Words Kiran Yoliswa Photography John Swannell
A keen advocate of women’s empowerment, pioneering laywer Cherie Blair set up the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in 2008. The foundation works with women in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East to support their efforts to increase their role in their economies and societies.
As an active campaigner on equality and human rights issues, she has a special interest in Africa – one her husband and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair shares, having set up a charity called the African Governance Initiative.
What drives you?
I am driven by a passion for women’s empowerment, a cause I have been committed to for the majority of my career. My vision is of a world where women have equal opportunities and the capability, confidence and capital necessary to establish and grow businesses, resulting in a brighter future for the women themselves ad their communities as a whole.
What do you see as the future of Africa?
I am hopeful that Africa will move forward if women are able to expand their social, political and economic opportunities. One of the areas my foundation works in is mobile technology – we are about to head out to Nigeria to launch a new mobile application for women entrepreneurs with Nokia and MTN.
Why do you feel that women's empowerment is important to the future of Africa?
Women’s economic empowerment is important in any part of the world but Africa was chosen for a reason as a location of interest. My foundation chose to focus on countries in Africa where women have made progress in education and where some have been able to start micro-enterprises. Our aim is to support these women in expanding to small and growing businesses, which benefits the women business owners, their families and their economies.
What are the main misconceptions when it comes to women in your industry?
There is a lot of focus on women supporting women, which is certainly important and absolutely something my foundation promotes. However what people don’t realise is that there are a lot of men out there willing to support women’s empowerment efforts too. We have to include men in the solution if we want to achieve progress.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your industry?
If I were to focus on one thing, it would be the value of partnerships. My foundation works alongside local organisations in Africa, international non-profits, corporations and public sector institutions. We can achieve so much more if we work closely together.
What are the main challenges you face in your work?
I am fortunate to have a Foundation team carrying out fantastic work. Rather than focus on the challenges I face, I think of the women entrepreneurs without the support I have. Many women across Africa have the ideas and ambition needed to become successful entrepreneurs but are held back by barriers such as lack of access to business skills, technology, networks and finance. It is my hope that we can provide the support they need to address these challenges and succeed.
In boardrooms and parliaments, on television and the stage, women are increasingly making their presence felt across Africa and on the world stage. The inaugural ARISE 100 list champions just some of the remarkable women shaping modern Africa today.