Farida Kabir: ‘Most female-led enterprises are doing exceptionally well’
Farida Kabir is an Information and Communication Technology manager with over 10 years experience working across the private, public and international development sectors. Currently the Group Head, Growth and Brand at Sudo Africa, she oversees the growth and expansion of the company’s products in sub Saharan Africa across their group of companies. Just before this, she served as digital development consultant with the World Bank Group’s Digital Development Global Practice.
A trainer and mentor to young girls and women on software development as well as career paths in IT, she is passionate about the conscious use of technology as a tool to improve socio-economic development indices in developing countries like Nigeria, particularly in healthcare and governance, which will in turn translate into improved service delivery and transparency in delivering these services. A recipient of many awards (home and abroad), in 2016, she was the only Nigerian amongst five Africans awarded by the then French President, François Hollande in recognition of her pioneering entrepreneurial strides in Health Technology.
She tells TOBI AWODIPE in this interview why women-owned companies remain better investments for financiers, how upcoming women fintech entrepreneurs can find success and why the digital gender divide/gap in Nigeria must be closed.
You are quite prominent in the ICT and tech space, was this always where you wanted to be?
I wouldn’t exactly say that. Looking at the fact that my undergraduate degree was in biological science, this is kind of a detour entirely from the healthcare/life sciences to a completely different terrain.
However, I had always had a thing for gadgets and technology, because I was exposed to them at an early age. This made my transition from health to tech a bit easier.
How has your background and experience helped you out in this industry?
Well, for one, I have always been very dedicated. I give my best to whatever comes my way; I never leave a job half done. The tech industry, like a lot of industries, is competitive. You’ve got to distinguish yourself and carve out your niche if you want to get anywhere.
You were recently appointed Group Head of Growth and Brand at Sudo Africa, what are you looking to do in this role?
Sudo Africa is a VC-backed fintech company that provides a card issuing API for businesses and developers across Africa. In this role, I will be overseeing the rapid growth and expansion of the company’s products in sub Saharan Africa across their group of companies; a microfinance bank, a card issuing and production company, as well as a micro lending organisation.
You said you’re passionate about raising the next generation of tech-savvy girls, how are you going about this?
I train and mentor young girls whenever I have the capacity and chance to do so; I currently have five young girls I am mentoring on an up close and personal level. I also do a lot of engagement via phone calls, chats, my social media channels, giving advice about career, life, opportunities and so on with others that I’m not mentoring one on one. A very famous saying I live by is, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ Much has been given to me and this is my way of giving back to the society.
You’ve had experience working with several big names in the ICT/Tech sector, how accommodating is it for women especially those just starting out?
I believe working in tech is one of the most rewarding career paths for women, particularly for women in northern Nigeria. With most companies offering the remote work option, you’ll be able to work from home and still tend to other personal obligations.
However, there’s still a long way to go for women in this sector, but even a journey of a thousand miles start with a single step. Women participation is improving in this space and the more women tell their stories, it inspires younger ones to take action.
How do you intend to use technology as a tool to improve the socio-economic development indices in Nigeria?
There are several ways this is being done and at Sudo for instance, we are exploring multiple use cases for our cards and one we’re particular about is how we can use some products to extend financial services in the rural areas especially, thereby increasing financial inclusion in those places.
Also, by ensuring that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products that meet their needs in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Do you think mentorship is important for women, especially in this industry and how has it helped you in your career growth?
Generally speaking, mentorship is important for upwardly mobile young professionals regardless of gender. However, it becomes even more critical for women in this industry, because there are not as much women as there are men in this space.
If women must excel, then they must be properly mentored. I’ve been lucky to be mentored by the best people. I would say that I learnt a lot of things from mentorship. They are quite numerous to mention. However, a few are work ethic, discipline and building a vast network.
How are you looking to drive fintech inclusion, especially amongst women in northern Nigeria?
Fintech inclusion for women is one of the most effective ways to truly empower women in northern Nigeria. As for how I am contributing towards achieving this lofty goal, I am looking to mentor even more women from the region on skills relevant to the financial and tech industry as a whole and connect them with opportunities that will propel their growth and sustenance.
In your opinion, what are some issues that startups in this clime face and what are a few things you’d suggest can be done to mitigate them?
Startups in this clime face a number of issues such as dearth of human capacity/resource, lack of requisite domain expertise and experience, unfavorable regulatory environment and poor access to funding. However, some of these issues can be resolved by having an inclusive policy design process that fosters co-creation and innovation at its core. Investing in infrastructure that will increase access to reliable and affordable broadband internet because without it, not much can truly be achieved.
Also, by creating systems that builds capacity and retains talent within the ecosystem and increasing access to funding channels and vehicles for startups.
Would you say women in this industry have it more difficult than their male counterparts?
Women in almost all industries have it harder than their male counterparts. As of 2022, women held 26.7 per cent of technology jobs while only around five per cent of large company CEOs are women. We have multiple barriers to entry and access is at the base of it. Access to the right information and at the right time is also key.
How would you rate female entrepreneurship in Nigeria and Africa in general?
Female entrepreneurship in Nigeria is a space that is continuously changing and improving. Women have been seen to engage in various endeavours that were thought to be dominated by men. So far, most female-led enterprises and female-owned enterprises are doing exceptionally well. Private technology companies led by women are more capital-efficient, achieving 35 per cent higher ROI, and, when venture-backed, 12 per cent higher revenue than startups run by men, according to the Kauffman Foundation.
In a study of over 350 startups, Mass Challenge and BCG determined that businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue more than two times as much per dollar invested, than those founded by men, making women-owned companies better investments for financiers.
If you were speaking with an upcoming fintech entrepreneur right now, what are those five basic things she must do/avoid to be successful in this field?
First, be aware of the financial regulations in the field; know the various actors and stakeholders involved in making your product a reality; your customers, market, regulators and so on. Look out for the best talents in the field and work with. Always do due diligence when signing any contract or documents and finally, ensure you put your work out there so that others could know about you.
Has there been any personal experience that made you want to throw in the towel?
Yes of course, but I didn’t throw the towel and it’s why I am where I am today.
What is your passion, what drives you?
I am passionate about career growth and development, as well as investing in people and networks. I want to see a developed world; I want to see a world where every woman can become anything she aspires to be.
Tell us something you do/did that has influenced your career growth positively?
One important thing that has defined and continues to influence my career growth is constant self-reflection and assessment. I pause regularly to do a complete assessment of myself, to check if I’m aligning with my goals or not. I adjust where the need arises then monitor and re-evaluate. This is an agile process for me, so I try to do it mentally every single day.
If you had the power to change something for Nigerian women, what would that be?
If I had a magic wand, I’d close the digital gender divide/gap in Nigeria. Nigeria faces a significant gender gap in Internet usage and smartphone ownership. A 2020 survey by the GSMA found that while gender gap in mobile ownership narrowed to four per cent, the gap in mobile internet users remains wide at 29 per cent.
Major barriers for women and girls accessing the internet include affordability, privacy and security concern with respect to targeted harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, mobile ownership gap, gender pay gap and so on.
Life at this level can be very stressful, how do you relax?
I go out with friends sometimes, but I’m mostly indoors trying to catch up on accumulated sleep. When I have the time, I travel, relax and experience the world.
What advice do you have for young women entering the job market and women at mid-career stage?
Find a mentor quickly; work smart, ignore the noise and distractions and focus on your goal. But most importantly, own your story and tell it.