Women on the Move: Hadeel Ibrahim
"There is an extraordinary young generation of African women that is emerging ... and I think that's one of the real beacons of light and hope when I look at the African landscape."
Hadeel Ibrahim is the founding Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, a non-grant making organization that focuses on assessing and advancing leadership in Africa through governance index in Africa, public forums as well as leadership awards and fellowships. Ibrahim is also co-chair of the Board of Directors of the Africa Center in New York, whose mission is to promote partnership, dialogue, and understanding between African artists, business leaders, civil society, and their counterparts in the United States and beyond.
Right from the beginning of her career, Ibrahim has always been interested in African development. She previously spent time working in private equity but later realized that it did not truly speak to her. As for now, she devotes all of her efforts to philanthropy and development, working closely with her family business at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
Being a women pioneer in her field is, to no surprise, hardly a walk in the park. Many times during the past decade, Ibrahim encountered sexism and discrimination in the workplace. In a meeting with male colleagues, she says, people tend to address themselves to the man next to her, who then passes on the message, rather than interacting with her directly. This phenomenon of “strange triangular conversations,” according to Ibrahim, is just one of the numerous challenges facing women leaders nowadays. It is not only important to acknowledge the issue but also to make the most out of it, she says.
To a young leader involved in a myriad of organizations and international agencies like Ibrahim, persistence is the first and foremost quality of a leader, who is willing to step up, take risks, and endure. “It’s a real grind and you have to be willing to stay with it, to work, and sometimes just to tire people out until they say yes,” she said.
Although honored as a woman “on the move,” Ibrahim steered this notion away from herself and rather used it to highlight the upcoming generation of leaders in Africa as the epitome of women on the move. "There's an extraordinary young generation of African women coming to the foreground […] and I think that's one of the real beacons of light and hopes when I look at the African landscape."
Growing up, Ibrahim was most influenced by her father, Mo Ibrahim, as well other Mo Ibrahim Foundation board members. She expressed her sincere gratitude toward their mentorship and investment on young people. Whenever these leaders attend a reception or a public event, she would be struck by how they always gravitate to the youngest persons in the room. “They are not looking for the most powerful or most influential but the young people,” she said, “they will sit, engage, ask them questions, and build that intergenerational dialogue that’s so sorely needed.”
When it comes to advice for young women aspiring to become leaders in their field, Ibrahim said that being around high-caliber leaders and being able to observe their work is what motivates her to work hard and “ace” her game. “I wouldn't say it was the giving of the advice. It was more of setting an example of how to be in the world, how to make change in the world, and it begins with excellence."