As Africa’s first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has emerged as a transformative leader in post-civil war Liberia, creating a legacy that serves as a beacon for women fostering positive change in Africa and beyond.

On Friday (Nov. 17), Sirleaf was honored with a TIME100 Impact Award s during TIME’s inaugural Africa Summit and Gala in Kigali, Rwanda. As she accepted the award, Sirleaf said her life’s journey was ultimately motivated by “the faces of those I have had the privilege to serve, the people who yearned for a better life, a brighter future.”

“It is an honor that I share with my fellow Liberians, Africans, and people all over the world who strive for positive change and social progress,’’ she said, before adding that she felt “immense gratitude for all those who have walked this path with me.”

Before Sirleaf was elected president in 2006, Liberia faced economic, political, and social challenges following a devastating conflict. Riding a wave of overwhelming political support from women, she assumed Liberia’s highest office and prioritized their empowerment in both government and the private sector during her 12 years in office. Sirleaf’s efforts included enhancing legal protections for women and stabilizing a debt-ridden economy, setting a precedent that resonated across the continent.

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On stage, the leader, who herself was once exiled, recognized that true peace required the inclusion of all voices: “Let us stand together and commit to a future where our collective efforts lead to lasting, positive change,” she said.

In the years following her trailblazing presidency, over a dozen women in Africa have assumed the highest offices in their respective countries, and countless others have been motivated to dedicate their lives to civil service.

The TIME100 Impact Awards Africa are sponsored by Visit Rwanda, Kigali International Financial Centre, and RwandAir

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