“Africa’s time is now:” Global Ambassadors share reflections

Apr 27, 2015

In partnership with Vital Voices and (RED), we recently held our 10th Global Ambassadors Program, this time in Johannesburg, South Africa to advance women’s economic empowerment and the fight against HIV/AIDS. Women leaders of business, social enterprise and non-governmental organizations from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Tanzania were paired with senior executives from the public and private sector for one-on-one mentoring sessions, group mentoring and strategic workshops to build business acumen. Our mentors in South Africa were: Titi Cole, Retail Products and Underwriting executive; Yvonne Ike, head of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa); and Katy Knox, head of Business Banking. They recently shared reflections on their experiences:

Harnessing the “multiplier effect”: Titi Cole and Dr. Victoria Kisyombe

I was paired with Dr. Victoria Kisyombe from Tanzania, a leader who embodies the “multiplier effect” of empowering women. Victoria started Selfina, which offers micro leases with low down payments, enabling a woman to start a business in a matter of days. Selfina leases equipment as varied as hair dryers, bakery ovens and solar panels, and her business has provided financing to more than 25,000 women to date — which has impacted more than 200,000 individuals. She’s become a hub of commerce in her community. Her work is transforming Tanzania, and almost unbelievably, it all started with a cow. Her late husband left her a cow, which she turned into an asset to start her business. Truly incredible.

The South Africa program was such a unique opportunity to see firsthand how we can help effect change through expertise as well as the power of partnerships. Those of us from the bank offered perspective about the importance of financial management as integral to organizational mission. These women are on the frontlines and often managing many different aspects of their business or organization — but the bottom line is you have to be grounded in your financials in order to succeed. The program also brought home the power of our partnership with (RED), through which we’re supporting the fight against HIV/AIDS. We visited a clinic that provides primary health care as well as HIV/AIDS treatment, and the highlight was meeting HIV-positive mothers who now have HIV negative babies as a result of medicine. Seeing our support in action was extremely powerful and made us all proud to be part of this effort.

“Africa’s time is now:” Yvonne Ike and Mary Mbukpa

My mentee, Mary Mbukpa, works in public health in Nigeria, with a special emphasis on HIV/AIDS. Mary is thinking of new ways of applying solutions to issues related to family planning, malaria, HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health interventions in Nigeria. Mary’s passion for the work is one of her strengths. She’s working to take her organization to the next level. We discussed developing a strategic business plan, including a five-year budget; identifying office space and recruiting staff aligned with the mission of the organization; developing a stronger organizational framework; and refining her business development plan.

One of the highlights of the week was the public forum, a thought leadership event through which we engaged clients and other influencers. I participated on a panel on women’s leadership moderated by a leading media figure in South Africa alongside two women executives in finance and technology. We discussed women’s opportunity to lead in Africa’s development, something that I’m committed to contribute to through my work in finance. I believe the economic firepower of women needs to be harnessed and cultivated to do more. Many of us in banking are ready to contribute, and we can encourage others to believe in themselves and do more. We know that women take lifelong problems and bring a fresh look at solutions, and it’s really about working together to address societal issues. Africa’s time is now.

Understanding finances in order to drive success: Katy Knox and Kogie Govender

It was such an honor to get to know Kogie Govender during the Johannesburg program. In 2010, she started an employment agency in response to the unemployment crisis in South Africa. In her community, the unemployment rate is above 26%, with some estimates even higher. She’s also taken on additional leadership roles with the Foundation for Professional Development, a higher education institution that provides clinical training for HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa. She’s helped build training programs and awareness in rural communities about HIV/AIDS as well as gender-based violence — reaching more than 14,000 individuals in 2014. Her vision is to expand on her training programs by launching a learning institute that will build skills aligned with the needs of South Africa’s top employers, so we worked on developing her business plan, including realistic funding targets and a timeline for the initiative.

One aspect of the program I’ve been thrilled to help expand is a focus around financial mentoring. Many of the mentees are doing incredible work, but there’s a real need to help them gain confidence and greater understanding of their financial planning. Since last year’s Belfast program, we’ve connected mentees to our own small business to middle market bankers for some one-on-one feedback and coaching on their financial questions. In the South Africa program, after Titi’s financial management session we held office hours with our bankers to enable the mentees to connect by phone with mentors back in the U.S. while questions were fresh. It’s a great example of expanding connections to help these women advance their businesses.

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