The Art of the Pivot: African Women as Critical Problem Solvers in the 21st Century

Authored by: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Categories: Conflict Prevention, Global Public Health, Statebuilding
Sub-Categories: COVID-19, Democratization and Political Participation, Economic Participation, Human Development, Political Transitions
Region: Sub-Saharan Africa
Year: 2022
Citation: Johnson Sirleaf, Ellen. "The Art of the Pivot: African Women as Critical Problem Solvers in the 21st Century." In "Foresight Africa 2022." Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings. January 2022.

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Executive Summary

While rebuilding a country previously engulfed in civil war for over 14 years, my administration oversaw, then, one of the deadliest health crises of the 21st century. I, Africa’s first democratically elected woman president and Liberia’s first elected president of the post-conflict period, had to pivot quickly in both attitude and action, as a means of responding to the Ebola outbreak of 2014. The outbreak posed a devastating threat to Liberia’s people and to the gains we had made in recovery and development. Rather than falter, we leaned into the complex challenges the outbreak posed, crafting and embarking upon an approach that embraced the strategies called for by community health workers and ordinary people fighting to save their loved ones. During this period, we lost many lives but averted a national crisis and found an inclusive and sustainable path of hope. In most African countries, strengthening the national health structure requires investing in and prioritizing community health workers and systems. Local community health workers are crucial in times of crisis because of their proximity to those most impacted. Utilizing community leadership ensures communities feel empowered and share in the responsibility, creating genuinely inclusive and responsive approaches. Liberia’s early success in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic relied on the same community health workers and leaders from the Ebola crisis. They were central in the dissemination of reliable information, coordination efforts across the country, building partnerships both internally and internationally, and leading their communities.