Empower her: You can be a mother and a leader, says Nakawunde

Managing Director of Finance Trust Bank, Ms Annet Nakawunde. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • The Managing Director of Finance Trust Bank, Ms Annet Nakawunde,  emphasises that women do not have to choose between being a mother and a leader; they can successfully fulfill both roles. Lydia Felly Akullu brings you her story.

Many times, women find themselves with multiple responsibilities that often bar them from taking up leadership roles. When they eventually take up a leadership position, managing the various roles can be strenuous. 

Ms Annet Nakawunde, the managing director of Finance Trust Bank decided, however, that she was not going to let opportunities pass her by. It was when she was pregnant that Ms Nakawunde was nominated to steer one of Uganda’s financial institutions, then a Minority Depository Institution (MDI), to becoming a commercial bank.

Born in a family of many, Ms Nakawunde’s childhood was marked by strength and determination, traits that would define her later years. After completing her Bachelor’s in Arts degree, she pursued a Master’s in Business Administration degree with a focus on finance. However, education was just the beginning of her journey. Nakawunde’s thirst for knowledge led her to prestigious institutions such as Harvard Business School and London School of Economics, where she honed her leadership skills.

In 2007, Ms Nakawunde embarked on a transformative path when she joined Finance Trust Bank as a compliance manager. She grew through the ranks and in 2011, was nominated to lead the MDI into a commercial bank.

Road to greatness
“The MD (Managing Director) then of this institution and the board decided that we become a commercial bank. That was 2011 and around that time the MD resigned and I was nominated to lead the team into a transformation. Transforming from an MDI to a fully-fledged bank,” Ms Nakawunde recounts.

However, the road to becoming a commercial bank was not without its hurdles. The capital requirement was raised to Shs25 billion, necessitating a search for investors. More than two years, Nakawunde and her team attracted four institutional investors, meeting the capital requirements and securing the commercial bank licence in 2013. This marked her journey of leading 860 people, a journey she is clearly proud of having led.

According to her, women in various institutions are seated at middle level because, they feel they have multiple tasks, which cannot allow them to grow in a leadership role. However, she stresses, being a leader does not take away from being a mother and also what the public perceives you to be.

One’s ability to outgrow those beliefs, she says, pays off because women do not have to choose to be a mother or a leader; they can be both.

“When I got this job, I was pregnant and that was now a trying time. How do you juggle pregnancy? How do you get confirmed? How do you nurture a baby? You get that baby produced and go through but I think I was so determined,” she says.

These kind of challenges, she says are time-bound because children will become adults. Her son is now 13 years old and she still has her job.

Built on a legacy of putting women first in 1984, Finance Trust Bank has no doubt achieved this goal and Ms Nakawunde’s leadership has ensured that this legacy remains intact, with initiatives such as preferential interest rates for women borrowers.

For Nakawunde, leadership is a continuous journey of growth and learning. She emphasises the importance of a growth-driven mindset, constantly evolving to meet new challenges.

“I have a growth-driven mindset. In my career, I have seen myself grow from one level to another and being entrusted with a company. It is about growth. We have been able to grow the bank, we have been able to drive growth through the teams that I have been leading,” she says, adding: “Understanding people is a very critical part of leadership. Driving teams to deliver results I think is the hardest thing I have had to do. If you see that people are aligned to your beliefs then I must say, you are winning and creating a legacy.”

Mistakes, she believes, are inevitable but it’s the ability to learn from them and move forward that defines a leader.

“Appreciate and acknowledge your mistakes. If you have the ability to say sorry, please say so and then move forward,” she emphasises, noting that one should not stay for long worrying about the errors they have made. “How quickly do you realise that this was a mistake? Recall or recollect yourself and start again. Mistakes shouldn’t hold you back,” she says.

Ms Nakawunde’s leadership style is inclusive, focusing on building strong teams and fostering an environment of open communication, what she calls an open-door policy.

“When I go into the board room, I want to ask what your view is. When you give it to me, I don’t have to take it but I have heard it. I can also change and give you an opportunity to change. Adults are smart and young people are smarter today than it was before so I need to be able to lead the millennials, they are different,’’ she says.

She continues in the same vein giving advice: “Don’t bring your old style to lead these young people. Focus on results. When you go into an office and somebody is playing music, are they delivering? If somebody came with tinted hair but they are motivated, [let them be] don’t focus on such things. Focus on results. Drive performance using numbers. Numbers don’t lie.”

Ms Nakawunde acknowledges the pervasive fear that often holds women back from aspiring to leadership roles.

“Fear comes from within. People have a perception that leadership positions are for men. It’s not written anywhere. It is a perception. We are seated in this country where the laws are fair to everyone. You will see today that women are holding powerful positions. What has changed? The mindset to say ‘As women, we see ourselves as leaders’, that’s where it starts,” she says.

She encourages other leaders, especially women, to mentor and support each other, fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.

“As women who have gotten to the top, we must handhold other women and tell them by the time you leave, you will know that there is nothing to fear about leadership,” she says.

Mentorship is a big deal for the MD and she asserts that it is a shame if one, especially in a leadership position has not mentored another. Women have to have time for others and impact them positively.

Often times, she says, leaders are not known to be vulnerable, but vulnerability she says is okay. She recounts being vulnerable in a boardroom because the death of her mother still lingers in her memory. Ms Nakawunde lost her mother in January this year and reveals that she has not yet healed from it.

“I lost her on January 21. That made me so sad. It’s the greatest sadness I have ever had in my life and you know as a leader, sometimes you don’t want to be vulnerable but it’s one thing that made me very vulnerable. One time, I walked in to the boardroom and said I wanted to cry. I cried.”

“That doesn’t make me less of a leader. I am also a daughter of somebody. Some people say I am woman, yes. But I am also a child. I was her child. So I cried out a bit. I feel I have not cried enough. I cried and I will cry every time I want. I just shut the door and I cry, so that’s my lowest that I can talk about,” she explains.

Despite personal challenges, she finds solace in her faith and the achievements of her four children, especially their educational milestones. Her go-to place is her home.

Like everyone, Ms Nakawunde also has people she looks up to.

“I won’t say that I can point a finger to a particular person but everybody in this sector has a way they have laid their institutions and you admire the way they have led. One of the success stories that we have is Centenary Bank, how did Fabian found the bank and how far he has taken it. He is a very good role model to look at. I look up to him quite a bit because that bank came from quite low to where it is now. Such successful stories touch me and I keep following such people. There are leaders in different sectors but you want to associate with every woman that is successful and learn something from them,” she says.

She advises every leader to walk with God in everything they do, then, they will develop imaginable confidence.

Advice to women
Ms Annet Nakawunde  asks aspiring leaders, particularly women, to execute their plans.

Ms Nakawunde urges women to seek mentorship, learn from others’ experiences, and most importantly, take decisive steps towards their goals. “Don’t postpone your success,” she emphasizes, highlighting the importance of starting small but consistently moving forward.

She encourages women who want to take up key positions in any institution to surround themselves with vision bearers and not stealers. According to her, it is okay to listen to everyone but not take all the advice given.