Ambassador MacDella Cooper, WomenWerk Speaker Alumni from the 2014 WomenWerk Forum, made a historic announcement on October 17 declaring her candidacy for President in Liberia. To date, Ambassador Cooper is the youngest and only female candidate in the Presidential race set for 2017. WomenWerk interviewed Ambassador Cooper during her first week of campaigning to hear more about this exciting news and gain insights to the electoral road ahead.
WomenWerk: How did you come to your decision to run for President in Liberia? Who did you first share this decision with?
MacDella Cooper: As you know from my appearance at the 2014 WomenWerk Forum in New York, I have always had a foot in the Diaspora though my base remains in Liberia. I founded and directed my foundation [the MacDella Cooper Foundation] with both global and local support and know the importance of doing the work needed to move Liberia forward. I became aware of my ability to make a significant impact after volunteering for Amnesty International in college. Through those experiences, I realized there exists a leadership deficit in my country and in the developing world despite its vast human and natural resources. Poor management of our resources characterized the majority of issues in Liberia. Having been ravaged by civil war, Liberia is lacking solid road infrastructure, healthcare facilities, and education amongst other basic necessity of life. I grew to learn that education was the foundation missing for many children at home and started my philanthropy work to build adequate schools across the country. From my philanthropic work, I quickly saw that charity work could only impact individuals at a micro scale. Good governance is key to improving the lives of the people and I knew that leadership through representation would provide that macro change needed the widespread, sustainable change. Liberia need leaders who can transform the lives of the people and better manage the vast resources. When I made up my mind to run, I shared this discussion with closed friends both in Liberia and across the globe. Many of them encouraged me to consider running in the first place because they have seen firsthand the great passion I have for my country. They know that I can provide the leadership to create positive change and effectively manage the affairs of the state.
WW: Ellen Sirleaf Johnson broke the glass ceiling for African women in politics as the first female President on the continent. How does her legacy shape your ambition and goals? What has her leadership taught you?
MC: I call President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the "Mother of African Democracy”. As the first female elected president in Africa, I am grateful for her leadership and vision. More so, she has charted a course for women like me to effectively be seen as leaders in our own right. She has certainly been an inspiration. My leadership style is to serve and make a positive change by having an all inclusive governance structure devoid of political, social, economic and religion.
WW: You're a prominent philanthropist and in what ways does starting and leading the MacDella Cooper Foundation compare to running a presidential campaign in Liberia?
MC: As the Chairman and Founder of the MacDella Cooper Foundation, I did not run the foundation single handedly. The foundation has Board of Directors that are involved in key decisions and processes. This same skill will be taking to apply to the management of the state of affairs, though on a larger scale, I see as critical in my role as President where I would lead ministries and agencies headed by appointees. As with running a Foundation, the role of President requires responsibility to effectively manage resources and people.
WW: At WomenWerk, we emphasize the need for a strong Diaspora community and the importance of building a network. In what ways has your network, especially of women around the globe, helped in your growth as a leader and your preparation for seeking the office of President?
MC: I also agree and support the vision WomenWerk shares - women must do more to invest in their passions and engage their powerful capacities. Liberia has its largest Diaspora in the United States which is about about 500,000 strong. The Diaspora plays a significant role in the economic and political life of Liberians at home. I have been extremely lucky to have been involved with some prominent women’s groups both from Liberia and other parts of the world. My network of women includes other philanthropists- among a few of these are The American Red Cross Tiffany Circle, Momentum Women, Women Moving Millions, the Organization of the First Ladies of Africa