The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is an up and coming region with respect to its wider economic development. Specifically, the region has seen incredible growth and focus on fintech, producing its own unique innovations, entrepreneurs and thought leaders. As The FinTech Times in September celebrates Women in Fintech, we feature various females from across the world. One of them is Professor Olayinka David-West, who lives in Lagos, Nigeria and is a leading expert in fintech and financial inclusion in the region.
Olayinka David-West is a Professor of Information Systems with about three decades’ experience in the information technology and financial services industries. She is a passionate advocate for digital transformation and inclusive finance, actively engaging in strategic management interventions towards digitally transformed businesses and society and related policy interventions. She is the Academic Director at Nigeria’s premier business school, Lagos Business School (LBS) and serves on the leadership board. She leads the Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Financial Services (SIDFS) initiative, a research and advocacy initiative dedicated to enhancing financial inclusion in Nigeria. Olayinka has expert certifications in financial inclusion policy and digital money and is a governing council member of the Fintech Association of Nigeria and a member of the African Women in Finance and Payments.
Describe your career journey
My professional career began in 1989 when I took up a student-volunteer role with an indigenous technology company where I was later employed until 1999. I started as a Xenix/Unix systems administrator and because of my zeal to know more, I learned to be an Oracle database administrator, configuring engineering devices and networking. My curiosity led me to a research and development role, where I tested new technologies like data marts and natural language processing. My systems analysis background was put to good use when I was seconded to AT&T GIS (formerly NCR), responsible for converting and designing the Windows-based graphical user interfaces (GUI) on a banking software development project. At the dawn of the electronic banking era, I forayed into the financial services industry and that revealed to me the separation between business and technology. Driven by a personal motive to drive the effective use of IT in business and society, I transitioned to teaching and learning.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
Personally, I have not experienced any “gender related” obstacles on my career journey, I’m not sure if that was by design in my choice of organisations or just potluck! However, in my early career, the timing of technology tasks: configuring or installing systems after the close of business, restoring systems before a new business day or just being available on-demand, meant long hours and late nights. These are not exactly family friendly.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
First, the accelerated digital transformation catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic has enhanced the relevance of technologies. My predictions for future trends are on the supply-side where we are already seeing the growth and development of diverse technology providers across the region. Lagos, Cape Town, Cairo and Nairobi are growing active tech hubs. The conversion and widespread adoption of users, especially micro and small enterprises, should follow with the design of deliberate and intentional strategies. An example is the payments industry where mobile payments have taken centre stage in the region, we foresee continued exponential growth that will address financial inclusion.
What advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region?
Living in the MEA region has unique structural constraints, but also enabling factors that every woman should use to her advantage. My advice and recommendations are thus more personal. First, it’s balance. Balance work and home; maintain boundaries. Don’t let your home be an extension of the office and vice versa. Second, put your house in order. Being a female leader requires deliberate design and distractions can be unproductive. Hence, outsource “zombie” or non-value creating tasks when you can. Third, set SMART goals and work conscientiously (daily) to achieve them. This will likely require having a routine where you set aside time for learning and reflective thinking. As the female lead, everyone is looking to you for answers and it may seem you always have to be one step ahead– working harder, working smarter. Having said all this, my final recommendation is, please don’t forget to pamper yourself! There’s only one version of you!