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‘Banks can improve the position of women in Africa’

Ineke Bussemaker studied Maths at Leiden University and now works as a banker in Tanzania. In an interview in alumni magazine Leidraad she brings those two worlds together and looks back on her time in Leiden.

On the African continent, the law of the incentive of under-development applies. Bank accounts and pin cards are not common in the emerging economy, although mobile telephones are in frequent use. ‘This is where the future of the continent lies,’ according to Ineke Bussemaker, a Leiden alumna, who was appointed chair of the National Microfinance Bank PLC (NMB PLC) in Tanzania in 2016. ‘That is, if banks are clever and they offer their services via the mobile phone.  Here, we use the mobile wallet. You can deposit cash in your mobile wallet – or receive cash from someone else - via an SMS.’

Dear aunt

In the interview in Leidraad Bussemaker talks about her journey from Maths student in Leiden to running one of the largest banks in Tanzania. She opted for Leiden in 1977 because many of her fellow pupils from The Hague were also studying there, and because  the journey time from the Royal City to Leiden is very short. ‘And I had a very dear aunt who lived in Oegstgeest and worked as a medical analyst at the Academic Hospital in Leiden. All these things played a part in my decision to study in Leiden.’  

It’s a choice she has never regretted. The atmosphere in the city, with its compact but beautiful centre, was warm and friendly when she arrived in 1977. ‘A lot changed in the six years that I lived there. The library and the Burcht, for example, were very run down in the late seventies but in 1983 when I left both had been beautifully renovated.'

One of the top women in banking

Her study in Leiden provided a good foundation for her later career.  IT played an important role, particularly in the banking world. She has worked for concerns ranging from Continental Bank to ABN Amro and from Citibank to Rabobank, and was involved in the introduction of electronic banking in the Netherlands. She spent regular periods at international locations. ‘Banks gave me the chance to work abroad, learn about new cultures and pursue paths that were not always the easiest.’  

And a successful career as one of the top women in banking? To her, it’s logical, as she commented in an interview in NRC Handelsblad: ‘It’s strange that the banking world is such a macho environment. Bankers have to listen to what their clients want, and that’s something that women are particularly good at. Women are less dominant in what and how they communicate and they’re better at bringing people together.’ This is something she wants to achieve for women in Africa with the microfinancing provided by NMB PLC.

Read (free) the full interview (in Dutch) in alumni magazine Leidraad.