• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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In organisations I co-founded, I ensured equal gender opportunities for recruitment – Sesay

In organisations I co-founded, I ensured equal gender opportunities for recruitment – Sesay

Christine Sesay is Kepler’s Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance & Partnerships. She leads finance and operations for all Kepler entities in the US, Canada, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. She has overseen the establishment of a new campus in Rwanda, raised over $60 million during the COVID-19 pandemic, and led a student loan system that raised $4 million while supporting students to gain access to quality education. In this interview with Lehlé Baldé and Ifeoma Okeke-Korieocha, she speaks on how her success stories as regards various projects you have managed in different organisations as well as her efforts to ensure women empowerment in various organisations she co-founded.

How have your operations as Chief Financial Officer of Kepler been since you assumed that position? (challenges and opportunities)

I moved to Rwanda in 2019 to take on the role of Chief Financial Officer. It was exciting as I always wanted to work in East Africa. I was curious what the tax systems were and do they work with the same IFRS. Rwanda was particularly appealing as it was developing fast and with an amazing gender focus. Joining Kepler so much has happened over the years, with our budget size tripling over the first two years. We have also acquired our campus and are now building it out with very modern amenities. It was amazing managing the college funds over the Covid period. My background is managing a finance department during crisis periods. I believe this was the most challenging period.
On the other hand, the opportunities are endless, especially in the education sector for young people, youth and refugees in particular. The most exciting is to have a shift in the mindset of the organization from one that relies on philanthropy to an organisation that is looking to be sustainable.

You lead Kepler entities in the US, Canada, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. How are you able to do this considering the differences in the various business environments?

The amazing feature of financial accounting is that the foundational principles remain the same. We just must learn the laws of the different countries and how to apply them. To date, I have been working on Rwanda and the US and have done the accounts for the last five years, Canada for at least a year and Ethiopia for the last two years.
In cases where it is unclear, I do know how to seek the necessary support. We also have the necessary support to move into these different countries and now know what necessary information I need to get when we start.

Take us through the journey of establishing the new campus in Rwanda, and raising millions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic posed a different challenge when compared to my time working in the health sector. In the case of Kepler, I wasn’t a frontline worker, and, in this case, we needed to ensure our students were safe.
During the pandemic there was no desire to buy a campus, we however knew that the space we had didn’t meet our requirements as an educational institution or match our future strategic plans. Therefore, there was a desire to move to a new space that would meet the needs of the market but also give us room for expansion. Eventually, we had to move to meet these needs.
The decision to purchase was a case of opportunity meets preparation because we reached out to our donors. it was a much easier conversation.

What are some of your success stories as regards various projects you have managed in different organisations?

At Kepler, my greatest joy is to see some of our refugee students go through the program and complete it. They have successfully got jobs and good paying jobs which could also help their families who reside in camps to improve their livelihoods. In some cases, the graduates/alumni have eventually moved their families out of those camps. Personally, it gives me great joy to see some of those stories.
As for Kepler, access to student loans in Rwanda from a private sector organization is a success. I can imagine families that can’t afford our education would not be able to attend (that speaks discrimination in my mind). This is among many other successful projects we have worked on and continue to work on.

You also served as the Deputy Country Director for the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). Do you have any medical background that helped you while you manned this position or are there skills you acquired that enabled you to understand the health dynamics at the organisation?

My role at Clinton Health was purely a Systems/Operations management role. I don’t have a medical background. I was hired to set up the new office in Freetown and assist in fundraising.

In terms of my career, I am amazed at how many spaces I have worked without even having the necessary educational background. There is so much you learn on the job. So, by the time I was promoted to Acting Country Director, there was a lot I had picked up on the job.
Also, at certain levels, it is all about who you hire. I have always hired some of the best brains around the public health space and so I don’t necessarily have to know it all.

Did your family background in any way influence your choice of profession?

My family background didn’t influence my choice of accounting. I found out my grandfather was an accountant much later in my career. I come from a home where my dad was an Engineer, and my mom was in the hospitality sector. Most of my siblings did follow suit and are engineers or working in a similar sector.

Nevertheless, my parents didn’t push for me to get into the sciences even though that’s what I studied in high school. I was free to choose whatever course I wanted at the end of the day. What was key to them was I needed to be able to do well at whatever I chose.

Are there projects you have spearheaded specifically targeted at women’s empowerment? If you have, kindly share some with us.

In organisations I have co-founded, I have always ensured discounts for women and in cases where recruitment was involved, equal opportunity to be recruited.

I also founded Africa’s Moneypreneur. Africa’s Moneypreneur was born to provide women with the tools needed to make informed decisions about their finances. Our online resource centre is a one-stop shop for all financial questions and needs. The sessions that were organized were specifically for women, to get them to improve their financial literacy. However, it is now extended to include the family so that they can work as a unit.

Who are some of the women that you draw inspiration from and why ?

Finda Koroma, Amini Kanjuju, my CEO, Nathalie Munyampenda and many more for the amazing work that they have done to attain the heights and what they continue to do. However, I find the older I get my mother is becoming my biggest source of inspiration. I think this is important because one of the values she holds and that has been passed on. I am a believer that what makes us stand out is not just the work but the values we hold and to what extent we are willing to ensure that they hold till the end.

Can you speak to the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, ‘Invest in women: Accelerate progress’?

The theme “Invest in women: Accelerate progress” for International Women’s Day emphasizes the importance of investing in women from all spheres of life. This theme signifies:

Recognition of Women’s Potential: It acknowledges the untapped potential of women and the need to invest resources, support, and opportunities into realizing This includes investing in education, economic opportunities, leadership positions, and more.

Economic Empowerment: Investing in women economically means providing them with equal access to employment, entrepreneurship opportunities, financial services, and support networks.

Gender Equality: The theme shows the importance of achieving gender equality in all aspects of life which involves removing barriers and biases that prevent women from fully participating and succeeding in society.

Personally, in organisations such as Freetown Business School or Kepler, we have put in place initiatives such as 50 percent recruitment policy for female applicants and discounts for women to encourage them to apply and afford our programs.