THE first woman to head a banking institution in Namibia was once told by a teacher: “Jy is dom.”
This is Afrikaans for “you are stupid”.
Now heading a multimillion-dollar entity, Ester Kali, the chief executive officer of Letshego Namibia and the current chair of the Bankers Association of Namibia, yesterday recalled the incident, saying what people believe about one is not always decisive.
She, however, acknowledged that although she wasn’t a top achiever at school, this didn’t keep her from achieving success.
Kali’s voice now roars, telling young girls and women that nothing is impossible.
She was speaking at a Bank of Namibia event in the capital.
The event was in celebration of women taking over the reins at four of Namibia’s biggest banks with a combined value of more than N$90 billion.
Other than Kali, Bank Windhoek’s seasoned banker Beronice Hans, recently appointed Nedbank Namibia managing director Martha Murorua, and the incoming chief executive officer of Standard Bank Namibia, Mercia Geises, were also saluted.
The four women shared their stories on their journeys up the corporate ladder.
All echoed the importance of having the quality of delivering solid performance – regardless of one’s gender.
As a trailblazer, Kali was appointed chief executive officer in 2014.
In 2016, Bank Windhoek followed suit when they announced the appointment of Hans as its managing director.
Last year, with the economy battered by Covid-19, Nedbank Namibia appointed Usakos-born and raised Murorua as new managing director, and Standard Bank late last year placed its vote of confidence in Geises, who is expected to take over from Vetumbuavi Mungunda in May.
The governor of the Bank of Namibia, Johannes !Gawaxab, commended the women on their individual achievements.
“We now live in a different world where there is an overwhelming realisation that our daughters are just as capable as our sons,” !Gawaxab said.
The governor said the fact that four out of the top five commercial banks in Namibia now have female managing directors has made Namibia a leader on the continent in this regard.
“I must say this is indeed a success story, a story of excellence in the financial sector, in line with the transformation agenda of the sector which I am proud to tell,” he said.
Last year The Namibian reported that the financial sector is being dominated by women and that the traditionally male-dominated leadership has seen major changes in recent years.
“We all know women had to work twice as hard as men to reach the top. These leaders have not only shattered the glass ceiling, but their achievement is inspirational,” said !Gawaxab.
He lauded the women for going through the ranks of the banking sector, pledging that “here and now these gains will never be reversed, and this sector, and the country, will always embrace inclusivity and diversity in its totality,” he said.
Murorua said her journey has been one of calculated risk, consistency, going the extra mile, putting in time and rising from every fall.
With that, and the mentorship of both male and female experts before her, she was able to rise.
Geises and Hans used to work together at Standard Bank Namibia before Hans moved to secure the top seat at Bank Windhoek.
“This created a spot for me,” said Geises, and following suit, she will now head Standard Bank Namibia, which she said will also have a largely female-led executive.
Hans said Namibia has made great strides in ensuring women are empowered.
“We as Namibia are an example to the world,” she said.
Hans said the message is clear that no one should be limited by race or gender, and anything is possible with the right amount of dedication, discipline and sacrifice.