To promote women’s financial inclusion, we need to do more thinking outside the box! In this interview, Kaidi Eddie-Obiakor, a Sustainability Professional, explains the importance of financial inclusion both as an expert in the field and as a woman herself.
by Kaidi Eddie-Obiakor
Q: Why did you decide to pursue a career in the Financial Industry?
I like to think that the change in my career was serendipity. I have an affinity for learning foreign languages and this inspired me to study French and Italian languages at university. I even obtained a certificate in translation services and was geared up to pursue further studies at the Ecole Normale Superieure to join the French civil service. Sadly, I did not make the final selection.
After that heartbreaking episode, I was very confused about what career path I wanted to pursue. I had a chat with a close friend who suggested I consider management consulting to build my skills while deciding my next steps. So, I decided to give it a try and it was a worthwhile experience. It was a struggle, at first, given my background was purely in the arts, but that did not deter me.
I worked mainly with clients in the Financial Services despite trying several times to convince my managers to allow me to work more with government clients. In the end, it paid off because I had a better appreciation of the power that the financial sector has in driving an economy and catalyzing change. I wanted to do what I termed “consulting with a purpose”; to use my business skills to help financial sector companies make money while also investing in the community. Today, I have worked with financial sector clients for more than 12 years and in retrospect, I am glad that my initial managers made me stay put.
Q: What was the career path towards “consulting with a purpose?”
I worked extensively as an Environmental and Social risk specialist and provided E&S Risk Management advice to financial sector clients in France, Brazil and in many countries across Africa. Afterwards, I expanded my focus area to Gender Equality. This expanded knowledge helps me to understand how to support companies to create positive sustainability strategies with impact that can benefit all genders – especially economically.
Q: As a sustainability professional working in the gender space, and from personal experience, do you think there are significant challenges women face in conducting business?
In many cases, access to finance is one big challenge that women entrepreneurs face when growing or deciding to start their business. In many communities, socio-cultural norms and traditions limit women’s ability to own property, which could be used as collateral within formal banking systems.
In Nigeria, one can observe this limitation across many communities. In my extended family, for example, I have witnessed a few female members struggle financially because they don’t have rights to their family properties.
Without collateral, it’s difficult for an individual to access sizable credit. Without sizable credit, a woman’s entrepreneurial opportunities may be constrained and can determine the type of business she can do and how large the business can become.
Another equally important area is leveraging networks so that women can get more knowledge about business opportunities. Also having business management skills to run a business efficiently and keep financial records that can increase creditworthiness is essential. Despite challenges many women face, the highest number of informal businesses in Nigeria are run by women. Someone said “never say never!”
Q: Keying into access to finance for women, in your opinion, are there essential things that can be addressed to improve the ability for women entrepreneurs to expand their businesses and fulfil their potential?
I believe that some of the significant interventions should be around narrowing the access to finance gap for women.
1. First, we need to ask ourselves, “How can more women be given access to loans? And how can more women access collateral to obtain sizable financing from formal banking institutions which have the capacity to really move the needle for women-owned businesses in terms of the potential size and scale of their business?
2. Second, we need to fully accept the existing inequalities. The World Economic Forum estimates that it would take close to 100 years to close the inequality gaps between men and women. The question is how many people know this and what are we going to do about it? For me, an alarm bell is ringing and telling me that it is time for less talk, more collective efforts and better ways to measure targeted actions.
3. Third, we need to start thinking outside the box when planning to address these gaps! While, people are becoming more sensitized to these differences, laws and deeply entrenched sociocultural norms will not change overnight to allow women equal rights to own properties and seek collateral. This presents an opportunity for corporate institutions to think of innovative workarounds given the positive benefits their businesses and the country stand to gain if more of its population become empowered.
Q: How do you envisage applying your experiences to support companies and individuals to build women businesses in Nigeria?
By “showing them the money”. Some companies may need to see data that highlights the direct bottom-line benefits to support more women entrepreneurs before deciding to invest. I see my role as helping companies to be exposed to the opportunities.
Also, by working with progressive companies that are keen to improve their sustainability impact need to be sensitized on opportunities that gender- focused interventions can have on the environment, people and to their bottom line.
In addition, I am keen to support these companies in their journey.
Q: Which professional opportunities or personal choices have helped your career growth and how would you suggest other women leverage the many opportunities out there, just like you have?
1. Having an education provided the solid first footing to be able to thrive. Women need to get informed, acquire knowledge and invest in themselves.
Speaking to someone about career choices and getting good advice also helped steer me towards new career opportunities, such as management consulting, which gave me a good springboard to launch into other career areas. That was a form of receiving informal mentoring.
Not setting limitations for myself was important too. I have a bulls-eye focus on my goals and I don’t let anyone tell me what I can or cannot achieve. Some people have even described me to have an attitude that goes beyond resilience, more like a “we die here” attitude.
Taking risks. I once accepted to pursue an advanced education in Brazil and I didn’t speak Portuguese, at first. I had to adapt, stretch myself and learn as fast as I could by immersing myself in the culture. In the end, I actually did it without ever learning in a classroom and in a short timeline! Today, that decision has paid off immensely. I would say that more women should weigh potential opportunities and take informed risks. Being authentic and unconventional when I needed to be. What is important is looking within to know your strengths and how to use them in your favour when the right opportunities come.
Kaidi Eddie-Obiakor is a Sustainability Specialist that works at the intersection of Environmental and Social Risk and Gender Equality issues. She provides advice to organisations on how to manage their environmental and social impacts while closing gender inequality gaps in their operations in order to increase their performance and competitiveness. She has provided advice to many financial institutions across Africa both at client and at sector level - in particular on the Nigerian Sustainable Banking network platform. She has also supported non-financial sector clients to develop and align sustainability strategies to their business goals. She works across agribusiness, manufacturing and services sector.