November 13, 2020



Women impact the world across every sphere, as they participate in and make decisions that shape corporations, communities, and society. While the individual journey of each woman is different, there are shared experiences for women as they live out a life of impact.

 During Innovation in Healthcare’s 2019 Annual Forum in Washington, DC in March, four inspirational women shared their stories of growth, triumph, lessons, and insights to support and empower women attain their full potential. These leaders, working in international development, social enterprise, and health care delivery, provided insight into how these fields can encourage and support more female leaders.

Women need to prepare to take on leadership positions in order to advance their impact in the healthcare sector advised Maggie Lanak, Program Manager, USAID Higher Education Solutions Network, who transitioned from working as a lab scientist to a project manager. Though this was a new frontier for her, Maggie was intrinsically ready and willing to take on the new role, which in turn further developed her leadership skills. Through her new role, Maggie provided advice and guidance to health innovators supported through the USAID-funded Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD) program. Taking on these new job elements prepared Maggie to mentor fellow women on leadership readiness.

So how can we support women to grow in to leadership positions? 

It isn’t just about women. Men can also play a role in supporting women grow into leadership position. Elizabeth Ombech, Afya Research Africa’s Monitoring and Evaluations officer, described how Sam Gwer, her supervisor and founder of Afya Research Africa, encouraged and guided her to take on new leadership opportunities, allowing her to learn on the job. Elizabeth was tasked to oversee and supervise the operations of their rural network of medical centres: the Ubuntu-Afya kiosks.This required her to work with affiliate community self-help groups to develop group constitutions and financial management skills in order to manage community savings and credit schemes whose interest revenue helped to cross-subsidize the cost of care at the kiosks. Though these skills were new and different from her monitoring and evaluation background, Elizabeth was able to develop in her role to support members of the self-help groups, who were mostly women, to save and access credit to support their families and undertake personal investments to promote their economic empowerment. 

Fiona Macaulay, CEO and founder of WILD Network, a network that empowers female social entrepreneurs to increase their impact at the organizational and personal level, encouraged leaders to be more intentional in empowering their staff. Leaders should invest in leadership training and opportunities for women to prepare them for growth and new roles, a sentiment that was also highlighted in the UN Women’s Economic Empowerment report that stressed empowering women will be key in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 of better health and well-being.

Zubaida Bai, founder and CEO of Azyh Inc, emphasized the need to build a women-centric ecosystem that empowers women to make better decisions in relation to their healthcare. Zubaida has started creating this ecosystem through her organization, Azyh Inc, an organizational that provides low-cost quality birth and newborn care health products and training to women across Asia, Africa, and Europe. Stemming from her experience as a female founder, Zubaida has also set up a fund that will invest in women entrepreneurs. The fund will go a long way in empowering women in building a legacy of success for women leaders. 

We at Innovations in Healthcare continue to develop initiatives that support women entrepreneurs and would like to hear from you on how we refine our women’s initiative.