Line Gustafsson was recently promoted to product manager at KMD, Denmarks largest software solution center, after only 8 months with the company - she joined KMD in January 2012. She is currently managing the development of the largest mobile business app in Denmark, SmartCare, with more than 90.000 users and is an active participant in the second edition of the Women Talent Pool program. We had the opportunity to interview Line about her quick advancement with KMD, career path and future goals.
WIL: What inspired you to pursue a career in the digital sector?
Line Gustafsson (LG): Digital sector is of the utmost interest for me as it offers plenty of opportunities! You can work across different domains and meet challenges of various industries whereas in other spheres you are almost always limited to the problems of one particular sector.
WIL: How have you managed to unite your career in the digital sector and your degree in physiotherapy? When you took on this job, were you specifically looking for something that married the two?
LG: No, I wasn’t – actually, a lot of my career is due to coincidence. After school I was tired of studying and chose physiotherapy which I perceived as an alternative to the long studies and something that would have suited my needs better. After getting my diploma I actually had different jobs in the health sector for 5-6 years before switching to the digital and such a background is an advantage in what I am currently doing. Contrary to some of my colleagues who specialize only in digital sphere, I know what happens in the real life too.
WIL: After only 8 months of working with KMD, you were promoted from a consultant to a mobility manager. How did this transition happen?
LG: This transition was a result of initiative and motivation. I had an idea for a new business area and talked about it to my new director who asked me to do a presentation on it, sort of a business case. He liked the idea and gave me an opportunity to work on the initiative. So I had to fight in order for this transition to be possible but I also received support from my director who encouraged me to carry on with my vision.
WIL: How did you find the quick transition from the position of consultant to mobility manager and your new role and do you have any advice for people making a similar transition?
LG: My tranisition was due to a project I believed in and a project I was a part of creating. In these cases It didn’t feel like something which needed a lot of adjustment from my part. I actually felt it like me being given the opportunity to prove my instincts were right. My advice to others in similar situations would be to choose something, you believe in and feel confident about. If you do, you sometimes won’t even feel the change, just embrace the possibilities.
WIL: In your work, you deal with two quite different spheres: production of a product and the strategy of its promotion. What is the secret of your success in both of them?
LG: The challenge is to not separate the two, but to align both areas. If you focus only on production, you will inevitably abandon the strategy and have difficulties selling the product. On the other hand, if you concentrate exclusively on promotion, you will lack knowledge about the product itself.
In the company I wear two hats: I talk strategies to directors and talk to users of the production. I also have great colleagues who support me in this work.
WIL: How do you view your role in a large company such as KMD?
LG: I am probably not a typical KMD employee, I sometimes feel that I am swimming against the stream. Big companies often have a conservative, kind of “we have always done things this way” approach whereas I try to have an innovative attitude.
Sometimes it seems to me that it could have been easier to work in a smaller company, but at the same time they often do not have sufficient resources to support projects that I am passionate about. So I am quite happy to work at KMD and I find it encouraging to be a part of the largest Danish IT-company: it tries to be innovative and the desire to stick to one strategy is only natural and quite understandable when you have so many people to manage.
WIL: What and/or who can you call a source of your motivation?
LG: I find Elena Bonfiglioli a very inspiring person, as well as the whole Women Talent Pool Program is very encouraging. I am happy to participate in it as, unfortunately, in Denmark the separation of leadership is not such big of an issue.
There is also a quote by a Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard which really appeals to me: “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself”. This saying strongly motivates me.
WIL: Where do you see yourself in 5 years, what would you like to achieve?
LG: I don’t have any precise career plan. My motivation is to work with things I’m passionate about, as I am a sort of ‘black and white’ worker: I am either engaged in a project or not. I hope that in 5 years my experience will give me the possibility to face even greater challenges, explore new fields and work in new sectors or even new countries.
On the 2nd of July WIL Europe conducted a webinar for our Emerging Leaders with WIL members, Odile Arbeit de Chalendar, a policy officer at the European Commissions Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, Unit C3 Intelligent Transport Systems. Via Micrsoft Lync videoconferencing Ms. Arbeit de Chalendar presented practical and physical exercises rooted in chi kung, of which Ms. Arbeit de Chalendar is a practicitioner. She showed the participants excercises in three areas; the reducing stress, the of increasing concentration and body language and first impressions.
In order to reduce stress, it is important to remember that the human being is a tenant between the Earth and the sky. There are several tips to help maintain this link and to reduce stress. First, it is imporatnt to be conscious, and to try not to use closed positions such as crossing your arms and legs. To better connect yourself and reduce stress one should try planting both feet on the ground, putting your hands straight on the table and leaning back on your chair while imagining stress going down through your body and into the Earth. These actions and body positions naturally help your bodies ability to release stress and is subtle enough to do in any environment.
To strengthen concentration, Ms. Arbeit de Chalendar explained that one should, first of all, drink more water in order to better conduct electricity to the brain. There are also several exercises that help you to connect the left and the right brain hemispheres, which ultimately increases your cognitive and concentration abilites. Some of these excercises include focusing on the centre of an “X” or tracing the curve of the infinity symbol with your eyes. Both excercises can be conducted either using a piece of paper or by visualising the symbols with your eyes closed.
In terms of body language and presentation, several key areas where discussed such as: the eyes- and the importance of making eye contact and visually engaging, the hands- laying your hands on the table as an open gesture and the arms- whether they are crossed as this sends a signal that you are not open to your interlocutor’s suggestions. Moreover, emerging leaders were taught how to breath more quietly and sit or stand calmly (do not fidget as this displays uncertainty) so that their posture is both convincing and reassuring. When entering a room, Ms. Arbeit de Chalendar reminded us that your 'first' impression begins before you say a word, therefore the way in which you enter a room can speak volumes and so your personal confidence and body languague are of the utmost importance. Aside from body language, one should always mentally prepare themselves, recognising negative barriers and clearing them from your mind in order to best succeed.
The session was both relaxing and highly instructive. Emerging leaders were able to take away several simple excercises that will enable them to better cope with stressful moments, boost concentration and ultimately become cognisant of the imporatance of body language and non-verbal presentation in all scenarios, including business settings.
WIL kicked off the second edition of the successful Women Talent Pool (WTP) program on March 4th, 2014 at the Microsoft France offices in Paris. Emerging Leaders and WIL role models enjoyed a day of skill building and networking headed by WTP Lead Elena Bonfiglioli, Senior Health Director EMEA, Microsoft.
WIL was honoured to welcome Delphine Batho, Deputy of the French National Assembly and former French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Energy; and Céline Brémaud, Vice President Small, Mid-Market Solutions & Partners, Microsoft EMEA, for a high-level lunch session, where they both provided enthralling testimonials of their careers. The two outstanding guests candidly shared their experiences, displaying the different types and paths to leadership, sparking a lively discussion with the audience which was moderated by Thaima Samman, WIL President and Partner at Samman Law & Corporate Affairs.
Adding to the excellent day, two high-level coaching sessions were conducted which engaged our emerging leaders in interactive learning and self-discovery. Esteemed coaches Corinne Got-Camard, CEO of Hill & Knowlton and Thierry Derrien, Senior Account Director & Head of Corporate Practice, Hill & Knowlton, armed the talents with tools for speaking in captivating manner and communicating effectively, while Avinash Chandarana, Group Learning and Development Director at MCI Group delivered a compelling session on the varying cultural approaches to business, management and communication.
Offering the talents an opportunity for development and helping to build a strong and supportive network, emerging leaders met with role models Claudine Schmuck, Director Global Contact; Marina Niforos, former Director General of the American Chamber of Commerce in France; Maria Isabel Pernas Martinez, Senior Vice-President and Group Deputy General Counsel at ATOS Group; Corinne Got-Camard, CEO Hill&Knowlton; Thaima Samman, Céline Brémaud and Elena Bonfiglioli, during a speed-dating session where they shared their considerable wisdom and expertise.
WTP is the WIL’s key programme for supporting woman to become well-rounded, impactful leaders. The successful launch of the 2nd Edition reinforces WIL’s commitment to continue the WTP journey with so many excellent emerging leaders from across Europe. This of course is all possible thanks to the dedication of our wonderful WIL Members, our partners Microsoft and Orange, WTP sponsors Qualcomm and Capgemini, and knowledge partners Hill & Knowlton and INSEAD.
On the 5th of December, at the Palace of Westminster, WIL conducted the closing session of the highly successful Women Talent Pool program (WTP). The event was hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Entrepreneurship in one of the impressive House of Lords committee rooms, which mirrored the ambitious aims of the WTP program. The session gathered more than 60 participants from emerging leaders, WIL members, talents of the second WTP program and members of the Pink Shoe Club and GlobalWIN networks- WIL’s partner organisations. The WTP session’s aim was to discuss women’s access to leadership positions, share experiences from the WTP program and to share lessons learned and favourite experiences from the 18 month mentoring platform.
The honourable Baroness Howells, hosting peer of the event, officially opened the session and genuinely expressed her excitement to see an initiative such as WTP taking place. The session, moderated by WIL board member and WTP Lead Elena Bonfiglioli, Microsoft Senior Health Director EMEA, took off with Ms. Bonfiglioli giving the floor to Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO 20first, for an exciting presentation on how and why women mean business. Based on the two books she authored “How Women Mean Business” and “Why Women Mean Business” Ms. Wittenberg-Cox delivered the key message of how to empower women in business and leadership, stating that we need to stop fixing women and start focusing on the real issue: the dominant male majority. While external women’s organisations help to push forward action aimed at gender issues and equalising policies, more needs to be done inside organisations and businesses to spark change. This includes a change of strategy towards the inclusion of men in the cause of gender equality, especially within companies and organisations.
After moderating a lively and friendly debate, where many emerging leaders and WIL members shared their opinions, Ms. Bonfiglioli turned the stage to the Hon. Julie Brill, US Federal Trade Commissioner and Dr. Antoniya Parvanova, Member of the European Parliament for insightful role model speeches and question periods.
Ms. Brill presented her experience and path to a successful career in leadership. Her recommendations tied in with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s three part advice on how to be successful in business and family (Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, 2013). Ms. Brill also mentioned being good to oneself as a key factor to success, as human need is the base for every impulse and innovation. Moreover, she explained that one path to success is to become an expert in a field and that often pursuing ones professional passion locally, as opposed to globally, can offer equivalent success and fulfilment. Her final words urged everyone to always listen carefully, recognise mentoring moments and to embrace experiences, expertise and communication, which are the drivers to a great career.
The second role model speech, delivered by Antonyia Parvanova, provided a glimpse into her recipe of success. Her counsel was to never hesitate and go for the power, as it will never just be handed to you. Being ambitious and straightforward will make others follow your lead. She continued, giving interesting facts and figures about women in leadership based on current reports, exposing that women may be on the road of empowerment, but that top level ranks are still largely dominated by men. In view of this, her advice to empower yourself became even more relevant. Many questions and discussion were brought up in response to both role model testimonies, which led into the much anticipated emerging leader sharing session.
Moderated by Ms. Bonfiglioili, each emerging leader from the first WTP edition was given the opportunity to share their experience, take-a-ways and lessons learnt from the program, as well as their suggestions and words of wisdom for the new talents present. Generally, the tone was highly enthusiastic and the talents shared a panoply of cherished WTP experiences. Several mentioned that the program gave them more self-confidence and inspired them to fearlessly reach for their dreams. Learning to be able to draw from herself and create things according to her own definition was something that marked Cristina Hoffmann, Design Lead at Orange’s Design & User Experience division (D&U) during the WTP program. Racha Abu El Ata, Cloud and Hosting Partners Team Lead at Microsoft and Blandine Avot, Competitive Intelligence Manager at Orange, testified to the benefit of a better work-life balance thanks to the program, which taught them to retain non-negotiables in their self-management.
Networking and meeting women with similarly high ambitions also proved to be an important aspect of the WTP to many participants. Sharing experiences was perceived as positive aspect of the program by Myriam El Ouni, Alliance Manager at Microsoft, and Marie-Hélène Briens, Sales Manager at Orange Business Services, as both mentioned how leadership can sometimes be a lonely path. To be able to network with mentors that became strong supporters, was something all talents felt was the crux of the program, especially Pénélope Roux, Operational Director at Microsoft Innovation Centre Brussels, who greatly appreciated this aspect of the program. Overall, the mentoring aspects of the program and the elaboration of soft skills was perceived as the programs essential value and the interaction and sharing with experts and experience leaders truly made the program unique.
WIL was ecstatic to close the session with the debut of a special video pioneered by Isabelle Roux-Chenu, General Counsel at Capgemini Group entitled “Women at Capgemini”. Thinking about the persistent gender inequality in her sector, Ms. Roux-Chenu decided to invest in a video exposé which collects high-level statements from some of the most male dominated industries, testifying on the topic of gender diversity and the need for equal female representation at all business levels. The video project aims at changing the corporate mentality and convincing both male and female leaders to engage in the promotion of gender equality at all levels of Capgemini.
Following the inspiring sequence of the WTP closing session, all participants were transferred to the London Skype Offices, for a wonderful evening reception held with our partners GlobalWIN and the Pink Shoe Club. Brilliant opening remarks were given on behalf of Skype and Microsoft by David Burrows, Managing Director, EMEA Government, Worldwide Public Sector, Microsoft and a heartfelt keynote speech by Joanna Shields, Chief Executive Officer, Tech City & UK Digital Ambassador brought the day to a close before the evening moved on to lively networking.
Prior to the WIL Biannual Event hosted at the Villa Medici, WIL members and Emerging Leaders gathered in Rome for a very special Women Talent Pool session to discuss the question of how to adapt one’s leadership style to a complex, challenging world. Thanks to the Scientific and Economic Mission of the French Embassy in Italy, this meeting could take place in the impressive Palazzo Farnese, and the Ambassador Alain Le Roy himself came to open the session and to encourage the young talents in their endeavors.
WIL co-founder and Women Talent Pool coordinator Elena Bonfiglioli, Senior Health Director at Microsoft EMEA, welcomed the participants and audience and introduced the objectives and activities of the WTP. She specifically emphasized the importance of networking and forging connections between all generations of leaders. According to WIL board member Katherine Corich, CEO of Sysdoc, many types of successful leaders exist today outside of traditional models, but it takes courage to embrace them. Leadership, she stressed, is defined by change and how one adapts to it. She then introduced the Emerging Leaders who had been selected to share their particular leadership experiences:
In this sense, WIL Emerging Leader Marie-Hélène Briens, Sales Manager at Orange Business Services, compared leadership skills to the effects of innovation. By equating innovation with a light in the darkness, she underscored the innovative potential of leadership that embraces change and new ideas, thus functioning as a guiding light. She also claimed that women have a stronger capacity to listen, which is key to developing a more collaborative style of management.
Anne-Lise Thieblemont, Senior Director of Government Affairs at Qualcomm, also emphasized the importance of challenging oneself, for example by going global or trying a new sector. According to her, skills are important, but even more so the will to achieve great things.
The role model aspect of good leadership was elaborated by Racha Abu El Ata, Cloud and Hosting Partners Team Lead for Microsoft, who considered leadership the quality to inspire motivation and energy, but also a talent can always be improved.
Claire Monne, Head of External Agricultural Policy of the Trade and Development Division at the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industry, spoke about her particular career path, starting out as a trained veterinarian, and how this scientific training allowed her to develop better diagnosis skills and to create her special leadership brand.
Finally, Martina Weimert, Vice-President of Financial Services at CapGemini, also shared her insights into what makes a good leader: team performance and the ability to create the conditions which encourage the team to be innovative and to succeed. On another note, customer centricity should always be a central guiding principle for a leader and her team.
The audience of this event was then able to compare the ideas and experiences of the emerging talents to the testimonies given by seasoned leaders from the WIL network. Especially moving was the presentation by Ourania Ekaterinari, Deputy CEO of Public Power Corporation S.A., who talked about her difficult leadership role in the dramatic context of Greece’s destitute economy. She stressed the importance of honesty, integrity and humility when faced with having to make difficult decisions and the need to communicate well one’s motivations. On a more positive note, the current crisis has forced Greek women to reposition themselves in the economy and to take over the role of the breadwinner in the family.
Rita Tenan, Public Sector Director for Microsoft Italy, spoke about her leadership experience, working closely with public administration entities to simplify and optimize the sector. The key to her path, she said, was open-mindedness and the ability to keep seeing the world with a child’s eyes. She urged the Emerging Leaders to not be too hard on themselves and to find the right balance.
Finally, Mary Dupont-Madinier, Partner of VALTUS Transition, elaborated on her experiences dealing with change management and how it has become an important aspect of every company. This need to manage uncertainty requires humility, authenticity and a diversity of approaches, key aspects that call for the ideas and competencies of young leaders in particular.
Thus, the WTP session was a great opportunity for the Emerging Leaders to learn and grow from the advice of role models with decades of experience and knowledge, especially in challenging situations of transition. Apart from that, it was also an experience for the young talents to show off their public speaking skills and the confidence they gained through their participation in the program, whose next edition will be launched during the second biannual event in December.
A second successful Women Talent Pool workshop took place on Friday, 22nd March at the premises of Microsoft France. It was led by Irène Papaligouras, founder of Leaders Excellence Partners, a strategic human resources start-up, focused on a predicative and proactive audit of leadership competencies.
Under the motto “Mirror Yourself in Your Leadership Style”, nine Emerging Leaders participated in a session aimed at assessing and developing their specific leadership style.
The workshop was preceded by a networking lunch organized by Nathalie Wright, Director of the Enterprises and Partners Division at Microsoft France, and Emerging Leader Myriam El Ouni, Alliance Manager at Microsoft.
WIL welcomed two new Emerging Talents from the Directorate General of the Treasury of the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industry.
The workshop began with an in-depth introduction of the participants. They cross-presented each other and produced Chinese portraits of themselves to get to know each other, as well as to get to know themselves better.
In order to determine their specific leadership style, the participants were then asked to assess their personality via the Enneagram personality model, which can be used as a tool to define nine different leadership styles. Leaders benefit from categorizing their personality by becoming aware of their strengths and weaknesses and defining the areas that can be improved.
In addition, the workshop identified three key skills for leaders of the 21st century: self-branding, entrepreneurship, and hyperconnectivity. The first skill, self-branding, is all about signaling one’s unique strengths in order to stand out from the crowd. The second, entrepreneurship, is about being a change-agent, driven towards innovation and optimization. The third, hyperconnectivity, is about turning leaders into sought-after sources of relevant content.
Finally, having discovered their personality and leadership style, the participants were then asked to present their particular leadership development style, to serve as a reminder and guiding principle for further developing their own management qualities. The Emerging Leaders found this session very resourceful and inspiring. At the end of the workshop, they left with concrete elements to help them build a plan for development for themselves and their teams.
On 10th January a group of ten WIL Emerging Leaders participated in a coaching session focused on crucial factors that impact women’s career progress and their willingness to enter higher-level positions.
This interactive half-day workshop was led by Stefania Maschio. The session's main objective was to help young leaders accelerate their professional and personal development through increasing their self-awareness, improving emotional regulation and strengthening self-confidence. The training itself consisted in a series of interactive exercises, group discussions and a presentation, which touched on a variety of issues related to choices and opportunities, expectations, risks and self-image.
Stefania Maschio, who orchestrated the session, is a former General Manager and member of Executive Committees in international companies. Before creating her own coaching firm, she followed Executive MBA studies and a Master’s program in coaching at INSEAD business school.
The coaching session was organized at Orange's premises in Paris, in cooperation with Isabelle Schaefer, Orange’s Director Gender Equality.
Below are small excerpts from the feedback that Emerging Leaders sent us after the session.
Racha Abu El Ata Microsoft, Global Account Manager
The more often we see each other in the Emerging Leaders group, the more I sense the value of such a network. The coaching session itself was very enriching. It allowed us to step back, to ask ourselves important questions and to better understand codes, expectations and the rules of play imposed by companies.
Blandine Avot, Orange, Competitive Intelligence Manager
Stefania Maschio addressed some issues that concern us all, and she did it in a very efficient and lively way. I feel that I now have a better framework for thought, which could help me project myself into the future. I will try to put into practice some of the principles we shared. Maybe they could become my 2013 resolutions.
Virginie Dominguez, Orange, Sales Director
Our coach managed to present in a very clear and pertinent way some major obstacles that women must confront to advance their career. It was important for us to exchange views and to realize that others deal with the same difficulties, which however are not insurmountable.
Cristina Hoffmann, Orange, Design Lead at Orange’s Design & User Experience division
The training was overall a great experience. What I liked the most were the exercises through which we got to know our fellow Emerging Leaders better. It was the first time we’ve had such an exchange, and I realized we were actually missing this kind of interaction during previous events. I also very much appreciated the fact that the content, instead of simply being presented to the participants, became an inspiration for a lively discussion.
Cristina Tejada Biarge, Orange, Roaming Wholesale Manager
It was an extremely revelatory session, and thanks to great interactions that Stefania facilitated we were able to get deeply into the subjects and seize the concepts discussed. I feel that this session will have a great impact on the way I look at my career and behavior in the business world.
Martina Weimert, Capgemini, Vice-President Financial Services
It was a great experience to learn about the dos and don’ts, which corresponded with many of my own challenges. Definitely, the barriers that limit our careers come from ourselves as much as from social constraints. It was very enriching to exchange ideas and share experiences with other participants.
On 22nd October WIL invited twenty of its Emerging Talents to participate in a communication skills training session led by Corinne Got-Camard, General Manager, and Thierry Derrien, Senior Account Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
In the afternoon, after the luncheon and the debate hosted by Claude Bartolone, President of the French National Assembly, the group visited Orange Innovation Gardens.
Nathalie Wright, Director of the Enterprises and Partners Division at Microsoft France and WIL role model, chaired a discussion with U.S. Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, WIL President Thaima Samman and Orange women executives: Elisabeth Belois-Fonteix (Orange Labs Networks & Carriers’ HR Director), Claire Paponneau (Senior Vice President International Operations WECA), Nadine Foulon-Belkacemi (Orange Labs Networks & Carriers, Senior Vice President Transformation) and Brigitte Bourgoin (Chief Compliance Officer). The exchange focused on career milestones and work-life balance management.
A brief presentation of new technologies in healthcare and 3D imaging developed in Orange Labs completed the program of the session.
We asked our Emerging Talents to give us feedback on this all-day event.
Delphine Girod Roux, Head of Orange France point of sales Performance Department
"The organization of overall event was very good, with good timing, nice conference rooms, comfortable transport, and an exquisite meal. Our communication skills training session was rich in situational exercises, and highly instructive. It focused on the importance of look, tone of voice, and breathing for the image we create when speaking. The luncheon at the French Parliament, hosted by Claude Bartolone, was sumptuous. The speakers shared their thoughts on the fine line between transparency and privacy in a world where the role of social networks is increasingly important. The mode of discussion fit well with the core theme of our debate. We had the privilege of hearing Delphine Ernotte speak about the challenges of Cloud Pro Orange. Our visit to Orange Labs also went very well".
Virginie Dominguez, Sales Director for Orange shops in Paris Ouest sector
"The communication skills training session was very interesting, first and foremost because the level of the trainers was very good. Practical cases were relevant, and they illustrated some theoretical questions raised and presented in the morning. My only regret is that we had such tight time constraints. Had the training been longer, we could have derived even greater benefit from it. I was in the English-speaking group. Even though I could understand everything, I think I would have been more at ease if I had been able to do the same exercises in French; it is easier to exercise one’s voice, gestures and exchanges with an audience when one uses one’s mother tongue. The luncheon-conference at the French National Assembly was clearly a high point in the day. The venue was exceptional. The moment of informal discussions and networking during the aperitif was appreciable, as it always is. The quality of speakers was once more excellent; I only regret that the meeting at the Hôtel de Lassay was more a conference than a debate. Last but not least, I really appreciated the exchange of experiences with women executives at Orange Labs. It was very enriching to listen to successful women who explained their choices and described their career paths".
Pauline Henaff, Account Manager at Orange Business Services
"The communication skills training session held in the morning raised my enthusiasm, and I think that I am now on the right track to progress. I plan to use these new skills next week during an important client presentation. The atmosphere was very constructive when we were put into different situations during the training. The possibility to observe others doing the same exercise allowed us to confront ourselves, and to identify our own areas for improvement. The luncheon was also great. As far as the debate on the right balance between the public and the private in the Internet age is concerned, a variety of perspectives presented by the speakers raised thoughts about this issue. It is a pity that there was no time for the audience to ask questions and discuss the theme. The last part of the WTP session – a discussion with WIL role models – was fascinating. It was very interesting to listen to them share their experiences, and tell us about what allowed them to succeed, as well as the difficulties they had to overcome".
Cristina Hoffmann, Lead Designer, Group Design & User Experience at Orange
"What value do we get from the Women Talent Pool program? Connection. At the heart of what I have been doing at Orange for the last seven years is contributing to put people – and not just technological possibility – at the center of our innovation process, which is something I feel passionate about. What I had not realized over these last years is how much, even at the beginning of one’s career, we end up living in the world of our company and its concerns. What Women in Leadership has done, was to remind me that the world will always be much richer than what I know. Through WIL and the training sessions it organizes, I feel reconnected to this richness. Doors are opened to whole new realities, environments, tools and influences. And what is very successful about the Women Talent Pool is the part that role models play in this connection process. These are authentic women, with important roles and real lives, who dare to do things differently, and strive to contribute to society and live by their convictions. Thanks to them we get this rich palette of experiences that demystify how their careers have unfolded and provide us with alternatives of what it means to be successful. This is of real importance to me, because it is a great source of confidence and inspiration. I feel like we are being given some of the material we need to better invent our careers and ourselves".
Aurélie Feld moved from the corporate world two years ago to become the Deputy Managing Director of a growing microfinance NGO, PlaNet Finance. While the two environments have quite a lot in common, there is something about microfinance that makes professionals surpass their field expertise and delve into issues such as education, environment or health.
What made you transfer from working for a management consulting firm to an NGO?
PlaNet Finance was my pro bono client when I was a project manager at McKinsey. I led a team of consultants working on PlaNet Finance’s strategic planning in 2008, and kept in touch with the management team thereafter. Early 2010, as I was deciding to leave McKinsey, I helped PlaNet Finance put together a transformation plan, to further professionalize and structure the NGO. Eventually, they asked me to come on board to implement it as Deputy CEO, and I accepted. The rest, as they say, is history…
What is your experience of the differences between these two work environments?
The development world has professionalized a lot lately, in line with the development of more professional Social Responsibility within private funders and the stronger focus of public funders on aid efficacy & efficiency. Moreover, since PlaNet Finance is a consulting & finance-oriented NGO, probably has a bit of a different DNA & work environment than other NGOs…
In short, there is not that much of a difference in terms of work environment between McKinsey & PlaNet Finance, as strange as it may seem. Both places have teams of incredibly driven professionals who are fully dedicated to impact – even if the nature of the impact greatly differs. McKinsey might be a bit more of a well-oiled machine & PlaNet Finance has a bit of an “artisan” touch, but part of that difference could be age (PlaNet Finance is only 13 years old), and not only means…
Both organizations have a rather young age average, are very diverse in terms of the cultures, nationalities, backgrounds, languages, etc... Both organizations have an international footprint (even if PlaNet Finance’s network is smaller and mostly in the developing world). If I had to pinpoint a strong difference, the only thing that comes to mind is the dress code, and that’s not exactly major.
In what ways does PlaNet Finance carry out its mission of “alleviating poverty around the world by enabling the access to financial services to those who are excluded therefrom”?
PlaNet Finance has two main activities:
(1) Microfinance+ targets micro-entrepreneurs more directly, in order to help them start & grow their revenue-generating activity. We provide micro entrepreneurs with the necessary tools, including training & access to finance. We also help them organize in groups, cooperatives, so as to enable them to share best practices. We structure value chains, such as the Shea butter value chain in Ghana, so as to enable the initial producers to maximize their share of the value chain revenues.
(2) Microfinance & Consulting advises the entire microfinance ecosystem (microfinance institutions, banks, governments, funders, etc…). We help build capacity in microfinance institutions so as to enable them to better serve more clients, especially in rural areas. We use technology (mobile, geolocation) to increase financial inclusion, and give poor unbanked people access to financial products & services.
How does microfinance play a role in areas such as health, education and environmental protection?
In access to health, microfinance plays a dual role. First, through microinsurance, it is possible to offer affordable health insurance schemes to the bottom of the pyramid, even if adoption is still problematic today. Second, people with diseases also need access to finance, and specific loan & other financial products that are compatible with their affliction/their risk profile. For example, PlaNet Finance is involved in a project in Niger, which aims at enabling people with sickle cell disease to create & grow their revenue-generating activity. We also work with people with AIDS in Senegal & Benin.
Education: in developing countries, a lot of youth, especially females don’t have access to education, which in turn makes it difficult for them to gain employment opportunities. Their only chance at a better future is to create and grow their own revenue-generating activity. We give them trainings in accounting/business development services, and, in partnership with other NGOs/vocational schools, technical training. We accompany them in the creation of their activity and in gaining access to finance through partner microfinance institutions.
Environmental protection: the bottom of the pyramid also needs access to energy, clean/renewable energy if possible. In partnership with microfinance institutions and clean energy solutions manufacturers, PlaNet Finance develops programs that substitute solar panels, solar ovens, energy-efficient ovens, etc… to fossil fuels. Usually, the loan product is structured as follows: monthly repayment = monthly fossil fuel bill, which means that once the loan is paid back, the family or the business saves the equivalent. For example, a recent project, Rendev, which won an EU prize in 2009, aimed at equipping rural villages with solar panels, thus enabling children to study and women to have a revenue-generating activity at home after sunset. It also created microenterprises (assembly, installation & maintenance of solar panels), and extra revenue for small local shops (energy-efficient light bulbs).
Which of the projects you work on are you the most passionate about?
I am passionate about PlaNet Finance in general, but if I had to choose three projects, they would be the following:
Internally, professionalizing the NGO and growing its people, which was my initial mandate when I joined. I strongly believe it is our duty as an NGO to be as efficient and professional as possible in using the funds that are granted to us, towards maximum impact.
In our project portfolio, I would mention two emblematic projects.
First, financial transparency: this is one of the themes that we are pushing in our Microfinance & Consulting activity, for which we recently published a best practice guide. It all started with a project in 4 countries in West Africa on which we worked with 10 microfinance institutions. It aimed at enabling them to produce good quality financial statements, periodic reports & dashboards, leverage them in their decision-making, etc... We will replicate it in Cape Verde soon and hopefully in other countries.
Second, the Star Shea network: this is a project that we started with our partner SAP, in rural areas in Northern Ghana. The objective is to structure the Shea value chain to maximize revenue for women gatherers. We started with production & drying techniques, added price transparency to enable women to negotiate at arm’s length with intermediaries. The next step was to deal with seasonality of prices, which are low when the women need the revenue in April and much higher in September. A microfinance institution now grants a loan to the women in April, which they pay back in September when they actually sell their Shea production. The next step, which is access to international markets, is the one we are currently adding to the project through the creation of a social business – a commercialization platform. The final step, which we’ll get to next, will involve helping the women equip themselves with machines that transform the nuts into Shea butter, thus adding the transformation premium to their share of revenues.
On the 15th of June we held the first Women Talent Pool online meeting, during which the Emerging Leaders were offered a session on using the WIL Website to network, by Bertrand Salord, and a training on self-branding through writing delivered by Role Models Elena Bonfiglioli, Microsoft, Pinuccia Contino, Head of Unit Multilingualism and Translation of the European Commission and Katherine Corich, CEO of Sysdoc.
During the session, the Emerging Leaders have learnt about possible ways of using the social media to brand themselves, as well as the "Do's” and “Don'ts” in writing bios, motivation letters and email communications, as well as online presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
More details on the meeting to be given soon.
© European Network for Women in Leadership 2018