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The Business Case with Ivana Osagie

An interview with Ireti Samuel-Ogbu, MD/CEO Citibank Nigeria Limited

Having just taken over at Citibank Nigeria, what are your top 3 priorities?

The first priority remains our clients and I’m focussed on delivering on our mission to serve as a trusted partner to our clients by responsibly providing financial services that enable growth and economic progress.

Second priority is around People – ensuring our teams are supported through these unprecedented times and remain motivated whist delivering excellence and the best for our clients. It’s also key that we stay connected in an era of remote work.

Third is about leveraging global best practice to provide capacity building and thought leadership.

What is your definition of leadership and how would you describe your personal leadership style?

My definition for Leadership is a metaphor derived from a flock of geese who fly thousands of miles in perfect V formation.

Leadership is about inspiring a shared common vision, travelling together, complementing, and positively reinforcing one another. I would describe my leadership style as threefold : a combination of Affiliative (people come first ), Democratic (ask people what they think) and Pacesetting (leading by example).

When you take up a leadership position, it’s not about you, how good you are or how well you execute, it’s about bringing an entire organisation along with you. My natural style is one of collaboration and I have found that it drives momentum because the more people buy in, the more they not only deliver to the vision, but they are empowered, and inspired to take it to the next level.

Citi clearly has a strong gender diversity and inclusion proposition. You co-founded the Momentum Program for female undergraduates in the UK and the Sapphire Leadership Program for the bank’s talent in MEA. Citi also has the Citi Women Affinity group. This is amazing. The IWD slogan this year is #ChooseToChallenge. What does it mean to you?

It means challenging the status quo, choosing to call out gender bias and to foster a more inclusive working environment.

I think it’s also about taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone even from a career perspective. I’ve sought to constantly challenge myself to take on more complex roles which have required learning agility. I’ve tried to choose roles where there’s been a confluence between my areas of interest, my strengths and Citi’s strategic priorities.

I have been fortunate in having great sponsors and mentors who have supported me and hence I have paid it forward through cofounding these mentorship platforms.

How do you think men and women can collaborate to build more inclusive workplaces where everyone thrives and creates value for the organisation? Also, how can male counterparts and colleagues act as allies and support women at work?

Our male counterparts can partner to hire, promote, and retain more women. They can also be bolder champions of diversity by helping to develop policies and solutions that amplify the voices of women whilst increasing representation.

On a practical level, one way to be an ally is by putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes and just trying to understand what a woman might be going through.

Also understanding fundamentally how men and women think differently. For example, if you have an opportunity open up, a woman might need more of a nudge to put herself forward for it than a man would. A woman will put her hand up for the next role if she’s feeling like she’s 80% ready. A man at 50% or maybe not even that, will say, “Can you consider me?”.

So you find the men regularly put themselves forward more not necessarily because they’re more competent but because they’re willing to take more risks. So women are losing out on opportunities not because anybody has held them back, but because they have held themselves back.

Just understanding this simple fact means that as a manager who is looking for the best person for the role, you must understand that a man and a woman present differently when opportunities show up. So, you have to adjust your behaviour. With a woman, you perhaps have to encourage her by saying, “I really think you’d be well suited for this role. Have you given it a thought?”. That will probably be the nudge she needs. Then in the interview, you’re going to find that because you have a diverse slate, the man and the woman get to compete on a level playing field and then the best person gets selected for the job. Without you giving her that nudge, you may find that rather than say having three men and two women apply, you just have five men apply. So, then it is the best man who gets the role and not the best person for the role.

Mckinsey have pointed out that $316 billion would be added to Africa’s GDP by increasing the participation of women in the economy. Also, according to the AfDB, there is a $42 billion financing gap between male and female entrepreneurs in Africa. Do you have any ideas on how these gaps can be plugged?

Very interesting statistics – the good news is that institutions are becoming extremely aware of these issues. For instance, at Citi we have partnered with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC, formerly known as OPIC) to expand microfinance loans to women in emerging markets around the world We believe microfinance is a path to women’s economic empowerment. Most microfinance recipients are women, making Citi’s work within microfinance a direct contributor to SDG 5, in support of gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls.

In addition, our ESG agenda highlights Citi’s commitments to closing the gender pay gap, to advancing racial equity, and pioneering a green agenda as this is good for business.

Many young people feel pressured to follow the entrepreneurship path but we also need career men and women to support entrepreneurs and help build the economy. What are your thoughts on this?

I agree and it’s also why the Citi Foundation is collaborating with NGO partners like the International Rescue Committee IRC , Junior Achievement, TechnoServe and LEAP Africa, in implementing programs that support young people to move into the workforce, whether into their first job, a career, or to start and scale an enterprise.

Our flagship programme in Nigeria, Rescuing Futures by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) began as an entrepreneurship training programme, but following assessment of the outcomes from the first two years, the programme now also helps to prepare youth for alternative labour market opportunities.

The Citi Foundation and the IRC introduced a Follow-On Programme in Rescuing Futures II, which supports a small group of youth to engage the labour market in alternative ways including through:

• Job counselling, training on job search skills, CV development, and interview skills.

• Apprenticeships – a small group of youth who do not seek to start a business are matched with apprenticeship opportunities in order to gain valuable on-the-job learning experience.

The AfCFTA is predicted to have a huge impact on trade and industrialisation in the region. Do you think our payment systems are sophisticated or robust enough to handle what is coming? Where are the gaps and what needs to be done?

Intra-regional Trade in Africa is mostly informal today. However, cross regional payment infrastructure would be an enabler for increasing and formalising trade flows. An accessible, cost effective and efficient cross border payment infrastructure which straddles all the countries is key.

The EU solved the problem by establishing a single payment area and a single currency, the Euro. There are natural aggregation points in Africa already that could be helpful building blocks for a similar approach. These are:
• Central Africa Economic and Monetary community (CEMAC) which covers 6 countries with same currency CFA franc(XAF)
• West African Economic and Monetary union (WAMU) which covers 8 countries with the same currency CFA franc(XOF)

One way forward is to leverage existing payment infrastructure within each country for settlement of trade obligations in the local currency. AFREXIM’s regional payment platform is a step in the right direction in this respect. A seller sells in his domestic currency and the importer pays in his domestic currency at daily agreed rates. It is proposed to leverage the Real Time Gross Settlement systems (High value clearing infrastructure in each country). Net settlement positions are established in the settlement currencies. The central settlement bank debits and credits each country, based on net settlement positions at end of day in the equivalent amount of the base currency (USD).

Citi participated in the recent Lagos Economic Summit – Ehingbeti and you were a guest speaker there. What were your key takeaways from the summit?

Yes we did – three colleagues participated on panels during the summit while I moderated the Digital Transformation Solutions for Smart Cities panel. Some of the interesting conclusions include:

• The importance of people in terms of inclusion in all its ramifications- financial services, citizen engagement & tech talent development.

• The importance of data and how it can improve the lives of citizens through automation – “digital by default”

• End to end Ecosystems are important – not just cabling and Wi-Fi but also service management

Ultimately, we need to better leverage what we already have like the Yaba Tech hub & digital IDs like National Identification Number (NIN) and Bank Verification Number (BVN)

Finally, what is your favourite piece of music? What makes it special and what does it mean to you?

I have a play list of “Favourites” with more than 200 songs so very difficult to choose a favourite piece! That said, I like walking/running to “The Man by Aloe Blacc” as it has inspiring lyrics:
“Somewhere I heard that life is a test
I been through the worst but I still give my best
God made my mould different from the rest
Then he broke that mould so I know I’m blessed
Stand up now and face the sun
Won’t hide my tail or turn and run
It’s time to do what must be done
~Be a king when kingdom come….”

Ivana Osagie is the Founder/CEO of PWR – an Africa focused female leadership, gender diversity and inclusion practice.

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