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A gender equal society with a framework in which both sexes have access to equal opportunities is one that every woman looks forward to. In this exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, the General Manager of Central Bank of Ecuador, Ms. Veronica Artola Jarrin, discusses the progress made in promoting gender equality in her country over the years and more. Excerpts:

  • More than half of Ecuador’s population is made up of women. How would you rate the participation of women in socio-economic and political activities?

In recent years the gender equity has faced important improvements; however, it has a lengthy path ahead. The gap in gender equity has been bridging during the last 20 years, in Ecuador there are several examples that show the improvement in this topic. María Alejandra Vicuña is the second women in being nominated as Vice President of the Republic during Ecuador´s political history. Several local governments already have women as mayors and there are currently more women as candidates to assume positions of elected office.

The most important progress seen in Ecuador is observed at the National Assembly where the 38.69% of its members are women. The participation of women as heads of public institutions has increased, even in government bodies that were occupied by men through time, such as the Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry and the Central Bank of Ecuador.

But the gap still persists and in other areas it is more evident, the socio-economic situation of women is even disturbing. The last 20 years until 2016, have faced a phenomenon of poverty´s feminization, which is undoubtedly related to other problems such as the gap in wage and work. Women still work up to three times more than men, and much of that time, without any remuneration. There is a marked job insecurity in women, despite the fact that access to education gap had been closed, the labor market is still governed by gender-generic parameters that affects women. This cause that many women prefer to chose low-paid and precarious jobs where they are faced to labor exploitation, such domestic service or child care.

Additionally, the gender violence is still alarming in Ecuador, by 2011, one in four women had suffered some type of sexual assault and the current femicide situations have shocked the society. There are important gaps from the economic perspective, women are excluded from the financial system, economic violence and traditional roles still limiting the participation of women in the economic field.

  • Ecuador has over the years maintained economic stability rising in ranks among other Southern American countries. What will you say is responsible for this?

The management and financing model in recent years has focused on taking advantage of the positive externalities presented in the world economy, especially the ones related to the high price of commodities, which were channeled into public investment to generate the necessary conditions, in particular in infrastructure to boost private investment.

In this regard, public management played an important role in the economy and fostered the dynamism of a large part of the economic sectors, promoting public purchases to Ecuadorian suppliers, the incorporation of capital goods and national raw material into strategic projects of the State and the articulation of public and private actors, and universities and popular economy actors as well.

In this context, the Central Bank of Ecuador has searched for the proper functioning of the monetary and financial system through the optimal administration of liquidity and economic flows, protecting the systemic stability and promoting the access of the population to credit and financial services.

Currently, we are faced with a new macroeconomic scenario where it is evident the necessity to take advantage of the conditions previously generated in the benefit of the private sector. Meanwhile the public sector should focus its management towards efficiency of the resources that were previously provided and look for new actions and tools that allow us to cope with a less favorable economic outlook for our country, since the price of commodities has shown a lower price level and it has been complemented by the appreciation of the dollar and unfortunately we had to manage non-predictable natural events, such as the April 16, 2016 earthquake.

In this way, we believe the productive sector will be decisive (as it has always been, but now with greater emphasis) in pursuing national objectives and thus the economic situation. Therefore, we have seen the need to articulate spaces and actions aimed at this objective, such as the disclosure of the “Organic Law of incentives for public-private partnerships” and the “Organic Law for productive promotion”, which are aimed to a healthy articulation between the public and the private sector.

  • In your opinion, what are some of the trade policies which can be put in place to boost economic growth?

We are looking to generate opportunities for the development of our exports and therefore achieve our national objectives like: the productive diversification based on the incorporation of added value, in the impulse of exports; its expansion in products and destinations, and import substitution; the inclusion of actors and the continuous improvement of productivity and competitiveness, in a transversal way in all sectors of the economy. In this sense, it is possible to analyze a greater commercial openness to the world, focused towards economic recovery, so the best strategies are being analyzed to initiate relations with blocs of nations with which we can count on synergies that mutually benefit us.

It is important to note that non-oil exports as a component of the total exports of Ecuador, have emerged strongly in the last ten years, showing a greater participation in the total composition of the goods sent abroad. In 2008, non-oil exports accounted for 38%, while the weight of oil exports amounted to 62%. On the contrary, in 2017 a structural change in the economy was reflected, since 64% corresponded to non-oil exports

Although, it is necessary to continue working on the diversification and positioning of our products and services at international level, there is still evidence of a predominance of primary products (especially banana and shrimp),and the quality and global acceptance of our products compel us to support our national production through the modernization and aggregation of value to our products. This should be complemented with the management of attraction and promotion of investments, in line with the development of objectives and strategies for the generation of employment and promotion through the income of currencies.

What is previously mentioned is articulated and implemented through the policies projected in the national development plan called “Plan toda una vida”, aimed at boosting productivity and competitiveness for sustainable economic growth in are distributive and solidarity way.

  • The Central Bank of Ecuador has put in place an institution which supports pregnant and breastfeeding women. What specific occurrences prompted this move?

The Central Bank of Ecuador permanently advocates actions that allow the promotion of a positive working culture, as well as promoting the improvement in the living and working conditions of those who are part of the entity. We are committed to build a proactive, empowered and socially responsible organizational culture. On the basis of this challenge, the institution has worked from various points, in which the promotion of gender equity has been addressed as a priority and integral strategy plan of the Bank.

 

Consistent with this line of action, in July 2017, I arranged the implementation of a lactation area in the bank, knowing the importance of breastfeeding to contribute to the gender equity strategy and ensure compliance with the rights of female workers in postpartum period. To date, among the bank officials we have 216 women of childbearing age, 8 are pregnant and 13 in breastfeeding period, which could benefit from this space. Among them I am one who will be a user of this area because last Thursday October 25, I gave birth to my little daughter Paula, who will also be a direct beneficiary of the lactation area of the Central bank.

This space is certified by the Ministry of Public Health due to compliance of high sanitary and technical standards, but also because it is a cozy, quiet and luminous place, where it will be a pleasure and joy for me to feed my beloved daughter.

  • In recent times, women protested several injustices from workplace marginalization to assaults of different kinds. How best do you think the rights of women can be protected?

One can protect women’s rights first of all, through acknowledgement, awareness raising and self appropriation, that is, as women, demanding respect of rights and educating children and men to do the same.  Also, there must be punitive action against those who disrespect these rights, and the act of filing a claim should count on clear means of communication.

I am one of the few women around the world, at the head office of a Central Bank. It seems we are only a bit over twenty in total, and I have recently given birth to my little baby girl, Paula. It is appalling to see at a local, but also international scale, the impact caused by a female Governor of a Central Bank being pregnant and exercising her right to go on maternity leave, when this is something natural and it’s a basic right; maybe even at the basis for the existence of human race. Nowadays it is still a step forward to see a high official simply benefiting from a right and that alone lets on that there is still a lot of work to be done.  Hopefully these small examples  make an impact on society, making it every time more natural to see women exercising rights such as maternity leave, and generating no criticism or amazement.

When we stand up for our rights, we’re also standing up for the rights of other women.

On the other hand, to make other women’s rights true, facilities must be given for them to be effective.  During my time in office at the Central Bank of Ecuador, I have worked widely around the country with events and round-table discussions, aside from promoting research on gender equity from economics.  This way, we further respect to women’s economic rights and gender equity and we reassert our total rejection to gender violence.

As a final step, we’ve set forward a ten-million-dollar fund for women that are currently suffering abuse, to finance entrepreneurship, thus providing them with a tool to effectively leave that circle of violence through self-generating income. This is key from a women’s right perspective, because it creates tools that allow effective enforcement of these rights.

  • To which of your career experiences do you credit your quality service and outstanding work ethics as Chief Executive Officer of the Central Bank of Ecuador?

My professional career has being closely linked to the Central Bank of Ecuador for a very long time. I started working in this institution over fifteen years ago as a young professional of the Studies Department and was later promoted to other positions that demanded more responsibilities.

Being part of this institution and to have been considered to hold such positions, is the result of an arduous effort, but also of the opportunities that were given to me by an institution that treasures commitment and professionalism beyond one’s gender.  It is precisely this tight link to the Central Bank of Ecuador that has motivated me to always give the best of myself in this important task that I have been assigned.

This experience in the Central Bank of Ecuador, added up to other high responsibility positions that I’ve held as public server[1] and in several working areas that include public policy configuration and effective implementation, have restated my commitment with community service. I believe this is expressed through empathy, transparency, efficiency and ethics. A service-minded attitude and a high sense of professional ethics are a condition, but not the outcome of a successful professional experience, which is why they should be applied on every task that we perform.

QUOTE: The most important progress seen in Ecuador is observed at the National Assembly where the 38.69% of its members are women. The participation of women as heads of public institutions has increased.

Mrs. Felicia Twumasi is the CEO of Homefoods Processing and Cannery Limited, a high-scale ethnic food processing and packaging company, with 70% market share in the Red Oil business and a distribution network across The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, North America and West Africa. In this sequel interview with the Amazon Watch magazine, Mrs. Twumasi discussed her expansionary drive and the impact of hercompany in the lives of women and children in Ghana. Excerpt:

In your previous interview with the Amazons Watch magazine in February 2018, you were quoted to have said that Homefoods has Kept 70% market share in the Red Oil business for 14 years and counting on your customized brands such as BLUE BAY, TROPIGOLD, AFRICA’S FINEST, GHANA BEST, YADCO, BIGGIE MAMA, HOMEFOODS AND HOMESENSE, with a current distribution network including; The United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, North America, West Africa and future projections into East and Southern African markets. Please tell us how you have been able to achieve this feat and what differentiates your brand from the others?

My vision has always been to create, build and establish a quality food chain industry by fusing flavors and spices from around the world, to meet the needs of our consumers with a mission to focus attention and creativity on basic food ingredients and services to all and sundry, homes, catering, hotels and fast food industries; food ingredients and products they absolutely need and want, thus making every meal an experience. These have been achieved through adaptive production, effective inventory management and renewed product designs while creating value and wealth for our nation through agriculture in order to maintain a sustainable legacy for posterity.  The consistency, high standards, quality and speed to markets have been our hallmark to achieve this feat. These have resulted in setting high standards in our business relationships leading to forming partnerships with customers globally and locally, and are evident in several local and international awards. This strategy and business model differentiates us from our competitors locally and internationally.

Homefoods Processing and Cannery Limited have been able to build and sustain the company for the past 23 years in highly competitive and discrete and identifiable markets by configuring multi markets activities based on our experience with such great success. We continuously expand our distribution networks through constant rejuvenation of our key quality products; non-perishable rich red oil processed from fruits of the palm; diversified into new product ranges, such as Palm Cream Soup and other edible innovative derivatives of palm to meet international as well as local standards. 

 We have been able to maintain consistent taste and quality throughout these 23 years in Agro Processing business. Specifications of our products are all standardized and certified, hence the loyalty of consumers and recognition abroad through multiple awards.

You have also said your passion has been to engage and train women out-growers and to empower them to capably give better care to their families.  You also have been quoted to have said that Homefoods thrives on her corporate social responsibility, among others. Please tell us more about your cooperative system for women farmers and some of your accomplishments in giving back to the society?

The drive and aim to leave a sustainable legacy in food  production and processing in my country and to alleviate poverty for especially women farmers led us to a cooperative model for our supply chain have we term as “SUBSET Cooperative” system.

Our cooperative system that started with 5 women has grown into more than 5,000 women over the years across the farming belt of the country. The subset system help us group them in 100’s having 50 groups and they choosing their leaders to be trained by us and subsequent also practically train the larger group using the Ministry of Agriculture extension officers at various farming area for the training and supervision.

Yields have increased resulting in creating massive wealth in terms of when we started 23 years ago when the annual turnover of a farmer was nothing to note. The wealth creation to these cooperative farming groups has remotely resulted in massive corporate social responsibility. Ready markets provided to these farmers have led to improving of nutrition, health, education production and creating confidence, stability and sustenance in a fragile community before we went in to start business. This socio-economic empowerment has resulted in their self-confidence, self-dignity, and increasing life expectancy. My overall joy is seeing these women exhuming happiness.

We also sponsor loads of social activities in these societies

In accordance with our ‘Giving Back Policy”,

  • We educate the children of some of these women farmers who are mainly single mothers.
  • We have provided financial support to street children by creating scholarship schemes that enable needy children to attend various schools, and as a result of our social intervention these children have come back to work for the company in various capacities.
  • As a condition for our suppliers, Homefoods admonishes its suppliers not to use child labor. Homefoods will unequivocally not purchase supplies from any agro group that resorts to the use of child labor.
  • The company has also embarked on a concerted effort to employ single women heading households as factory workers and as well as young girls. This has empowered these women to assume responsibilities, which they would otherwise not be capable of as they are paid above the minimum wage.
  • Working to instill the same courage and ambition in her fellow Ghanaians, she empowers local female farmers by teaching them the business savvy methods that have led to her many successes.
  • I fervently work to instill the same courage and ambition I have used to manage Homefoods in her fellow Ghanaians. I endeavor to coach leadership skills by empowering local female farmers.

Yesterday, October 16th, was marked as World Food Day. The World Health Organization, WHO, African region disclosed that hunger, is on the rise in Africa after a prolonged decline as nearly 14 million under-fives are wasted, 59 million are stunted due to under nutrition. As a key stakeholder in the food sector in Africa, what are your thoughts on hunger and food security in Africa?

The World Food Day as we all know is celebrated yearly on the 16th October, by over 150 member countries of the UN. It was established in November 1979 at the 20th General Conference by the Food and Agriculture Organization, a branch of the World Health Organization to raise awareness on issues pertaining to poverty and hunger, a prevalent problem in Africa in spite of the abundance of natural resources on the continent. In brief, not only are the14 million under-fives being wasted and 59 million, stunted due to under nutrition but in effect the parents of these precious ones themselves are incapable of meeting the basic needs for themselves much less of their families. The World Health Organization throws more light on the fact that a surge in population, has contributed to the increase in poor people and causing poverty and its associated challenges to remain.

As an African, I can confidently say that political and ethnic conflicts and unorthodox means of changing Governments have contributed to the menace as the focus then shifts from the developmental needs of the people. This situation causes unstable economy/markets, increases inflation and the cost of living of the people. The obvious detriment is that the wealth of the continent would lay stagnant and unexploited, as there would be lack of investments, especially in the Agricultural Sector that is so freely given.

In my view, the aim would be to focus on the factors that mitigate against poverty by our governments by empowering private sector agro business with long term financial facilities to build and establish food and formulation plants around the country to mitigate hunger.

Homefoods main focus is to eliminate poverty, enhance the value of food and help women become financially independent, not only for themselves but also for their families and in the long run, their communities through the cooperative system that we have created.

We have future plans to develop storage and formulation capacity of 50,000 metric tons facilities for grains, legumes, edible oils, nuts creating a food corridor for all and sundry ensuring food security for our nation and other countries.

I personally go by the principle where poverty is not an option, as I reiterated in my previous interview with you in February. This has been one of my driving forces through this journey. We have made frantic efforts not only for myself and for my family but many other families nationally and globally.

I believe that with joint efforts from stakeholders to create jobs, investing in the developments of agriculture and the resources in our continent, partnerships with Foreign Bodies and through Corporate Social Responsibility to our communities, poverty and hunger will once again decline.

Research has shown that food insecurity problem is fundamentally influenced by subsistent production, which in turn is usually characterized by low and declining production and productivity, and the employment of rudimentary technology. Homefoods core business is linked to improving Nutrition, Health, Agriculture and Productivity in Ghana. Kindly tell us how you are able to enhance productivity.

Homefoods Processing and Cannery Limited started from the subsistence enterprise on the kitchen table, which we have nurtured into an internationally recognized agro-processing entity. Homefoods has had steady growth of 203% local revenue between 2016 and 2018 as well as, 44% growth in export. This has been possible as a well-focused and conscious effort was put into the drift from rudimentary technology of operations to a double clean filling technology. Going forward, Homefoods will be operating with fully automated clean filling lines. We envisage to increase productivity by 400% in 2020. These achievements have not only been by the adoption of technology but also, the rapid strategic customer based product development and branding, highly reliable and dependable raw material suppliers source transparent value chain, fair pricing and concern for the environmental, social and cultural values have been a catalyst for enhanced productivity managed by highly skilled and professional human capital, and a high demand of our product lines.

You have been recently endorsed by the Board of the Centre for Economic and Leadership Development (CELD) to be conferred with the Medal of Honor as a Honorary Patron of her flagship event- the South America-Africa-Middle East-Asia Women Summit (SAMEAWS)- and inducted into her International Advisory Council as a Distinguished Member. How do you feel receiving such an honor and recognition?

It is an honor for our company and myself to be endorsed by CELD once again. This time, to be conferred with the Medal of Honor as an Honorary Patron for her flagship event by His Royal Highness Sheik Juma bin Maktoum – the South America-Africa-Middle East-Asia Women Summit (SAMEAWS) and inducted into the International Advisory Council as a Distinguished Member to empower women as powerful agents of change. This is an inspiration for Homefoods Processing and Cannery Limited. Not to mention the Georgia Congressional Commendation in recognition of my personality as a face of Ghana’s business integrity and passion for development. This has really been breathe-taking and overwhelming for us all.

We believe that this mutual partnership shall continue to serve as a platform for our company’s global recognition as we continue to penetrate into other sub-regions through the feature on the Amazon’s Watch Magazine and its sister publication, the frontline Africa Leadership Magazine.

I look forward to networking with the over 1000 prominent women and stakeholders from the various regions under the SAMEAWS to gain knowledge from each other and confer ways to access untapped potential for women around the world. I believe the theme for this year is appropriate,   “Realizing Legislation and Policies on Gender and Sustainability” as UN has declared the 7 Sustainable goals;

-No Poverty

-Zero Hunger

-Good Health and Well Being

-Quality Education

-Clean water and sanitation

-Affordable and Clean Energy

-Decent Work and Economic Growth

Homefoods is playing a crucial role in our agro business supply chain within these UN Sustainable goals as we create wealth for thousands of women who have developed confidence and self-dignity as they become economically independent enabling them to provide balanced Nutrition, Health, Quality Education, Clean Water, affordable energy.

 We are emotionally and physically satisfied that our business have impacted lives which have spill over on our socio-economic and geographical lifestyles. We are poised to offer help to up and coming women advancing into businesses sphere to overcome many of the obstacles some of us experienced on our business journey.

I take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the African Impact Leadership Award (Agricultural Development Category) and for being showcased as one of Amazons Watch Magazine Blue Ribbon List of Top 50 Women in Business and Governance, which was the cover focus of the Magazine’s special exclusive in the March 2018 edition. We are certain this spotlight on Homefoods Processing and Cannery will open key doors that will enhance and sustain our business as a global entity.

 

Thank you and this award goes to all women!!!!

 

Mrs Francisca Karikari, CEO, Glorygate Capital Limited, has a very rich experience in the insurance industry that spans 20 years. She brings a great mix of leadership, inspiration, operational experience, technical breadth, and passion for customer care to the insurance industry of her country. In an exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch Magazine, Mrs Karikari shared some of her successes and accomplishments in Ghana’s financial services industry. Excerpt:

Kindly tell us more about yourself and some of your experiences growing up.

Mrs. Francisca Nyamekye Karikari is my name. My maiden name was Baah. I am a Christian, married to Dr. Anthony Yaw Karikari for Twenty Five years.

I am a Ghanaian by birth, born to Mr. & Mrs Johnson Baah of Kyekyebiase in the Ashanti Akyem  North District of Ashanti  Region. I grew up in the Volta Region of Ghana where I had my Elementary and Secondary Education in Shia Roman Catholic and Kpedze Secondary Schools respectively.

My sixth form was with Konongo Odumasi Secondary School, after which I pursued my university degree with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. I hold a BA(Hons) in Social Sciences, majoring in Economics and Law from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a Chartered Insurer and an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute UK. I am a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Ghana.

I have a double Master of Science degrees, MSc Insurance and Risk Management from City University, United Kingdom (now CASS Business School) -and MSc. Financial Services Management, also from London Guildhall University, United Kingdom (now London Metropolitan University). I have undergone many training courses in Insurance, Risk management, finance, leadership Corporate Finance and Corporate Governance among others.

As a child I was trained, as my father will put it ‘when you train a child as a slave he/she will live like a King or Queen in future, but when you train a  child as a Prince or Princess he or she may grow up and become a slave to another’. I have not yet attained the dream I had during my teenage years. It was bigger than where I am at the moment but I am on course.  I am determined to excel in everything I set my mind to, which always require making an extra effort than others.

Growing up,my father had eleven children and so life was not as easy as we expected. We supported our parents in many ways to make ends meet. As hardworking parents who were into many endeavours, I was trained into bakery, sewing, manning a glossary shop and a corn mill machine. I usually trekked long distances to the farm, and carried firewood back to the house. Also, we had to fetch water from a distant river many times in the morning before going to school. This we did with much difficulty.

During my university education, I had to do petty trading to look after myself and some of my younger siblings. I believe I owe my hard work to early years experiences. I must say we lived harmoniously together as a big family and that thought me how to relate well to people. I am sure that my business acumen started from my early years.

I believe strongly it is the providence and favour of God that has brought me this far. I will be quick to add that determination, staying focussed and hard work have contributed to my present position.

You have built a name for yourself in Ghana’s financial services industry, having started your insurance career with Enterprise Insurance as a Technical Trainee in March 1993. Kindly tell us about your career journey and some of the accomplishments you have recorded in your career.

I started my insurance career with Enterprise insurance company in March 1993 for about three years where I was promoted from the Technical Trainee position to Assistant Superintendent. There was a brief break in Career ( to have a baby) and I joined Metropolitan Insurance Company (Now Hollard)  on 1st June, 1998 where I was in charge of the Claims Departure. I rose from a Claims officer to Depute manager, Claims within two years and then travelled to UK to upgrade myself.  

I came back after two years with double Master of Science degrees, MSc in Insurance & Risk Management and MSc in Financial Services Management. I was made a Manager in 2003 where I supervised underwriting, Claims, Reinsurance and Risk Management departments.  In 2004, I rose to the position of a Senior Manager and the Head of Corporate Department. Within seven years that I worked with Metropolitan Insurance, I was promoted every year, from An Officer grade to Senior Manager. A record none has been able to break till now.

I took on a challenge at the then CDH Insurance Company limited (now NSIA) as a Deputy General Manager in charge of operations in June 2005. Six months down the line, I was confirmed and promoted to a full General Manager. I was part of the team that restructured CDH Insurance Company Ltd. (CDHI)(Now NSIA) to put it on a sound footing in the Ghanaian insurance industry

In April 2009, I took on another challenge at GLICO General Insurance Company limited as an Executive director. On 2nd January, 2010, I was appointed the Managing Director of GLICO General Insurance. Whiles at GLICO I played a significant role in turning the Company around and driving its growth.

Under my outstanding leadership GLICO General Insurance Company, as a result of hard work and a commitment to duty, was awarded the A-Rating by the Global Credit Rating Company (GCRC). Besides the GCRC rating, GLICO General Insurance Company ranked second in the category of non-life insurance companies on the list of the Ghana Club 100.

GLICO GENERAL was also the only non-life insurance company to receive the Business and Financial Services Excellence Award for 2010-11 instituted by the International Christian Business Excellence, Ghana.

I joined Donewell Insurance in January 2013 as the Managing Director after putting the building blocks of Liberty Insurance Brokers in place. I was responsible in shaping Donewell’s strategic direction and established the needed organizational structure and operating systems and aligned the Company’s operations with the strategic direction and priorities established by the Board. I also turned the Company around into profitability and spearheaded its growth within the 10 Month period. In the National Insurance Commission(NIC) Annual Report 2013 page 53 states that “the improvements in the ratios in Donewell Insurance was as a result of improvements in operational results.” Change in Capital and Equity moved from -9 (negative 9) in 2012 to 52 in 2013.

My achievements within the short period confirmed the introductory remarks from the Donewell Board at the time as “Mrs. Karikari is an accomplished leader, with a track record of working with high-growth companies. She brings a great mix of leadership, inspiration, operational experience, technical breadth, and passion for customer care. She has a very rich experience in the insurance industry that spans 20 years. Donewell is fortunate to find someone that has such a perfect set of skills during these challenging times”. My praise and thanks goes to God Almighty for making it possible.

You are today Chief Executive Officer of Glorygate Capital Limited. What would you say inspired you to entrepreneurship?

It all started with the desire to affect my generation and to motivate young people especially ladies that they can reach higher heights. The Bible says in Mathew 19:26 that “…with God all things are possible.”

The passion to give others the opportunities to work and touch lives by making them meet their basic needs, to shape other visions (workers) and career through mentoring and to impact the society better. Also, the desire to implement some of the ideas I could not implement whilst working for other corporate organizations.

The question I asked myself was ‘What can I do after passing all the exams to become a professional and more?”

Can she do it? Do you think she is capable? Does she have time? She has a family to take care of. Anytime I hear or I am confronted with these statements or hear the male counterpart or group of people say it, then it gives me more reason to up my game and challenge myself the more. This has helped me “The can do spirit”.

My husband, who is a Scientist noticed my entrepreneurial skills and decided to study Insurance and worked as a Partime Agent to have a practical knowledge in Insurance. He was among the First team of students the Ghana Insurance College trained to be awarded a Diploma and an Advance Diploma in Insurance by the Malta Insurance Institute. He founded Liberty Insurance Brokers in 2012 and that is why I am privileged to manage two companies.

We all have a life span to live on earth but none of us know when we shall be called “home”. We need to make a mark. To leave behind a legacy is my strongest motivation. Something I can be remembered for when I am no more. I want to pass the business on to a future generation.

The challenges entrepreneurs face in Africa are often more visible for women. For instance, the challenges entrepreneurs in Africa face when accessing finance are more visible in women-led businesses. Studies reveal that female entrepreneurs that sought funding from venture capitalists only received 25%, on average, of the amount they asked for; while men received, on average, over 50% of the amount they asked for. In the same vein, studies showed that 53% of women had applications for finance denied, compared to just 38% of men. What are some of the gender-based challenges you have faced in your business life and how did you sidestep them?

The Key challenge was capital. I mean funding. I initially approached my bankers for a loan but the best they could offer was a personal loan which was not enough to do the strictly regulated business.

I therefore started accumulating my savings from my salary for sometime whilst  holding on with my vision. I also depended on some of the capital investments I had, to generate funds to kick start. I have discovered that if you believe in your dream you must invest in it in order for others, likes banks to support.

It was my personal decision to be an Entrepreneur. I knew it was about taking risks but I was sure of what I wanted to achieve. I therefore prepared myself against any disappointment gender may bring my way. Since I had worked for many years and invested towards my dream I took off smoothly and stabilized my company before approaching a bank for a loan. The initial financial disappointment from the bank could not kill my dream.

How do you think that Africa can scale up access to affordable finance for female budding entrepreneurs and smallholder farmers in rural areas?

Governments of African countries must come up with a deliberate policy through their gender ministries to assist women assess funding in all sectors based on ability to deliver.

Also, there should be a deliberate pursuit of policies for making financial services accessible at affordable costs to all individuals and businesses, irrespective of net worth, size or gender.

What are some of your efforts in mentoring and making inroads for women in your industry?

Public Speaking Engagements within the Ghana Insurance and the Capital Market and also Religious gatherings.

Wherever I am, at work, home etc, I take personal interest in everyone to improve on their skills. When I see young people especially ladies, I engage them, appreciate them, caution, challenge them and offer solution to any queries they might have.

I am also a Part time lecturer at the Ghana Insurance College (GIC) and teaches at Management Development and Productivity Institute. (MDPI)

I am also a Marriage Counsellor.

How do you balance your family and business life?

I separate office work from my role as a wife and a mother. I try to work extra hard and bring people along with me. I have an understanding and hard working Chairman and Board of Directors. I also have able Lieutenants and motivated and hard working staff. Above all I do have a supporting family so we intentionally spend quality time together.

What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites) Optional

Readers can reach me via email address fkarikari@hotmail.com

Facebook: Glorygate Capital Limited

Facebook: Liberty Insurance Brokers Limited

Websites: www.glorygatecapital.com

www.libertybrokersgh.com

As I conclude I wish to advise that the youth should break beyond the norm for the sky is the limit. Since I have been able to do it with hard work and determination, they will be able to accomplish whatever they set their hearts to do. And by so doing they would be adding value to themselves and the society.

The youth should educate themselves to whatever level possible. They should be team players, work very hard, put up good character and integrity but above all they need Jesus to be able to affect their society positively.

In this exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch magazine, the Spouse of the President of Armenia discussed the gender gaps and challenges of women in Armenia and some of the efforts of the government in tackling them. Excerpt:

Your Excellency, thank you for granting us this opportunity to interact with you. In describing your childhood, you have been quoted to have said that you don’t have a rich family background, but had enough money to feed and clothe yourselves. Kindly tell us more about your background and some of your experiences growing up in Soviet Armenia.

I was born into an intellectual family in the Republic of Armenia, USSR. My father was a writer and journalist. My mother was a teacher of Armenian language and literature.

I went to a school where the English language was taught parallel to Armenian and Russian. We were staging Bernard Shaw’s and Shaespear’s plays in original language. I considered myself lucky to have the parts of Eliza Doolittle “Pygmalionˮ, and Cordelia “King Learˮ and Juliet “Romeo and Julietˮ. The schools gave us excellent education.

The life in the communist regime was harsh and difficult, with restricted freedom. There were no rich or poor people. My parents were making enough money to buy food, clothes and books. My mother’s salary was spent on transport, food and clothing, my father’s – on books. Most of objects of necessity were considered to be a luxury, including good books. One had to register, queue and wait for months for a good dictionary or a novel. Many books were forbidden, like “Master and Margaritaˮ by Bulgakov, so we were secretly circulating them among us, teenagers. In spite of all restrictions and lack of goods, we – children of Soviet society were getting excellent education for free.

We learnt that you worked at the Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan, after graduating from Yerevan State University. Please tell us about your professional activities in your country.

Matenadaran, one of the largest manuscript depositories of the world was a unique institution. While working there I had the opportunity to meet with many scholars and look at thousands of medieval manuscripts with gorgeous skillfully done illustrations and improve my professional skills on Medieval Armenian art and history. I was paid very little, but so-called material life was not a priority. 

Parallel to my work at the Institute, I started to write essays for the Armenian Radio on culture as well as about the work of prominent artists and musicians. I have made up a rich basis for myself, based on my work and our family library.

We understand that in 1991 you relocated to London with your family, and started writing articles on art, music and culture, as well as authoring stories for children. Kindly share with us your experience living with your family in London and how the Western Culture affected your writings and professional activities.

We, as a family of four, my husband Armen Sarkissian, my two sons Vartan and Hayk and I, settled down in London in 1991. We have been connected with the West since 1984, due to the work of my husband, who used to be a physicist.

Once my husband became the first Ambassador of the independent Republic of Armenia in the UK, I entered the Department of History of Art at Goldsmiths’ College, London University and graduated with an MA. Art became my priority and I did numerous courses at Sotheby’s Auction House, Christie’s Auction House and at Westminster College – to improve my drawing and painting skills. I continued to write on Art and artistic people for newspapers of Armenian Diaspora.

For many years I dedicated my time and energy to International and Armenian charities, raising funds through concerts of classical music, inviting famous musicians, choirs and orchestras for good causes.

Your books, including The Magic Buttons, which is the first to be published in English, teach children to love and respect moral values, and also to be resourceful and brave in defending same. What inspires your literary writing?

Our world is complicated. It is becoming more and more difficult to preserve moral values in such a complex environment for very young minds. It is extremely important priority for my generation to present to the young generation of our children and in my case – grandchildren, values like kindness, love, family, friendship and through books and word of mouth. It is important to teach them not to be lazy and to have goals and to have dreams in their lives. That is why I spend a lot of time visiting schools for talks and workshops with children. Good moral and disciplinary values are shaped in human beings at the very early age, during childhood, that’s why it is utmost importance to pay more attention on the education of children at nurseries and schools.

The world of children is different. It is not easy to write for them. One has to look at things through their prism and keep them still interested with books in the huge flow of electronic information around them.

I find inspiration for my books in the world of children who I love.

Research has shown that gender imbalances and inequality remain salient in Armenia in terms of women’s access to economic opportunities, underrepresentation in leadership roles, and health and survival. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index 2017, Armenia is ranked 97th among 144 countries. What are your thoughts on gender inequality and efforts to close gender gaps?

We attach a great importance to this issue. I would like to stress that participation of women in our economy has dynamically increased during recent years. This also creates necessary guarantees and sustainable grounds for reducing poverty, consumption and income gap between the men and women in our society.

We constantly invest in women’s economic empowerment as it sets a direct path towards gender equality and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in business, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.

Improvement in women’s economic activity has also led to the strengthening of their political activity and today we already have many successful examples.

At present the Government has initiated the development of new strategy for 2019 -2023on providing equal rights and equal opportunities for women and men. This long-term action plan would explicitly address all areas that involve women as participant and/or final user. And on everyday basis, policies will  target the elimination of existing gaps and the prevention of new ones.

Domestic violence has been a prevalent problem for Armenian society. Statistics from women’s rights NGOs reveal that there were 602 cases of domestic violence officially registered by the Armenian police in 2017, as at October; and from 2010 – 2017, at least 50 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners. Remarkably, the National Assembly of Armenia in 2017 adopted legislation aimed at combating domestic violence by introducing criminal and administrative liability against those found guilty of the crime. What are your thoughts on domestic violence and abuse in the country, and do you think this legislation and its full implementation will be effective in reducing the worrisome trend in the country?

It is also a very important issue, as until the adoption of the “Law on Prevention of Violence within the Family, Protection of Victims of Violence within the Family and Restoration of Peace in the Family” in December 2017, there have been no specific regulations in place on domestic violence, and the Criminal Code regulated acts of violence against women in general. In January 2018, Armenia signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).

Now we witness raise of public awareness, which together with the implementation of respective laws play significant role in violence prevention, which is also another major factor in violence elimination.

I strongly believe that undertaken actions would result in significant improvement of situation.

Dr. Hannatu Adamu Fika, Executive Secretary/CEO, Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board is a source of inspiration to women and young girls in Nigeria, especially, the North Eastern part where she comes from. In this exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch magazine, Dr. Fika shared some of her efforts in impacting the lives of public servants and women in Nigeria. Excerpt:

Media reports, findings and research are inundated with various issues that confront the holistic development and empowerment of the girl-child in rural and urban areas of the country. Kindly share with us some of your experiences growing up as a girl in Borno State.

Thank you very much. Fifty seven years ago, I was a girl-child. I had an advantage in that the part of Borno that I come from is Southern Borno. If we take 100% for instance, 55% of the people in Southern Borno State are Christians. So, we had the advantage of missionaries opening up schools in Southern Borno. As such, most of us attended missionary schools.

My father studied law at the Ahmadu Bello University. Most of us went to school because we knew the value of Western education. But when you talk about the North (of Nigeria), quite a sizable number of Northern women went to school up to degree level. But what we were not able to do then was to get employments after we graduated from school.

The communities see the good to get Western education, because the Quran encourages learning as well. Muslim women were encouraged to get Western education. But after getting western Education, the society also asked us to stay at home to bring up our children and take care of our husbands.

But again, quite a number of us took up appointment with the government because we felt we had to contribute our own quota towards the development of Nigeria. Even those who dropped out to get married, our state government and the National Council for Women Society, ensured that go back to schools, even the University; and when they came back, they were employed as teachers, nurses and administrators.

Since then, things have been changing. When we were young, bread was cheap, but as we were growing up, men alone could not mobilize resources to buy bread as things became more expensive; so, the husband and wife had to put resources together to buy bread. So in a literal way, we needed two hands so that we can move forward. During our days, we went to public schools, and public schools were very good, there were no private schools. But today we find ourselves in a situation that most of our children had to go to private schools and that is a discouragement.

You started your career as a Civil Servant in the Borno State Civil Service; and rose through the ranks, serving in various capacities, to become Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board. Kindly take us through your career journey and share with us some of the key accomplishments you have recorded over the course of your career.

When I graduated in 1976, before we went in for our National Youth Services Corps (NYSC), you have the opportunity then, because there were no too many students who were in the University; so throughout the country, when you were in year 3, the civil service commission of the state will come to you to interview you for a job. We knew definitely that when we finish the University we will get a job. So that was how we started. It was very easy to get a job, unless we want to be at home raising our children.

So, after my NYSC, I was employed by the Borno State Government as an Assistant Secretary II, which is an administrative Officer. Before then, it was difficult to become administrators; we were only giving jobs of teachers even if you are not interested in teaching. That was what they imposed on us; by so doing, they believed that at noon, we will finish our jobs for the day, and go home to take care of our family. But there are some of us who do not take it kindly, because we were not trained to be teachers and for you to be a successful teacher, you have to be interested in being a teacher. And for me, I was not. The reason is because the community I come from, a lot of the girls did not understand English; and for example, where I was sent to teach then, it was not even after my university; you know, when you go through a higher school certificate, for almost one year, you have to go back and teach. So, I was sent to girls’ school to teach; and for me, it was very frustrating as I did not understand their local language. I could only speak English and Hausa, which they did not understand and so it became so frustrating. So, I had to go back to the Ministry of Education to beg them to give me something different.

So as we progressed, let me bring you back, quite a number of us, the females of Borno State, were not taking it too kindly to go to the classrooms to teach. So with the intervention of the President of this country (President Muhammadu Buhari), the Governor of Borno State, that opened ways for women to go into administration and compete with the men.  So, that was how we became divisional officers, assistance secretaries and some of us were sent to the divisions to do the work that men were doing. And for that we are grateful to him.

And at the state level, I grew up from the administrative cadre up to the position of a director, before I crossed over to the Federal Civil Service in 1990, where I worked with the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and then moved to the National Commission for Women. I thereafter worked with the then First Lady, Mrs. Maryam Babangida as director of Better Life Programme, till 1995.

Then, Mrs. Abacha came in as First Lady of Nigeria, and we had another programme, of which I was Director- Family Support Programme, until I was deployed to Local Government Affairs as Director. So, I moved from one Ministry to another. You know when you leave one ministry to another you acquire a different nomenclature. I was posted to this office (Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board), as Director/ Secretary, before my appointment as the Executive Director/CEO, a position I have held up till this time, by the Grace of God.

I am enjoying the job because it is a job for the less privileged. It is so because they are poorly paid and yet expected to work hard, because if civil servants do not work, no country moves. This is why, as you must have seen as journalists, Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari), yesterday, expressed his commitment to having a new minimum of wage and the proposed N30, 000 has been presented to the National Assembly. So, what is expected for the civil servant is to work for N30, 000 so that they do not relax. N30, 000 is a lot of money as there are so many civil servants. We are so lucky that there is no retrenchment as an alternative of that N30, 000.

You have received both local and international recognitions for your commitment to the housing needs of Nigeria’s public servants. Reports show that the number of public servants who have benefited from Board’s housing loans scheme, since you assumed leadership of the board in 2007, has risen from 12,556 to 30, 212. How do you achieve this stellar performance?

Actually, the Board is older than Nigeria herself. It was established in 1924 when we were in territories. At that time, it was known as the Africa Housing Loans Board. In 1976, the name changed to Federal Government Staff Housing Loans Board. The Government has a responsibility as part of its social responsibility to its people in establishing the Board so that a niche is carved out for Federal Government workers as part of motivation.

I believe anybody who has a house of his/her own, 70% of his/her challenges are met as all they have to worry about is school fees and health; and fortunately, Government has a programme to address health concerns. And Government has also ensured that any worker that wants to be a farmer, can farm; and it will not be a barrier to the ethics of the service. So, you have that opportunity to grow what you want to eat. When you have a house, you grow what you want to eat, and your healthcare is being taken of, I believe you have nothing to worry about.

So, the Board was established by law to give mortgages. And you are expected to use the mortgages to be build your own house, which you can supervise, or for you to identify your own property developer, inform the Board to pay your loan to the property developer to build the house for you. If you already have a house, and this happened under the monetization programme of the Government, where old houses were sold to tenants, and they felt the need to renovate the house, so the loan also provide for that. The loan also provide for you to buy a piece of land to build your own house. The intention of government for the board has been marvelous.

The figures you have given me have increased over the last one month. The Minister of Finance has graciously injected some funds to us of which about 500 loans have been given. I will like you to know that everybody does not get the same amount of money as we look at your inflow as salary so that we do not break the financial regulations. So, we have tried. And we are trying our own quota to see how we can reduce the housing deficit in the country.

Do you work with the Private sector?

Of course, the developers come from the private as they are the ones we are working with to construct the houses under the purview of the National Housing Programme. You know that nobody wants to build a house today that will collapse tomorrow; so the private developers who are experts in this field are given the opportunity as long as the civil servant identifies with them.

The World Economic Forum ranked Nigeria 122 in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, revealing a widening gender gap across health, education, politics and the workplace. You served as Deputy Director, Director and Ag Director General of the National Commission for Women Affairs, from 1992 to 1995. Also, you have led initiatives and programmes aimed at women empowerment and development.  Kindly tell us more about your successes in improving the health and social wellbeing of women, as well as your efforts in supporting, mentoring and empowering women in the country?

Actually I started the job of empowering women even before I became a deputy director, because I have been a grassroots mobiliser. As the saying goes, if you empower a man, you are empowering one person, but if empower the woman, you are empowering a whole, group of people- the woman herself, the children and even the husband.

So, I believe in the concept of making women independent financially. So, you don’t have to be insulting your husband every day to give you money to buy “Maggi”, “salt” and so on. I have never believed in that. I want the woman to stand to her feet and contribute her own quota to the development of this country.

We grew up seeing our mothers going to the farm, and at the end of the season, sell the farm produce and use to proceeds to send us to school. Now we have gone to school; we are literates; and we have jobs; why should we not empower the women to stand on their woman? I sincerely, believe in that; this is why during my young days I joined the National Commission for women to mobilize women in my state.

You know it is quite difficult to mobilize women in the state where I come from because, it is predominantly, a Muslim state, and I am not saying in a Muslim state women are not contributing their own quota, but is not as easy as what happens elsewhere. So I and a team of other women, who believe in empowering women, were going from one local government to another asking the women to identify what they needed and then we worked with the then First Lady,  Mrs. Babangida (Mrs. Maryam Babangida) to provide little resources, to these women to establish their own skills.  We believe even when they are at home in purdah, they can do “kuli kuli” and then send somebody out to sell that “kuli kuli” for them and then they will get resources. They can do it for the women who come from the South who can sell them. So we believe in empowering the women so that they can take care of the home front, their children and even the man who is our own head.

So, when I became the director of women affairs, I worked very closely with Mrs. Maryann Babangida on the Better Life Programme, where we had programmes throughout the 36 States of the country. Every skill that can bring in money for the woman to help her family, we participated in it and supported them.

When Mrs. Abacha (Mrs. Maryam Abacha) came in, she introduced the Family Support Programme, where we saw the need for social welfare programmes. We were able to do a lot under her leadership. Look at the National Hospital of today, it was a scheme under the First Lady and I happened to be the director, Family Support Programme.

There was only one General Hospital in Abuja, which was located in Gwagwalada; we believed that women have health challenges which were peculiar to them and their children; so before one leaves Asokoro or Garki to Gwagwalada, one would have been dead on the way. So, the First Lady believed in establishing this hospital for women and children. The National Hospital was first christened as Hospital for Women and Children; and a year later, we felt it should also address the health challenges of men, so that is how the National Hospital was established.

And when you go to my experience in the Local Government, I believe you must have held that name, ALGON (Association of Local Governments of Nigeria). I was the Architect of that programme. We worked with the Chairmen of Local Governments to get certain independence. If the Local Government works well, we will not care about the person that sits as Governor is, or who the President; So we decided to form ALGON so that they come together to address the less privileged in the communities. Nigeria is made up 774 Local government and if these governments are up and doing, Nigeria will be up and doing. Challenges of armed robbery and kidnapping will be addressed.

I also worked in the office of the Accountant General as director in charge of administration before I was posted to the Federal Government Housing Loans Board. I believe that the award that the Centre for Economic and Leadership Development is going to confer on me is in recognition of my role in civil service.

When I was deployed here, I uncounted quite a number of challenges; Even the Head of Service who posted me here did so with the aim of solving the challenges, to motivate public servants to work better. So, I took up this challenge to see how we can mobilize resources to ensure that public servants own their own homes while they are still in service in preparation for their retirement.

And happily I have the support of my Governing Board, and the support of all the heads of service that I have worked with, including the support of all my staff here in the board. With the available resources to us, we should be able to advance the public servant to own their own homes so that they can live happily with their families.

One big thing we have been able to do, is to ensure that whoever got loans from the time that the Board was established till date, was documented them, we have them on our archive so that everybody know that government is contributing their own quota towards the motivation of the their staff. We have been able to computerize our loan registry so that everybody sees what is happening. The first loan given by the Board was in 1950, and that loan went to the Secretary of the then Prime Ministry of this country.  And from our own document, that house stands tall in Surulere in Lagos. Quite a number of houses through our loans scheme are there in Abuja and we have document to show you these house. As the CEO of this board, I feel fulfilled that i was able to touch the lives of public servants. It is actually difficult for a civil servant to own a house in Abuja with a minimum wage of N18, 000. With the minimum wage of N30, 000 as presented to the President by Amal Pepple’s committee, this will affect what our loans ceiling will now be, because the ceiling usually reflects the minimum wage.

What is the duration of Loan payment?

The length of loan payment reflects the number of years you have in the service. However, the maximum is 25 years. The present Government is making a lot of efforts in providing housing for Nigerians. The Minister of Works, Power and Housing has been talking about empowering Nigerians through owning their own homes. Last year, the Government established the Family Homes Funds so mop resources for public servants and Nigerians to access to own their homes. You are aware, the Federal Mortgage Bank have been in existence for a very long time contributing their quota for Nigerians to own their own home, The Federal Housing Authority is also there. So, everybody is contributing. 

We also expect the private sector to come in. Private sector alone cannot provide housing. So what Government does is to provide a level playing ground for mortgages to be given for houses at single digit to developer who have indicated interest to go into development of houses. And we are expecting an intervention from the Federal government of Nigeria, just as it has intervened in industries. Housing is very important as it touches the lives of every citizen in this country. It has to be a partnership between the public and private sector. According to Nigeria’s Land Law, all land belong to the goverbnmen6 and we are hoping that government at federal, State and local levels will make land ownership very flexible, especially for people going into mass housing; and when he interest rate for mortgages are single digits, the challenges have been brought to the barest minimum.

What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine, who have been inspired by your work, to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites) Optional?

I am personally interested in seeing every woman empowered. I do not want the men to hear this, but they have to be here. Everywoman that applies for a loan is a priority for me. We women have a lot of challenges. Some women grew up with their spouses, and at the end of the day, having pulled in resources, to build their homes, suddenly levels will change; the woman is divorced. And the children will pack out with their mother, and so these women become homeless. As a woman myself, it is my responsibility under the powers given to me by the president to be the CEO of this place, apart from motivating them to stay in marriage, to  also motivate them to own their homes, even if they are staying in homes, built by their husband. There is nothing that attracts value like a home. So, I have also tried to empower the girl child to ensure that they go to school and get a job upon graduation so that they can have financial independence. Even in Saudi Arabia where it has been conservative at a time, the women are now working, each time I go to Saudi Arabia as a Muslim and I see women working I am always happy. We are looking forward to, if the men will allow us, to be empowered so that the rich women among us will pull us together so that we can speakers of the House and senate presidents and the men will vote for us.

Dr. Ijeoma E. Jidenma, CEO, Leading Edge Consulting, in an exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch magazine, talks about her career as a management consultant. Excerpt: 

Kindly tell us more about yourself and some of your experiences growing up.

I was born in Port Harcourt to parents who were teachers.

My father Chief (Dr) F .C Ogbalu was a consummate Lecturer and my mum a devoted secondary school teacher. My father was selfless to the core. He was very diligent and always strived for the common good. His life’s philosophy which he practicalized is “Others first, self-last”.

This showed in everything he did whether as a Teacher, Publisher, Parliamentarian or a Cultural Defender of note. His life was a life of service. My mother was a very simple and humble woman. Born into the family of Rev and Mrs. Joel Chidebelu (of blessed memory) my mum, Lady Evelyn Amuchechukwu Ogbalu is a devoted child of God in all its ramifications. At age 80 years, she is still a Chorister, Lay Reader and People’s Warden in our village Church, St James Anglican Church Abagana.

As the first child of my parents, I had a burden to show high sense of responsibility. As a child, I was greatly drawn to academic things. In my primary school, I hardly missed the first position. This also followed in my secondary school where I ended up as the best student in my class. I was to have my first major life challenge in the medical school and I fell like a pack of cards. It took me time to find my feet.

In terms of my career, some of the things that had helped me very much apart from my God-given intellect is being diligent and persevering in what I do. I am naturally an introvert but while working in PriceWaterhouse, my then Director had commented, “Though not one that would easily be seen at the forefront as a marketer, Ije had been able to meet and exceed expectations”. The same single-mindedness and perseverance also saw me through in the pursuit of my PhD. In fact, one of my lecturers taunted me that “PhD was more of sweat than intellect”. I had been the best Masters student in my class and he challenged me that it was more about ‘staying power’. Practically, all the people I registered with for the PhD dropped off along the line and I ended up being the first non-faculty member of a University, to get a doctoral degree in that department.

Let it be known that whatever success I have made of my life is beyond my family background, intellect, diligence and perseverance.

There is the hand of God in my life; I saw the hand of God even in my marriage. My late husband brought humor and emotional intelligence to bear in my life. Life is beyond cognition and rationality; it is also about emotions and empathy. It is beyond winning the argument. It is also about carrying people along. It is about adding value to other people’s lives. They may not care about what you know but how you care.

You have built a name for yourself as a management consultant and professional with vast experiences in areas, such as learning and development, as well as human resources management. Please tell us more about your career journey.

I believe that the coin has two sides. I believe in calling a spade a spade and standing for something. Our Philosophy is to do the right thing always. As Management Consultants, we avoided assignments that were not in tandem with our values. In the late nineties and turn of the century, we carried out mass aptitude testing and recruitment for Banks and other multinational organizations. We never compromised our stand or tampered with the outcome of our processes. We became known and respected in the industry for that. We had relations that needed jobs but could not be employed and it didn’t matter that we were in charge of the process.

There were indeed challenges whereby individuals who realized our stance stalled repeat businesses for us but we have remained steadfast in this regard. This has also remained the case now when we handle top-level positions such as board-level Executive Director and CEO positions as well as NED positions

Being professional has been my watchword. It has helped me in my growth. In an environment like Nigeria, it has also limited our growth in the short-term. However, I believe it is better to work according to your beliefs and conscience than jettison them and lose your authenticity. Everything works out well in the long term.

The dividends of delayed gratification are evident. When individuals of a certain hue are needed, people know those to look for. Several years ago, I was approached by one of the founders of Nigeria’s leading publicly quoted companies to play a key executive learning and development role in his organization. The first thing he told me was that my reputation preceded me. Apparently, he had asked different individuals to recommend the person for that role and my name had “popped” up variously. Even though I decided to stick to my Consultancy practice and did not join the organization, the feedback helped to strengthen my resolve to forge ahead.

While I worked, I tried to give my best and brought the values I believed in to bear on my job. Because, I had no double standard, it gave me a voice, all through my career in paid employment and even gave impression of “seeming power”. The truth is that I am not a person of power. I hardly know what to do with power but my consistency and firmness had made it seem so. I also gained tremendous respect of both my peers and seniors as a result of this.

Even as old as I am both in terms of my career and in chronological age, challenges are endless. I have since realized that this is nature of life. What really matters in a situation is one’s response to it, and not the specific circumstance.

My knowledge of Psychology taught me this. There is no circumstance that nobody has never encountered or mankind has never seen.

In my long career, I have been exposed to functional areas such as learning and development, human resources, management, psychometrics, corporate governance, strategic planning, organizational development etc. These are areas that have to do with talent identification, acquisition, development, optimization and organizational development. I believe that consultancy has offered me the room to exercise my intellect. I have also grown in Executive Management as well as Non- Executive corporate roles such as serving as a Director of First Pension Custodian, Independent Non-Executive Director of First Bank and Trustee of Goddy Jidenma Foundation etc.

Of course I have learnt from some role models and mentors along the way; people like Dr Christopher Kolade who is the Chairman of Leading Edge Consulting, Prof Pat Utomi who has shown so much staying power in the pursuit of what he believes in, Dr Stella Okoli whose sheer entrepreneurial energy is unrivalled, Dr Oba Otudeko for his shrewdness and experience in Board Leadership. There are also so many others who have been supportive and played key roles in my life.

I believe in continuous learning and have greatly benefited from series of Executive Development and Board development programmes across the world in centres of excellence such as Lagos Business School, Havard Business School, Kellogs School of Management and Cranefield School of Management.

According to the World Bank’s President, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, building human capital is critical for all countries, at all income levels, to compete in the economy of the future. How would you describe the implication of the ranking to organizational growth and economic development in Nigeria?

The implication of the ranking to Nigeria is a sounding bell or wake up call. We must arise from our deep slumber; of not paying the needed attention to health and education. Not much economic development can be achieved where the critical mass are largely uneducated. In the 21st century, the bar is even raised to include being technological savvy. Therefore, where the foundations in subjects like Mathematics are lacking, it becomes very difficult and almost an uphill task to  convert this abundant human resources to critical mass that would compete favorably in the global arena and facilitate economic development.

How are you able to balance your family obligations with your work life?

The balancing of family obligations and work life for me has remained a work-in-progress. At some stages of my career, I had to make some sacrifice together with my family to achieve my career goals. For instance, I left a well-paying job in a Bank to pursue a doctorate degree on a sabbatical leave without pay. Again, my family is also a beneficiary of the gains that I have made in my career, in some ways.

My strategy has always been the capacity to identify what is key or material at any point in time, be it a family or career matter. In all, I have always prayed to God to help me in the joggling of the balls so that none is lost.

What is the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (You can include links to your social networks and websites) optional?

The readers of Amazons Watch Magazine can connect me via https://www.linkedin.com/in/ije-jidenma-60477119/ or https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009535301656

Often times, women are relegated to procreative and domestic accomplishments. In a system where women are empowered, they are fully involved in all areas and sectors, building solid economies and generally improving the quality of life. In this exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, Veronicah Gladys Namagembe, Managing Director and CEO Pride Microfinance Limited (MDI), speaks on some of the strategies her organization has put in place to empower the female gender.

  1. Among your career goals is the passion to give back by coordinating mentoring and coaching programs towards continuity and succession planning. How will you rate the success of these programs?

One of the Key Performance Indicators for our mentorship and coaching programmes is the number of mentees and coaches that are growing through the ranks, both in their social and career lives. I am proud to see 4 CEOs and 21 Senior Managers in the Ugandan Financial Institutions whom I have mentored or coached climb the ladder under my watch. The ability to maintain a consistent coaching approach at all levels only enhances our competence as leaders to focusing on doing good deeds. As the CEO of Pride Microfinance, I have registered quite some successes with attention to growing careers from within the institution at 99.8% through hands on coaching and mentoring.

  1. It has been observed that women make up a large proportion of beneficiaries of the services/packages offered by microfinance banks in Africa. Does this imply that the women in small businesses are better at what they do with adequate external support?
  • By end of October 2018, Pride had 41% female borrowers, taking up 33% of the loan portfolio with Portfolio at Risk (1 day past due) at 3.6% compared to 4.7% for the male counterparts. This is because women are generally diligent, committed, keep their word and family oriented.
  • Pride’s Board of Directors is made up of 57% females, while Senior Management has 30% women and 43% of the work force are women. In terms of their performance, 50.6% score Good and above, compared to the male at 49.4%.
  • In 2012, the average return on assets (ROA) of publicly listed companies without female representation was 0.99 compared with 3.03 for companies with at least one woman on the board. This resonates well with Pride, which is ranked number 1 with the best return on asset averaging at 7.2% in the past 7 years among all regulated financial institutions in Uganda with focus on serving people at the base of the pyramid.
  • Nevertheless, we still have quite some strides to pursue. In my day today, I see cases of women being put under duress to guarantee credit facilities, loans going bad because the husband sold off the harvest and did not bring any money home and at worst violence for refusing to guarantee a husband’s credit facility. It is not yet time to sit back and relax but rather maintain the momentum since empowerment of the woman, empowers the whole nation.
  • I believe that remarkable achievements have been realized in the advancement of women empowerment; however more needs to be done especially in the 7 spheres of influence i.e business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion. I strongly believe that if we want women to participate fully in financial inclusion and access, we must put men into the picture. By focusing on only women in isolation will take us to the wilderness close to the Promised Land but not in Canaan itself. This is because women live in communities with families and with men.
  1. In your opinion, what are some policies that can be put in place to boost small and medium-scale enterprises run by women in Uganda?
  • Concessional lending schemes and loan portfolio guarantees for women led SMEs
  • Institute Tax holidays for women led SMEs in Uganda.
  • Focus efforts to support women in Agriculture; where over 60% of the farming population are women.
  • Preferential schemes creation for Women led SMEs to offer services to Government, the largest spender.
  • Prioritization of Incubation for women led SME startups.
  • Capital Financing Grants for the SMEs managed by credible financial institutions and subject to competent screening.
  • Centralized Database for enrollment of SMEs and linkage of the same to Financial Institutions and Other Entities that may offer or require services.
  • Training Programs led by the private sector, Government and Development partners.
  1. Pride Microfinance Bank plays a vital role in Uganda’s economy by creating packages that advance local businesses. What are some of the challenges the bank has faced in achieving its objectives?
  • High cost of doing business and scaling to SMEs, it is quite expensive to run brick and mortar branches; besides the market dynamics; high inflation and market interest rates.
  • Microfinance business reputation was damaged by unregulated Microfinance Institutions (MFI) who fleeced quite a number of people and this affected market confidence in genuine regulated MDIs who are serving Ugandans at the base of the pyramid.
  • Regulatory requirements and pressure continue to increase and we need to devote a large part of our budget on being compliant, and on building systems and processes not only limited to expensive robust core banking system to keep up with the escalating requirements.
  • The low levels of marginal propensity to save: Our target market still has a low penetration rate when it comes to savings. This has resulted into high account dormancy ratios.
  • Increasing competition from unregulated financial technology companies (FINTECHS) who are using software to provide financial services.
  • Retaining talent is critical as staff is always on the move looking for greener pastures.
  • Data security, cyber security and third-party risks require specific action at all times.
  • Staying engaged with customers is becoming more and more difficult with the advancement in digitalization; moreover it’s the key for being connected to customers as a means of staying relevant and making new business lines.
  1. What will be your advice to young women who aspire to climb the executive ladder in the financial circles?
  • You cannot have everything (postgraduate education, marriage, children and career advancement) at once. Phase your life goals realistically.
  • Make a difference in people’s lives and the results like profits will be the outcome.
  • Take care of your life. Drink lots of water, fruits and vegetables. Smile and laugh more and make your body active. Learn to exercise your pelvic bones and body muscles. Remember eat, sleep and exercise.
  • Start saving for retirement now, not later. Keep an “emergency fund”, stop impulse shopping and don’t invest in anything you don’t understand.
  • Don’t spend your time with people who do not treat you well. Learn to be good to the people you care about.
  • Be kind to yourself, respect yourself: Be a little selfish and do something for yourself every day, something different once a month and something spectacular every year.
  • Give back to people, society and community by volunteering for projects, giving speeches, writing blogs, and taking an active part in professional organizations. Network within and outside your industry.
  • Find mentors and sponsors who will guide and help promote you.
  • Always think outside the box or the building.
  • Genuinely forgive since it’s for the person doing the forgiving. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person being forgiven. For those of you still holding a grudge — let it go. You’ll add years of happiness to your life.
  • Believe in yourself and take that first step and lift your own ladder for career advancement and growth.
  1. In recent times, women protested several injustices from workplace marginalization to assaults of different kinds. How best do you think the rights of women can be protected?

In my opinion, what we see at the work place reflects our family values. The ability to inculcate values of integrity, gender respect, and equal opportunity come right from our homes; our children and the society will be the determinant factor in preventing / minimizing the several injustices. At the work place, it is not too late, we need to develop and nature values that instill respect at the workplace. We should have zero tolerance to such practices and should live and be seen to be a community of moral upright people and embracing diversity.

  1. What are some of the hard lessons you learnt in your career path that structured your working principles?
  • Openness, humility and integrity are key to me as a leader.
  • Self-regulation, time keeping and leading by example while walking the talk.
  • Being accountable and owning up.
  • Never keep a grudge.
  • Reading widely even on matters that do not concern me.
  • Learning from my mistakes and mistakes of others.
  • Be fast, furious and at the same time flexible.
  • Be a transformational leader with focus on influence, initiative, insights, integrity and impact.
  • Derive your decisions based on common sense and data analytics.
  • Treat people the way you would want to be treated.
  • Invest adequate time in hiring the right people in the right positions.
  • Look for complimentary skills in all the team members.
  • Happy staff equals happy customers.

QUOTE: I believe that remarkable achievements have been realized in the advancement of women empowerment; however more needs to be done especially in the 7 spheres of influence i.e business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion.