Photo by Kimberly Maroon
Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the first woman to be democratically elected to the presidency of an African nation (Liberia), looked out at a crowd of Mastercard Scholars gathered in Alumnae Hall. She had spent time talking with these young women from all over Africa and made a prediction: “One of you will be following in my footsteps.”
Johnson was on campus in March for the African Women’s Leadership Conference, sponsored by the College and the Mastercard Foundation. The gathering focused on how African women leaders are transforming communities and nations and was intended to allow the next generation of leaders studying in the U.S. to meet and exchange ideas. Speakers included Kakenya Ntaiya, a Maasi educator who is combatting female genital mutilation; Agnes Binagwaho, the former Rwandan health minister; and Mfoniso Udofia ’06, a Nigerian-American playwright.
Ghanaian Sandra Ohemeng ’20, one of Wellesley’s 14 Mastercard Scholars, found inspiration in Sirleaf Johnson’s path through an abusive marriage and exile to the Liberian presidency and the Nobel Peace Prize. “I also learned that no matter where you are, no matter what your interests are,” she says, “you can lead change in any small or big way you can.”
The Mastercard Scholars Program supports the education of academically talented students from economically disadvantaged communities in Africa at colleges and universities around the world.