U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Stephanie S. Sullivan
Keynote Remarks for Her Future Summit
Theme: The Post-Pandemic Digital Remote Workforce Revolution:
How Women Can Revise, Relaunch, and
Rebrand Their Careers for the Future
March 26, 2021 3:30 GMT
Thank you, Christine. I’ve really enjoyed the presentations so far – especially the panelists. Akwaaba from Accra! I’m Stephanie Sullivan, the United States Ambassador to Ghana.
I’m honored to join this year’s Her Future Summit. It’s wonderful to see such a wide variety of speakers and participants in this virtual conference. I hope this will provide insights, information, and opportunity for women entrepreneurs around the world. This is a great chance for motivated businesswomen to tap into a global knowledge base.
I’d like to commend Christine Ntim and the Her Future Summit team for coordinating this extraordinary event. Even as we have all become accustomed to participating in online events, connecting speakers and the audience from across the world is no small feat. Ayikoo and kudos to you all!
I became a diplomat 35 years ago, after having been a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am a wife and mother of two grown sons. I’m proud to lead our U.S. Mission team in Ghana now, where at this time last year, we were helping more than 2,000 Americans return home after the borders closed; adapting our technical assistance to Ghana’s healthcare sector to support its ongoing COVID-19 response; and adopting remote work tools. But through it all, we remained resilient and committed in our goals to attract American businesses and investors to Ghana; to promote peace, security, and accountable governance; and to invest in the well-being of every Ghanaian through a variety of programs in the health, education, and agriculture sectors.
Over the last 12 months, every one of us has been tested in areas such as our leadership skills, our tolerance for repeated tough choices, our resolve to help manage a stressed household, and staying focused on the real work it takes to maintain personal and professional connections during periods of isolation. Of course, most women were already familiar with and adept at managing multiple simultaneous challenges before the pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic has shone a light on the support gap that has yet to be filled for women working outside the home.
By the time I finish my remarks today, it’s likely that tens of thousands more people will join the millions globally who have received COVID-19 vaccinations. President Biden’s pledge of $4 billion U.S. dollars to support the multinational COVAX initiative demonstrates the U.S. commitment to collaborating with partners, governments, multilateral institutions, and the private sector to support global COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Cases are dropping across many countries, including here in Ghana, and every day we move closer to the post-pandemic world. We’ve speculated about the “New Normal” for months, and it is increasingly coming into focus. The lessons we take away from the challenges and tests we endured last year can help guide us as we enter this next phase. The world of work will never be the same, and that has some very positive aspects to it.
At the outset of the pandemic, I encouraged my team to use the early weeks to reflect on strategic priorities, as well as to tackle some “rainy day projects” we never seem to have time to do. I also suggested we think of ourselves as caterpillars, and that while in the cocoon of the lockdown we make the effort to eat healthy foods, take the time to exercise, and make special memories with our loved ones, so that we might transform ourselves into butterflies. Many of us did just that, and the challenge is how to maintain those good habits as we begin to lead an increasingly “hybrid” life that puts new demands on our schedules and tests our adaptability. We learned to operate in ways we never thought possible. Organizations that previously frowned on telework will undoubtedly be more amenable to telework, even after this pandemic. But the key to the future – and the next pandemic – is adaptability.
Let me talk about Ghana and its adaptations to the pandemic. Ghana is an important economic partner of the United States and continues to emerge as a major economy in Africa, with one of the fastest growing economies in the world in recent years. Despite the pandemic, Ghana’s economy grew by almost one percent in 2020. The government is projecting five percent growth in 2021. The private sector here is dynamic and fast paced.
While the pandemic hit us with numerous challenges, it also presented new opportunities. Many female entrepreneurs in Ghana quickly pivoted to meet the challenges of the pandemic head on. And the U.S. Embassy in Ghana continues to offer programming to help them continue to flourish beyond the pandemic.
In 2019, Ghana was among the 10 African countries to pilot the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE). In fact, the global launch event took place here in Accra. AWE is based on an online course called Dreambuilder that was developed by the Thunderbird School of Management in Arizona and includes a mentoring program through which participants are matched with Ghanaian women entrepreneurs who are alumnae of our other U.S. government exchange programs. AWE participants gain new skills and learn how to use new tools to create and grow businesses, raise capital, and network with other successful business owners. Using lessons learned from the shift to the virtual world in 2020, AWE doubled its cohort size and now provides data plans for women in remote areas who might previously have been unable to participate.
Since the beginning of the global pandemic, I have been inspired by many stories of resilience and innovation in my interactions with beneficiaries of U.S. Agency for International Development programs and with alumnae of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs. As Ghana experienced its first peak of infections in June 2020, I hosted a video call with several women entrepreneurs to learn how they were managing and adapting their businesses with the new COVID-19 protocols in place. The group agreed that the lockdown gave them the chance to pause and reflect on their business models. This moment of introspection allowed these women to catch their breath and consider their businesses beyond the 25 pressing items on their to-do list. They developed new business models, new products, and new strategies that shaped their future direction. Examples of this include women entrepreneurs shifting their business skills to different industries when the pandemic hit. One woman realized that fashion was not going to be a high priority and pivoted to working in the more essential grain production and supply sector, meeting a critical demand for staples when borders were closed. Another woman who owns an interior design business quickly seized upon the opportunity to attract clients by designing interior spaces and furniture designed for telework spaces in their homes.
These are only a few of the many women who are poised to make post-COVID-19 life in Ghana better. I’ve met women cultivators who are rising in prominence in the agricultural sector, not only working the land, but breaking down barriers to owning land. I’ve met frontline healthcare workers and public health researchers who are working with American public health experts to care for those affected by the coronavirus and to devise strategies to mitigate the negative effects and spread of the disease. Years before the pandemic, Ghanaian biologist Veronica Bekoe invented a simple handwashing system bearing her name, the Veronica Bucket, that now helps us to maintain COVID sanitation protocols no matter the location. Each of them is working to create a Ghana that is rising to meet the challenges of today and the days ahead. These and many similar examples of ingenuity give me confidence that we will overcome the challenges of COVID-19.
I feel fortunate to be in the virtual presence of so many female business leaders who joined this conference to learn how you, too, can shape your future into something better and brighter. Anyone who enters the business world is a risk taker. That takes courage in and of itself and deserves recognition. After a year of outsized risks, it’s important to appreciate yourselves as innovators, business leaders, and job creators. As we set foot each day a step closer to a new post-pandemic world, the United States, and those of us at U.S. Embassies around the world, strongly support that vision.
I’ve repeatedly seen the power of women mentoring other women. I recently joined a panel to discuss the importance of mentorship along with co-panelists who were a mentor-mentee duo. The mentor is an alumna of the Mandela Washington Fellowship and has a successful garment business that is well established, using the African Growth and Opportunity Act (or AGOA) to help her export to the United States. Her mentee is an AWE alumna who came from a corporate background and needed help with the entrepreneurial aspects of starting her own business. The way they have helped each other is inspiring to see, and the results are great for other women because their success leads to job creation and economic growth. Last week, I also participated in a virtual Global Mentoring Walk for women, organized by an alumna of the Fortune Women’s Mentoring program. Last year, I had participated in the same event in person.
As you can see, this isn’t just about how we succeed as individuals. There’s a proverb here in Ghana: “ If you don’t let your friend cross and reach her destination, you will also not cross and reach yours.” In other words, you must help your neighbor achieve her goals so you can also achieve yours.
The bottom line is that when we women succeed, children are healthy and educated, and communities thrive. Simply put – women’s economic development lifts up entire nations. We still have much to do – whether you’re in the United States, Ghana, or elsewhere, we need women and men as partners in advancing our mutually beneficial and mutually reinforcing goals of economic prosperity, regional security, and accountable governance.
Thanks again for the opportunity to speak here at the Her Future Summit, and I look forward to hearing more about the achievements of this wonderful group in the months to come.