Goals, drive keep Musiitwa at the top

Saturday February 9 2019

Jacqueline M. Musiitwa

Jacqueline M. Musiitwa, the outgoing executive director at Financial Sector Deepening, Uganda. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG 

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Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa is an international lawyer and an expert in African commercial affairs and innovative problem solving.

She served as legal counsel and assistant to the chief executive and president of the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank and was chief legal and investor relations director at Microcred Africa.

She has served as advisor to the director general of the World Trade Organisation on matters of trade, economic integration and global governance and has been an advisor to several African governments on trade, investment and energy. She has at various times served on the boards of several financial institutions across the continent.

In academia, she has been an adjunct professor of law at universities in the US and Rwanda.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Davidson College and a Juris Doctor from the University of Melbourne, Australia.


Why are many Ugandans still excluded from financial services?

Historically, only the Post Office and banks provided access to financial services. Banks, however, were expensive and did not extend services deep into rural areas, on top of their products, especially loans, being typically not suited for the poor or people with unpredictable earning cycles. Mandatory collateral also locked out women and youth.

What should be done to reach more women with financial services, especially women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises?

Financial services providers need to make services accessible through mobile money and agency banking; use human-centred design principles and be more women-centric in their marketing by demonstrating how financial service providers can cater to women’s financial needs.

I am hopeful that with the enactment of the National Payment Systems Act, improvements in infrastructure such as agency banking, and the introduction of more affordable products by mobile phone, more people will be able to get the financial products they need. The goal is financial access to decrease financial vulnerability.

Providers should think of how to sell products, for example, account holders should be able to seamlessly deposit and withdraw mobile money, get insurance and other products that fulfil their financial needs.

Why are there fewer women in top corporate executive positions in Uganda?

As they advance in their careers, it becomes difficult to balance personal lives with work and meet cultural expectations. Many opt out even before they hit the peak of their careers. This is a global issue. Ultimately, women should make the best decision for their personal circumstances.

What can be done to ensure that women take up top business executive positions in Uganda?

Companies need to take chances on women and offer them leadership roles without imposing penalties on motherhood. Until the situation improves, there should be a form of affirmative action where the board and management of companies decide and commit to the number of women to attract and retain.

What is the importance of having women on company boards?

Diversity is important for many reasons. First, companies have diverse stakeholders and need to cater to all of them. Putting systems in place that create opportunities for diverse perspectives ensures that boards make decisions with wider perspectives.

Second, research has shown that boards with more women register better financial performance.

Third, in addition to gender parity on boards, I’m believe having more young people on boards is beneficial because they understand changing market trends.

Why do we have so few women on boards in Uganda?

Nomination to boards tends to be a matter of insider networks. Most large businesses in Uganda are owned or run by men. As such, men reach out to their networks, which are predominantly male. It is important for men with such influence to nominate women to boards.

Women board directors also have a responsibility to help others follow in their footsteps. There are initiatives such as the one by the Capital Markets Authority and Uganda Security Exchange to increase diversity on the boards of listed companies.

How best would you describe your career?

I’m a curious person, so I have been open to opportunities as they arise. I am also daring, so I am not afraid of new tasks, even in areas where I am not very knowledgeable. I studied law because I knew that it would give me access to a variety of career options.

How have you overcome male chauvinism in your career?

I’m confident in my expertise so I don’t give room to bullies or allow myself to be get mansplained. I think it’s important to draw the line and not tolerate bad behaviour. Within organisations I have worked for, I have championed the creation of policies and processes that protect employees from harassment.

What is the secret of your success?

As much as I am agile, passionate about making a difference in the world, optimising my networks and continuing to learn to be competitive, a lot has to do with luck and God’s plan.

What would you have been if you had not become a lawyer?

I had considered pursing a Masters in Public Health or a PhD in Political Science. I still may pursue a PhD, but in a more interdisciplinary field that touches on technology. I have been admitted to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Mid-Career Masters of Public Administration so that could be a step towards a PhD.

Why do you find commercial affairs and innovative problem solving exciting?

My professional mission has been market systems development. I have tackled this in law, policy and finance. I like the fact that Africa is a constantly changing business environment, one that requires people to constantly solve problems. It will take a critical mass of problem solvers to find solutions to the numerous challenges.

What is your greatest professional achievement to date?

Having worked to pay for and complete my education.

Who are the people who have influenced you the most in your professional career?

My mother. She has been supportive of my decisions even when I was taking risky career decisions. She has been a professor of education policy and is now the deputy vice chancellor designate of the Zambian Open University.