'Philip Kwesi Agyei: A Ghanaian who works with women for women' - by Hala Mobaydeen, 31.01.2023
With all the challenges AFAWI has faced over the years, the founder of the organization, Philip Kwesi Agyei, remained true to his passion. He believes that passion is what drives an organization and that women economic empowerment is the main pillar to change the narrative of gender equality in Africa. Philip has been working in the development field for over 25 years. He started working at the age of 17 and founded AFAWI at the age of 24. He has somehow managed to juggle between running AFAWI and setting up his own consultancy firm during COVID-19. During my time as an intern at AFAWI, I had the pleasure to interview Philip and find out more about his drive, challenges and vision.
Q: What prompted you to start Alliance for African Women Initiative (AFAWI)?
A: My father passed a year or two after he was diagnosed with HIV and AIDS and my mother was also living with HIV. At that time, we did not have access to antiviral drugs which meant that my mother did not have time left, so she decided to use the time she had left to do something good and work in churches, mosques and other places to educate people on HIV. I started supporting my mother at the age of 17 in her advocacy efforts by mobilizing people to raise awareness on HIV and fight the stigmatization around people affected by HIV. People in my community did not want to interact with me because they assumed I also had HIV so we had to move. That was the problem that my family was facing. It was through my mother’s advocacy work that I was introduced to the head of an organization called FAWE (The Forum for African Women Educationalist). FAWE focused on women’s issues and I ended up volunteering with them and helping the NGO in community mobilization for trainings and workshops. Later on, I wanted to continue the work of my mother and fight the stigmatization and so I founded AFAWI and formed a team with Jennifer and Yaw, in fact our first office was Yaw’s bedroom.
Q: How did the name of the organization come about?
A: I called it the Alliance for African Women Initiative because the idea was to have different branches in Africa, or at least West Africa; which we still have in our strategy plan. We’ve done feasibility studies in the past in Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda to study whether it would be possible to establish and expand AFAWI into these countries. ‘Alliance’ in AFAWI refers to our vision of having women in multiple African countries coming together. We are hoping that in future, members from different African countries will meet on an annual basis and oversee the work of the organization.
Q: It is clear that AFAWI’s work today is different from when it first started, why is that?
A: The antiviral drugs became available and accessible and so our beneficiaries (the women) stopped attending meetings. I’m not sure if our work has changed because of the accessibility of the drugs. I think it was mainly because of the lack of funding from donors. We started running low on funds gradually and we couldn’t mobilize anymore women or sustain the projects because donors were no longer interested in that area. Donors lost interest in Ghana when it was recognized as a lower-middle income country. When you are running an NGO, you are torn between calls for proposals and your core mandate or projects. You learn to adapt to what is available.
Q: How do you remain motivated to work for the cause?
A: The drive for me has always come from the beginning. The drive is always on my mind. This organization has become a form of employment for me, it’s a way for me to earn money to take care of my family. But there were times when this organization was very broke that I could have just given up on it, but I didn’t. My drive currently stems from thinking “look you nurtured this baby from the beginning, don’t leave it to die and keep it running”.
Q: Why do you think AFAWI’s work is important?
A: Over the years we may not necessarily get everything right, but impact has been very sustainable and holistic. People who we have helped over the years still remain very viable in whatever sector we have helped them.
Q: What do you think your beneficiaries would say is the best thing about your organization?
A: It depends on the project. We have different beneficiaries so they can’t really give a holistic view of the organization so it will depend on the services they have received. But if it were the women who participated in the livelihood project they would say, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have received money to expand my business. Some will say, I did not know about this already but I have gained information about it from them through trainings. Others would say, these people won’t leave you and will keep track of you.
Q: What is AFAWI’s overall end goal and do you think you have achieved it?
A: As I mentioned before, our vision is to expand into other African countries. We haven’t achieved it yet but we will. For as long as I remain healthy and the managing director of this organization that vision must be achieved. I’m sure we will get there.
Q: What are the main challenges you face as a founder of a women’s grassroot organization?
A: Finding money for this organization was a very big challenge. But if you ask me what was my biggest challenge, it would be not receiving support from women for running a women’s grassroot organization as a man. For now, that challenge has minimized because of the change in feminist drive in the country. When people used to call our office in the past and they would find out that the person behind a women’s organization is a man, they get so unhappy. They always assumed that the person behind a women’s organization is a woman. This attitude made feminist work very difficult. Men are also champions of the cause of women and helping the cause of women. This narrative was a big challenge for me since the beginning and it was very difficult. It reached a point where we would send funding applications to international organizations and the application would get turned down because they only want to support women leaders. The mindset was that men were the problem.
Q: Where do you see yourself and AFAWI in the next 5-10 years?
A: I think in the future when everything is set up in different African countries, I don’t see myself in this seat and in this position. I will prefer to be on the board and still be the managing director but I would like to focus more on my consultancy firm.