Sunday, 1st October 2023

Where angels dare to tread

Dr Akudo Anyanwu is an award-winning global health expert, public health innovator and social entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in the field of international development.

Dr Akudo Anyanwu

Dr Akudo Anyanwu is an award-winning global health expert, public health innovator and social entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in the field of international development. She is an Associate Dean at Johns Hopkins University and the Founder of Friends Africa, a pan-African organisation that fights AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by mobilising African businesses, governments and NGOs. She has also served on the boards of Roll Back Malaria, the Global Health Council and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Anyanwu’s pioneering work on the Gift from Africa Campaign has been recognised by the Rockefeller Foundation as a top 100 next century innovation. She has also been recognised as Tufts University’s Distinguished Service Award (2015), a Harvard School of Public Health Innovator of the Year (2013), an Ogunte Social Leader of the Year (2013) and Stevie Innovator and Social Entrepreneur of the Year (2012). Dr Anyanwu is the summit curator of the biggest summit in Africa which addresses the state of its women and girls, their challenges and possible solutions. The Guardian is a proud media partner of this initiative and invited Dr Anyanwu for her first interview about her upcoming event.

What is your initiative, the Women and Girls Summit Africa (WAGS) 2020 all about?
As you know, tremendous momentum is being built for women and girls globally. The Women and Girls Summit (WAGS), which will take place at the International Conference Centre, Durban, South Africa between June 9-12 2020, seeks to tap into that momentum and move the needle for women and girls in Africa significantly over the next decade. The last WAGS summit brought together over 1600 women and girls in Abuja, Nigeria – and it was a great success. This summit will now take place annually beginning with the Durban 2020 meeting. We are working closely with a number of UN agencies to coordinate summit efforts and build linkages between each of the key upcoming summits.

What inspired you to start? Please provide some background
Having lived and worked and travelled throughout Africa, I have seen that the biggest set-back economically and developmentally is the continent’s failure to prioritise the empowerment of women and girls. Every day, across the African continent, women strive to develop and maintain sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families. They run small businesses, secure micro loans to start new businesses, and engage in all types of activities to put food on their tables, send their children to school, and pay for healthcare. It is a well-known fact that despite the sometimes male-dominated nature of many African societies, women play a strong role in helping their families stay out of poverty. They often represent a steady and reliable source of income for their households. As Africa faces the next decade full of economic potential and promise, the role of the African woman will become even more crucial to achieve robust economic growth and drive access to universal health and education for everyone across the continent. Economic and social prosperity cannot be attained if African women are left behind. It is, therefore, essential to immediately harness their power, intelligence, energy, and skills to lead the continent into the next decade and set it on par with other thriving economies around the world.

Why did you decide to have your first event in Abuja, Nigeria?
Nigeria being Africa’s most populous nation was the main reason. Followed by the issue around the girl child education and the security issues around women and girls. Women and girls urgently needed to be made a priority there at that time.

The second edition will be taking place in Durban. Why Durban and why South Africa? 
Durban has incredible programs on women and girls and has demonstrated significant strides in the areas of development.This South African beach city can’t be missed, and the blend of cultures and architecture makes Durban unique in South Africa. Durban’s Golden Mile is a destination for surfers, families and fisherman, due to its blend of natural beauty and major-city attractions. All making it a great destination.

Are you expecting a very different event to the Abuja event?
In Durban there will be a broader focus on developmental areas, and a wider range of attendees this time (1500 delegates, 75 invited countries, 250 Speakers and 65 panel sessions).  There will also be FIVE SUMMIT TRACKS: Women’s and Girls’ Health; Women’s & Girls’ Economic Empowerment; Women’s and Girls’ Education; Gender-related Policy and Law and Technology for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.

Who is your target audience, that is, the ideal attendees? 
A participation of at least 35% of the youth and 25% men would be ideal. And we are looking for women, men and girls from civil society, governments and the private sector, as well as young leaders and established community leaders.

It’s an African event. From which countries are you expecting representation? Do you have a target number or region in mind?
We are trying to attract at least 60 countries form around the world – mostly from Africa.

There are so many women’s events. What do you think this particular summit has to offer?
What makes the WAGS Summit stand out compared to the rest of the events held on the continent is the focus on the African region, and its broad developmental agenda for women and girls.

WAGS 2020 has 4 unique objectives:  1.) Increasing the knowledge of issues affecting women and girls in Africa (including unearthing new knowledge); 2.) Catalysing partnerships to address these issues; 3.) Capacity-building and mentorship for participants both onsite and thereafter; and 4.) Becoming a birthplace or energiser for institutions and initiatives that will address women’s and girls’ issues in Africa on a long-term basis.

Why did you choose the dates, June 9-12, 2020?
2020 is the year of the anniversary of Beijing +25 and marks an important remembrance of the world’s commitment to prioritise women and girls.

Patience Jonathan, Onyeka Onwenu and Akudo Anyanwu (right) at Nigeria’s First Ever Women and Girls’ Summit held in Abuja, in 2014

Why did you choose to work with The Guardian as a media partner? 
There are three main reasons. First of all, The Guardian has a competitive advantage, being one of Nigeria’s flagship newspapers, and it is a most trusted and credible brand. The publication enjoys a legacy of outspoken leadership and is extending its narrative to the importance of women in the development of a society. Next, the fact that The Guardian is the first national newspaper to introduce a standalone women’s title – Guardian Woman, which runs in the Saturday edition of the newspaper – speaks volumes. Last of all, becoming increasingly a brand with an international outlook (in terms of the clients it works with) I believe The Guardian can serve as a strong media platform to encourage a greater interest and investment in women not only in Nigeria, but being Africa’s giant –  around the continent.

How are you going about organising this event? Have you received any help or support?
We have an incredible advisory committee and lots of partners on board. People we would like to invite to speak at the summit. Those we have considered working with us are there to co-create and host events such a panel sessions, workshops, or even a side event such as a social networking event. I am talking of the likes of leading global women’s empowerment advocates and gender equality experts such as Sarah K Henry, Soulaima Gourani, Zubaida Bai, Hafsat Abiola, Anita Kouassigan, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, Victor Bampoe, Eunice Olsen, Farzana Yaqoob and Michael Sudarkasa. We are also very fortunate to have advocates for health rights, promoters of the youth and champions of universal human rights – which also affect women – bringing their expertise to the table.

Have you kept in touch with any of the supporters of your Abuja edition, and is there an ongoing partnership with some of them?
Our previous sponsors include UNICEF, UN Women, the Gates Foundation, PSI’s local affiliate, the Society for Family Health, Access Bank and Novartis. We are once again in talks with these companies and organisations who are considering supporting us again, but Novartis and UNICEF are definitely on board.

What further assistance do you require to make your vision a reality?
We are appealing to companies, organisations, governments and individuals who are interested in empowering or investing in women to consider supporting delegates to attend. These delegates could be colleagues, implementing partners and benefactors of their programs. We have also identified youth leaders and NGO/community leaders (eg WEF global shapers, YALI leaders, Desmond Tutu fellows) who could use some support to attend. We have just recently started our media campaign and are tapping into our networks to spread the word about the summit and its engagement opportunities.

What are ultimate aims of the event?
We aim to prepare the women of today and tomorrow to take on key leadership roles in all areas, and across all industries to ensure that Africa realises its full potential. The summit will offer unique opportunities for participants to network with leaders and key influencers from across the world. It will provide a platform for women to voice their concerns via dialogue and knowledge-sharing and develop solutions to manage economic, societal and cultural challenges. Issues ranging from entrepreneurship to the impact of climate change, to reproductive health, to developing socially responsible enterprises will be discussed through stimulating, thought-provoking debates, TEDx-like talks, and workshop sessions.

The summit will serve as the birth place for initiatives and institutions that will address the many challenges of women and girls in Africa. This transformational event will create a group of change agents, passionate about driving and implementing actions that will help countries in Africa across the development continuum. It will also serve as the foundation for the birth of new, impactful initiatives and institutions. For enquires about sponsorship, partnership opportunities and information about how to become a delegate please visit: | Email: