Women in Leadership: The Impact of Lead F Africa on African Women in Tech & Innovation 

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Lead F Africa, the Female Founders’ leadership accelerator for entrepreneurial women, has just wrapped up its first African cohort. The program was a pilot regional extension of the well-known Lead F leadership accelerator program for women and the first of its kind executed by Female Founders in collaboration with local partners – and, based on participant feedback, it was a huge success! 

It all started with a two-day boot camp in Kigali, Rwanda, and then continued with weekly live workshops accessible online. The accelerator covered various topics meant to address what Female Founders identified as the biggest obstacles women face in developing strong and assertive leadership skills.  The participants learned about “Confident & Persuasive Speaking,” “Negotiations in Action,” “Setting Healthy Boundaries,” and more, guided by international leadership trainers. 

Transformative Impact of Community-Based Leadership Program

Participants have already started implementing their learnings and have seen positive results in their work. In addition, the program has helped participants establish a strong community and build meaningful connections. As a result, some participants have already begun planning future collaborations beyond the program.

“I cannot overemphasize the impact of the negotiation session on my work. It was great to put my learnings into practice and by doing that, I already reaped the benefits!”

– Feedback from Lead F Africa participant

Elisabeth van Holthe tot Echten, Head of Lead F, remarked on the visible transformative impact of the program, strengthened by the sense of being part of a community of women that were vulnerable and committed to change. 

Fostering an interactive and safe learning environment was an important aspect of encouraging vulnerability. We intentionally designed workshops that encouraged participants to share their own experiences and engage in group discussions. We created a safe space where they could test out new ideas and strategies without the fear of failure.”

Pictured: participants of the Lead F Africa program at the boot camp in Kigali. Photos by program partners.

Understanding the Individual Challenges – and Facing Them Together

When starting the program, participants faced three main challenges in their leadership roles. 

  1. Building a network and leveraging it effectively. Participants were aware of the importance of building their networks and personal brand but struggled with finding strategies to do this. 
  2. Developing confidence and communication skills. Many of the participants felt insecure about getting buy-in and communicating with their teams.  
  3. Motivating team members. Giving clarity and focus to team members, helping them to grow and develop and fostering innovation within the team were among the top challenges. 

At the beginning of the program, participants completed a self-assessment rating their leadership skills on a scale of 1-5. The progress they have made in just ten weeks is incredible. Attending workshops, learning from peers and practising skills in their daily work have all paid off. 

“Thank you for giving me this life-changing experience. It came at a time I need it the most. Not only am I a better leader but I am a more confident person.”

– Feedback from Lead F Africa participant

Being a successful leader requires a willingness to be vulnerable and open to feedback and learning. It takes courage to commit to a new learning experience and to see it through. The program’s comprehensive approach to leadership development, including community building and networking, has resulted in a positive impact on participants’ personal and professional growth. However, it is important to note that none of it would have been possible without participants and their mindsets.

They showed an unwavering desire to connect and learn, and that’s what made it all come together,” added Elisabeth van Holthe tot Echten.

What is Lead F Africa?

Female Founders and Make-IT in Africa are partnering on Lead F Africa, a leadership program tailored to support female founders in tech, innovation enablers in entrepreneur support organizations and champions in policy-making in African innovation ecosystems. This is a spinoff of the Female Founders’ Leadership Accelerator (Lead F), focused for the first time exclusively on an African cohort. The program started with a two-day boot camp in Kigali, Rwanda, on 20-21 February 2023.  The accelerator continued online with weekly live workshops from 1 March – 26 April 2023.

Elisabeth van Holthe tot Echten

Elisabeth van Holthe tot Echten

Lead Forward Program Manager

Having lived in six countries in the past ten years, I have developed a profound appreciation for the richness that diversity brings. This appreciation, coupled with my unwavering belief in the power of inclusivity, fuels my passion for advocating equal opportunities within the tech and innovation ecosystem. Through my work, I aim to break barriers, challenge norms, and foster an environment where everyone's unique perspectives and contributions are valued.

I currently work as the program manager Lead Forward at Female Founders, a leadership program where I combine my project management skills and creativity to design meaningful learning experiences. Lead Forward equips entrepreneurial leaders with the necessary tools for success in today's fast-paced business landscape.

As a firm believer in the power of collaboration and community, I am passionate about connecting with like-minded professionals and industry leaders. If you share my passion for making the European tech ecosystem more equitable, let's connect!