You may already recognize our Regional Operations Manager, Melanie Zawadi. That’s because she’s been a key leader on our team in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), pretty much since we started working with Congolese communities in 2010. From the day we met her, Melanie has inspired us with her strength, brilliance, and commitment to LRA-affected communities. If Beyonce’s Run the World is about anyone in particular, we suspect it’s Melanie.
In 2011, Melanie joined our team as our first Congolese staff member to help build our office and programs in DRC from the ground up. Today, she is the woman leading the charge over the operations of our offices in both DRC and in the Central African Republic (CAR). From finances and human resources to the expansion of programs like our Early Warning Radio Network and Community Peace Committees, Melanie makes sure that every dollar given to Invisible Children is used thoughtfully and effectively, and that our programs, staff, and local partners are well-equipped to help make Central African communities safer.
We had the chance to sit down with Melanie and hear about her experiences as a female leader in central Africa. She passed on some incredible pearls of wisdom that we just had to share. So, without further ado, we give you the incredible Melanie Zawadi:
First off, Melanie, what does it mean to you to be a female leader at Invisible Children?
I’m very proud to be a part of Invisible Children in DRC and a part of empowering women and other vulnerable groups throughout central Africa. In the years that I’ve been a part of the Invisible Children team, I have learned so much about being a leader. I have learned the importance of voicing my opinions and I always trying to encourage my fellow Congolese women to take on opportunities to lead, voice their opinions, and show their strength.
What do you hope for women in central Africa?
Many do not recognize the power that Central African women have and I want people everywhere to understand just how strong and capable we are. A woman can bring a big, big, big contribution to development efforts and can be very helpful in resolving conflicts and preventing violence.
My dream is to encourage women, especially women in rural areas of central Africa, that they can do so much to support their community at home, even if it is something as simple as selling tomatoes. I also want to help women encourage and help their children to get an education. But most importantly, I want to see more women included in efforts to make their communities safe because we have so much to offer.
What is one piece of advice you would give to other women who want to be leaders?
Many women and men worry that being a leader will stop women from caring for their families. But I want to encourage other women that being a leader does not stop you from fulfilling your role as a mother and it should not stop you from loving and respecting your husband, father and elders.
So, you’re saying women are “strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business”? That’s what we thought. Sorry, Melanie, you were saying…
I would also tell other women that it takes time, energy, wisdom, and knowledge to become and prove that you are leader — whether you are a man or a woman.
What would you say to men who have female leaders in their lives?
Women are so strong and powerful, and it’s important that men understand that. First, men must accept that women can contribute in many ways to roles that traditionally have fallen to men. Second, men must trust women. Third, men must support all women as leaders, whoever they are, because, by discouraging any of us, you are discouraging all of us.
Finally, what do you like most about working for Invisible Children?
Of course, I love having the opportunity to empower other women in central Africa and I am proud of how we are able to support the safety of so many communities across central Africa. But I also love working with our team and knowing that each of us has so much respect and consideration for each other. Even our CEO will send messages of encouragement to the gardener. That is very unique and shows how, when we all build one another up, we can have a very big impact.
There you have it, folks. Now you see why we’re so proud to have incredible African women like Melanie leading our Invisible Children team.
Every day, she and the rest of our staff in CAR and DRC work tirelessly together to equip women and other leaders in central Africa with the tools they need to help make their families and communities safer.