Interview with Lucy Lake: CEO, Camfed International

“Value the experience you’ve acquired. Be part of the conversation. Identify people you can engage to broaden your perspective and ideas.’’

Lucy Lake is CEO of Camfed International, an organization dedicated to supporting girls through education and young women to step up as leaders in Africa. Since taking on the role of CEO in 2012, Lucy has led Camfed’s major growth, more than quadrupling the number of girls receiving support, with more than 2.3million young people directly benefitting in 2014 alone. She continues to lead Camfed’s development as a transformative model of investment in girls’ education and has pioneered programmes to improve the quality of education in difficult contexts, and enable young people to make the successful transition from school to a secure and productive livelihood. Lucy is a founding member and former Co Chair of the Global Advisory Committee of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI).


Being CEO comes with many opportunities. Which of these opportunities are most important to you and how do you maximize them?

I am in a relatively unique position as CEO of Camfed, as I have been with the organization right from the word go and have literally ‘grown up’ with it. As a result, I know the organisation from the inside out and that gives me an advantage in being able to assess which opportunities are really going to work for us and to have a sense of which risks are worth taking.


Recently you spoke on ‘’Unleashing girls power’’ – what do you see as the key barriers to this that has not received that much attention and how might these be overcome?

I think it’s important that we get the right balance between putting girls’ needs and aspirations at the centre of all we do, while not putting the burden of responsibility on girls’ shoulders for making things happen. In other words, if we’re going to shift girls’ prospects, then we have to shift their context so that they are in an environment in which they can step up and step forward as leaders of change.


Beyond getting scalable models for getting more girls get into and completing secondary education, arguably, a similar approach is needed for getting more women into leadership. Any thoughts on this?

I would absolutely agree. I think we have to move our line of sight to include the transition from secondary school and think about the bridges that we need to build so that girls don’t simply ‘drop off’ at the end of school but that they can move on to a secure livelihood. This has been a very important focus for us – so that girls can capitalize on their education, and not just those girls who achieved brilliant academic results, but all girls.


In your work, you’ve shown much innovative thinking in pushing girls’ education forward. What would be your top tips on how women can get innovative and move forward when they feel stuck or have overgrown the stage they are at?

I think always the answer to this question lies in having confidence and valuing the experience that you’ve acquired. Make sure that you’re part of the conversation, not apart from the conversation. And identify people in other sectors with whom you can engage so that you continually broaden your perspective and ideas.


In addition to education, if you could wave a magic wand and get one wish that would change the lives/prospects of girls and women what would it be?

My wish is for girls and women to be in a position of security as this gives them the crucial platform from which to make choices for their future wellbeing and that of their families. I think if every woman is in that position it would be transformational. And education is the major first step towards this.


You have a big job that no doubt comes with many challenges. What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I try to build a network of trusted advisors who I can turn to when there are specific issues on which I need advice and support, and whom I can be completely honest with when sometimes the challenges seem just too daunting to overcome. They help me keep a sense of perspective and know that I’m not alone, as sometimes the role of CEO can feel a very lonely place.


What have been your key leadership milestones in your journey to the top and what have you learnt that others might benefit from knowing/applying?

 It has been and continues to be a learning journey. I think the greatest lesson that I would share is that the role of CEO is not to stand on others’ shoulders, but to be the person on whose shoulders others can stand. I think that is the key to the success and the future of Camfed, because it is the young women who have come through our programmes who are now at the summit, and who are the face and voice of our future.


How do you see your professional journey in the next 3 years and how will you prepare for what you want to achieve?

I think of myself as the ‘transition’ CEO. I am building the organization to be a vehicle for young women’s emerging leadership and my role over the next 3 years is to strengthen that vehicle so that they can take over the wheel.


Which skills and natural talents have you honed that have brought you this far?

Commitment to the cause and always being prepared to go the extra mile, and the ability to bring others with me. Continually being alert to risks and opportunities and being able to see the big picture alongside the detail.



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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