The first LDR cohorts proudly show off their diplomas, following a graduation ceremony, organized as part of the 2019 AFI Global Policy Forum in Kigali, Rwanda

22 March 2022

Women central bankers get career boost with leadership program

Women as financial regulators in emerging and developing market economies are seeing their career opportunities grow thanks to a unique initiative that is promoting gender-inclusive policies and creating a pipeline of future leaders.

Around 75 percent of women leaders who attended the Leadership and Diversity Program for Regulators in 2020 said that their scope of responsibility had expanded since taking part in the course, mostly through strategic work and the volume of projects managed.

Over a 12-week period, senior officials from central banks and other regulatory agencies are paired with less experienced woman leaders to enhance their technical and strategic skills while also supporting their long-term professional development.

Guided by AFI members’ global commitment under the Denarau Action Plan (DAP) to advance women’s financial inclusion through innovative policy and regulatory solutions, including a specific action plan to drive greater gender diversity within member’s own institution and its initiatives, the Leadership and Diversity Program for Regulators is taught by Women’s World Banking and the Faculty from Oxford University’s Said Business School, and implemented together with AFI.

To date, more than 100 members attended the program. Funding and intellectual collaboration with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other partners has enabled the participation of members through provision of sponsorships.

Taught by Women’s World Banking and Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and implemented with AFI, the annual program fosters the growth of enabling policy environments for women’s financial inclusion. From the 2020 cohort, for example, nearly 90 percent of senior executives said that it had made their policies more gender inclusive.

While topics covered range from microfinance to stakeholder communication, among the most impactful skill nurtured is a mindset that encourages women leadership and empowerment.

Among its past participants, Cleopatra Davis from Central Bank of The Bahamas praised the course for encouraging her to see the financial inclusion gender gap as a global concern.

“My perspective and outlook have grown significantly towards thinking about what I can do to help promote financial inclusion and bridge the gender gap in financial services,” Davis told AFI.

This fresh approach has had aided her work on the country’s central bank digital currency, the Sand Dollar. More concerted efforts, she explained, have since been made to collect gender-related statistics to better understand existing gender gaps and find ways for the central bank to foster greater inclusivity.

The legacy of the course, which is welcoming applications for its fourth cohort, will be similarly long-lasting in the home jurisdiction of Bank of Namibia’s Sesilia Nekwaya, also gender focal point in AFI’s Financial Inclusion Data Working Group. Skills learnt, she said, will be used to further the development of Namibia’s second national financial sector strategy, assist in identifying data gaps, critically analyze data and design effective impactful policies.

“Starting from a demand-side survey, we will prioritize sex-disaggregation of data,” Nekwaya said. “Our strategy, which will include specific and measurable targets for women and vulnerable groups, will have a focus on disaggregated data and indicators going forward.”


Shared problems, shared solutions

With the COVID-19 pandemic often amplifying existing inequalities faced by women, former participants noted that the course came at an opportune time.

The dramatic shift in how most have adapted to new daily realities and restrictions – from working to childcare to shopping – has also triggered a rethink in traditional notions of leadership. For Banco de Moçambique’s Gertrudes Tovela, this also meant challenging accepted norms.

While her country’s legal framework treats women and men equally, Tovela said the course material and shared experiences strengthened her belief that “in some countries women require special attention.”

Relating to the experiences of other participants from different countries and with different priorities. Tovela noted that “to some extent, we shared the same issues.”

Much of their ability to tackle these challenges lay in personal growth and development. By improving certain key skill sets, from negotiation to more effective communication with stakeholders, participants gained more confidence to bring about impactful change in the gender inclusion space.

But with new ways of thinking come new ways of leading, particularly with many continuing to work from home. Through the course – which was conducted online for the second year running –, participants learnt to build various skills, including how to identify the qualities of effective leaders, understand one’s own style and appreciate it in others, develop a leadership vision and create professional development plan.

“I grew up thinking leaders are born leaders. I now appreciate the fact that leadership can be taught and learnt,” said Bank of Zambia’s Beatrice N Kalale. “With this program, I am a better person, mentor and coach in the area of bank supervision, a better leader, and more authentic … Career wise, I have grown, thanks to this course that has left me with new thinking on ‘leadership that drives performance’.

By being largely based online, participants were also able to juggle the demands of work and home. Among them was Central Bank of Madagascar’s Hery Njaka Rakotoarimanana, who said that through the program’s flexible structure, she was able to “assume my role as a mother and I didn’t have to be absent from the office.”



A fundamental pillar of the course lies in the mentor-mentee relationship, which cultivates a bond between participants that continues for years after the sessions have ended.

While senior officials – who can be either men or women – can cultivate and foster an active sponsorship relationship, high-potential woman leaders become motivated to take on new leadership challenges and opportunities.

Through the experience and knowledge gained, Bank of Ghana’s Patience Nkansah said she was able to mentor other women in her department, many of whom had since become team leaders in positions previously occupied by men. Others gained the confidence to “improved themselves to take on more challenging jobs”.

Another senior official, Bidhan Chandra Shaha from Bangladesh Bank, said that his mentee was doing far better in her job since the training and she had been promoted.

Despite having been going on for only three years, the success of the course has already encouraged others to sign up. Among many who have already taken part, the many benefits are clear.

“The caliber of program coordinators and expert facilitators is unmatched. An opportunity to participate in the program is indeed priceless,” Davis said.

For others, the course had unexpected and more personal impacts.

“I still remember one online class where a professor … taught us how to present policy briefs like a story-telling grandma,” said Shaha. “He gave us an example of story about cookies. After the class, I made my own cookies for the first time. I realized that my stories should also communicate so that my audience can share the same feelings as I do.”

Bank of Ghana second deputy governor Elsie Addo Awadzi was one of the leaders who attended the program along with the mentee. “One area that was immediately put to into action was to open myself up and make myself readily available to junior female staff and encourage them to look out for role models, mentors and seek help on their career journey”, she said.  


Policy initiatives

Ghana’s second deputy governor Awadzi, also the current chair of AFI’s Gender Inclusive Finance Committee, pointed out career boosters such as the quality of stakeholder engagement, identifying the gaps, as well as the design and development of policy initiatives

GIF is a cross cutting policy area in AFI with gender focal points included in each of AFI’s working groups, gender ambassadors are part of 15 AFI member institutions and work on promoting gender inclusive finance in their own institutions and countries, their regions as well as beyond the network.

As part of the program, Awadzi worked on a policy initiative aimed at “encouraging banks to increase lending to women-owned MSMEs by dedicating at least 30% of their MSME loan portfolio to them”.

“Access to credit is one of the dimensions of financial inclusion and this is a priority of the Bank”, explained Awadzi adding that although the central bank has been engaged in other initiatives to enhance financial inclusion of women, “the idea to encourage targeted lending by banks to women-owned MSMEs is new”

Since 2018, 11 countries represented by AFI members implemented 17 GIF-related policy changes, while in 2020 alone, three countries reported their implementation. Although these reported policies by AFI members were categorized in other policy areas, they also contained GIF elements, suggesting that gender inclusive finance is embedded in the diverse range of policies and regulations that members develop. Actions and achievements in the various areas of GIF work are not standalone, they are synergetic and help drive the overall results. The growing importance and visibility of GIF commitments are reflected in the increasing members’ demand for peer learning and tailored in-country implementation (ICI) support. AFI members are assisted in tailoring national implementation approaches and adapting policy guidance and learning from their peers to their unique national contexts, as well as developing gender-sensitive and gender-transformative solutions from the ground up.

The LDR program is not only developing gender diverse leadership skills among the AFI member institutions, it is also encouraging exchanging knowledge and practices in practical policy implementation and development.


 “The program was a total package: having a mentee to mentor as well as being assigned a personal coach to help you improve on one’s leadership skills was an offering which included the best of both worlds: working on one’s self while working with a mentee, which in turn enabled me to give off my best”, concluded the Deputy Governor.


Leadership and Diversity Program for Regulators

This program, taught by Women’s World Banking and Faculty from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, implemented together with the AFI, brings together senior officials from central banks and other regulatory agencies and high-potential women from their respective institutions. The objective of this program is to support financial regulators to develop policies that help close the gender gap in financial inclusion, and to build women’s leadership pipeline in regulatory organizations. The virtual program will be held from 2 May 2022 to 29 July 2022. 

Learn more here.


AFI’s Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.

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