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Ibada Ahmed: Brilliant and enterprising

I was told I was great from the day I could comprehend meaning of words, I was taught to excel and lead even in the household. I grew up with 5 brothers and 3 sisters and each one of us felt like a leader in our own capacity.

idabaIbada Ahmed is a Kenyan Citizen of Somali Descent. A career Banker with Treasury Trading, Commercial Banking, Islamic Banking, and Microfinance Expertise, she is Co-Founder and Vice President of Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs (A.Y.E) She is tasked with Strategy, projects approval, expansion and overall management of AYE. She is also director of the African Economic Expansion Network (AEEN).­A member of Bankers Without Borders as well as a mentor and business speaker on various platforms, Ibada is also business strategy consultant, an avid reader, writer, and traveller. She speaks to Guardian Woman in an exclusive interview.

You became a bank manager in Kenya at the age of 23, how has that impacted on your personality as an African Woman.
I was told I was great from the day I could comprehend the meaning of words, I was taught to excel and lead even in the household. I grew up with 5 brothers and 3 sisters and each one of us felt like a leader in our own capacity.

Being a senior banker at 23 came no surprise to me although, I had put in the work; although I am immensely grateful to my country and those who gave me the platform to execute my skills. At 23 I had lived, studied and worked in Kenya my whole life with limited travel. It was my move from commercial banking and trading to Starting a microfinance company with investors that changed my perception of everything I thought I knew.

I remember giving a loan of 200 USD to a woman to be repaid in 6 months; she failed to pay instalments and eventually defaulted on the entire loan, this occurred with several different clients and I ‘woke’ up that day.

I realized that we lived in a continent that did not do much for its people. I then developed a financial literacy program for these women on debt management, simple book keep, and savings mobilization. My purpose became bigger than the targets I had set. I travelled from East, west, north, south and central Africa and discovered like never before. Today if it were up to me, I would have no permanent physical address because I would be where Africa wants me to be and where I am needed as a change agent.

As a woman, are there specific challenges you face when promoting trade among African nations?
Africa has 54 robust diverse countries, but the geographical position doesn’t mean much without trade integration. The cost of trade in Africa is high, the movement is challenged by Visa requirements and we lack diversified products. We are a continent that has found comfort in importing that which we can produce locally. However, African nations have come to understand their challenges and continue to make great strides to make Africa an economic hub and compete at a global level. Limited trade is not only Intra-regional but international.

In the 21st century, we still have roads that lead to nowhere from degradation, unreliable source of electricity and lack of internet including limited telecommunication, this has limited Africa from global opportunities and strategically given foreign nations with advanced financial instruments and trade platforms an opportunity to benefit heavily. We are familiar with the phenomena ‘aide for trade, our leaders always knew nothing was for free. When it could no longer be taken from Africa because of newly established sovereignty, the looting was woven as an aid in exchange for trade negotiations. We need to reduce aid reliance, invest in physical structures such as roads, power, and telecommunication and relax visa requirements. Our leaders have to show the will and put country first. A continent of 1 billion people equates to 1 billion manpower and brain power.

Women play a pivotal role in economic growth but this is not enough. Each country should have legislations to have men and women ratio balance in positions of power, not only in Government but corporate board rooms. We cannot talk trade without having every resource involved and women are a proven reliable and dynamic resource. I am a woman, I should know.

With Nigeria’s economy facing recession, what would be your advice to entrepreneurs in the country on how to cope with the current challenges?
Nigeria is facing a crisis as we speak and with a population of this magnitude, you know it’s like no average country. The naira uncertainty has left importers affected, especially small scale and it has forced some entrepreneurs out of business. Third negative outlook and the country is officially in recession. Times like this call for diversification of investment and huge cutbacks.


We tell entrepreneurs not to borrow at commercial bank rates, the interest alone will kill their business. We have an agreement with Bank of Industry for single digit loan to entrepreneurs aged 18 to 45 and you should negotiate a moratorium. We have various mentoring and advisory platforms as well that continue to benefit our members in Nigeria. I would also recommend to anyone who has an innovative business idea to apply for grant funding and support from our annual AYEEN program.

What do you think are the bane of young female entrepreneurs in Africa and how can they be surmounted?
If we are talking Africa, we are talking ‘OPPORTUNITY’ or lack thereof. Opportunity is one the one thing female entrepreneurs have been shut out of. Often women are isolated by cultural and conservative beliefs that have no significance in the 21st century. For every 10 times, a male entrepreneur is given an opportunity, a woman is give 1 . In addition, female entrepreneurs have limited access to financial and technical resources to grow their own enterprises, often a woman is given access that is termed ‘low risk’ because the systems are set to box female appetite for risk and business drive. There must be a framework for a strategy to support female species.

Women should empower themselves through the biggest weapon ‘EDUCATION’ and where our young upcoming entrepreneurs are limited or challenged, let successful women entrepreneurs give another woman a chance. Equal rights to men in employment, financial access, and technical access should be legislated. We should have minimum 50% female boardrooms, 40% government tenders, and business should be preserved for women-owned companies and financial institutions and development funds should prove gender balance in their loan books.

Are there specific programmes targeted at women by your organisations? Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs carries out selective training programs targeting women, specifically on financial literacy and business management. All our programs although gender balanced in delivery gives women from challenged backgrounds an opportunity to be heard and an opportunity to become a great entrepreneur. Visit A.YE website on and AEEN website on

Advice for single mothers on how to be financially stable?

Being a woman has already given us an extraordinary ability known as ‘Multitasking’ whether a single mother or a woman who has other dependents, do more than one thing in those 24 hours. Apply for every opportunity available to you through your government and the private sector. If you are employed, have another source of income, perhaps turn your hobby into a business, however, small. If solely an entrepreneur, try your hand at multiple businesses and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get a mentor to guide you and choose your circle of influence very carefully. My slogan GET IT DONE, GET IT RIGHT!