The first female president in Africa and Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf once said: “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough”
It is a widely quoted piece of wisdom, and one that people have often gone back to when taking the leap into unchartered waters. It is comforting to know that dreams are supposed to be big, that they should scare you, and that regardless, you stand equal to the task.
The African Food Fellowship is built on big and scary dreams, carefully condensed into a vision to create: “A continent-wide Fellowship of African leaders actively contributing to food systems transformation agendas up to and beyond the SDGs.” Key in this agenda is the idea of leadership, which the Fellowship aims to achieve by building the capacity of Fellows to be effective food systems leaders who can catalyse change in Africa.
In October, the Fellowship launched Stage 2 of the Food Systems Leadership Programme, known as Systems Action, where the inaugural cohort of Fellows from Kenya are working to grow ideas developed in Stage 1 into actionable food systems solutions.
Towards this end, the Fellowship has brought on board three leadership coaches to spearhead this process. Their task is to provoke deeper thinking about leadership among the Fellows, and help build a firm foundation from which they can effectively launch into leadership roles in whatever capacity they occupy within the food systems.
“A good leader is someone who inspires others to collectively generate positive impact,” says Anne Ng’ethe, a leadership coach with over 20 years’ experience, and one of three experts walking the Fellows through their change journey. She describes the current challenges in food systems leadership as being defined by a failure to build sustainable systems and an abandonment of indigenous and organic food systems
“Given unpredictable weather patterns and the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, we need food systems leaders who prioritise sustainability. In addition, we must prioritise organic food systems,” she says.
For George Nuthu, who has over 20 years’ experience in training, coaching and mentoring, a good leader is an enabler who serves, stirs and supports those they lead to reach their highest levels of productivity and performance. “I joined the Fellowship because I wanted to engage in an aspect of the African food sector and be a transformational agent in it,” he says.
“I hope the Fellows can accomplish all that they dreamed of and desired to achieve. I hope to be a catalytic agent who will partner with the Fellows to support, stir and serve them to achieve their goals, both individually and institutionally.”
And for coach Michael Oyier, good leadership is “the ability to inspire and influence transformation in people, communities and society.” An executive leadership coach with a background in counselling psychology and broadcast media, Michael has witnessed the transformational power of good leadership and hopes to instill the values that have inspired him the most into his sessions with the Fellows. “I have had several good bosses and they shared the same trait: they took the risk of entrusting me with responsibility, and trusting my ability before I believed I had any,” he says.
Coach Anne also values former bosses who gave her the confidence to carry out her duties with independence. She singles out one whom she says “believed in my potential and nurtured and equipped me to succeed in a totally new area of expertise.” This is the kind of leaders she is nurturing the Fellows to be.
The Fellows have been attending virtual sessions with the leadership coaches, with each session helping to progress their initiatives and build their capacity for leadership. These sessions are monthly, and are complimented by technical mentoring and inspirational sessions by renowned food systems leaders and practitioners.
The African Food Fellowship is a practical, collaborative and visionary leadership initiative for inclusive and regenerative food futures on the continent. It targets emerging leaders from the civic, public and private circles to jointly transform Africa’s food systems and ensure equitable availability and access to healthy and sustainable food for all.
Wageningen University & Research and Wasafiri Consulting initiated this Fellowship to help deliver progress promised in the 2014 Malabo Declaration, which aims to end hunger on the continent by 2025, and to promote intra-Africa food exchange through the continental free trade area. The initiative enjoys support from the IKEA Foundation.