E. Barber1, D. Miller1, A. Ussi2, L. Kapenuka3, C. Ziaya3

1North Carolina A&T State University (UNITED STATES)
2Malawi Ministry of Education, Zomba District Office (MALAWI)
3Domasi Demonstration Primary School (MALAWI)
Malawian women face barriers to leadership. Yet many who teach and lead in schools make a powerful impact. Drawing on ten years of participatory action research (McIntyre & Lykes, 2004) this paper focuses on women leaders in education who daily enact a form of “mother leadership” that exemplifies the cultural value of ulemerero wa umunthu: human dignity through the connectedness of women as caretakers of their communities.

Documentation strategies include participatory action research (McIntyre & Lykes, 2004) and indigenous research methods (Chilisa, 2012) that explore the contexts, values, customs, practices and beliefs (Hofstede et al., 2010) that undergird learning, teaching and leading. Data collection includes interviews and participant observation (Perakyla & Ruusuvuori, 2011), "power sensitive conversations" (Haraway, 1988), oral history (Gluck & Patai, 1991), document and artifact analysis (Potter & Wetherell, 1987), and case analysis including theoretical sampling (Flyvbjerg, 2011). Through member-checking collaborators examine transcripts and analytic memos (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2009). Final products are co-authored to ensure integrity of depictions.

The women who form the focus of this paper play central roles as educators and change agents. Alippo Ussi, former head teacher at Domasi Demonstration Primary School, is a District Supervisor for schools in Zomba District. Lucy Kapenuka is deputy head teacher at the school, and Chifundo Ziaya is assistant deputy head. Through their leadership and collaboration with fellow teachers, community groups, and U.S.-based university and student colleagues, innovations have been crafted that provide sustainable answers to persistent problems: a school library, child feeding program, the Pathematics math-teaching innovation, provision of writing materials and other school supplies for learners, secondary school scholarships, a yearly Mother Tongue Literacy Seminar for teachers, sustainable sew-able pads for girls whose cycles can otherwise keep them from attending school for a week each month, teacher-authored HIV/AIDS curriculum, among others. Many of these sustainable teacher-empowering solutions to problems in education have been written into national curriculum. Further, through their efforts the finest teachers -- women and men -- have advanced to lead their own schools.

Little research examines how leadership is understood and enacted in Sub-Saharan Africa. Current theories of leadership emerged from the West, are largely white male (Lokkesmoe, 2011), and don’t travel well (Bagshaw, 2009). Neither do research strategies. Thus as we conduct participatory action research (McIntyre & Lykes, 2004) together we employ indigenous research methodologies (Chilisa, 2012) so that as we continue to co-create solutions to practical community-based problems, we are also making new knowledge about leadership.Drawing on accounts of these three women leaders we construct a culturally-embedded model of leadership that can inform the knowledge base on globally-diverse conceptions of leadership, and in particular, women’s leadership. These women could be described as servant leaders, and they certainly lead from an ethic of care, but they embody much more. Human primacy and connectedness and reverence for all of life, all of time, and all that exists in a world in which the physical and the spirit are inseparable, illuminate their practice. They stand as exemplars both locally and globally.