Anino Emuwa, providing services to help improve financing for smaller businesses

Anino Emuwa (PhD), is the Founder and Managing Director of Avandis Consulting, a strategy and financial advisory firm in France. A former corporate banker with Citibank, she is an experienced Non-Executive Director and sits on the board of several organisations including Nottingham Trent University, U.K.

Emuwa is an advocate for gender diversity in leadership and is a member of the Institute of Directors’ Expert Advisory Group on Diversity and Inclusion. She convenes global and regional communities for women in leadership including 100 Women@Davos, and is recognised as one of 125 people to follow on LinkedIn about Diversity and Inclusion.

An award-winning international speaker on D&I, entrepreneurship, and emerging technologies, Emuwa has spoken at prestigious institutions and conferences including Forbes, Facebook, Reykjavik Forum for Women Global Leaders and University of Cambridge. Her articles have also been published in international publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur and Global Banking and Finance Review.

She is a mentor for Cartier Women’s Initiative and the Women’s Development Programme at the Nottingham Trent University. She is also a Cherie Blair Foundation Mentor Alumni.

She received her Doctorate in Business Administration from Nottingham Business School where she is an alumni fellow. Anino holds an MBA from Cranfield School of Management and a BSc Economics from the London School of Economics, and has lived in six countries. She is bilingual in English and French.

Childhood memories and influence till date

I was brought up in a household where parents invested in their children’s education. I went to the top girls’ secondary school in the country- Queen’s College, a public school which has birthed many of the country’s women leaders. We were educated to strive for excellence and to believe we could be anything we wanted to be as long as we worked for it. I think that this has greatly influenced and shaped my approach to life.

My parents were keen on us to complete our education in the UK, and I went on to the United Kingdom where I completed my university education. Till date, I continue to unveil women leaders and to look at opportunities not challenges.

When and why did you set up Avandis Consulting?

After years in banking and living in several countries in Africa working with entrepreneurs, I realised that smaller businesses found it difficult to access bank credit for their growth and believed that this was hampering the continent’s growth. I decided to undertake research into overcoming obstacles to financing smaller businesses, earning a doctorate from Nottingham Business School after relocating to France. The intention was to provide consultancy services with financial institutions to help them improve their capacity for lending to smaller businesses, but I found that these businesses also required management development training, so I founded Avandis Consulting to help bridge this gap after completing my doctorate.

Experience in the corporate world and lessons learnt. Why Citi Bank?

I wanted to become an investment banker as I was fascinated by the role of finance in fueling businesses. In my last year studying at the London School of Economics, though foreign students weren’t permitted to work, I was undeterred and I applied to several investment banks including Citi. They offered me a role in Nigeria in the corporate bank with their affiliate which opened a few years’ prior. I returned straight after graduation and it was an excellent experience . The bank was a market leader and an innovator in technology in banking. We had great training; I was given responsibility early. At the age of 23, I was already managing a unit of 6 people. The atmosphere was professional but fun. We worked long hours close to 12 hours a day but the work was enjoyable, it felt like a family where meritocracy was practised.

Being on several boards and impact so far

Being on a board provides a perspective of leadership at the governance and strategic level with responsibility for higher-level decision-making. So, as a board member, you have a longer-term view of the institution’s progress. I have sat on the board of several institutions in the country and internationally in the for-profit and not- for-profit sectors, and where they all had an element of impact. They have ranged from financial inclusion, EFInA; the financial sector, Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company (NMRC); through to DCSL a market leader in corporate governance services. I am a member of the board of governors of Nottingham Trent University, and sit on several advisory boards and committees including 20-first which is a UK management consultancy specialising in gender balance in the UK. I am also a member of the expert advisory committee on gender and diversity at the Institute of Directors in the UK.

It is very rewarding when we see how an organisation’s work creates impact- for example, at EFInA as a director, we launched the first nation-wide survey of women and financial services, and the data is updated regularly now, and is being used by financial service operators to develop and design products for inclusive financial services. At NMRC whose mandate is to drive the growth of the mortgage industry and facilitate affordable home ownership, the organisation has been successful in raising long-term low interest loans which have been lent to banks and mortgage institutions increasing homeownership.

Working with 20-first, we launched a gender-balanced score card on diversity in executive leadership across the top 25 private sector firms in Africa, a tool for organisations to measure their progress vis-a-vis their peers nationally and internationally.

Passion for gender advocacy, diversity and inclusion in leadership

Reports such as McKInsey’s Diversity wins: How inclusion matters show that there is a relationship between diversity on executive teams and financial outperformance. The world is also facing many complex issues and challenges, and to solve them, we need all the available talent and leadership on board, and that means having women’s full participation.

We also know that diversity in leadership is beneficial to societies and economies, for everyone, not just women alone. So, I work on diversity and inclusion advisory for organisations as well as thought leadership initiatives, bringing together global leaders at events and also through my speaking engagements and publications. I also do some policy advisory work. Importantly, we also help leaders and organisations to understand the difference between diversity, equity and inclusion and how to implement an inclusive culture in organisations.

Finally, our community or networks of women leaders are getting increasingly recognised by partners, and we recommend women for positions and opportunities, as well as provide them with skill building up to the board level and visibility within the right networks.

What birthed this passion and how are you contributing your quota to its propagation?

Working in the entrepreneurship ecosystem as an independent consultant many years ago, I helped entrepreneurs to structure their financial affairs and access finance. I started a community of female entrepreneurs, that is where the growth of women in business leadership was birthed. We now have several global, regional and national communities of women CEOs and founders where women support women and they can access information, upscale their high-level skills and access networks.

Are African women more than ever before, taking their seats at the table?

Already… absolutely. When we see the cadre of African women leaders in the international sphere like WTO Executive director, Dr Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, United Nations Deputy Secretary- General, Amina Mohammed, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (United Nations Women), amongst many others, they showcase the excellence of women from the continent.

In the corporate sphere, there is growing interest in inclusive leadership in organisations and the push to have more women on executive management teams and boards. Interestingly, on the gender balance score card by 20-first which we collaborated on, we saw that Africa’s top companies did better than their western peers. However, there is a long way to go, and our powerful communities of women leaders such as our African Women CEOs Network showcase that we do have African women who are qualified for leadership at the highest level.

What would you say are the challenges women encounter is getting to the top?

Women face quite a few challenges. One of the main ones are the corporate culture that has been skewed toward men for centuries. This has also created an unconscious bias as the stereotype of a leader is gendered. Yet, many of the qualities that women have are also needed today for example, empathy, creating consensus, risk mitigation and awareness. In addition, there are still too few women at the leadership level and women leaders can be susceptible to the “lonely at the top” feeling which is why our communities are considered valuable by members, they are spaces where women can find solutions to their pressing issues. Also, we need more role models for the younger generation to look up to, that’s why mentoring is so important and women in leadership can be very helpful here.

What challenges did you experience while in the corporate world and how did you surmount them?

It was only decades later as a researcher that I began to explore data on women studying economics and in MBA programmes, the feeder route to top banking careers, that I realised how women’s exclusion starts quite early on despite their academic performance. One issue that plagues organisations is that women are still the major caregivers for children and the lack of flexibility on the job can force talented women to exit. Whilst women on whose shoulders these care responsibilities fall, and often the care of older parents too, could have this lengthen the trajectory to the top but should not mean they are excluded. That knowledge propelled me to work towards creating paths for women to reach the top in their careers whether corporate or as founders.

For women, careers are often a marathon not a sprint and lately, we have seen the rise of global women leaders well into their 50s and even 60s. For example, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, DG, World Trade Organisation, Christine Lagarde, President, European Central Bank, Janet Yellen, U.S. Treasury Secretary, Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary General to mention a few.

I work one-on-one with women leaders to support them as they move from success to impact.


100Women@Davos is a community of impact driven CEOs and founders who were in Davos. It started with networking with women who attended the Economic Forum in Davos three years ago and we grew to 100 women by last year when we launched the first inclusive International Women’s Business Leadership Event, and it was three times oversubscribed. It told us that there was value in a place for women to gather and interact with each other. Since the pandemic took hold and we have been unable to gather in person, we have used it as a platform for virtual leadership dialogues which we premiered in January this year during the week of the virtual “Davos Dialogues”. We help women in terms of their visibility, share our experiences and expertise with other women and advocate for diversity in leadership with a strong focus on technology and funding for entrepreneurs. That’s why we are on clubhouse every two weeks. It’s all about giving value to other women, creating a community of peers, supporting each other and creating greater impact in diversity and inclusion.

Being both a Cartier Women’s initiative and Cherie Blair Foundation Mentor

It has been such a privilege to mentor trailblazing female entrepreneurs in several countries in Africa- currently South Africa, Cameroon, Kenya and Nigeria, and also one in Dubai. These are women who are excelling and my role is to provide a sounding board, advice and strategic input. I have been so excited to see two of my mentees win global competitions raising up to $500,000 in grants and other international recognition, and successful launch of new businesses or business initiatives. It really is an honour to have accompanied them for a small part of their entrepreneurial journey and to see the impact they are making in their communities and countries.

How important is mentorship and what role has it played in your life?

Mentorship is important in helping people grow in their careers, leadership and beyond, so it’s key. It is a role of confidentiality, trust and something that if you have the opportunity on both sides, you should do it. I had mentors in my early career, incidentally all men, because I came out from the banking industry, they were senior colleagues within the banking sector, and they offered me guidance. I still have mentors today and I believe mentoring should be started early into your career.

Why France? How are you reaching many from where you are?

I originally relocated with my young family to give the children an opportunity to be bilingual after living in several Anglophone and Francophone countries. Prior to that, it was a base for my doctoral studies. It was natural to start up my business where I was now living, and it turned out to be an excellent location for international business for easy access to neighbouring Europe countries, as well as Africa, US and Asia.

In what ways were you personally and professionally impacted by COVID-19? How are you rising above the waters?

It has been a very tough time with so many losses, but compared to most, I am very thankful that my immediate family is well, although constraint on travel reduced quality time we were able to spend with family abroad. On the business front, like most, we had to stop all activities overnight and reformulated. However, from the beginning, we saw that people had needs and we focused more on support and providing value for our target audience which led us to launch several new and successful leadership initiatives.

What are your personal and professional challenges?

There are always constraints and barriers but I like to stay positive and look more at the potential and opportunities. I would like to do so much more and they don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do them. Growing the infrastructure of our business to support our vision is our current goal and looking forward to what the next year or two will bring.

With all that is going on in Nigeria, what will you want to say to the people and the leadership?

These are very difficult times around the world and we are having our fair share of economic challenges which have accentuated our own local challenges. We are a very active nation of entrepreneurs and professionals; we have some of the best minds and talent in the world, but we need to turn that to doing and not just being commentators in the political space. One of the things we need to do more is to collaborate. We need to take collective responsibility and it is good leadership and concerted effort that can turn things around and take us to where we have the potential to be. Our leaders have the responsibility to build the hard and soft infrastructure for the country’s development. Unity not division is what is need right now.

What are you up to?

On the front burner is leadership initiatives in business, focusing on women leaders. How to accelerate gender diversity in leadership. The world economic forum tells us it will take 130 years to reach gender equality, yet diversity has been associated with the performance of organisation, economies and society. So, our priority is to grow our network of women CEOs and founders amplifying their impact and I am presently undertaking research on women’s leadership at University of Cambridge as part of the Masters in Entrepreneurship programme. We are also working on a project to unify the various networks for women business leadership that Avandis Consulting curates.

What is it about the Nigerian banking systems that you would love to advice on?

The financial sector has been one of the fastest growing in Nigeria, and highly innovative when I joined, with banking becoming much more inclusive in bringing millions into the financial system. However, in recent years, innovation has somewhat focused on servicing existing clients. Technological innovation, such as we see with fintech, is needed to widen the customer base and more creative solutions for financial services for retail and individual markets, in tandem with a supportive regulatory environment and stable financial markets.

I had the privilege of studying monetary economics under Prof Charles Goodhart, now Professor Emeritus of the London School of Economics, who became a Monetary Policy Committee member of the Bank of England, and have retained that interest in the effective use of monetary policy in the banking system. Areas such as stability of the foreign exchange markers, lowered interest rates for borrowers, healthy competitive practices, and ensuring government borrowing does not crowd out private sector are key. In addition, with strong creditors rights, these are areas which could help strengthen the banking sector, ideally operating within a strong macro-economic environment.

Final words

The country is traversing a difficult period, there is still a way to recovery from COVID-19, both in terms of the health challenges and economic concerns. Worryingly, millions are without means of income and that has an effect on wellbeing, economic stability, and creates security concerns. Private sector leaders can also play a role in this working with the government. We need to move to collective interest. That is when we can then begin to make real progress where everyone and every business has the opportunity to thrive. A word of encouragement, we must not sink into despair but have faith in our resilience and our power to bring about positive change. In my own small way, I work to contribute to that through supporting entrepreneurship and corporate governance, women in leadership and advocacy.

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