To the question, ‘are you a Feminist?’ Dr Frannie Léautier, Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) once said she couldn’t care less what that meant. Unless, of course, it had something to do with a woman’s legitimate “drive and ambition” to succeed in whatever she set her mind to: be it, in economics, social anthropology, engineering, basket weaving or indeed, any other trade or any form of leadership.
Put in this context, her sterling achievements in diverse fields of human endeavor, which earned her an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and a place in the Top 100 Most Influence People in Africa is more than enough answer.
Even more fundamental is her personal, matter-of-fact approach to development. With the Léautier Family Foundation, a non-profit organization launched early in the year, she hopes to empower the girl-child as an agent of change after her own pioneering exploits and stellar career. Starting off with a $10,000 endowment and $1000 a year until Dr Léautier’s demise, the foundation which will seek additional funding from NGOs and development institutions, is her widow’s mite for the noble cause of gender mainstreaming.
Not one to be bothered about labels, Dr Léautier would rather be acknowledged for who she is: a multi-tasking, high-achieving, passionate campaigner not just for the rights of women, but everyone involved in productive activity to better the lot of humanity. Hence her uncompromising and untiring efforts to help the continent to produce a competent, skilled entrepreneurial and labour pool necessary for transforming its wealth of resources into development-inducing policies and projects.
Léautier wears many academic-cum-professional hats. The Tanzania-born Amazon is a natural activist. Going out early in life to study “male-dominated” civil engineering to the consternation of friends and family, she went to take a Master’s in Transport and a PhD in Infrastructure Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Not done, she hopped over to Harvard for an Executive Development Program to top off a grueling, self-improvement regimen that prepared her for the challenges in the real world.
For her pains and contributions to humanity, the hard-working champion of the under-privileged was honored early this year with the title of Nkosuoehemaa (Queen of Development) of the Agona Traditional Society in Ghana.
A development veteran, Léautier was chief of staff to the former President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn between 2000 and 2001 before heading to the Bank’s Institute from 2001-2007. She left the institution as Vice President to take up the current post in 2009. Léautier sits on several boards, notably the Nelson Mandela Institute for Science and Technology in Africa and the Africa Institute for Governing with Integrity. Somehow, she has been able to squeeze out time since 2007, to teach a course in leadership at the Science Po, Paris School of International Affairs.
Since taking up the gauntlet at the ACBF in July 2009, Léautier has led the institution to tackle the continent’s capacity challenge from many sides, starting with the momentous issue of climate change and its negative effects on the socio-economic life of the people. The Foundation also addresses food security, infrastructure inadequacy and of course, governance at the national and regional levels.
Léautier couldn’t have asked for a letter job to suit her temperament, aspiration and life ambition than the ACBF assignment. She exudes patent joy in seeing the Foundation’s investments in capacity building flourish. The 127-odd active development projects and programs which currently enjoy its grants and technical support are all close to her heart. The list ranges from assistance for higher education and training institutes in collaboration with Universities in Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda and Burkina Faso through support for debt management capacity in Zimbabwe and Nigeria, to the building of public sector institutions in Mali and Kenya. Significantly, the private sector is not left out as the ACBF realizes its place as the engine of growth and job creation. After all, two years before her taking up the ACBF job, Léautier had founded and run The Fezembat Group, a risk management and leadership development consultancy.
As Léautier’s tenure at the Foundation glides to its terminal day of December 31 this year, the affable but focused one-woman-think-thank will best be remembered for the pithy immortal line that kept her on the track of her mandate at the African Institution:
“Between prosperity that lies ahead and peace/stability that is important to bring that prosperity, capacity is the glue in between”.