Dr. Thelma Awori is an extraordinary Liberian/Ugandan, who has dedicated much of her life to women’s rights and empowerment in Africa. A recipient of a scholarship from The Africa-America Institute, Dr. Awori earned a Bachelors of Arts in Social Relations and Cultural Anthropology from Harvard University. She was later awarded the African Graduate Fellowship Program (AFGRAD) in 1973, where she earned a Masters of Arts in Adult Education and Humanistic Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Awori has gone on to lead a distinguished career as an educator and top official with international organizations. At the World Association of Christian Communication, she trained professionals in print and electronic media. She served as Assistant Secretary General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa at the United Nations Development Program and deputy assistant administrator in UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support in New York; and was UN Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative for UNDP in Zimbabwe. As deputy director of UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, she was chief of its Africa section.
Today, Dr. Awori has continued her commitment to expanding women’s leadership in Africa through her work to build women’s livelihoods in Uganda; and, in Liberia, training women entrepreneurs in income generation skills to make their work profitable.
The AAI’s 28nd Annual Awards Gala in September 2012 recognized Dr. Awori with the Distinguished Alumna Award for her lifelong commitment and service to gender equality, especially the promotion of women’s leadership in Africa’s local communities.
“When I work with rural women in any capacity… when helping rural women to learn, I see it as an investment in the potential of rural women to be all that they can be,” said Awori.
After recognizing that market women were one of the anchors of the local economy in Liberia, together with a small group of friends, Dr. Awori helped to establish the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, an organization providing services to support women entrepreneurs in Liberia.
The Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund was named in honor of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president and the granddaughter of a market woman. The fund helps to build a decent workplace for more than 13,000 market women and offer them direct services such as credit, literacy, water and sanitation, storage, and child care for their children.
Under Dr. Awori’s leadership, the Sirleaf Market Fund is boosting the participation of women in local economies and counts the support of four current or former female Heads of State, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; President Joyce Banda of Malawi, Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.