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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.

Orphaned at an early age, Hadiyah-Nicole Green was raised by her aunt and uncle in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2003, she earned her bachelor’s degree in physics at Alabama A&M University.

Upon her graduation from college, Hadiyah’s aunt, who had raised her from age 4, informed her that she was suffering a kind of cancer, which she referred to as “Women’s Cancer”, never really specifying the type. She subsequently refused to go through cancer treatment, and Hadiyah as her caregiver, witnessed firsthand the life altering effects of cancer and how it destroys the human body. Three months after that, Hadiyah’s uncle was also diagnosed of cancer, and though he went through the treatments, she also got to see the awful side effects of cancer treatments.

Hadiyah’s uncle lived on for ten more years, but having seen both sides of the coin, she figured there had to be a better way to treat cancer. She thought of a satellite, and how it can spot which way a dime is faced, all the way from space. Applying her knowledge as a physicist, she thought that the same specific location technique could be used on cancer tumors and this motivated her to enroll in grad school, on a mission to find a better way to treat cancer.

Hadiyah proceeded to the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where she started her nanoparticles (inorganic materials – a microscopic particle of matter that is measured on the nanoscale, usually one that measures less than 100 nanometers) research. She earned a master’s degree in 2009 and a Ph.D. in 2012. While conducting her doctoral research, Hadiyah developed a method to insert nanoparticles into cancer cells but not healthy cells, allowing them to be destroyed by lasers. She spent seven years, developing the treatment and same to get her PhD.She subsequently tested the treatment in animal models and the treatment worked on them.

Dr. Hadiyah Nicole Green was awarded a US$1.1 million cancer research grant through the Veterans Affairs Historically Black Colleges and Universities Research Scientist Training Program to help her continue her innovative research and the groundbreaking work she has started to battle the disease. Since then, she has successfully developed two cancer treatments, focusing on tumor shrinkage/ regression, and monotherapy (an enhancement of immunotherapy, and an interface with personalized medicine) respectively. She still needs more funding to enable her complete her mission and make the treatment available and accessible to everyone.

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Dr. Hadiyah – Nicole Green is currently a professor at Tuskegee University, the second black woman and the fourth black person ever to earn a doctoral degree in physics from The University of Alabama Birmingham.

Though she is fast gaining media attention and taking on the growing responsibilities that come with it, the woman of colourstill makes time to speak at schools, and to the youth; she encourages them towards the field of science and reminds them that it’s important to know that our brains are capable of much more.

 

It has been observed that for women in academia, the timing of tenure decisions often coincides with the optimal childbearing years, and as such requiring women to resolve individually the conflicts between biological and career clocks.

A study by economists Donna K. Ginther and Shulamit Kahn found that women are less likely than men to pursue tenure-track positions in science but that the gender gap in such positions can be explained by fertility decisions. That is, women in science are less likely to move up the academic job ladder after their early post-doctorate years if they have children. For men, by contrast, both marriage and children increase the likelihood of advancing in an academic science career.

Bearing this in mind, it is only proper to applaud the courage of the many women around the world who have towed this academic line and made waves in their chosen career. Helena Maria Viramontes is one of those women who have proven to be the best at what they do and have served as motivation to a lot of women in Southern America and the world at large.

Helena Maria Viramontes, born February 26, 1954, is an American fiction writer and professor of English. Viramontes was born into a Mexican-American family. She graduated from Garfield High School, which was one of the high schools that participated in the 1968 Chicano Blowouts, a series of protests against unequal conditions in East Los Angeles public schools. She then worked part-time while attending Immaculate Heart College, from which she earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature in 1975.

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A photograph of Helena Maria Viramontes at the Santa Barbara Book and Author Festival September 30, 2006.

Viramontes attended the graduate program in creative writing at the University of California, Irvine. In 1977, her short story “Requiem for the Poor” was awarded a prize from Statement Magazine. In 1979, she won a literary prize from the Spanish department at UC Irvine. In 1981, she left the MFA program. In 1985, Arte Publico Press published The Moths, collection of short stories. During her hiatus from academia she published in many underground literary journals such as ChismeArte. In 1988, she co-edited Chicana Creativity and Criticism with María Herrera-Sobek, a volume dedicated to the literary output of Mexican-American women. She returned to UC Irvine to complete her MFA, which was awarded in 1994. As part of the program, she received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to attend a writing workshop with the Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In 1995, her first novel Under the Feet of Jesus was published to critical acclaim. Recently, Their Dogs Came with Them, a novel that took her 17 years to complete, has been published and is gaining notoriety for its tough characters and strikingly personal and realistic prose. This novel is largely inspired by her childhood in the midst of East Los Angeles, with the gang conflicts and social strife at the center of her novel.

Her short stories have been published in a variety of literary journals. The major themes of her stories are informed by her childhood experiences in East Los Angeles, and the impact of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers on the life of her family. Many of her works feature strong female characters, and child protagonists figure prominently into her work. Other works have been deemed “democratic novels”, in that no single protagonist dominates the storyline. Throughout all of her work, a love of life and of all of humanity pervades, despite poverty and the other challenges her characters face.

Viramontes is currently a professor of English at Cornell University. She has received a number of awards some of which include: Luis Leal Award, Santa Barbara Festival of Books, 2006, Outstanding Latino/ a Cultural Award in Literary Arts or Publications, 2007, United State Artists Fellowship, 2007.

Viramontes often uses her works as witness to history or as a voice for those who do not have a public platform upon which to speak. In interviews she evinces a longtime commitment to civil rights. Her commitment to rights is not abstract, since Viramontes’ own parents harvested grapes during her youth. Her novel likewise reflects Viramontes’ feminism in her creation of strong female characters.

 

 

For so many people, the thought of moving from one house to the other spells a lot of stress, and for those who come into town for a short while the endless stories of bad experiences faced searching for good apartment are always heard. This prompted Argentina’s Valeria Pasmanter to fill in the gap, serving as an intermediary between landlords and foreigners looking to rent rooms. Though with many challenges, she has been able to pull through the turbulence and provide comfort to a good number of people. Here is her story:

Spare Room Buenos Aires is an Argentine company that rents rooms in shared apartments and homestays for people interested in spending a period of their life in Buenos Aires, whether to study, work or enjoy a holiday.

The passion for promoting positive exchange experiences has long been an important part of Valeria Pasmanter´s life. It began when she worked for AIESEC (an international NGO) generating work exchange programs for students abroad. And it continued to follow her closely when she worked in the USA and Mexico. It was that same desire to make sure foreigners feel comfortable in their adopted city that prompted her to start Spare Rooms Buenos Aires.

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She was tired of hearing the same complaints from demoralized foreigners in Buenos Aires, that they had paid inflated rates because of their accent, that they have had a bad experience living with Argentines, and they lost time and money in a worthless search. She decided to start this project, with only one concept in mind: to improving exchange experience, by finding the right room in Buenos Aires that best suits preferences and priorities.

“Finding a place to stay in Argentina is not just stressing but also dangerous. That’s why most of the foreigners who had visited the place would often complain about their demoralizing experiences. Some of them would say that they have wasted so much time. Other would say that most of their money was spent in a worthless search. Some would even testify their experiences where they were asked to pay inflated rates because of their accent”.

Valeria Pasmanter is the founder of Spare Rooms Buenos Aires. Established in 2008, the company serves as an intermediary between landlords and foreigners looking for a room to rent for more than a month. Before launching her own company, she had worked at hiring portal Bumeran.com and was also familiar with the world of student exchange thanks to her experience at global youth organization AIESEC.

At first, it was difficult to convince landlords to rent their rooms due to security concerns, but she emphasized the benefits from the exchange with someone from another country, and now, she manages around 300 rooms.

Her business model which was developed with the help of a tutor from BiD Network is still based on the flat fee and monthly commission she charges the foreigners. Valeria plans to launch operations in other Argentine cities soon.

According to Valeria Pasmanter, to be an entrepreneur, one must believe in an idea with so much passion and strength, and be able to spread that to people around you.

Surmounting the financial challenges, she made use of Personal savings. For her, convincing the owner of the room that the rent money is not the only thing that he/she will get renting the room, but also the cultural experience to live with people from abroad which is priceless, is one of the things she wishes she could take away from her business as to her, receiving foreigners is like traveling backwards.

“My model is my dad. He, through his daily example taught me the culture of work, responsibility and to be devoted to one single thing and focus on it. My dad is the one who grew up poor and he built a medium company”.

Her friendly Hispanic attitude has helped to build good links with people. This for her is key to the growth of her business

“I always had in mind to build long term relationships, if there is some adversity I try to think of something that (eventually) build lasting relationships”.

Although she regrets not trusting her instincts sometimes and the sacrifice she makes which keeps her from seeing family and friends many weekends, she has learned to live above these things.

Valeria defines her success in these words: “There has been growth since the inception of the business. In June 2008, we started with one room and now we get have 370 rooms in Buenos Aires. People trust us and realize that we are a serious company. Each person who has stayed in a room is a great success for us! Work that we like is a success for us. To help other people to find a place to sleep, in which they feel comfortable is a success for Spare Rooms Buenos Aires.

She hopes to spread the vision to different provinces of Argentina, “And little by little we are getting there, first in Cordoba and Mendoza now”.

After eight years in the business, Spare Rooms Buenos Aires has grown into a startup that people, especially foreigners, trust.

Women all around the world have taken the bull by the horn as regards issues concerning their career, well-being, and aspirations. Some have failed along the long while others have gone against the fierce wind in pursuit of their life’s dreams. The success stories of these few strong women which would reverberate through the walls of the ears of women across the world will serves as strength and encouragement to those that have been discouraged by social norms and societal roadblocks.

By: Lebogang Morethe

Kgwediyabasadi” (meaning women’s month in Sepedi) the famous words that get most men rolling their eyes in irritation. Most of them angry that instead of women being in the kitchen they will be all over town attending conference after conference if not seminar after seminar. I noticed that only the empowered men welcomed women’s month with smiles and gratitude. The contradiction of emotions said a lot about the type of women each man attracted. I can list but a few women who empower and challenge me as a female in Africa. Basetsana khumalo,  Phumzille Mlambo Nqucka, Michelle Obama and Foloronsho Alakija but to mention a few.