Cote d'Ivoire Alumna Creates Connections for African Women

Sefora Marcelle Kodjo-Kouassi has an impressive career: president of a non-profit, researcher, and spokesperson.  She hasn’t just built a career for herself though; her life’s work is all about bringing other women up with her.  She is dedicated to promoting equality and building opportunities for other women.  In her words, “In Africa, women are often not allowed to have a voice or exert influence. A woman can be a good mother, a good wife and a great leader.” 

Due to her commitment to improving the lives of women in Cote d’Ivoire, Sefora was selected to join hundreds of other young leaders from across the African continent to participate in the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) -Mandela Washington Fellowship  in 2015.  For six weeks, Sefora studied civic leadership at Wagner College in New York. During her time in the U.S., she gained valuable leadership skills that she brought back to her many initiatives and programs in Cote d’Ivoire.

Today, Sefora is the president of SEPHIS, a non-profit association that promotes gender equality, women’s rights, and female leadership in Cote d’Ivoire. She led her organization in implementing the SEPHIS National Caravan for Women’s Empowerment, which trained over 1,600 young women on women’s rights issues and combatting gender-based violence in seven cities across the country. The caravan was widely covered by national media outlets, spreading awareness and building broader support for women’s rights. This year, Sefora established the African Women of Future Fellowship, a mentorship and training program on leadership, networking and professional development for 24 young women.  

Since completing the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Sefora has greatly expanded SEPHIS, tapping into the YALI Network  to establish new chapters in other West African countries, including Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal, and Togo, and a new chapter in France. As a part of the organization’s expansion, she collaborated with alumni of other U.S. international exchange programs, including alumni of the Study of U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders on Women Leadership and English Access Microscholarship Program. 

Sefora is also active in other national and continental initiatives to promote women in leadership.  She was named spokesperson for Cote d’Ivoire’s collective of national female youth organizations during the November 2017 official visit to Cote d’Ivoire of the Executive Director of UN Women, which champions global gender equality. Sefora was also appointed as the research analyst to the Minister for the Promotion of Youth, Youth Employment and Civic Participation in Cote d’Ivoire. 

Rooted in her belief that leadership and development have no gender, color, religious, or age differences, Sefora’s passion is in developing the economic, political and social participation of women. Her next endeavor is to develop a pan-African exchange program for women and girls, so they can learn from each other and collaborate on mutual issues across the continent. As a result of her Mandela Washington Fellowship experience, Sefora has mobilized and inspired people in Cote d’Ivoire, and she continues to shape the dialogue on the importance of youth development and women’s civic engagement. As Sefora says, “Equality is giving everyone the opportunity to live their own aspirations, follow their destiny and make their dreams come true.”

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Office of Alumni Affairs recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna.  The International Exchange Alumni community looks forward to seeing what Sefora will do next, and congratulates her on being named the May 2018 Exchange Alumni Member of the Month!