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Extraordinary leadership: drinking water project in Ghana

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Ghana's North East cities are growing. And growing cities need more drinking water. The Navrongo & Bolgatanga Water Supply Project supplies drinking water to 400,000 residents. Senior project manager Annelies De Beule is a prominent champion of women leadership and an example for both men and women.

Clean drinking water in the region

The North East Region of Ghana is the least developed region in the country. Still, several of its provincial cities are experiencing strong growth. Until now, the clean water supply to these cities has been unreliable. But there are large irrigation dams, such as the Vea and Tono. These dams can provide the people in the region with all the clean drinking water they need. Construction company Denys is renewing the infrastructure in Vea and building a new water purification plant in Tono. From there, pipelines will carry the water to 3 cities in the region. The cost of building this water infrastructure is around 40 million euros. The project gets funding from the ORIO  programme.

A woman project leader is unusual

Even today, it is uncommon to see a woman leading such an infrastructure project in Africa. Senior project manager Annelies De Beule supervises 150 employees for this project. Of the 40 project and site managers who work for Denys in Africa, 3 are women. De Beule's management team has 6 men: 4 Europeans, 1 Ghanaian and 1 Zambian. Almost all the remaining employees are men from the region. For the most part, the few women who work for the project have supporting roles. “In Ghana, unlike in some other African countries, women in the workforce experience a reasonable degree of respect.”

They call her Pineapple

De Beule has been working in Ghana since 2018. She enjoys it a lot, as much of the work involves getting along with people. De Beule: “Employees do tend to push the limits when they want me to do something for them.” She is very clear about her limits: “Here, they call me Pineapple. That is because I am hard on the outside and soft on the inside. I am very strict about the rules, but I try to show empathy as well. It is important to give people real attention and to learn about their living conditions. Quite often, their living conditions are difficult. Once you find the right balance between being strict and understanding, you are on the right track.”

Fighting submissive attitudes

De Beule pays attention to the women who work here: “To give an example, I work with 2 female subcontractors. They thought they could make an easy deal with me and offered their services much too cheaply. In the end, that kind of tactic works against you. So I try to teach them to be more realistic.” She adds: “Women applying for jobs on the worksite is still somewhat unusual. Women never apply for a position as a concrete worker here.” They often work in health & safety, nursing care or as a traffic controller. “I make sure that the women who work here can read and write in English and that they do not act in a submissive way. I am very strict about that. I fight every day to make sure they stand up for themselves.”

Watch our video about this project:

Public-private partnerships

This project is a public-private partnership between Denys and the Ghanaian and Dutch governments. Through ORIO, and on behalf of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency supports foreign trade and development cooperation. You can no longer apply for ORIO.

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