International Academy for Leadership
“Empowering Women in Politics: A Leadership Workout”


Group photo of delegates with Judith Pallares.


In August 2023, the International Academy for Leadership (IAF) hosted an extensive seminar at their Theodor Heuss Academy in Gummersbach, Germany. This remarkable 11-day event, titled "Empowering Women in Politics: A Leadership Workout," brought together 27 women leaders representing 20 different countries across four continents. What's particularly noteworthy is that IAF enriched the seminar's diversity by welcoming participants from various cultural backgrounds and experience levels. This diverse group included university students, emerging politicians, researchers, as well as seasoned veterans occupying senior positions within their respective political parties or institutions. The program also featured enlightening excursions to Bonn, Mainz, and Frankfurt.

Two remarkable facilitators expertly guided the seminar from South Africa: Penny Tainton, representing Evolve, a prominent consultancy agency based in South Africa, and Marike Groeewald, from Anew, a consultancy specializing in organizational and leadership development located in Cape Town, South Africa. Penny possesses a wealth of experience, having held various leadership positions within a liberal political party and government. Her most recent role as Project Lead for Governance in the Democratic Alliance involved spearheading a diverse array of projects aimed at enhancing organizational capacity and systems. On the other hand, Marike, with a Master's Degree in Law, has cultivated a career focused on people development and facilitation spanning numerous years and diverse organizations. It is worth noting that she also served as the Executive Director of Development and Learning for a political party until 2015.


Hands-on group activity with facilitators.


The facilitators brought us, the participants, to dwell over various topics, some were individual explorations while others were discussed in smaller groups, and later would be shared and discussed in the forum. Over the course of the seminar, we were asked to create trios or pairs, which the facilitators referred to as "Learning Trios." These Learning Trios served a dual purpose: they provided a space for more intimate discussions as well as served as a valuable support system for participants throughout and beyond the seminar.

In addition to informative sessions, the seminar included hands-on activities designed to challenge our way of thinking and encourage us to venture beyond our comfort zones. These exercises focused on helping participants assess our unique leadership styles, the cultures within our political parties or institutions, and how these factors impact the development and longevity of our teams. Moreover, we engaged in sessions where we crafted our personal brand, defined its purpose, vision, and values, and evaluated our key stakeholders.


Focus Group Discussion session.


External speakers in and outside of Gummersbach also delivered some interesting topics. Judith Pallares, the President and founder of the Liberal Party ACCió per Andorra, visited Gummersbach to share her inspiring leadership journey with the participants. Additionally, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, the Federal Minister of Education and Research (FDP) of Germany, conducted a session on women in politics and their roles within the FDP via a Zoom session from her office in Berlin.

In Bonn, the participants had the privilege of meeting several notable figures, including Dr. Ursula Sautter, the Vice President of UN Women Germany, Giulia Fioriti, a social media consultant and media coach from, and Mimi Nicklin, an author and the CEO of Empathy Everywhere. In Mainz, Annika Arras, the founder, partner, and CEO of Miltton New Nordics from Estonia, conducted a workshop on political communications for the participants. We also had the opportunity to engage with Malenka Stenner, a winemaker and the CEO of Weingut Bernhard Stenner, to discuss the challenges women face in male-dominated professions. Finally, in Frankfurt, Isabel Schnitzler, a city councillor and spokesperson for diversity, Europe, and women (FD), shared insights on how to increase female participation in local politics.

Despite the diverse backgrounds and regions represented by the participants, it became evident that women in leadership roles, particularly in politics, encounter common challenges and obstacles. These include issues such as Impostor Syndrome, male dominance in high-level positions, a lack of empathy in the workplace and society toward female politicians, and the relentless external and internal pressure to continuously excel and deliverBy attending these workshops and participating in sharing sessions, I not only acquired new skills but also uncovered innovative viewpoints for addressing these issues within their specific contexts. Participating in group activities and actively engaging in purposeful discussions has personally sharpened my leadership skills, enabling me to excel as a more effective and influential leader. 


Written by Mia Michaela, Indonesian delegate for IAF Seminar “Empowering Women in Politics: A Leadership Workout” from Soina Indonesia