News & Media / Leadership by ‘followship’: An Ibrahim Fellowship experience at the UN Economic Commission for Africa

Leadership by ‘followship’: An Ibrahim Fellowship experience at the UN Economic Commission for Africa

25 July, 2016

An Ibrahim Leadership Fellowship is a unique opportunity allowing mid-career young Africans to be mentored in the highest office of an intergovernmental organisation. The objective of this fellowship is to foster transformational leadership through ‘followship’ in young Africans. The concept is to learn by following, to use observation and exposure to high leadership as an effective way to prepare incumbents for impactful leadership and good governance. I was humbled to be nominated for the 2015 Ibrahim Fellowship at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

In this capacity, I worked very closely with the Executive Secretary, Dr Carlos Lopes. I studied his leadership style both within and outside of UNECA. Within the commission, I became familiar with the African development agenda and projects by attending the senior management team meetings and interacting with the directors in the Addis and sub-regional offices around the continent. I also worked intensively with his special advisors on think tank and sustainable development goals. As well as working with the Executive Secretary, I engaged with many other members of staff and attended a variety of expert meetings and international conferences at UNECA and the African Union headquarters.

I went on several missions with the Executive Secretary and attended high level meetings. I have learned the subtleties of how to pitch evidence based policy advocacy and advice towards heads of state and government and diplomacy to engage with other high level officials and colleague leaders, as well as to close strategic partnerships. I gained a real insight on how important these aspects are in an effective leader.


Being in Addis Ababa as an Ibrahim Fellow was a particular privilege and entailed unique opportunities to meet and interact with leaders from all over the world. With the transition from MDGs to SDGs, I gained a deep understanding of the African common position at the third International Conference of Finance for Development, which took place in Addis Ababa. I had the privilege to analyse an embargoed copy of the 2015 Human Development Report, launched for the very first time in Africa. I also took an active part in the 9th Joint Annual Meetings of the African Union and ECA Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, where I took pride in drafting communication for high level officials.

As an Ibrahim Fellow, I had the unique privilege to attend the historical address of President Barack Obama to the African Union. Other remarkable meetings I attended were with the UN Secretary-General and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on peace and security in the continent. Drafting communication and public lectures was another exciting part of this experience. Other inspirational moments of my Fellowship included the Alumni Meeting and the Ibrahim Governance Weekend, where I met and interacted with the Prize Committee and Board Members of the Foundation. Overall, my fellowship gave me a clear picture of what it takes for the Executive Secretary at UNECA to lead the organisation and deliver upon its mandate.

Completing this prestigious fellowship comes with a challenge, which in the end lends itself as another opportunity: consolidate the leadership experience at an equal or a higher level. In fact, as a prospective transformational leader, the Ibrahim Fellowship has consolidated and boosted my confidence in achieving my ambitions. Currently, I am finalising my research papers and consolidating other research opportunities encountered through this experience.

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