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As my husband I arrive in the middle of the night to Kenya and then to Africa International University, I quickly remember the fresh African air, the monumental potholes, and the Kenyan hospitality. With each Karibu greeting, (Welcome in Swahili), I feel more and more at home.
This opportunity to get to know several smiling faces and receive so many welcomes was initiated due to a Lois Shaw’s dedicated to ensured that when you come to Africa, you were not going to just experience the “barefoot mama, baby on her back, bananas in her hand and basket on her head.” Lois wanted Western woman to experience the Africa through the lens that continues to draw her back after 25 years.
Lois Shaw, Canadian-born, lives in United States and Kenya would have a challenge in telling you where her home is. There is no doubt her heart belongs in Africa, and in investing in women leaders, the Change Agents of Africa. To be in Lois’s presence you quickly identify her success has come from her graciousness and ease.
The more I interacted with Lois, the more I realized a few things. Her brainchild, WOW Safaris (Women on the W.I.L.D – Women in Leadership Development), was not a grand plan but an evolution of sorts. Partly perhaps out of frustration that her passion was not necessarily understood by her friends and family, and during fundraising initiatives. WOW Safaris (www.wowsafaris.org/) objective is to bring Western women to Lois’s backyard in Kenya and she hoped to inspire the spark that has been lit in her for so long. She succeeded. As there have been many women who have passed through the doors of Africa International University (AIU/NEGST), where Lois resides, who have been inspired by the spirit of the Kenyan women and have either tried to learn or lead all while leaving their imprint in Africa.
Lois is the first to admit that every women that has been involved with WOW Safaris has not necessarily had the best impact. This is the leadership skill we all need to adopt: appreciate that everything we do is not a success, and alter accordingly. But if you don’t take the chance, all you will experience is empty dreams and empty promises.
At “almost” 62, Lois has no problem admitting she is just starting to hit her stride. As a lifelong learner, she is now writing her doctorate that focuses on “Killing with Kindness” with the sole purpose of understanding how she can continue to bring Western women to Africa not only so they see can see the potential here that she sees, but more importantly, how we can work alongside African women to provide them with the skills to reach their objectives.
WOW Safaris have been a huge success, as there are many Western women that continue to work on various projects, be it micro-finance, providing jobs and equipment for disabled children, or leadership training programs and providing scholarships. Many Western women who have started projects because of WOW Safaris have continued to work alongside African women and children.
As I interview Lois Shaw for the first episode of Wisdom Exchange TV (www.wisdomexchangetv.com), some leadership insights became very obvious to me. Lois did not have a grand plan, her success was an evolution, and that the impact she has made will never be enough. She will continue to grow by learning from others, and continue to evaluate what projects help Africa and avoid what projects hurt Africa. Regardless of the journey, there is one thing that has been achieved for sure, through some of the proceeds of WOW Safaris she is able to provide scholarships to perspective women leaders that may never had the opportunity.
Twenty-five years ago Lois came to Africa leaving all that was familiar. She may have come to pursue her husband’s dream, but she stays to live hers.
Watch Lois Shaw interview on wisdomexchangetv.com. Launched April 19, 2011. Lois’s interview is under a special section called “Ripple Effect.” This segment focuses on women who have come from all over the world to create a ripple effect in developing countries, particularly Africa. She tells a bit of her story, but more importantly the lessons she learned and the leadership lessons she suggests.
Visit www.wisdomexchangetv.com to hear women inspire us to stretch our vision of what we can do, and what WE can be. New interviews and Expert Perspective blogs will be updated regularly with the insights of the African women leaders of today for tomorrow.
Suzanne F Stevens
Chief Edge Optimizer
Ignite Excellence Inc. Group of Initiatives
Interviewing at Karen Blixen Museum
Visit our other Ignite Excellence Group of initiatives’ websites with corresponding blogs.
Suzanne F Stevens – Profiling women leaders who have pushed their edge to personal or professional potential from backpack to briefcase to boardroom
Ignite Excellence Foundation – Leadership, Advocacy, Education – following donations to scholarships for women in developing countries
Wisdom Exchange TV – A forum where women will be inspired from the achievements of African women in business, education, philanthropy and politics.
You Me & We – a husbands and wife’s journey through Africa in 2011/12
Ignite Excellence Inc. – Influence, Differentiate, Engage more people and more business – a training & development company