With a recent report by Ernst & Young showing the continent to be well on track towards an economy value of nearly R40-trillion by 2030, given 5% expected growth in 16 countries, the long-term outlook for Africa is emboldening. Particular focus continues to fall on South Africa, as the preferred launch pad into Africa, as well as on the burgeoning economies of North Africa – and women, by far the majority of the workforce, have a huge role to play in the continent’s next wave of economic development.

The signs are encouraging. An IPSOS survey has shown that more than 40% of African women today have a regular job and almost 50% earn an ‘independent living’. Nearly 75% say their status has improved over the last five years – and yet we know there is a long way to go.

So where does this position Standard Bank Top Women Leaders in its 13th year? As a platform, I believe, which can in coming years replicate its impact on South African business and society within other African countries, as an evolution of our quest to accelerate the realisation of gender parity on a larger scale.

From widening our scope to showcase the successes of women leaders, women-strong organisations and women-focussed initiatives in the territories spearheading gender parity – such as Rwanda and our neighbouring Namibia – to advancing the push for gender parity in less inclusive economies – Chad, Morocco, Mali – Standard Bank Top Women Leaders has a vision to grow its sphere of influence in partnership with like-minded organisations already operating in key African economies. Why stop there, even – a recent McKinsey Global Institute report found that $12-trillion could be added to the world’s GDP by 2025, through the advancement of women’s equality. That makes the future of women big business – and Standard Bank Top Women Leaders will be growing in step with them.

More immediately – and again with eyes on replication potential beyond these borders – our discourse continues to push for the increased integration of women into the formal economy of South Africa; this means helping to open up channels for them in terms of training, finance and support – also, crucially, through our Standard Bank Top Women Leaders network, we are striving to foster a culture of mentorship; because the best way for this country’s young women to work their way to the top is to learn from the strategies of today’s top women.

Success is a journey. A decade and a half into the life of this publication, and on the verge of a prospective golden era for the women of Africa, three words define the current spirit in the Top Women Leaders editorial office: ‘We’ve just begun…’.

Foreword by Karla Fletcher, Standard Bank Top Women Leaders, 2017 edition. Available to buy or order nationwide this Women’s Month.

www.topwomen.co.za