Dolika Banda has been a leader blazing a trail in the financial services industry for over 20 years. 16 of those at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), most recently as a Director, with full managerial responsibility for the IFC’s financial markets activities across sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, including a portfolio of over US$5bn and 250 projects. She was also CDC’s former Acting Managing Director of CDC’s Africa Funds team, as well as serving as CDC’s Regional Director, before returning home to Zambia in 2015. As the current Chair of The Africa ListZambia working group, she shared the leadership principles that have guided her next steps.
Know your why
“When I left Zambia to join the IFC, I had intended to go for the three years of that initial contract and then come back. But I got seduced by the comforts of Washington DC, working for the World Bank and having that UN passport, and going everywhere I wanted to go. Africa was always at the back of my mind, however, and I was very fortunate in the World Bank in that I tried always to be working in Africa, or on Africa, so I always had that connection. Then came 2012, when I turned 50, and I had to make a decision: it was now or never. At the time I was handling both sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean as a financial markets director for the IFC. When I started to see what we were doing in Latin America and the Caribbean, I just said to myself, ‘Why am I doing this here?’ When I was in Africa, it didn’t feel like work, but doing exactly the same thing in Latin America was definitely a job. So I knew that it was time for me to focus completely on Africa.”
Lead for legacy, not from ego
“Always think about legacy. And if you think legacy, you have to think about making yourself dispensable. Making yourself dispensable means thinking beyond yourself and putting in place a succession plan. So the greatest story you can tell is: I came, I built and I left a great team to carry on what I had started.
So whatever you are doing, you are doing for the institution, for the staff. I think there is a lot of ego, especially in the corporate world, and letting go of that ego is one the most powerful things that you can do. If I look good then it means that someone below me has done the right job, and I should let that person be recognised for that, rather than to accept all the praise myself.”
With service comes sacrifice
My priest at church once told me that leadership is a lonely place, but it is an anointed place. It is lonely because you can’t socialise the way you used to socialise when you were lower down the ranks. It will come back to haunt you. And because you need to focus on whatever it is that you have been given leadership over, certain things – friends, things you do, the way you spend your time – get pushed out. Leadership becomes a box, and you have to choose if this is really what you want to do. It does impact your social life. I think also that as a black African woman who has to follow my cultural norms, which don’t always coincide with global corporate norms, it’s a stretch. My family sometimes think I should have gone to an event, for example, and I chose instead to travel or to work, so you really do get torn in terms of making certain decisions.
“I have been reading about the concept of noblesse oblige, which is a term you hear thrown about quite often, but perhaps without real understanding. The idea being that someone who is privileged to be in a position of power or financial advantage has a responsibility and obligation to look after others. I think leaders have to have vision, and a sense of obligation to the people that they are leading.”
This article has been adapted from this interview with Dolika Banda on our partner, Oxford Saïd Business School’s, website.
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