Women are given equal rights under the constitution of Ghana, yet disparities in education, employment, and health for women remain prevalent. Furthermore, women have much less access to financial resources than men in Ghana do.
Across the world, it is no doubt that men still far outnumber women in decision-making but currently Ghana can be touted as one of the few countries that have a positive example of nurturing female leadership in business. Whatever these women do also come with a sense of responsibility to help and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
Research suggests that despite women’s positive participation in Ghana’s business environment, the majority of women entrepreneurs, are “stuck at the micro-level”. The UN has reported that “many women entrepreneurs in Ghana are unable to expand because they lack properly coordinated support, cheap and long-term credit, and sufficient access to new technologies. They face poor infrastructure, low capacity and sometimes obstructive government policies”.
Upon all the challenges these women go through to occupy positions that allow them to take important decisions, we cannot celebrate successful women in Ghana without mentioning those that have gone through turbulence and survived to achieve something great for themselves, their family, and the world.
One of these women is Salma Okonkwo, founder of Blue Power Energy and Board Chair of Puma Energy.
Salma Okonkwo has risen through trials and persevered to become one of the prominent women on the continent of Africa.
From humble beginnings, she grew up with the values of ‘and work pays and life is what you make it’. “I don’t stop when the door is being shut. I find a way to make it work,”. She always says that’s what propelled her to success.
As a teenager she worked as a part time assistant receptionist at her mum’s estate agency. At age 17, she had her first paying job at a Pizza place and then later McDonalds in South London. When she got admission to college in the US, she worked at the department store Bullocks which later became Macys.
With experience in marketing, she landed a job with an oil and gas multinational as a senior manager and then later a director, the first female director of an oil and gas company in Ghana. Salma started her own company, Blue Power Energy, and over the years, she has shown resilience, discipline, focus and commitment.
Salma’s skill is inspiring and encouraging others in taking risks to grow has afforded her the staying power in Corporate West Africa. Her ability to leading an agile and adaptive organisation.
Salma is a senior business executive with over 20 years of experience in Africa’s energy sector. Having worked extensively across oil and gas in West Africa, Salma founded UBI Petroleum in 2007, an energy trading business specialising in procurement, storage, marketing and distribution of petroleum products in West Africa, with a primary focus on Ghana. Her focus is now on the development of green energy businesses in West Africa.
Because her deep and wide-ranging expertise in energy from oil and gas to renewable energy, she recently launched Blue Power Energy Ltd (BPE), an alternative energy conglomerate, developing a $200m solar farm project in Northern Ghana. Blue Power Energy (BPE) is focused on creating a sustainable energy future for Ghana and Sub Saharan Africa that will drive economic growth.
She is also the co-founder and board member of Blue Star Exploration and sits on the Board of Directors of Makmera Upstream, an upstream exploration company and Nahid’s Properties, a real estate development company.
Besides her business accomplishments, Mrs. Okonkwo is also a known philanthropist. She is the founder of Mothers Heart Foundation which was set up in 2010. Mothers Heart foundation provides the basic needs for human life. Mrs. Okonkwo has over the years provided accommodation, clothing, food, healthcare and education to the poor and needy.
All beneficiaries including those that have and are receiving university education are coached and trained to give back to society. They are expected to also support the organization in giving back via coaching, tutoring and mentoring.
In 2011 after partnering with Jeffrey Sachs United Nations Development Program Millennium Project, the Mothers Heart Foundation adopted the Millennium Development Goals – eight globally endorsed targets that address the problems of poverty, health, gender equality, among others.
With respect to that, the Mothers heart Foundation works to contribute to: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger through the Mothers Heart Soup Kitchen. The soup kitchen is a mobile food delivery service that delivers hot meals to locations where the homeless and underprivileged reside. One of such places is the ‘under-bridge’ near airport Villaggio and East Legon.
Her philanthropic works have brought relief to over 10,000 and this, she says, is her most cherished accomplishment. The foundation is continuing with lifting people from under the poverty line to sustainability.
Salma is an ardent supporter of empowering young people. As a leader in energy development, Mrs. Okonkwo has won numerous awards including Ghana Women of Excellence of year 2020 award and the Female Energy Personality of the Year 2020.
Sheer determination, hard work, focus coupled with professionalism has made this leader one of the women to recognize during this International women’s day.
Valentina Mintah, first African female global board executive.
Valentina Mintah is an internationally recognized expert in trade facilitation and business process automation. She is the first black woman to hold the position as an African female global board executive at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
Having established West Blue Consulting in 2012, Mintah led her company to successfully develop and deliver a national single window platform for Nigeria, significantly optimising and improving trade facilitation in the country, and leading to savings of USD$25 million per month for Nigeria.
In 2014, West Blue Consulting further harnessed its customs modernisation expertise to develop and implement a national single window platform for Ghana. Within two years of implementation at ports across Ghana, the platform had saved the Government of Ghana about USD$ 500 million, which resulted in Ghana rising through the ranks of the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business” index, and becoming a vibrant hub for continental trade.
Commenting on her election, Ms. Mintah who serves as vice chair of ICC Ghana said that despite the current global health and economic crisis, Africa cannot and should not be overwhelmed.
Freda Duplan, Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Zenith Bank – Ghana
Mrs. Duplan is a noted Ghanaian corporate leader with almost three decades of working experience with the Nestlé Group, having risen to become the first African woman to be appointed as CEO and market head in the Nestlé Group as well as the first woman and Ghanaian Managing Director of Nestlé Ghana Limited.
Her international roles held with Nestlé included Managing Director of Nestlé Pakistan Limited and Head of Nestlé Business Services in Manila, Philippines.
Under the leadership of Mrs. Duplan, Nestlé Ghana received a number of awards including, “The most diversified company of the year” and “Baby food manufacturing company of the year” from the Ghana Export Promotion Authority.
During this period in Nestlé Ghana, she was also an executive member of Business Associations such as Ghana Employers Association, Association of Ghana Industries and the Swiss Chamber of Commerce.
Currently, she Chairs the Board of Directors of Zenith Bank Ghana and is a founding member of Executive Women Network (EWN).
Lucy Quist, a Ghanaian-British business and technology executive and the Managing Director for Morgan Stanley in UK.
In her early working life, she was an Electrical and Electronic Engineer at Ford Motor Company, and attained her Chartered Engineer certification. She joined the Royal Bank of Scotland as a change manager before switching to the telecommunications industry in 2008 at Millicom International Cellular, working in business development, sales, distribution, and marketing. Lucy Quist was appointed Head of Strategy and Planning at Vodafone’s Ghanaian subsidiary.
In addition, she oversaw the company’s wholesale and enterprise businesses. She served as the CEO of Airtel Ghana. In her leadership role, she advocated for greater youth STEM participation in Ghana through her company’s corporate social responsibility initiative. She founded Quist Blue Diamond. She also co-founded FreshPay payment platform in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Executive Women Network.
In September 2018, she was appointed by FIFA as their Vice President of the Normalization Committee to restructure football in Ghana. She is currently a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley in its London office.
She has also been engaged on the public speaking circuit at events such as the Mobile World Congress, Hogan Lovells African Forum 2017, Pan African Women Forum, TEDxEuston, Wharton Africa Business Forum, and the Sanford C. Bernstein Center for Leadership and Ethics Conference at Columbia Business School and the African Development Investment Convention.
She has been recognized for her work through the following awards:
– 2016 8th Most Influential Public Figures (Ghana Social Media Rankings)
– Corporate Leadership Award, Ghana Legacy Honours 2017
– Top 50 Women Corporate Leaders in Ghana (Woman Rising)
– 100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women, Woman Rising
– CSR CEO of the year 2015, Ghana CSR Excellence Awards (GHACEA)
– Telecom CEO of the Year (GITTA Awards 2016)
– Excellence in Corporate Responsibility (Ghana Women of the Year Honours 2016)
– 58th Most Influential Person in Ghana (Ghana’s Most Influential Awards 2016)
– CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year 2014 (CIMG 2015 Awards)
– Special Recognition to the Telecom Industry (GTA 2015).
Given the exploits of these extraordinary women, it is no wonder Brigham Young, an American religious leader, politician, colonist and also the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877 said “If you educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation”.