Isha Johansen, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, PowerPlay
PowerPlay, an initiative of Isha Johansen, has been launched in Cameroon at the Women’s AFCON Finals currently going on in the country, and it’s logo is among the many pitch boards on match venues around the country.
Isha Johansen is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PowerPlay and also serves as President of the Sierra Leone Football Association. She is the only female president of a football association in Africa, and one of only two female FA presidents in the world.
She credits her father’s passion for the sport as her inspiration and the start of her lifelong involvement in football. In 2004, she founded the internationally successful youth team - FC Johansen using football to provide structure, training, education and opportunities for children in Sierra Leone, displaced by the civil war.
She is a vocal advocate for good governance in the sport and the first woman to serve on FIFA’s Security and Integrity Committee. She drew upon her own experience in the football industry to launch PowerPlay as a platform to advance the status of women and girls in Africa through their participation in football.
Sharing her professional journey
"When I feel betrayed and hurt; when I encounter opposition; when I feel like giving up, I remind myself that I was given an excellent education. I didn't fetch water several times a day. I gave birth in comfort and safety. I have advantages and privileges that most African women and girls have never had, and can't even imagine. Power Play is my obligation to them," she says.
African women, the continent's outsiders and entrepreneurs, have a critical role to play in developing the continent’s football industry and vice versa. Football is Africa’s most popular game and it is also the most uncompromising. The fault lines that make African politics such a fraught arena are often played out on a smaller scale in football, with corruption, violence, ethnic and regional divisions and personal vendettas hindering the development of the game throughout Africa.
Highly imperfect though it is, the football industry has been part of her existence since childhood. As chairman of the East End Lions Football Club - one of Sierra Leone’s greatest football clubs – her father transferred his unconditional love for the club and the sport to her.
“It has become a lifelong inspiration, empowering and driving me upwards to the position I hold today,” the PowerPlay CEO says.
There have been significant advances made to develop women in football internationally as evidenced by the success of the women’s world cup 2015. Nevertheless, it remains highly unusual for a woman, and particularly an African woman to have found such enduring professional fulfilment in the sport.
When Cameroonian born Samuel Eto’o fils visited Sierra Leone to launch FIFA 11 for Health, he said that more women in leadership positions in Africa could transform the continent. Football is just one of the areas that could benefit. And it works both ways - football could be equally beneficial for African women, and has the potential to create significant career opportunities, both on and off the pitch if only it could be looked at differently.
Isha’s own career path in the industry has been non-traditional to say the least. In 2004, she combined her ongoing love for football with an interest in community projects and set up a neighborhood football team. The result - FC Johansen was a vehicle to build the self-esteem of young people dispossessed by Sierra Leone’s ten-year civil war and provide educational opportunities. With no better resources than the average Sierra Leonean team, and with a woman at the helm, the club went from strength to strength. When in 2011, the team played for the first time in Sierra Leone’s First Division, it won every match and was promoted to the Premier Division. This was followed up by several outstanding international performances.
“At the core of FC Johansen was a system of management which stressed openness, democracy, transparency and mutual responsibility; essentially the foundations of good governance. Those qualities are equally reflective of female cultural norms in Africa, where women have a tradition of community and family responsibility,” she concludes.
Copyright 2014 The Sierra Leone Football Association.
Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being giving to the Communications Desk of the FA as source.