As one of Forbe’s 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa, Elsie Kanza is not to be overlooked. Born in Kenya to Tanzanian parents, she obtained an education in the United States and in Kenya. She received her BA in International Business Administration from the United States International University – Africa, her Masters of Science in Finance from the University of Strathclyde and her Masters of Arts in Development Economics from Williams College.
Kanza then went on to become an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow in 2008 and a World Economic Forum World Leader in 2011. Until recently, Kanza served as a personal assistant and economic advisor to the Republic of Tanzania president, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, making her an extremely influential political figure in Africa. Now, she serves as perhaps her most important role yet: director for Africa at the World Economic Forum. The World Economic Forum is a Geneva-based non-profit organization that works to convene global leaders in business, academics, and politics to engage in shaping global agendas.
Through this position, Kanza’s team has been focusing on addressing important issues in Africa including climate change, food security, infrastructure development, and resources management. Kanza works specifically on connecting senior government officials in sub-Saharan Africa with leasers at the World Economic Forum to facilitate collaboration. In an interview with In2EastAfrica, Kanza said that the new job is essentially an extension of her last job as an advisor because she is working so closely with government officials. She develops partnerships that will help her team achieve their broader development goals.
This year’s World Economic Forum conference on Africa was held in May in Cape Town, South Africa. Over 1,000 people participated from 80 different countries. The conference focused heavily on economic grown and competitiveness in Africa as well as infrastructure development. In an interview with Forbes, Kanza said, “There’s a real optimism in Africa at the moment, but also caution: Africa’s leaders know that although they have a unique development opportunity, growth is by no means guaranteed. We dedicated a number of sessions to discussing how Africa can diversify its economic base, create more and better jobs and improve competitiveness through further reform.”
As a powerful young leader, Kanza is also dedicated to promoting youth leadership in Africa as well. She particularly focuses on helping the World Economic Forum’s “Shapers” community which consists of 20-30 year olds working on development projects across Africa.
– Emma McKay