How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Africa's growth vehicle: Women

July 1, 2010: 12:09 PM ET

By Patricia Sellers

Besides Africa's rise in GDP and global stature, one subject dominated the conversation at the Global Forum, hosted by Fortune and Time and CNN this past week in Cape Town. That is: the economic potential of women.

Just about all the heavy-hitters -- Bill Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and various CEOs -- spoke of the essential role of women in bringing Africa to its  potential. "Who are the entrepreneurs?' asked former Coca-Cola (KO) CEO Neville Isdell. "Who are the people selling in the marketplaces? Women."

As we learned, while women contribute 75% of agricultural work in Africa, they earn only 10% of total income and receive only 10% of all capital for investment in new enterprises.

Thus, a call to action. Yesterday, on my flight home to New York from Cape Town, I met a fellow named Jack Leslie who is answering the call. In addition chairing global PR firm Weber Shandwick (IPG), Leslie chairs the U.S. African Development Foundation. This is a government agency that provides $40 million annually to fund projects mainly around agriculture and food security. En route to the confab in Cape Town, with his two teenage kids in tow, Leslie visited seven of the agency's projects, in Malawi and Zimbabwe. All of the projects were run by women, he told me. "Most all of the people we met were women," Leslie said. "In Africa, women run the communities and most of the entrepreneurial businesses." No surprise, then, some 70% of the African Development Foundation's funding goes to women.

Not to toot Fortune's or my horn, but in the spirit of urging on women who can make a difference, I spent three days pre-Global Forum at an orphanage in Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg. Tshepang Programme for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, which serves 249 kids, is run by a social entrepreneur named  Susan Rammekwa, who is an alum of the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Last year, Rammekwa's mentors -- Susan Wojcicki and Megan Smith of Google (GOOG) and lawyer Kathi Lutton, who heads litigation for Fish and Richardson law firm, hosted Rammekwa in Silicon Valley. After mentoring her, they raised money to buy a bus for the orphanage.

Photo by Asa Mathat

Lutton and I, with a group including Rammekwa and her husband, road-tripped 20 hours down to the Global Forum. Yes, on the bus. Along the way, we had a sign made; Xerox (XRX), whose top women execs including CEO Ursula Burns participate in the Fortune-State Department mentoring program, helped us find a sign-maker in Cape Town.

Photo by Asa Mathat

Here's the bus, above, parked at the Global Forum. That's Rammekwa, third from the right, and Lutton, DuPont (DD) CEO Ellen Kullman, and me in front of the vehicle. Besides participating in the Global Forum, Kullman has mentored in the Fortune-U.S. State Department program -- urging on enterprising women and learning from them along the way.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

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