Accelerating female leadership in Asia. Determined to be a leader

Finnfund’s investee BOPA is funding and developing microfinance institutions in Asia and has recently joined the 2X Challenge. One of BOPA’s portfolio companies, Asian Credit Fund LLC, is led by Zhanna Zhakupova, one of the few female leaders in the financial sector in Kazakhstan.
Read her thoughts about women leadership.

Zhanna Zhakupova is the Executive Director of Microfinance Organization Asian Credit Fund LLC (ACF), and one of the very few female leaders in the financial sector in Kazakhstan. Zhanna is an inspiring example, as she joined ACF as a loan officer and worked all the way up the career ladder to become the Executive Director of the company within a span of just five years.

ACF became one of BOPA portfolio companies in 2014. ACF serves low-income rural population and help them to improve their livelihoods. As of now, more than 80% of ACF’s borrowers are women and the products and services support and enhance women’s economic participation and promote the economic empowerment.

What are Zhanna’s thoughts on women leadership and the current Covid-19 situation in microfinance?

-Where did you start? What is your background?
-I started my career as a pharmacist and after two years of working in the industry, I decided to continue my higher education specializing in finance. After completing my MBA I joined micro enterprise lending program of Mercy Corps International in Almaty as an Accountant. Mercy Corps was the first international NGO to work in Kazakhstan.

-How does your background help you when working with ACF?
-As a pharmacist, I was responsible of developing my pharmacy as a viable business model. The work experience and the knowledge I gained from my masters on accounting, finance, economics, costing, critical thinking, and business analysis helped me to contribute to the development of micro enterprise lending program of Mercy Corps. As I was more interested in the field work, I requested to join the program as a Loan Officer and soon was promoted to Project Manager. With my passion to work with rural women as well as the thorough knowledge and the experience in the complete business process put me in a unique position to help Mercy Corps to establish ACF as a local NGO.

-Have you ever felt challenges in your role as Executive Director being a woman? How did you overcome it?
-Culturally, Kazakhstan is a male-dominated society. Especially the financial sector is dominated by males. I have experienced and felt challenges in my role being a woman. I realized it is important to be heard. As a woman, I learned to ignore the discrimination, even among the government bodies, and pushed myself to make a voice and not be silent. I trained myself in public speaking, I started to be more active in corporate networking and felt that I was able to convey my opinions and be listened to.

-Do you see any silver lining for the company coming from the Covid-19 situation?
-I think we must learn to live with this pandemic. This Covid-19 situation forces us to look for innovative ways to reach out to our clients, to reduce the human touch and increase the technology touch. I think the financial sector will rebound. As an MFI, ACF has efficient processes, strong human capital, loyal and resilient customers. Certainly, with digital initiatives and proactive measures, we will emerge stronger in this New Normal business environment.