Women 4Africa Speaks to Dr Fiona Bartels-Ellis OBE

Dr Fiona Bartels-Ellis OBE – Ghana

Dr Fiona Bartels-EllisDr Fiona is Global Head of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at the British Council, the UK’s principal cultural relations organisation.In this role she sets and drives the strategic direction of equality and diversity across the organisation’s offices in 110 countries and territories.

W4A: Who is Dr Fiona Bartels-Ellis OBE in 3 sentences?
DR FIONA: A hard working woman. A believer in ongoing self-development and in making a positive contribution. An open, receptive person.

W4A: Why are Equal Opportunities and Diversity important to you?
DR FIONA: Because they contribute to making the world a better place, despite the fact that this is often ignored, or indeed forgotten. They help humanise us and encourage us to be better towards each other than we might be without them. They challenge oppressive power structures so more people can benefit than would do so without this challenge.

W4A: You describe yourself as a life-long learner. Do you think this is something African women should replicate?
DR FIONA: Of course people have to choose their own path and make their own decisions but I can’t think of any disadvantages of lifelong learning which, incidentally, is not primarily about formal, academic learning, although this can be part of it. It is about being receptive and committed to self-improvement and continuous development of oneself in the various roles you fulfil. Many, many African women are already life long learners but if not, I do think they should consider committing to the challenging and rewarding journey of lifelong learning.

W4A: What would you say has been your greatest achievement and what has been your greatest obstacle? How have you dealt with both of them?
DR FIONA: Being a mother of two compassionate children with characters I am proud of and also being successful in my career has been my greatest achievement. I have not thought in terms of obstacles really but I avoid worrying because worrying can be very limiting. I have struggled enormously with physical tiredness and it has been something of an obstacle in many ways. I approach achievement and obstacles through rationalising and putting things in perspective.

W4A: For women wanting to achieve the measure of success that you have, what would you say to encourage them?
DR FIONA: Be prepared to work very hard. Be organised and disciplined. Understand yourself and go out of your comfort zone. I often reflect on the fact that I was a little kid born in Sekondi on a hill and embarked on a journey I could not have predicted. Think about the journey you want to take and why and identify some of the key steps involved and take them.
W4A: What is the one thing you love about Africa?
DR FIONA: Africans! The beauty of people, their resilience and potential – realised and unrealised. The way in which the humidity envelopes you and you can forget vests and gloves, scarves and tights. The brightness.

W4A: Who inspires you and why?
DR FIONA: There is no one individual. Various contributions over many years be they from more well-known figures like Wangari Maathai, Adam Hochschild, Mary Seacole, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Maya Angelou to friends, family and colleagues. I am inspired by independent minded people who take action in the area of social justice and retain humility and who I can learn from.

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