Sisters

Learn more about each sisters in our sisterhood.

Thandi Mweetwa ~ Zambian Carnivore Program

Thandi Mweetwa grew up in Mfuwe, a small town in the Eastern Province of Zambia. Her first encounter with wildlife biology was when she was twelve years old. It became her passion, and through this enthusiasm, she ended up graduating from British Columbia with a BSc in Applied Animal Biology. This was followed by further studies at the University of Arizona, where she graduated with a Masters in Natural Resources Conservation. Her pivotal role at the Zambian Carnivore Program is as a community educator, senior ecologist, and — of course — an inspiration for other young women to walk beside her in the conservation and research field.


  • What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?

Best: Getting a membership at the Yosefe Library. The books in there opened a whole new world for me.
Worst: Enrolling for the mammal anatomy and physiology course that involved dissecting pig foetuses. I hated the labs.

  • What was your dream job as a kid and why?

I wanted to be an Agricultural extension officer so I could ride one of the big motorbikes that the Ministry of Agriculture workers used to travel to different farms.

  • What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I think it’s not being taken seriously and the many assumptions and expectations placed on female leaders.

  • What woman inspires you and why?

Wangari Maathai. She did her work during a time of extreme opposition and threat to her life. Despite all the adversity, she achieved so much during her lifetime and left a great legacy.

  • What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

Breaking gender stereotypes that seem to have survived for decades.

Alice Paghera ~ Safari Guide & Lodge Manager


“My time in the Congo have been mainly focused on the conservation of this wilderness area and all its fragile creatures (namely western lowland gorillas, forest elephants, pangolins…), but Congo Conservation Company also has a sister company (SPAC – Sabine Plattner African Charities) that combines education, biodiversity research, skills training, and job creation into a sustainable approach to conservation in the communities around Odzala-Kokoua National Park, so I have been working and joining some exciting projects with schools to make children aware of the importance of conservation and sustainability. I also have been in contact with another project in the southern part of the Congo whose primary goal is to empower the local population through educational opportunities, health care amenities, and employment. Unfortunately, due to this pandemic situation, I am still stuck in Italy. So that I won’t get bored, I am working on different projects from home. I have started writing my second book based on my adventures and experience as a guide in the Congo. I have been writing articles about African wildlife with a friend who worked a lot between Zimbabwe and Botswana. The situation also makes it complex and uncertain for me to have a precise timeline to when I will be allowed and able to travel back to Tanzania. My next adventure will hopefully see myself and my boyfriend manage a tented lodge in the Ruaha. I am always looking to find a working solution that combines two of my greatest passions: bush life and the commitment towards local communities. The camp that we are supposed to manage in the Ruaha is strongly linked to the philosophy of “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time”. The camp supports a local project (the Iringa Young Women’s Project) and the Kipera villagers’ economy buying fresh products and engaging with them regularly. I possibly won’t guide, but we will be teaching local guides our profession using South African knowledge.” ~ Alice Paghera

1. What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?

Best: I have no doubt about this answer. The best decision I have ever made so far has been to resign from my previous job to follow my dream to become a field guide in Africa! Before the African dream started, I have been a manager in a tobacco shop for 6 years. I had started this job because I wanted to pay the University fees without asking for any money from my parents. I have a degree in Foreign Literatures and Languages apart from being a qualified nature field guide. After finishing university, I found myself stuck in this job and within this comfort zone, that after a while, started to feel more like a prison than an actual comfort zone. As I received the email from the company’s CEO in Congo that I was in (it was the 8th December 2018), I immediately phoned my ex-boss, and I resigned on the spot! It was the best decision ever, and I still feel so happy and enriched every time I speak about this.

Worst: The worst thing I have ever made is probably linked to the best one I have just described. After my first trip to South Africa, I immediately understood that I did not want to keep living in Italy and I was really committed to finding a way to get back to Africa. Then, I was engaged, and for an extended period, I stupidly denied my desires and ideas for the future for my fiance, knowing that he was entirely at ease in Italy and did not want to leave his home country. After months of fighting and negative feelings, I eventually decided to break up with him, understanding that our lives were running on separate lines. I don’t know if this could be classified as “the worst decision”, but it definitely troubles me every time I think about approaching this situation. I am a very determined person, and if I have something in my mind, I usually do everything in my powers to get it done and dusted (the Italian expression is: Meglio avere rimorsi che rimpianti… Seize the day)

2. What was your dream job as a kid and why? 

When I was a kid (hence until I was 12-13), I had two big dream jobs: the first one was to become a vet somewhere in the world (not the “ordinary vet” that takes care of dogs, cats and puppies): I was dreaming of saving elephants, following tigers, and probably also hug polar bears because that’s what the baby-me classified as “possible-to-achieve”. The second biggest job dream was to get a qualification in Egyptology. I was so so into Egypt, and I was amazed (well, I actually still am) by pyramids, Pharaohs, and mummies that I was dreaming of getting some spectacular discoveries that would have made my name famous worldwide. I am (sometime in my daydreams) still thinking of getting back to uni and start all over again to get a PhD in Egyptology. Still, as soon as I realized that being a vet also means sometimes not saving animals, I stop believing in myself as a possible good vet. 

3. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

Aldo Cazzullo, an Italian journalist, wrote a book about the possibility for this century to be the one where women overtake men. In the past and present, unfortunately, in some cultures and societies, the woman’s role has always been pushed on the sides, classified as a secondary presence, not so relevant and not necessary, if not for primary needs of procreation and family care. The most significant barrier that women have to overcome and defeat, once and for all, is this anachronistic and paradoxical idea of not being as worthy as men. It’s time to put our feet down and be strong together.

4. What woman inspires you and why?

Oriana Fallaci. She has nothing to do with my profession and career, but I think she has to be classified as a role model, regardless of who you are and what you are doing in your life. Oriana Fallaci was an Italian journalist, writer and political reporter. She always had the courage and ability to share her ideas, opinions and controversial impressions about the world most authentically and straightforwardly. Oriana wrote different books about politics, religions and clashes between cultures and societies, which contains information and point of views that are still up-to-date. She also strongly believed in women empowerment. In all Oriana’s articles and interviews with some greats such as Coco Chanel, Mary Quant, Indira Gandhi, she firmly focused on her idea about women and our position in the world. Women are majestic creatures that should always and necessarily be free and respected. 

” It’s an adventure that takes such courage, a challenge that’s never boring. You’ll have so many things to engage in if you’re born a woman. To begin with, you’ll have to struggle to maintain that if God exists, he might even be an old woman with white hair or a beautiful girl”.

5. What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

As I mentioned in the previous answer, I am currently reading about this fascinating and inspiring book, written by Aldo Cazzullo, an Italian journalist, called “The women will inherit the Earth. This will be the century of overtaking”. It is such an inspiring and detailed analysis of our times and the optimistic and hopefully not too idealistic idea that ours will be the century of overtaking women over men. Women will inherit the Earth (based on his thoughts and analysis) because we are more gifted to face the great and terrible age given to us in fate. Because we know how to sacrifice ourselves, to look far, to take care, to be devoted and mindful. I think the biggest challenge for my generation and probably also the next one that will come behind me – my nieces of 7 and 3 years old, for example – will be to face this battle, to push to the extremes our capabilities, our skills, our uniquenesses. To be able to show the world that we can do it, we can and have to be considered at the same level as men, we can overtake their positions, we can do even better than men; we have to keep on fighting for our rights, and we always have to believe in ourselves. 

“You women are better than us. Do not think that men do not know; we know this very well, and we have been organizing ourselves for millennia to submit to you, often with your help. But that time is running out. It’s over”. 


Josh Haigh ~ Contemporary Artist

Meet Jos, contemporary artist extraordinaire! Jos paints snorting rhinos, gentle elephants and haughty giraffes in an array of vibrant and extraordinary colours, and captures their charm in a fresh, contemporary style. Jos is collaborating with the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation to raise vital funds for endangered wildlife by donating 50% of the proceeds of the sale of 10 of her wonderful watercolour paintings. Help us turn the tide on extinction and head over to https://davidshepherd.org/product-category/artist-of-the-month/ or Jos Haigh’s website www.joshaigh.com to purchase one of Jos’s beautiful pieces of art.

“I was born in Kenya and was lucky to study these animals in the wilderness of the savannah from a young age. There is something special about their gracefulness, strength and vulnerability that is truly inspiring.”

jos haigh

What have been your best and worst decisions made so far in your life?
Best decision – to marry a man who is kind, humorous, honest and clever.
Worst decision -not to have a pet dog when my children were growing up.


When you were a child, what was your dream job and why?
Dream job was to be a artist with a paint splattered shirt and thousands of brushes and a fabulous garden. Visions of Monet.


What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Hmmm. Education education education and self-confidence. There is a huge opportunity for successful women to engage in mentoring young children of both genders together- one, to give girls the vision of what could be, and two, to give boys the understanding that this is normal.


What woman inspires you and why?
(Just reseen this film recently and it served to remind me how much she influenced me at a young age.) So –
Karen Blixen in Out If Africa. Knew her own mind, was true to herself ALWAYS. Able to be ambitious, humble and empathetic.


What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
These are really thought-provoking questions.
I suppose it would be not to end up so self-focused that they neither have the capacity nor inclination to invest in wider big issues, climate change, wildlife conservation, racial or religious intolerance.


For our vision to succeed, we must leave nobody behind.

Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Marion Payr ~ Lady Venom

Meet Marion Payr, travel blogger extraordinaire with the most beautiful palette of colours in her captures from across the world.

Marion discovered her passion for photography in 2011 when signing up on Instagram. After 3 years of strict #iPhoneOnly photography, she started to use proper cameras and is now a self-taught professional photographer. Since 2016 she’s a full-time travel photographer and blogger.


  1. What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?

As with many decisions – you usually only know in hindsight which ones were good and which weren’t.

When my husband tried to convince me to sign up on Instagram in 2011 I only reluctantly gave in. I mean there was Facebook already… what else would I need? 😉 Fast forward a few years later and it turns out Instagram was the kick-off for my self-employment, a completely new career and passion for travel photography. I quit my last job in 2016 and since then work as a freelance travel photographer and blogger and built a social media agency with some really cool clients. Little did I know that this would happen, all by signing up on this “little” app. So saying YES can sometimes be a really good thing.

At the same time, I cannot think of one single worst decision in my life. Maybe I’m the master in suppressing unpleasant memories? 😉 Generally, I’m a person that overthinks decisions way too much – hence I’m often stuck in paths, that aren’t right anymore. I stayed in jobs, that weren’t good for me (professionally and personally) for way too long. I have to get better in letting things go and adapting to change. Because in the end that’s the only constant in life, yet it doesn’t come naturally to me.


2. What was your dream job as a kid and why?

I believe I wanted to become a teller of fairy tales, a book author and/or a teacher (not necessarily in that order) 😉

I remember that we had this little cassette recorder and I used to invent stories and fairy tales and record them for my little brother. I’m not sure he ever listened to those, but I vividly remember cuddling up under a blanket and embedding myself in these fantasy worlds. Later in school, my favourite tests were always in German, English and French – when we got to write essays. When the teachers asked for 300 words I usually delivered 3000 or more 🙂 (Here’s a sorry to my teachers for that! :)) At that time I read a lot of fantasy novels and teenage crime and detective stories and I wanted to become an author myself. And at home, my little brother got to know the true promise of my skills as a teacher when I forced him to sit in our makeshift school in our attic (maybe that’s why he hated school so much later) 😉

Now that I think back to all of those things I see how they connect and become a reality in some way. Today I tell travel stories through my photography and my blog and I get to teach as I support businesses in strategy processes and do social media consulting. Somehow it’s like all these jobs are now my career.


3. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

There are of course many answers to this and it’s a multifaceted issue. But at the core of it all lies structural inequality and social conditioning. It’s not the fault of any men or women, mothers or fathers individually – it’s our deeply rooted subconscious ideas about what it means to be feminine or masculine.

Therefore it’s a slow process to let go of these ideas – first on an individual and later on a societal level, but I feel like we’re getting there step by step.
It all begins with educating the next generation. As a storyteller myself I believe there’s a lot of power in what kinds of tales and stories we tell our children.

It matters which role models they experience as kids – not just in their family, but also in the books and fairy tales they read. I applaud fairy tales where the prince needs rescuing from the princess or where the witch casts a spell and defeats the mighty dragon. It begins with implanting these ideas and then the seeds will grow from there.


4. What woman inspires you and why?

As a kid, I grew up somewhat secluded in the countryside of Austria, so there weren’t many role models around. So the very obvious role model was my mother in many ways. She always managed to be independent, while also caring and nurturing others with everything she did. She was a successful businesswoman and then changed her career path completely in her 40s and decided to become a family therapist. I didn’t have access to many other role models outside of books back then – but I loved my detective stories with strong female characters.

Today I am inspired by every woman who follows her own path. This doesn’t necessarily only need to be the uncompromising Jane Goodall or the photo genius Lucy Laucht (although both inspire me a lot). Any woman that embraces all aspects about herself, no matter if everything fits the norm or not, is inspirational to me. In the last few weeks, we all have learned that the truly important people in our life are working as doctors, as nurses, as supermarket cashiers, garbage collectors, teachers, truck drivers – and I’m pretty sure there are incredible women in each of these jobs!


5. What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

I try to be optimistic about the future, so I believe they will be able to go forward in big steps towards a more equal society.

If we look back at the last few decades a lot has been accomplished already (even if there are sometimes steps back).

And I’m not only talking about gender equality but equality on every level. I feel that women play a vital role in this process – the more perspectives we bring to the table the better. Through the inclusion of women in societal processes, we can shift the needle to a more equal world!


Alice Péretié ~ #PhotographyForConservation

Meet Alice, a young and vibrant French Londoner that fell in love with Africa when she was 13, on a trip to Namibia. Her degree in Arts and Sciences at UCL, focused on Sustainable Development, Wildlife Conservation and Project Management. She is a freelance photographer, writing articles and supporting conservation through photography, and storytelling. Wise beyond her years, at 22, her passion and knowledge interlink as she draws inspiration from both philosophy and wildlife to create beautiful and influencing content. “Art is such a powerful medium for raising awareness, and funds.” 


What have been your best and worst decisions made so far in your life?

There are a few key milestones that have really influenced my journey, all contributing in fundamentally different ways. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at the ripe age of 19, almost 4 years ago, is probably the beginning of it all. I funded everything and embarked on my first almost-solo safari with my best friend by my side. It was the first time I’d travelled and organised a trip without the help of anyone other than myself, and funnily enough, the decision came at the perfect time. I was struggling with a lot of personal things, and this may sound very cliché, but reaching the roof of Africa showed me I could quite literally achieve what I wanted if I set my mind to it (other than in academia). It was both a physical and metaphorical ascent – and unblocked so many possibilities.

When I returned home, it hit me that it was high time I start following my passions, but equally that I could and should get out of my comfort zone- that I could trust myself. Things mentally clicked into place, and I started seeing opportunities everywhere. Confidence is something I’d always struggled with, and following my gut and ideas has really helped me build it up, and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today without it.

I’ll cheat a little and regroup two decisions under the “travelling alone to Africa” umbrella aha – this time it was reaching Virunga National Park, in the DRC. A lot of research about the place, a lot of hesitation and doubts before going… but I could not have been happier with my decision. Following that trip, I started telling stories and selling prints and to support conservation, both with funds and awareness, making conservation a bigger part of my life. I realised that I was particularly interested in travelling to remote places and sharing conservation stories that crucially need support. One thing led to another, and the decision to follow my gut and put myself out there has now wonderfully materialised into the project of intertwining conservation with Beauty, philosophy, literature and art.

It can take time, but all bad decisions are important steps and part of the process. I do, however, think that in this case there was absolutely no lesson to be learnt, other than maybe not to leave suitcases open in the bush – and not to rely on French parents for advice on these matters.

Essentially, this series of unfortunate events started and ended with a 30 cm long centipede from Malawi that had stowed away in my luggage, before deciding to go rogue in my brother’s room on a Sunday night at 11 pm, upon my return to London. One of the most tragic, hilarious and most unexpected episodes of my life (and my brother Louis’ too, undoubtedly), that resulted in a series of bad decisions, such as trying to contain it in my bathtub, as well as trying to catch it with yellow kitten rubber gloves.


When you were a child, what was your dream job and why?

There were two jobs I wanted to absolutely do – even if it meant doing both simultaneously!

I wanted to be a vet – I’ve always, always loved animals. My childhood dream was to be a horse vet and have a little countryside house with paddocks and herds of horses living alongside me (typical much?). But because my dream of being surrounded by animals couldn’t exactly materialise at the time, I collected plushy toys instead – there was practically no space on my bed for me to sleep on as they completely surrounded me.

This desire to support life, particularly in animals, with which I seemed to have more affinities than humans at the time, never left me at all. In fact, a few years ago, my grandma – who had remembered my vet ambition, questioned me on why I didn’t end up working with animals. But in a way, I do. Conservation communication, photography for a cause, storytelling, and consulting on crucial projects have become other ways to do so, this time integrating livelihoods and development. The picture may be bigger but the aims are still very much the same, and I feel so much more in my element than if I’d have to perform surgery on an animal (did I mention I’m terrible with precision and geometry in space?).

My other dream job was to be a classical archaeologist – I’m fascinated with all things Ancient Greece, and started learning about the myths, authors and alphabet at a young age. I wanted to spend my days digging in archaeological sites, uncovering hidden fragments of history. Studying Ancient Greek at school helped me to gain an in depth understanding of the classical authors – the playwrights, the philosophers, the politicians and the poets. In fact, I try to draw links between classical myths and philosophy in my articles and photo work about conservation, there are so manly links to be drawn across both fields of knowledge. My own way of making use of ancient history and culture, for lack of being an archaeologist.


What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

I truly believe that something holding women back is a lack of collaboration and trust between women – put differently, the desire to help each other out by listening, supporting, and enhancing our strengths. It’s not necessarily easy to put ourselves out there in the first place, as we navigate the obstacles that women will inevitably encounter (which does not say men do not either – though they may be different); so why try and bring other women down?

In that same line, and possibly more importantly – I think the biggest challenge will be to make “feminism” a less politicised term, and more of a way of being. To normalise respect for and amongst women rather than something that immediately generates opinions (much like environmentalism does, might I add).

Which is why more than ever, a sign of true leadership, for me at least, is the capability to listen and uplift other women.


What woman inspires you and why?

This is so hard – there are many wonderful women in my life, and in the world, that I look up to.

My heart goes out to my mum, who raised my brother and I in a way I will always, always be thankful for. She’s probably one of the most resilient people I know of, strong but with a gentleness about her that overbears everything else. She taught us love, which is probably the most important quality in my eyes. Some may smile, but it’s a word full of depth: without love – for ourselves, for others, for life, for the things that matter to us, what’s the point of moving forward? Finding an aim, finding something to fill our hearts with – love gives us meaning.

Those who know me know my passion for Ancient Greece, its history, its culture and its language. The Greeks has many words for love, a word so complex, that according to them, it could not simply have one meaning and one form.

The first, eros, is passion; the burning fire that makes us feel alive. But it’s not just physical – Plato argued that eros stems from an appreciation of Beauty, within a person, or within the concept itself, and the pursuit of it is very much a pursuit of Truth, for we are as much attracted to the knowledge of Beauty than to the Beauty itself (See The Symposium).

The second, philo is an affectionate, platonic love, catalysed by the soul, by the mind – if eros guides our search for truth (through the passionate quest of Beauty), philo requires virtue and ethics, for it is the love of community, the spiritual bond uniting people as friends and families. It gave words like “philosophy” – love of wisdom, and is a more general, welcoming, warming kind of love. It has stemmed into philautia, self-love and the respect of the self – equally crucial for a balanced and fruitful existence.

The third, storgê, it is motherly love, love for the next of kin. It commands empathy, but is attributed to the instinct that is the mother’s to protect her young. It is a very sweet and compassionate form of love.

Finally, and most importantly, agapê. Universal, unequivocal, charitable love. Disinterested, selfless, agapê cares about others, and is almost seen as a form so pure of love that some ask if it is attainable. In the ancient texts, this too was linked to the unrivalled bond between a mother and her child, but equally between the gods and the mortals.

My mother (probably unknowingly) taught me to open my heart and to love fiercely. The storgê and agapê are so strong in her, in her ways of being, that is something that’s truly inspired me.


What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

In one word (or three) – developing self-confidence.

Their position is quite important here, I believe. For the generation of women in the Western wold, I think that considering the different expectations, from the pre-existing societal identities and images attributed to “what being a woman” means, to the self-imposed ones, we have a lot to work with and against. We have come a long way to obtain the freedom to navigate these expectations, and I see the challenge residing in whether we take the opportunity to or not.

From this, I suppose that it can be complex to build the confidence to follow one’s aspirations (let alone trusting ourselves enough to find what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning). Being able to consciously know and understand that “we are good enough”, to put ourselves and self-care first -and this does not necessarily imply being selfish – having faith in our decision-making abilities and being aware of our individual capabilities and passions will be a very important component of our personal happiness and successes. That is, I think, the main challenge for our generation and future generations of women. To make use of the opportunities we have to find personal fulfilment. Ultimately, I strongly believe that this will show in our work, in our relationships, in whatever we set our minds to.

But we must also remember that we are in a position where we actually have the freedom to even consider personal fulfilment. It is not the case for many women around the world, and it will be a challenge for them to reach the point where they have the luxury to focus on their personal well-being, to have the confidence to step-up, and to challenge expectations – something that in my eyes ties back to female leadership. Both question 3 and 5 are intimately linked, as for me, supporting other women is a sign of strong female leadership, and developing the confidence to do so will be part of the challenge.

    Agata Passoni ~ The Safari Sisters

    This is me. I was born in Mombasa, Kenya. Grew up in Lilongwe, Malawi. I spent most of my childhood going to Liwonde, Nyika, Kasungu, Luwawa. Or crossing the border to visit the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia during my family holidays. I studied oriental languages in university, after a very brief attempt studying physics, where I lasted a year at Trieste. While studying in Venice, I worked in the hospitality and luxury sector. After returning to Africa, I worked in Malawi first – at Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park. Then in 2016, I returned to my home away from home, Kaingo (which means leopard in the Nyanja language). My passion and love for Shenton Safaris have enabled me to grow from a hostess into my current roles in sales, marketing and management, and onto my position on the board of Project Luangwa. That’s the brief summary.

    I’ve had a very fortunate life. The most important aspect is the woman my father raised me to be. My father is someone I will always place on a pedestal. He was an incredible businessman, intellect and had an insatiable curiosity to know more. He loved walking us through old ruins of civilisations past, as much as going to the bush and being on safari. He loved working, being busy, leading others. I was invited to his table, allowed to speak, and was told I belonged. I always felt I belonged, up there, on the top. Losing him was life-altering, my universe changed, my centre of gravity was gone. When you lose someone important to you, grief becomes a part of who you are. It’s a road that we all walk down, but the journey will be different for everyone. Becoming the woman he aspired for me to be has led me to be who I am now.


    1. What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?

    Best:
    Quitting my job in Italy. Whilst studying in Venice, I started working a lot of odd jobs in hospitality. Housekeeper, kitchen porter, waiter, room attendant, receptionist, anything I could get. I eventually landed the role of “commessa” for a summer season in Jesolo, which then allowed me to get a part-time job for a couple of high-end designer brands. I lived in that world for about 5 years and was absorbed by it. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion, design, and it’s a big part of who I am. But some of the negative experiences I had — that showed how it can be an empty and vain world — made my soul feel like it was crumbling away.

    I wish I could say that quitting my job came out of my own strength because I had planned what I wanted to do with myself. It did not! I had a bad break up with the man I was living with for four years, engaged to in fact. I wanted out, of all of it. Everything. That world represented me settling to fit in for him. I quit my job, with nothing else lined up, no future plans, and no idea of what to do next. How did I get to the safari world? My sister. For whom I’m forever grateful. Eternally attempting to be both a sister and a mother to me. She sat me down. “You need to figure out what you want to do!” I had no idea. So she listed all the things I loved, and as she went through them I got more and more upset. I think I might have wailed. I don’t remember clearly; I just remember saying that I wanted to go home. I needed to be in Africa, to be myself again. “Ok, so you want to go home? Why don’t you go to the bush? Get a seasonal job, you’ve always loved being there.” So that’s how it all started. Thank you, Gus. A few words from one sister, trying to uplift and guide another.

    Worst:
    I can never think of the worst. I feel like I’ve always learnt a lot from all the bad things in my life. Every negative experience created by a decision you made teaches you something about yourself, and about the world. I’ve made A LOT of bad choices, but none that I can think of as the worst, as they’ve all lead me to where I am right now. I can tell you the story I’m most ashamed of. It’s bizarre. When I was a child, I was a complete teachers’ pet. I loved going to school. I’m talking about pre-16 years (after that it’s a different story!). I was in standard three, I’m not sure what this converts to in your country, but eight years old roughly. In the first lesson of the day with my favourite teacher. She was cool, beautiful, intelligent. I was one of her favourites. She had forgotten to take her lunch to the teacher’s lounge and put it in the fridge. So she quickly gave it to me with instructions. I clearly wasn’t listening, and somehow “put this in the fridge” became “feed this to the fish”. So that’s what I did. I walked to the school pond and emptied her lunch into it. When I got back to the classroom with the empty lunchbox, her confused face told me I had done something wrong. “You told me to feed it to the fish?” I asked. Hands down, the most embarrassing experience of my life.


    2. What was your dream job as a kid and why?

    I had many, so many. As a child, there is so much pressure to know what you want to do with yourself. No one does. Or better yet, there are very few people that are born with a distinct calling. When you are, you tend to excel in those subjects and it’s clear that you’re on the right path. When you’re an all-rounded student, with many interests and skills, it’s not so easy. I liked the idea of many things, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I loved animals, so I liked the idea of being a vet. Or maybe a wildlife researcher? I loved literature; how about a poet, or a writer? I loved science; what about a physicist? I wanted to break apart atoms at CERN. I loved football; why not a professional athlete? I don’t know how many future careers I had. At 16, our school had a career guidance counsellor come through. We all took a test and he gave us a list of our possible careers. Mine: an architect, veterinarian, physicist, teacher. Suffice to say, I didn’t feel guided at all!


    3. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

    I think there are two that equally take up this role of being the most significant barrier.

    1. Ourselves. You’ve probably been brought up in an environment where many women in power are described as one of the following: selfish, opportunistic, vain, temperamental, bossy. Or on the other side of the spectrum: inept, scatty, excitable, indecisive. So if you want to lead, you’re going to be one of the above. This is so ingrained in everything you read, listen to, or watch. Female leaders are either bossy or useless. That’s it, that’s the outcome you’ve been taught from day one. When someone can’t be classified in these two roles, then let’s call her either a prude or (let’s not put the profanity in here, but you know what I mean). When you’ve been taught all your life that there’s no winning, even when you’ve won. Then the biggest obstacle is correcting this fiction the world has taught you. That’s something you have to work on, inside yourself. 
    2. Everyone else. It’s not about being a man or a woman. It’s everyone. We’ve all been taught this narrative in everything we do. Yes, things are changing now. Once you’ve overcome this narrative within yourself, you need to know that you’ll be faced with it every single day by everyone around you. It’ll be in the gentle words of comfort from a colleague, or in the reprimands of your superior. The world is still ticking along with women in leadership only being in these two categories. Autocratic or unsuitable. Any women in leadership must face them daily. Put them aside. And get on with their jobs.

    4. What woman inspires you and why?

    So many women inspire me. I always wonder if there was one in particular that I admired as a child. Princess Diana? Rita Levi-Montalcini? Jane Goodall? Amelia Earhart? Rosa Parks? These majestic beings that broke societies’ confinements, and just were themselves. I loved their stories as a child, revelled in them as if they were fairy tales. Now, it’s the everyday women that inspire me. The hard-working mother with five children to feed. The vegetable grower that sells her goods at the market. The women that live in a world that is so much more unjust to them but still are content with life.


    5. What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

    Falling for false, veiled equality. 

    New generations need to be redefining words. There’s so much power in words. So much power in the stories that are told. This will be the biggest challenge. Redefining what a woman in leadership is. Compounding new definitions. Ergo being a feminist is being pro-female empowerment, which is being pro-gender equality. Stepping away from the narrative that men must be belittled for women to get ahead. There’s space for both of us at the top. It is so important for all men to be feminists too. There needs to be a global movement where both women and men are taught and truly understand the importance of gender equality. Where being equal is understood as giving equal voices to each individual. And respecting them as your equal, whoever you are. Understanding one another’s stories and having the empathy to hear that person beyond their position in the world. You’ll see the greatest individuals that have ever lived, both men and women, have always spoken to others with respect, as their equals. We need to get there.