Sarah Owusu – Ghana
Sarah works with organisations that have a sense of social purpose and she uses dialogic approaches to explore the opportunities and challenges that exist across the continent. She also works directly with individuals that are leading change in Africa coaching two African women:one works to decrease maternal mortality rates through promotion of agri-business in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the other tutors children with autism in Nigeria and seeks to change mindsets about developmental disorders.
W4A: Who is Sarah Owusu and what inspires her?
SARAH: I see myself as a planetary citizen. I don’t have much time for borders and I have always been rather nomadic – you can make home where ever you are, and I get my sense of belonging from being part of a global community.
I think it is possible to find inspiration in everything. I think people are incredible and weird and wonderful, and I love it when they find ways to express themselves, tell their stories and create things. The world we live in (both natural and man-made) is fascinating and baffling. I often find inspiration just by looking at something familiar with fresh eyes or really listening to someone in a new way, perhaps someone with a completely different point of view to myself.
W4A: As someone who has worked and schooled and travelled in over 15 African countries, what would you say are some of the things you have learned along the way that have helped to shape who you are today?
SARAH: I have been exposed to a lot of places, people and cultures and I guess my most important realisation is that these are both hugely diverse and hugely similar. It sounds like a paradox, but it is true. Everyone is unique, their contribution meaningful and their experience true for them – this makes for a really complex, colourful and interesting planet. At the same time, we are closer to each other than we think. We are all connected and at core we want the same things; we can always find things in common.
In Africa this is really apparent. There does seem to be such a thing as “African” and a certain unity across the continent, yet from country to country there is great diversity and amazing, unique cultures. It’s like a brightly woven fabric, where there are many clashing and complimentary colours that all in all make up one single cloth.
I try to address the world and be in the world with that in mind: with curiosity and empathy. It is important in the work that I do as a coach and organisation development consultant, but it is also a more interesting way to be personally. I think allowing for this “both / and” mentality gives rise to better dialogue, more collaboration and more creativity.
W4A: You recently won the ‘Inspirational Woman of the Year’ award at the 3rd Annual Women4Africa Awards. To any woman who is looking to go to the next level in her life, what 2 inspirational things would you say to her?
SARAH: Everyone’s journey is unique so it is hard to give a single piece of advice, but personally, winning the Women4Africa award brought to light 2 things for me. Firstly, I won it in a year when I had decided to do exactly what I wanted to do – I thought about what really excited me and where I found meaning and just went for it, even if it was unconventional.
In my case, it meant quitting a stable job, selling most of my belongings and leaving London (which had been home for 10 years) because I knew I wanted the freedom of travel and in particular, to reconnect with Africa.
Secondly, I knew my strengths, skill-set and was passionate about making a contribution; I wanted to use that to benefit individuals and organisations as a facilitator and to activate potential in others. We all have this uniqueness and potential. I believe that people will value my unique set of experience and expertise – winning the award validated this.
So I would urge anyone to think about: what is it that I really want and what is the unique thing that I can share with the world? Where those two things meet is the answer to what next. But it is important to acknowledge that it’s not necessarily an easy question to answer – it takes time, you go with the flow, it evolves and changes over time.
W4A: What 3 things are most important to you as a strong woman and why?
SARAH: This list is always changing – but at the moment the three of the things that I am focused on are conversations and openness.
By conversation, I mean more than just chitchat; I try to engage in and get better at real dialogue. That involves really listening, respecting what others say and where they are coming from, suspending judgement and speaking my own truth.
Being open is a lot of things to me. Open to new ways of looking things, to more than one version of the truth, to new adventures and challenges. And another aspect of openness is vulnerability – I believe there is great strength and authenticity in showing your vulnerability.
I’m going to stick with 2 – that’s enough for now
W4A: If you had the choice between education and experience, which would you choose and why?
SARAH: It isn’t one or the other – both can be helpful and both can be a hindrance. But the thing that is not optional is learning.
Personally, I love to study and am always doing some sort of degree or course alongside work. I find it stimulating to stretch my intellect and to keep a spirit of inquiry. But you can think too much, or rely on knowledge too much – I think it is important to balance it with getting out and doing things, feeling things, learning things with your whole being.
Experience is also huge, it really shapes us and gives us practical and applicable skills and capabilities. But it can narrow our possibilities if we see ourselves as just our experience – it is important to always be stretching and challenging yourself to gather new experience.
I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today if it weren’t for the combination of both.
W4A: What do you love about Africa?
SARAH: Wow – that’s tough to answer. One of the things is that Africa really encompasses everything – it has both light and dark – and that, to me, is interesting and honest. Geographically, in society and culture, in politics, in every individual… Africa seems to be able to hold the complexity of many sides.
And then, the more I work on the continent, the more I am convinced that there is an inherent capability for community and collaboration. Africans are natural orators, storytellers and conversationalists – that really appeals to me and I guess that is partly why I ended up in this field of work. There is time, space and capacity here to have real depth of interaction.
Finally, I love the space. The scale of the continent feels liberating. And the sky here feels enormous…