Women Like Sirleaf and Gbowee Clear Africa's Path to Prosperity

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Leyman Gbowee and Tawakul Karman speaks to the crucial role women have played in securing peace in former conflict zones.
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I was heartened to learn Friday morning that the Nobel Committee had awarded this year's Peace Prize to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia's current president, and the bold Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, two women I admire tremendously for their pivotal role in advancing the cause of peace in Africa.

That they, along with another brave woman, Yemen's Tawakul Karman, have earned this accolade speaks not only to the enormous scale of progress made in securing peace in former conflict zones but also the crucial role women have played in achieving these goals.

This announcement comes as we mourn the loss of Wangari Maathai, another African icon and the continent's first Nobel Peace Prize laureate. As we reflect on their achievements, it is impossible not to acknowledge the adversities women leaders have faced in the struggle leading up to this moment.

Wangari Maathai's life and legacy spurred many movements, not only in her native Kenya but on the entire African continent. Her unwavering dedication allowed her and her African laureate successors, including Sirleaf and Gbowee, to rise to prominence on the international stage.

For BRAC, the organization I am privileged to be a part of, these leaders symbolize everything we stand for: The empowerment of women clears the path to peace and prosperity.

At the Clinton Global Initiative in 2007, President Sirleaf urged BRAC, a Bangladesh-based organization and the largest anti-poverty group in the world, to bring its proven strategies to her country as it put the legacies of conflict behind it once and for all. As she put it at the time, BRAC's "inspiring story gives us hope that Liberia can use citizen power to rebuild and transform the lives of the poorest to bring about health, wealth, and greater well-being." Since her invitation, BRAC and other organizations have made huge strides in creating sustainable development amongst previously deprived communities in Liberia and elsewhere.

Founded in 1972, BRAC is on a drive to apply solutions created in its native Bangladesh to defeating poverty in Africa. We do this by removing the causes of poverty and hunger at the root with a comprehensive approach geared toward individual empowerment. This includes providing millions of micro-entrepreneurs with better opportunities via micro-loans, improving access to markets, and building institutions to provide better health care and education.

The great achievements of these women serve as reminders that we need not be overwhelmed by news of war and poverty. Solutions to the world's more pressing problems do exist, and those with the ears to hear them will find success stories -- songs of hope instead of cries of war, and pictures of prosperity instead of images of hopelessness -- often in the unlikeliest of places.

Our goal is not to dispense aid to impoverished people but to create conditions under which individuals can realize their full potential. "We are dancing," said a spokesman for Sirleaf in response to the award. So are we. Not just for Africa, but for the future Wangari Maathais, Ellen Johnson-Sirleafs, Leymah Gbowees and Tawakul Karmans of the world. May their potential soon be unleashed.

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