Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - Nobel Peace Prize winner
As African leaders go, few are as decorated as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
At the time of writing, the votes are being counted for the Liberia presidential election, but whether or not Johnson Sirleaf gets a second term in charge, her work to rebuild Liberia after two civil wars in the past two decades has been recognised on a global scale.
Just days ago, the 72-year-old was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work".
A trained economist and graduate of the Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, a CV boasting highly-ranked positions at the World Bank, Citibank and Equator Bank, Johnson Sirleaf made history as the first elected female leader in Africa in January 2006. Then, she beat off competition from former footballer George Weah in the race for the presidency. Today, she is up against another Harvard graduate, Winston Tubman, with Weah as his running mate.
Johnson Sirleaf's list of honours is long and established. She has been awarded seven honorary degrees from a range of universities in the United States, including Yale. In 2007 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the US.
It is always difficult to assess the living conditions in a particular country without having lived there. But reading the account of Matilda Parker, Vice-chair of the women's congress for the Unity party, gives a good insight into the transformation seen under Johnson Sirleaf.
Writing in the UK newspaper the Guardian, Parker describes the country she left for 26 years – one ravaged by civil war with high levels of crime and a generation of uneducated children. She returned when Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated and states how things have changed.
“In 2006 Johnson Sirleaf took over a government that lacked policies and procedures. She inherited a collapsed economy, with low human capacity, a highly corrupt government, no running water or light, unpaved primary roads, and few functional schools. But because of peace and stability in the country, Liberia has attracted $16bn in investment and it is erasing its international debt.”
It hasn't all been plain sailing for Johnson Sirleaf, though. She came in for heavy criticism when she admitted to supporting the dictator Charles Taylor, which she now regrets, and her detractors also lament her government for not doing more about unemployment and providing basic services while accusing them of corruption.
Reading this now, the people of Liberia would have already made their choice as to if they want her to reign for a second term - but the part she has played in rebuilding the country will remain just as important.
To read this article in the latest edition of African Business Review, click here.
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5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.