We present you Maria Alexandra from Ecuadorian Banco de Loja in this new episode of Incofin’s series on inspiring women. Incofin strives for more gender equality. First and foremost, because it is the right thing to do. And also because companies with a gender-balanced leadership outperform those that are less balanced.
That is why we started with an #InspiringWomen-series: we are introducing you to some of the most inspirational women Incofin works with. Women in leadership positions in often male-dominated contexts.
Maria Alexandra, Head of the Finance, Banco de Loja in Ecuador
Maria Alexandra is leading the finance department of Banco de Loja in Ecuador. From the very beginning, she experienced support from her parents to pursue her education and professional goals. Thanks to their support and her own perseverance, she earned a double degree in Economics and Law, and later a master’s degree in Finance.
Throughout her career, Maria was always keen to expand her professional knowledge and understanding of various fields, including the stock market, leadership and business. She worked in various roles, among them in the cooperative sector focusing on microfinance lending. Her achievements did not go unnoticed and in 2017, she was invited to join the team at Banco de Loja in Ecuador, where she is now part of a group made up of 80% women.
Maria is convinced that finance for women is an important driver of the economy and that women have a crucial role in the market. She hopes that she sets an example for others and that she contributed to pave the way for more opportunities for women to succeed and thrive.
“As women leading teams in the financial system, we must seize the opportunity to create doors and opportunities for new generations of women. By taking on challenges and leveraging on women’s innate soft skills, such as empathy and collaboration, it is possible to grow professionally and make meaningful contributions to communities and to future generations of women.”
Bianca Lethanh, Secretary General of MicroCred in China
Bianca has made a career in industries heavily dominated by men: engineering and finance. She encountered many situations where she was the only women at the table. “Of course you feel treated or assessed differently when you are the only woman and younger than the other people in the room. But you learn to get past it. Many women who have reached senior positions have experienced this. Learn to be self aware and be sure of what you know, your worth and your value. Keep your course and do your job. At least I feel that this has now changed for the better for women.”
When Bianca began her career 20 years ago full of ambition, she drew some inspiration in building her leadership from the models she saw from male leaders in civil engineering, the world in which she was active at the time, but she also looked for female examples in other industries. “I sought for access to women’s networks. There I found mentors who guided me on my path. It is so helpful to be able to tap into your own network, to have a sounding board to understand what you want to do, where you want to go, it is a resource to learn from your mistakes and put important lessons in your backpack.”
For Bianca, such networks where female leadership can be encouraged and further developed is crucial not only for women with professional ambitions, but at least as much for strengthening businesses and enriching society. For her, female leadership offers indispensable benefits. “Female leadership can incorporate decision-making by consensus, collaborative thinking, power sharing and transparency.”
Raushan Kurbanaliyeva, Chair of Arnur Credit in Kazakhstan
Mrs. Raushan Kurbanaliyeva has many years of experience in the financial sector. For the last 15 years, she has been successfully managing one of the largest microfinance organisations in Kazakhstan.
She graduated from the Kazakh State Academy of Management with a degree in Economic and Social Planning. She obtained an MBA degree – Master of Business Administration at the Almaty Management University. She holds certificates as CAP, USAID / CAMFA II “Financial services for rural areas and agriculture”.
“To achieve success, a woman must set ambitious goals for herself and divide them into sub-goals for successful and consistent implementation. At the same time, it is very important that the goals are always in harmony with true desires, and then success is guaranteed. I, as a leader, and as a woman, in the implementation of certain goals, as a rule, pay great attention to the social orientation. So, it is very important for me to implement the social mission of our company – to promote the development of small businesses of clients, create new jobs, prevent over-crediting and increase in debt burden.”
Raushan also has a long experience as a member of the Board of Directors. She is a member of the Board of Directors in the Microfinance Association of Kazakhstan, an independent member of the Board of Directors at JSC Shardarinskaya WPP; and a member of the Board of Directors at MFIs in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
“Women leaders need constant self-improvement and development of competencies, maintaining a balance between family values and business. Therefore, it is very important to be able to properly manage your time.”
Raushan herself is married and is the mother of three children.
Roshaneh Zafar,Founder and Managing Director of Kashf Foundation in Pakistan
As CEO of Kashf Foundation, Roshaneh Zafar fights everyday to empower women entrepreneurs and helps them free themselves and their families from the stifling effect of poverty in a country where gender equality scores very low. Only 1 out of 4 women have a job in Pakistan.
Roshaneh stresses the importance of the context for gender equality. She feels she owes it largely to her liberal-minded parents that she was able to walk the path she did and that she was able to move after secondary school to the United States to study. “But most girls from my community stayed in Pakistan in that time, which was the beginning of the nineties. The parents of most of my friends didn’t allow them to continue to study. Many of them could have become excellent scientists, engineers, doctors or economists. They could have contributed to the solutions needed for the larger questions in life. They never got that chance. I am privileged and grateful for the chances I have been given.”
After finishing secondary school in Lahore, Roshaneh moved to the United States to attend the Business School in Wharton. She holds also a Master in Development Economics at Yale University. She started her career at the World Bank. After four years, she gave up the job to start something on her own. Inspired by Muhammed Yunus’ Grameen Bank, she founded Kashf.
Daisy Achieng, CFO of Yehu in Kenya
Daisy Achieng has been Yehu’s CFO in Kenya since 2020. Driven by her acuity for details and constant search for new knowledge to hone her expertise, she helped achieve Yehu financial sustainability by installing a remarkable financial discipline.
Daisy is a hardworking, talented woman with a plan. She started very early in her career as a leader. Great mentorship in school and later on, which she labeled as a sisterhood, supported her tremendously on her path. “Whenever I faced a challenge, I could always discuss it with people in my network”, she says.
She also stresses the importance of an open, supportive corporate culture that she finds at Yehu. Furthermore, a woman leader should focus on her self-awareness. “To succeed as a woman in a leadership role, you should develop a personal brand for yourself and establish guidelines that will help you achieve your goals. Building a personal brand requires self-awareness and integrity: self-awareness helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and work on them. Integrity focuses on your core values and how you relate to your work.”
This coupled with effective communication will help a leader build a personal brand and achieve the aspired goals. Integrity is an equally important guideline for Daisy.
Daisy is a certified public accountant and holds a degree in Commerce with a focus on Finance.
Fatou Dieng, the CFO Crédit Mutuel Sénégal (CMS).
Fatou Dieng has been the CFO of CMS Senegal for over a year now, after doing the same job for PAMECAS. She has more than 20 years of experience in the microfinance sector.
Although Fatou notes that in Senegal women are usually recognized for their capabilities, for example their multitasking skills, as a woman professionally, she often stood alone in a male-dominated environment. And yet successfully. After a Master in Audit, she started her career in 1998 as an accountant and climbed up rapidly. She held several management positions: Finance and Accounting Director, Audit Director in different types of organisations, ranging from a consulting firm, to financial cooperatives, and many others.
“My advice to women is to believe in themselves and in their capacities, and to work hard to achieve their goals. Women seeking leadership roles need to be confident, rigorous and resilient in their work. They should also guard independence in their decision-making.”