Interview with Yawa Hansen-Quao: Social Entrepreneur

“Every woman is a leader and our job is to unearth the potential and guide them to amplify their effectiveness in multiple spheres.”

Yawa Hansen-Quao is Founder of Leading Ladies Network, an organization that works to prepare women for leadership positions in business, government and civil society. Yawa serves on the Advisory Board of the Women’s Institute for Global leadership at Benedictine University, USA and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community. Yawa is also co-founder of HQ Consulting which provides cutting edge training solutions for professionals equipping them with knowledge to be world class executives.

You have done quite well for yourself first as a leader within university and since you completed. In your experience is there a critical path from graduating from University to becoming a leader?

I believe that God assigns each of us to a unique destiny and therefore no one pathway works for everyone. The value of a great education cannot be overstated but that education doesn’t necessarily have to be in a classroom. I’ve had the great honor of working with or near remarkable leaders, who groomed, and toughened me through work that challenged me. I’ve placed a high premium on cultivating relationships with people who mentor and guide me with their wise counsel.

Additionally, I think it is critical to complement academic tuition with real world experience. I accumulated relevant skills and considerable work experience through years of internships and volunteering during my schooling years. This helped me nurture relationships and build a skillset that gave me an edge over others who didn’t work prior to graduating university. I also failed many times and learned from the failures. I encourage students to try as many experiences and work in as many industries as interns or volunteers before narrowing down into a specific career path.

You were the first female in Ghana to have served as female president of a student university council? Why was such a role important to you and what has been the impact of that breakthrough when you reflect back?

When I contested the presidency of our student government during college, I was not looking to prove a point. I had the ambition, a plan and a willingness to serve our community so running for the position was really a logical decision for me. It was only after it was reported that my victory was historic that I realized the significance of my decision. Of course I was excited and proud but before long I began to wonder why it had taken so long for a democratic country like Ghana to have a female elected student government President. Although excited to have been the first, I wanted to do my part to make sure I wouldn’t be the last. But more importantly I wanted to create a space where women can shamelessly pursue their aspirations. I’m honoured when others hear my story and feel inspired to own their ambition despite the deep-seated notion that women cannot or should not be leaders. You can imagine how excited I was when this year students at my alma mater elected an all-woman student government body!

How has your understanding of leadership and your own leadership style been influenced by your work of training women in leadership?

Most of us tend to associate leadership with public acts like speaking in front of large crowds and being the centre of attention. When we started our Leading Ladies’ Clubs programme in 2012 it was always surprising to me the number of young girls who would show up to after-school club meetings with younger siblings in tow. We also always had to make sure the meetings ended on time because many of these girls had to hurry home and help with household chores.

One day the revelation dawned on me that if leadership is really about service, influence and responsibility, then these young girls are already leaders.  Their showing up every day to take up responsibility at home or care for their younger siblings is leadership too. We need to expand the definition of leadership because every woman is a leader and our job is to unearth the potential and guide them to amplify their effectiveness in multiple spheres. It changes the game when you help women and girls realize that they already have what it takes. I’ve been enriched by the realization.

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.

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