VULNERABLE LEADERSHIP: HUSH NOW, WE ARE HUMANS!
It’s hard to believe that we have come to the start of Q4/2019 already. One minute it’s New Year, you blink, and it’s Christmas already. As we start the last season of this year, I would like to reflect back and share my story about the start of our EWPN journey. I continue to be amazed and awed by all the great things that EWPN has achieved in the past years and months. Building an organisation is not a walk in the park. I, for one, have been extremely lucky to have had the chance and opportunity to build such an incredible community. Many people have asked me how and especially why I started EWPN, and today, I would like to close the quarter with a personal note on why, how, and the lessons I have learned so far from this incredible community.
Like many startups, EWPN started on my dining table in 2016; but well before that, it started in my heart in 2015 with the main objective of creating a safe, professional and rich community for and of women working in fintech & payments.
Being an African, I was born and brought up in a community.
The sense of sharing challenges, issues, wins, and life in general, is something that is the very core to my foundation and life. I wanted to bridge and connect my own life experience with professional life and share that with a larger community. I also deeply wanted to bring forth, share and keep the Ubuntu spirit alive: “Ubuntu ngumtu ngabanye abantu” (“A person is a person through other people”). It is often translated as “I am because we are” – it embraces the idea that humans cannot exist in isolation. We depend on connection, community, and caring. Simply, we cannot be without each other.
Creating visibility for underrepresented
Being a woman, an immigrant, and to be precise a black African woman, meant that I was at the bottom of the food chain. This is a very sensitive conversation that many people would rather shy away than address. I knew that I had the responsibility to bring visibility to women, immigrants, and women of colour working in the financial sector; and give them that voice.
Creating the environment that allowed women to tap into their full potential
Secondly, we women were running multi-million-dollar companies, making financial decisions of our households and organisations, founding companies, building products on a very large scale. We had no problems launching products and services globally or running global budgets and P+Ls; but when it came to our issues and challenges, we locked ourselves into smaller silos.
Our challenges and issues are universal. Of course, they differ in different countries due to many factors, but generically speaking, the majority of these challenges were more similar than different.
I couldn’t understand why we were so comfortable making all these key decisions about everything else, except when it came to sharing our problems and celebrating our wins. So, my plan was to complement what these other initiatives were doing, but then break the silos and open them up in order to create endless opportunities for women.
Create learning and networking opportunities
The other thing that was very concerning to me was just how many opportunities women were missing out on, especially on learning and networking, because many women stayed away from industry events. We can argue about the reasons why (that is a story for another day). My main goal was to create this community that would make these opportunities accessible and possible for women.
Safe & professional environment that created and cleared the path for speaking opportunities
Another thing that also stood out to me was just how many women, including very senior women, had never spoken in public. It seems like we had these limitations ingrained so deep into our being, telling us that we had nothing to share even though we were building amazing companies, products, services and running multi-million organisations.
I remember having many conversations with many senior and executive women who were so nervous to get on stage for the first time.
Our goal was to create this safe environment and community that sent the message out to all first-time speakers saying it was ok to be nervous. It was ok to shake like a leaf while on stage (we have seen that many times). It was ok to forget a few words, or even forget a whole line. The most important thing was that the first-time speaker had the courage to put themselves out there in public and share their underestimated expertise.
EWPN was a safe place to dare and try things for the first time. It has been incredible to watch all these amazing women get on stage for the first time.
Call event organisers on their bullshit of ”not enough women”
Lastly, the fact that so many event organisers used and still use the excuse that they couldn’t find female speakers. Many of them intentionally decided to deny speaking opportunities to female speakers.
We knew we had exceptional women with expertise enough to speak, but they never got the chance. With EWPN events, not only were we giving them the stage to get started, but we also gave this opportunity to women to share their expertise in public but also call these event organisers on their bullshit.
Like I already mentioned, building an organisation is not a walk in the park. As a not-for-profit making organisation, EWPN’s engine runs 100% on time given by volunteers. We have managed to bring together a team of exceptional individuals (65 volunteers and numbers still growing), who are committed to helping bring forth change; not because of their egos or profits, but because they strongly believe in the mission of EWPN.
The Executive Board
The core team that is in charge of creating strategy, direction, programmes, partnerships and daily operation of EWPN.
The Advisory Board
An excellent team of exceptional leaders who are the sounding board for the executive board. They also hold the executive accountable for the strategy.
The core team and representatives of EWPN in various countries. They are extremely dedicated group of women who are committed, driven and work hard to create local communities for EWPN through various activities.
A team of men and women who are members of various committees within EWPN. They give their time to ensure that various clusters and programmes run smoothly.
These are PhD holders who run the EWPN Research Network, that brings together payments researchers working in industry, academia, and not-for-profit organisations. Their main goal is to improve the quality of payments research and advance our knowledge of the role of payments in society and industry.
These are senior male leaders and executives who have taken a stand, publicly, to stand with EWPN in championing for diversity & inclusion in the financial sector.
Thousands of women (and men) working in the fintech & payments and financial sector in general who want to connect to like-minded professionals.
Companies and organisations that don’t just believe in EWPN’s mission, but are also committed to diversity (all) and inclusion.
Companies and organisations that strongly believe in EWPN’s mission and give their platforms to help EWPN’s message reach more people.
With the help from all these different volunteers, we are able to run and implement different programmes and activities; and by doing so, we not only create opportunities for women, but also help the industry become more diverse and inclusive. This in return, creates a better environment for businesses, corporates and organisations; while also helping improve their financial returns.