it's - One thing that I learned from my mother is to do the best with what you had. And I had lived up to that. 

I had - You know, I missed knowing that there is nothing beyond this. I had gotten into school and given it the best I could with all of me. So yes, I was super happy about that. But also at the same time, you know, I didn't hear about the opportunity. I didn't know it. I didn't get through until weeks later, but just, it was so surreal, you know, when you get good news and you still don't believe it, and you spend - Even when I went to high school, a couple of weeks and months, I just kept thinking, maybe, maybe they'll come back and say it was a mistake, maybe there's something I'm not seeing, you know. That fear of it being taken away again, that's not fair. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Angeline grew up in a marginalized world community. That's where poverty at place where 95% of girls in the community don't finish secondary school. The odds were stacked against her. Getting the chance to progress with her education was like a dream come true. What often happens when you find that you are one of the few that gets the opportunity to beat the odds? 

Well, you suddenly find this enormous weight of expectation upon your shoulders. And there's an idea that you need to succeed, not only for yourself, But for everyone in your community, and that can be overwhelming. 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: I left so many other girls behind. Girls that were equally good in my class that also deserved the opportunity. 

So, you carry with you, almost survivors’ guilt that, you know, who am I to get this chance? So, when we talk about weight of expectations, it's not just coming from external. It's also coming from the recognition that I'm the first of my kind to have this opportunity. And because of that, you are everybody's business in your community. 

Everybody is into your business. Everybody wants to know how well you're doing, but also you are everybody's pride. And they're like, “Oh, do you know, she's from our community.” “Look at what she's doing.” So, it's - They mean well, but you're conscious of the fact that this is not just about me. 

And I tell you, like for me, particularly, it's a very personal level. It was the fact that my parents had to sell the last maize that they had to provide blankets and toothbrushes that I needed for school. So just getting into school and knowing everybody is sacrificing so much for me to go through this. And they keep saying, you know, just go and do your best. That's what they said. But I know that's not it.  

Everybody’s waiting for that particular day when you come through school, you know. So, it’s that weight of expectations. And I just want to say it was so helpful, and it's still very helpful. That comfort supports you as a group. 

So, I wasn't the only person at the school. We were like 21. So, there were 20 other girls at the school. So, you get a peer group that you can talk about all these feelings, all these emotions. We were quite fortunate because we're the first group, right, at that time. So, at that time, there was a teacher at my school who had also gone through a scholarship program. 

So, he got into a class and just said, “I know most of you are feeling like you don't belong.” You're feeling like why?” You know, “Is the sacrifice worth it?” But I want you to know that you need to see what you can do with these four years of your secondary school so you can go back better and address what is worrying you. 

Or you can spend this four years pity-partying, crying, and so, lose the opportunity, and waste the opportunity. So, this weight is so real. At times, it's implicit. But you know it, you feel it, and you see it. And you need others to carry it with you. Otherwise, you're so daunted by it that you can't even use the opportunity that you've got to break it. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, it's fantastic to hear about the super important role, I guess, of your teacher, right? To give you confidence, to give you the right, the permission to think about your future as something that, you know, that is for you actually to build. And also, the deep connection. Imagine. We'll come back to that later, Angie, with the community, the local community, which is so proud of what you're going to do and also needing you as a role model. So, talking about role model, as you successfully achieve your studies, I'm sure that along the way, you've been probably, you know, supported, helped, mentored by some key people to achieve your goals, to overcome some big obstacles. 

Can you talk to me about the pair of role models in your own life, right? And who was a mentor and a role model for you growing up and maybe still today? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: I’ve been so lucky, you know, in spite of growing up in poverty to have had so many people that supported, anchored and mentored me. And just talking about role models, it helps to have a relatable role model. Somebody who you actually feel understands what you're talking about. It comes without words. Somebody who embodies, probably what you have gone through. You know, where you see, actually, this person could be me, and this is what they have done, and they can speak to my life, not just in words, but also by who they have become. So, for me, one of my role models always remains my mom. 

So, in spite of the fact that she didn't get the education she needed, she made good use of what she had, and she never felt sorry for herself. You know, except in those unguarded moments when she would say, “If only I got that.” But it was never a common narrative for her. She would say, “I'm here, I'm alive, this is now, I'm going to do the best that I can.” It ends with me. 

You know, so that was really powerful. And she continues to be my role model all the time. And she always had this saying, you know - I'm going to say it in my language. She'd say, [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE 00:13:31,693] In other words, we should not be afraid of the showers. We've been through the storm. 

So, she kept reminding me of this that every single day, I have learned something. I'm more powerful. I've survived, so I can survive again. And then another role model for me is Barbara Chilangwa. She has been permanent secretary of Education in Zambia. She has been ambassador for Zambia. She has been regional chair for the Global Partnership Education. All these crazy, big, mega, you know, powerful positions.  

But one thing that I learned from her is how she wears her power. There is no ego there in the room. She's extremely humble, and she keeps the mission in mind. So, unless you are told this is all the things that she has done, these are all the things that she's doing, you would not see it. 

But she is very powerful at ensuring that results are achieved in the most collaborative, in the most humble, but in the most powerful manner. 

So, I'm a collection of various individuals that have held me to where I am today, but those are the two people that I could mention today. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Mentorship is fundamental to the CAMFED model. The CAMFED Association, which is made of alumni, young women with the organizational of help through their education, volunteer to support the next generation. These sisters, as Angeline calls them, offer a shoulder for younger girls to lean on, giving them encouragement and advice and supporting them financially. 

The CAMFED Sisterhood started out with 400 members in Sub Saharan Africa in 1998. Today, it is a quarter of a million. By the end of this decade, that number will be half a million. The numbers are just staggering. 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: I love the Sisterhood. And it's one of the aspects of my life that I'm so proud of. So, these are young women with lived experience of exclusion, but also what education can do in meaningful communities. 

So, what we do as a Sisterhood, as sisters, besides supporting each other, is ensuring that the next generation is accompanied through this tumultuous journey, through education. So, at the education level in the schools, you know, young women go - Like these young women, these sisters, as learner guides, they go back to schools and support learners socially within the classroom. 

So, if a child is having challenges in terms of understanding a particular subject - We still have challenges of big class sizes. This big sister will sit with the child and make sure that they catch up with the others. But also, if there are issues with attendance, the young sister will visit home and make sure that, you know, issues that are there are dealt with, discussed, if there are morale issues, if they're financial, they meet that. 

But for me, most importantly is the fact that each of the young women in this Sisterhood, right, CAMFED Association, financially supports the education of three other girls from their own individual resources. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: One, two, three is a relationship between one sister and three girls, right? One, two, three.  


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Yeah. So, every one sister that supports at least three other girls every single year. 

So, this is the massive multiplier that we have got as an organization.  


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It is so powerful again to see this huge network effect. The systemic change is a big opportunity, and I know that CAMFED is driving that. So, Angie, you talked about finishing school is actually just the start of a challenging journey for the girls to support. 

But every sister that graduates or gets a job makes it easier, as you said, for the other girls to start their journey. You know, last year I had the opportunity to host someone you may know called Reshma Sojani, who is a founder of Girls Who Code, in the US, and a bestseller author of Brave Not Perfect. 

And then she launched the Marshall Plan for Moms. A very comprehensive plan for economic, societal recovery for mothers, pay equity, basic leave, affordable childcare, and so on and so forth for moms. Anyway, she had an incredible story. Her parents came from, actually, Uganda. So, there are some roots in Africa as well. 

And, you know, when she was a kid, she was attacked at school by one of the girls who bullied her. And her parents didn't call the police. And that's when she became a warrior because she didn't understand why she should be the victim that she should be bullied. And she was just 12 years old. And she started to lead her first march in the US as an activist. And in your case, you know, I'm really moving from the US to Africa, a different context, for sure. In your case, as you completed your education with high Grades, you could have done almost anything. I mean, we could feel your energy in terms of capability and drive. So, what was your own trigger, Angie, that made you decide to do what you do today? 

Because it really sounds like a calling, right? Like a vocation.  


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Well, I lived it, right? I lived this. I saw the difference it could make. And I think for me, one of the key moments where I was like, oh, I'm going to do this at scale, you know, or die trying, was when we launched the CAMFED Association. And the 400 young women who were in the room elected me to be their very first national chair. 

For me that affirmed that they saw there is potential in me for me to galvanize all of us to do this at scale. That was a vote of confidence and trust. I had been a reluctant leader, I think, from primary school, secondary school and all of that. I didn't like to volunteer for leadership, partly because, you know, I always never had the right clothes to wear. 

So, I just thought it put me too much in the limelight. But getting my sisters, the 400 of them at that time, saying, Angie, we have agreed we are going to do three things as a network. We are going to support each other. We are going to become the best we can be individually, either in employment, in education, in entrepreneurship. 

And thirdly, we are going to support the next generation. And yes, we want you to be our chair, was transformative for me. So, I was like, “Okay, fine. I take the challenge.” And so how are we going to do this? And that has always shaped how I do things. Because for me, it's never about what I know or my skills or everything. 

It's about how can we all come together and create something bigger than ourselves. And, and I believe education is the key. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yeah, I mean, it's a fantastic story, I think, about the way that your peer community, right, of sisters elevated you as a leader. They elected you as a leader. And I think to me, that's so much powerful in terms of leadership is when people rally for you, rally for a leader, and naturally going to someone that they believe will do always the best for them, will always care for them, and will drive the agenda forward. So wonderful, I think, reference to that leadership by example, coming from a peer community, actually. You know, CAMFED's story is truly inspiring for anyone who wants to build a systemic change, which I referred to that before. 

It was founded in 1983 by Ann Cotton of OBE. It began in Zimbabwe with scholarships to a group of 32 girls. And by 2023, the support has been extended to more than 6.4 million children through network partner schools in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi. Tanzania and Zambia. CAMFED as an organization has literally grown up with the first girls supported through school, which is the story you told us. 

So, would you mind sharing with us what did it take to transform a tiny, wonderful NGO in Zimbabwe, once in a time, to one of the largest girls support education network in Africa? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Everything, and everybody. I usually just - Let me try and summarize it probably into just three things. It took the leadership. And for me, this is the leadership of the young women that have come through the system. 

We were basically saying it shouldn't end with us. How do we multiply and take this at scale and all of that. It took governance because we have always, as an organization, been accountable to the most disadvantaged, most marginalized girl in the program. It's always about how do we meet her where she is and transform her life. 

How do we work with her? What does she need? And we are also very aware as an organization of the power imbalance in our sector. So, we remain sensitive to it. It might be how we engage with parents. It might even be how we engage with governments and how we engage with each other in that sector. And the third thing, to be honest, in fairness, has been, you know, funding and investments by multiple partners, and I can talk about Audacious, Co Impact, Hilton Humanitarian Prize, Yidan Prize for Education. 

So, it's those three things, you know, leadership of the young women. We're at the center of this. We don't need any motivation, any external pressure, we're educating the next generation anyway. So, it's not just the evidence of our impact, it's the driver of the transformation and governance, and the continued funding that we continue to receive. 

So, I would say, you know, for summary purposes, those are the three things that have moved us from being an organization supporting 32 girls in two schools to the organization that has supported over six million girls in over 7000 schools across five countries and growing. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: You know, it sounds so simple, and I know it's so hard. 

What has been, in your mind, the key game changer? Whether it is about the leadership model itself. What is a secret sauce or the governance or the execution model? What would you pick as the game changer, one point in the trajectory of CAMFED that got you where you are today? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Accountability to the girls. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Accountability to the girls. 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Accountability to the girls and appreciation of this is where they are at, and this is who they can become. 

And it's not about us doing things for them. It's how do we do this with them? That has been the mega game changer for CAMFED. The fact that, actually, right now as we speak, two thirds of the girls that we support are supported by this constituency of girls and young women, has been the game changer. And we do this with communities, not in spite of communities. 

So, we bring communities into this. It's how do we bring and rally communities, governments, you know, funding partners and everybody around this girl's needs, aspiration and ambition. That has been the game changing. And it's that stubborn commitment to this girl, all of her, not bits of her, the holistic support she needs to be everything that she can be and how we believe that is possible. I would say that's what has kept us where we are at and kept us achieving and delivering because it's always, you know, a place of mutual celebration with everybody involved to say, we've done it, let's do it again. Let's do bigger, better, faster as we go in every single year. 

So that's been the rallying point of our movement. 

JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I think it's such great wisdom you shared right now, Angie. You know, I've been, myself, passionate about NGOs, philanthropy organizations for a number of years in my life. I've always witnessed the way some NGOs do scale with impact, and some don't. And I'm 100 percent with you on the fact that whenever those wonderful, you know, NGOs hold themselves accountable for the success of their beneficiaries of the cause and keep that as a north star. And get really in order, all the stakeholders to execute accordingly, to drive that success with the expected outcome. This is when you get some magical result. I think what you just said and what CAMFED does is a beautiful example of that theory but put in reality. So, that's really powerful. 

Let me continue. You know, one of the criticisms sometimes leveled at those working development is that they see themselves as rescuers. They fail to understand that people are the masters of their own destiny in many ways. Recently, I was speaking, I think, to someone, you know, well, Rita Roy, CEO of the MasterCard Foundation about this, and she was keen to emphasize the need for humility when organizations come into work with the community. 

So, to remember, as she says, we are not here to change somebody or change an institution, but we are really here to enable that change. So, Angie, can you tell me about your own approach with the community? And how do you create a positive environment for them to feel part of the process so that they can enable the change? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: And by the way, I love Rita Roy. You know, she's one of the people that I really respect in the sector. Her humility is, you know, something that, you know, I think a lot of people has to learn from, especially when you look at all the resources that she commands. And coming back to my leadership approach, I believe, and so does the organization, fundamentally, that there is latent potential in everybody. 

We should not let poverty or marginalization blind us from the very fact that there is potential in everybody to be whoever they want to be, whenever they want to be. So, the approach for me is how do we enable people to live their best lives. Don't confuse a lack of material means for lack of vision, for lack of aspirations, for lack of dreams. Those two things are not the same. 

So, it's about respect. It's about respecting people for who they are, but also ensuring that, you know, none of us is Chuck Norris or Spider Man or Catwoman. We can't do this on our own. How do we collaborate with others in other spaces to be able to bring the best that we can, while we can. 

We are all on this earth for a very limited time. And so how do we ensure that we bring all the expertise that we can, all the other people that we can, to be able to achieve what we can in our lifetime at the scale that we can, at the pace that we can, at the quality that we can. There is no room for Martyrdom or Messiahs here. This is about life. 


So how do we partner for the greater good? Because we rise or fall together as humanity.  

JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Talking to Angeline, I was struck by the importance of this collaborative approach, which underpins our leadership philosophy. And listening back, it's clear that this collective action and movement she's been creating is enormously powerful. 

As human beings, we all want to feel connected to both ourselves, and to others. We want to feel that we are part of something important and that we are making a difference in the world. Angeline is doing it, and she's generating so much positive energy in the process. And I'm really struck by the humility here. 

The question Angeline comes back to again and again is, how can you help individuals live their best lives? In order to draw impact, you also need to measure impact. So, I wanted to ask Angeline how CAMFED measures the impact of its programs on the lives of the young women it supports. What is the success she's most proud of in terms of impact at scale? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: So, we have got a rigorous monitoring and evaluation process as an organization. We run longitudinal surveys, snapshot surveys, do deep dive research, whatever we can to be able to look into, what is it that has enabled us to achieve this impact, and how can we replicate it at scale, but also how can we share it with others and, you know, other lessons in the sector. 

So, for us, in terms of some of the things that I'm so proud of in CAMFED. It's not just that we have got breathing, living human beings that are now advocates for education, that have come through the process. So, we have not just talked about girls’ education. We have supported girls’ education and have got young women leaders to prove for it, that are themselves going and multiplying this at phenomenal scale. 

And just to say that of all the partner schools that we work with, girls are three times less likely to drop out of school, in the schools that we work in. So that's one huge impact as well. So, it's not just the individual girl. It's also the system within which they work, but also just talking about livelihoods. 

So, we work with agripreneurs. These are young women that work with communities to be able to look into how do they increase their yields in the most climate smart, sensitive approach. And just last year, we did a survey and over 99 percent over agripreneurs reported increased yields. So, this is not just increased yields while also taking care of the climate aspects of it, but it's so significant in our communities because yields represent livelihood. When there is hunger, you know, there is, you know, like all these issues around food crisis and all that. When there is hunger, the first people that suffer are girls are pulled out of school. 

So, when you have got agripreneurs who are increasing yields, we know that also spills over into the number of children that communities can keep in school. So, for me, the success is not just for the individual girls, is what it means for the communities, and what it means for the country. The fact that we have got over 100 thousand young women in leadership positions, young women who are starting businesses, who are creating employment, for me is - 

You know, it has proved that, you know, it's not just for the girls, it's for the entire nation. I know this has been said a lot. “Educated girl, educated nation.” CAMFED embodies it, illustrates it, and demonstrates it.  


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: As we prepare the podcast together, you shared with me your passion for systems change that you want to achieve. 

And at the core of it, we just discussed, it's poverty, which then is combined with traditions as well that drives families to make some hard choices, such as not sending their girls to the schools as they cannot afford it. So, what's your approach to drive such a huge systemic change society? Particularly what kind of partnerships? You know, education support system, coaching, behavioral changes you are putting together to change the game? And what are those transformational partnerships that are truly helping you to achieve what CAMFED has been able to achieve today?  


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Well, like I said to you, we are big on partnerships as an organization. We want this change for as many girls on the continent and beyond as fast as possible. 

So, for us, in terms of our systems change work, we are looking at how do we ensure that we get amazing results. So, for example, in Zimbabwe, we just got grant agent status for their girls education acceleration program. Which is looking into how do we support as many girls as possible in this time. And this is funded by the Global Partnership for Education.  

In Malawi, we are working with the government to look into social support for girls in school. How do we ensure in a context where so few girls go up to secondary school or even complete primary school. How do we ensure that those that are in school can get socially supported by the few survivors of a system staked against them, to be able to increase the numbers that, you know, like also graduate, but also graduate with better quality results. And we're expanding our program with funding from the World Bank into the education ministry in Malawi into over 2, 600 other schools on, how do you work with learner mentors to support learners socially to stay in school. 

So, even from the work that we have done as an organization, we are looking at how do we take this at scale widely because we've seen that it brings results for girls. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, I think to me, it's almost the ultimate proof point, Angie, about NGO impact. Whenever you get to a point where your impact measurement that you talked to us about before, right, which is very precise in terms of livelihoods, in terms of, as well of poverty levels going down. 

Well, you get the right permission to be funded by public services, by governments, by the World Bank, because in a way, you've been proving that you have such an effective model, which is more effective than many government problems, by the way, do that you can become a trusted partner. of such organizations. 

So, hats down on what you do, because it's pretty amazing to see the model you’ve built.  

You know, recently I was lucky enough to have a guest, I think, who is also someone you know well on the podcast, Dr. Fumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, the former Executive Director of UN Women and Deputy President of South Africa. And like you, she's a great believer in the importance of playing it forward. 

And she's also been a key mentor all of her life. She said that she gets a great deal out of being a mentor, more in fact than the person she's mentoring. So together we discuss about two role models you had before, but now we're going to turn the table on you as a mentor, right? What have you got out of being a mentor yourself? 

And what have been your learning along the way? And what do you advise for people to be a more effective mentor? What is your best practice as a passionate mentor, Angie?  


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Well, that's interesting. And I've had the privilege of mentoring, but also being chosen by, you know, various girls and to be honest, boys as well, to be their mentor. 

And one of the things that I have learned in effective mentoring is, make them understand that you are human, that you are not a god, you know. And be transparent about your lessons, your errors, your mistakes, you know, what you have learned. And where you are confused, your anxieties, what you didn't know, because unless we make it real, there is almost a sense of an unattainable capacity to lead or to transform. 

So, keep it real. Be authentic about it, but also respect individual autonomy for them to be who they want to be, how they want to be. So, I see my role as a mentor for me as, you know, how do we remove the mud? How do we get to the person inside, that's there, that probably like, you know, from what has happened or not happened, you're starting to doubt that person can. 

So, it's all about how do we get to that person in between. But it's them, it's not me trying to create other Angie’s and all of that. And I take an approach in life that every single day I want to do the best that I can. So, when I go to bed and I hit the pillow, I'm empty, I've used today's potential. 

So, I have no interest in replicating me in anybody else. So as a mentor, you also need to keep it in mind that this is an independent, autonomous person, and I need to allow them to be the best possible them, to bring to the world the best version of themselves, the greatest change as they aspire. It's not about me creating all these mini mini. It's not about that. I don't need to do that. 

I need to do my best. Let this person do their best. My role is if I should be just a cheerleader and remind them of the fact that even I make mistakes. Even I am anxious at times. And at times I'm confused, at times I don't know. So, it's good to be able to keep it real that you know - And that leadership is not positional, right? 

It's not, you know - You're appointed CEO is my job, but that's not meaning that I'm a leader. It doesn't follow like that. So, I have learned a lot from, you know, like girls and other young women that I've mentored. It's helped me to reflect on my own journey as they share on theirs and to realize that, oh, yeah, I'd forgotten I went through similar. So, I appreciate that. It's been mutual learning. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That’s such a valuable insight, and I 100 percent agree with Angeline here. At the end of the day, the goal of the mentor is to unleash the potential of the person you are working with, to enable them to grow as a person. And showing your own vulnerabilities, your own mistakes, not only makes you more human in the eyes of your mentee, but it helps develop trust.  

A key element of mentorship is encouraging the mentee to overcome any self-doubt that may be hindering their career development. Sharing your own stories of failure and success can really help to do that. You know, continuing a bit of the discussion, CAMFED programs span across social justice to economic development, all the way to climate action. 

As a matter of fact, you've been advocating the role for women to become the ultimate climate change fighters. Can you elaborate on why you believe that educated girls will be the best champions and the most effective at addressing the root cause issues of climate change in Africa? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Well, I know this because women pay the price for climate change. 

They know what it feels like. They know the reality of it. So how do we empower them so that this is not happening to them, but they have got tools to bounce back, tools to protect themselves, and tools to galvanize communities around them. So, this is basically taking the same network approach, the same aura and drive, I've seen, drive education from our work and saying, “Let's take it to climate.” And to say that CAMFED’s engagement with climate was driven by young women that came through the program that are climate experts themselves. So, it's, I believe that because they've lived the effects and have seen what happens when you're in control, that's why you know, women will make the best advocates for climate change. 

But I also just want to say that, you know, for me, it's women in partnership with men. It's not supposed to be women's burden to bear. And for us as an organization, it's never been about, okay, women, girls carry this alone. 

The CAMFED Association works with traditional leaders who are predominantly men. We have where traditional leaders actually donate lands to our young women when they get to understand how most of the young women don't own lands. Like how women don't own land in Africa. So, when traditional leaders get it and say, oh, actually we need to donate this land to young women, for me, we’re winning. 

So, it's about all of us in our differences coming together and saying, how do we do better as we go forward?  


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, you know, you made me think that, and I had a few of the discussion with a few leaders across Africa last six, nine months, that climate change in Africa, there's no playbook. And the only playbook that could be done has to probably be designed, invented by both those girls and also use entrepreneurship, I think in Africa, but with many young entrepreneurs in Africa. 

And they leave the challenges of climate change every day in their lives. They know what it is, they understand what are the implications of that in their livelihoods, in terms of social challenges as well, beyond the mere pollution, of course, and everything else. And I do believe this is very powerful to harness the potential of such organizations like CAMFED and others to really think through the way real solutions can be brought about with those changemakers, our network of young girls and others.  


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: Yeah, I like that. You know, I always say there's no substitute for lived experience. We can't make the assumption that people don't feel the impact or are not panicked. They are. So that's usually, I think where the challenge is where people think, oh, people don't understand, we're going to make them understand the value of education or what - No, no, we know way too deeply, and to painfully what that means. So don't lecture. Can we talk about what we can do now?  


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: No, it's so true. I mean, so true about the power, again of those live experiences. And I think we need to enable those lives again. 

So, we're coming almost to an end, Angie. I've got a couple of more questions before we end. I'd like you to go back a little bit more. You've been already sharing some of your traits of leadership during our conversation. But I love to learn even more about the way you've been learning yourself, right, to become a leader. 

So, talk to me about your leadership ethos and principles and the lessons, a couple of the key lessons you learned along the way about the best way to become a very effective leader that you are today.  


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: For me, the most powerful lesson I learned is that there is no model for leadership. 

There is no template we all need to fit in. I need to be authentic in my leadership. That's the most important thing. I need to be me as I lead, and to be the best me possible because that allows others to be who they are and be the best that they can be. Always look into what if, what if, what if I could. 

So, for me, I believe that every single day I learned something new so I can go tomorrow and do better. And, you know, learn to also forgive yourself when you've made errors and acknowledge that, “Oh, yeah. If I knew better, I would have.” So next time do the “I would have,” you know. So don't get all stuck up in perfection. Be, do, be present and do all of that.  

And the second thing that you already mentioned is collective, collective leadership. It can be very lonely. And nobody is expecting anybody to play God, right? So, I feel that at times leaders tend to think that I need to do this alone. For me, I love being a member of the CAMFED Association because I've got over a quarter of a million young, like other young women, like quarter of a million sisters who are keeping me in check. 

You know, who can like, you know, always like, “What was that about?” Or, you know, like just before I came on this call, one of them was like, “What kind of hairstyle is that?” And she started fixing my hair. So, it's, you know, you've got people that don't care about titles or whatever, people that just are going to keep it real with you every single time, and you're also going to keep it real with them. 

So, it's not just collective leadership with other organizations, with other like-minded people, but also have a tribe, have a sisterhood, have a brotherhood, whatever it is that will help you to, what's going to fill up your tank, but also where you can go with your tears, your confusions, your anxieties and all of that, and know that they will pick you up. 

You know, they find me in pyjamas and just say, “Actually, you know, you messed up last time, but how can you fix this?” You need that Sisterhood. So, for me, I see myself as so lucky to have all this constituency of young women and to know that I don't have to be or do everything because there is all these other young people, all these other organizations that are working on this. 

And my duty is just to turn up and do the best that I can. So for me, I believe in that. And I also believe that we need to ensure that it is about the child all the time. And this is something that, you know, I always want our sector to understand. It's not about whether CAMFED does better than this other organization or this agency. 

No, it has never been about us. It's always about the child. So how do we all come together to improve the outcomes for the children in our lifetime. 

And just a final point, you know, remember who you're accountable to. That's, that's the fact. So, collective. So, it's issues around authenticity, it's collective, but remember accountability, remember your point of arrival. 

And that's something that for me has been amazing. And you know, I talked to you about Barbara is a mentor before. She was super helpful to me on that because, come on, I'm coming from a context where I feel like the system is, you know, unjust to us. So, I was so impatient in my attempt to achieve change. 

So impatient to the point of being impolite and just like go in guns blazing with, you know, government system, everybody. And then she just said to me, what do you want to achieve? Do you want them to be ashamed of what they did, or do you want them to start doing things differently? So, you need to remember where we're going. 

So that was really very powerful because, you know, we can really be very angry, so blinded. And you know, be - What you call it, “an elephant in a China shop.” Is that the expression? Or are you actually going to say, you know, how do we move forward together collectively in the most productive way, for the child of whatever cause it is. 

So never forget your “north star”, why you are in this, especially when you feel tempted to best and point fingers. So, that's my three key approaches. I can go on and on and on. But like I said, I'm a work in progress, JP.  


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Well, I think it's a fantastic work in progress, I can tell you for sure. And in a way, I mean, I could almost envision, you know, Angie as the enabling one million sisters leadership, okay, model.  

That's what you do. You're on a quarter of a million. I'm sure you're going to be soon enabling a million sisters. And it's so powerful to see that collective leadership model you built. That's to me, super strong. To finish with our listeners, what advice would you give to young leaders who are passionate about making a positive impact in their lives? 

What is that one advice you want to leave us with? 


ANGELINE MURIRIWA: I want every young person across the world to know that you can do this. Right? Believe in yourself. There is no template. And yes, learn from others, reflect on what they have done. And you know, don't underestimate how much energy, bounce back, wisdom is in you. 

You can. 




ANGELINE MURIRIWA: That's my message. 


JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: There are so many great takeaways here. Stay authentic. Don't deprive the world of your uniqueness. Don't pretend you are someone you are not. Angeline's feet are kept on the ground by the women and girls she works with, who understand the challenges and issues facing girls in marginalized communities because they've been there before. 

There's no substitute for lived experience. 

And I love the way she models the principles of collective leadership. In collective leadership, a group of people with diverse skills and experiences come together to work toward goals that they develop jointly. This type of leadership is a social process, rather than a series of top-down directives. 

To succeed, t requires trust, shared power, transparency, and effective communication, and a highly developed sense of accountability. And Angeline is very clear about who she's accountable to. Ultimately, it's all about the children, the girls, CAMFED supports and mentors, whose outcomes she's working so hard to improve. 

This kind of work takes years and a huge amount of effort. But Angeline carries it so lightly. And I think that's got something to do with collective leadership as well. She's got support, a place, as she describes it, where she can fill up her tank. And that's something all of us need. You've been listening to Positive Leadership with me, Jean-Philippe Courtois. 

If you'd like more great tips to help you grow as an individual, leader, and ultimately as a global citizen. Head over to my LinkedIn page, subscribe to my newsletter, Positive Leadership & You. If you've enjoyed this episode, then please do leave a comment or rating, and share it with your friends.