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Women on Top in Tech – Viola Llewellyn, Co-Founder and President at Ovamba Solutions Inc.

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Viola Llewellyn is the Co-Founder and President of Ovamba Solutions Inc. Ovamba is an Emerging markets focused marketplace funding and investment platform. She and the leadership of Ovamba bring an unparalleled understanding of the African market and its nuances to a global audience of institutional investors. Her experience with frontier markets has given her insights into the best way to integrate all players within Africa’s formal and informal banking landscape, and tailor opportunities to Western investor expectations.

What makes you do what you do?
The problem of Access to Credit in Africa is old and never seems to be solved.  We get asked all the time, “How come no one else is doing what you are doing?”  I do this because it needs to be done.  I hate to be mediocre.  Making these changes the lives of “billions” not millions of people.  It is our problem to solve, and they are OUR solutions to create.  We are Africans!  This is our time.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Almost by accident, but when I look in the rear view mirror, it is clear that this was always going to happen.  I came from a solid IT/HW background at IBM, I have been in advertising & communications, and I had been in alternative finance.  I have also been in consulting with BearingPoint, Rothschild & KPMG. I know how to communicate a concept and simplify it for acceptance.  I followed the path of problem solving and got to work with some great people.  When I met my business partner, Marvin Cole, we found that we saw the world and Africa in the same way.  Throughout my career, there have never been many women doing what I do, let alone black women. I “rose” by finding the hardest problems to solve and being functionally unaware of the difficulties or the barriers to success!

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
This is true.  I don’t have an answer other than that, I had no idea that I should NOT do this.  Many women are in this position, especially when they are young.  We have an outlook that anything is possible, we have not learnt to ascribe to roles defined by others.  My father raised me to believe that I was always more than good enough.  I am not interested in being contained and ordinary life is not interesting!

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I seem to have absorbed mentorship either indirectly or “stealthily”! Mostly from previous bosses, Mark Goode, Jack Abramoff, and Robert Sheahan.  And then there are those who I look up to such as Jack Ma of Alibaba, Richard Branson, Tim Ferris, Industry colleague Martha Mgendhi-Fisher of the European Women’s Payments Network, Batman, my parents, Shannon Billings, and especially my sister-in-law, Chandra Llewellyn, especially her!

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I have an unconventional approach to mentoring.  I NEVER ask for it. I take it. Everyone I have mentioned has been a very specific help/mentor/support for me. The proximity of working together and getting along is basis enough. You go from there.  Formal mentoring relationship are not convenient to me because they become stiff and unnatural. I like the flow of a trusted relationship and knowing that someone is rooting for me because they believe in me, and in return, I respect and enjoy watching them succeed in the paths I wish to follow in.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I have had to get VERY creative.  Africa not only suffers from a Brain Drain, but the curriculums are hand-me-downs from outdated colonial models.  This means that unless people like me, Marvin Cole, Nicole Anderson, Roland Fomundam of Greenhouse Ventures, Adeline Sede of FabAfriq or Anrette Ngafor, Director of Nacho College in Cameroon and many others don’t buck the system and augment the learning curve of our employees, it would be so difficult to hire and nurture talent!!  Don’t get me wrong, Africa is TEEMING with amazingly talented people who need to be shaped and be given an outlet for their creativity and business skills.  I have to hire people using elimination tactics and test for emotional and creative intelligence.  We are problem solvers.  We need rebels and pushers to ask questions and press for answers!  Because we are a startup, things are always changing.  Most who make the cut to work for Ovamba (and that includes interns from global Ivy League Universities) find that they have to grow and evolve quickly otherwise they won’t make it to the next pivot!

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously and deliberately support diversity.  I look for it where it is banished.  I create roles and opportunities for it and I fight for it.  Not just on gender, but also on the forefront of disabilities, etc.  We were told not to hire someone because he had polio – he is still one of our best hires!  We were told not to hire a pregnant woman – she has risen to be a leader!!!  I have had to fire men who treated women poorly.  I have had to stand up for myself when discriminated against.  It just so happens that I am one of only 20 women in the USA who has ever raised more than a $1million for a tech startup.  I have been told “No – you are black”, “No – we don’t like Africa”, “No – you are a woman”, “No – we prefer charitable ventures”.  With these experiences, and seeing what young women in STEM, finance and other walks of life go through, I HAVE to stand in the gap.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
You lead from the front.  You push from the back.  You fail forward with your team, you use your leadership platform to raise others.  You create a winning culture by helping others be the best that they can be.  You make tough decisions, you publicly admit when you are wrong.  To be a great leader you MUST have a vision.  You must commit EVERY DAY to take the team through a rough wilderness and actually help them enjoy the discomfort!!  You must give people a reason to feel worthy and included.  My favorite style of leadership is Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise – Star Trek.  He admitted in one episode that no matter what, you make a decision.  The team needs a directive.  You might be right or you might be wrong, it doesn’t matter, but you must show strength and commitment in making decisions.  You can always change your mind as the scenario evolves.  My leadership style is strongly rooted in going ahead with very little hesitation and adapting as the situation unfolds.

Advice for others?
I advise that we watch Africa and its burgeoning ecosystem of innovation very carefully.  This will be highly investible.  The recent Black Panther movie is RIGHT ON TRACK!  Africa has a new narrative. Whether the world is ready or not is almost irrelevant.  Women in leadership positions are becoming an undeniable trend.  Hilary Clinton didn’t become President, but she surely moved the agenda forward.  Next on my horizon is a focus on working with the team on new Blockchain technology, bringing tech to agriculture and “Barter-Tech”, raising capital to grow Africa’s Trade sector and develop even more ambitious automation for the industry.  We also have an ambitious Africa expansion agenda.  I want to be a leading architect of the ecosystem for business growth in Africa and change the MBA curriculums in emerging market countries.  I would like to carry out the speaking engagements scheduled for this year and promote the concept of “Technology as the New Democracy”, and open the door for more women to establish themselves as leaders.  I want the world to know that “This Ain’t Your Granddaddy’s Africa.”


If you’d like to get in touch with Viola Llewellyn, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vallewellyn/

To learn more about Ovamba, please click here.

Entrepreneurship

Will Financial Liberalisation Trigger a Crisis in China?

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been liberalizing its financial system for nearly 4 decades. While it now has a comprehensive financial system with a large number of financial institutions and large financial assets, its financial policies are still highly repressive. These repressive financial policies are now a major hindrance to the PRC’s economic growth.

The PRC is at the beginning of a new wave of financial liberalization that is necessary for supporting the country’s strong economic growth. The country’s leaders have already unveiled a comprehensive program of financial reform, which includes 11 specific reform measures in three broad areas: creating a level-playing field (such as allowing private banks and developing inclusive finance), freeing the market mechanism (such as reforming interest rate and exchange rate regimes and achieving capital account convertibility), and improving regulation.

But could financial liberalization lead to a major financial crisis in the PRC? What would be the consequences for financial stability as the PRC moves to further liberalize its financial system? If the PRC repeats the painful experiences of Mexico, Indonesia, and Thailand, then it might not be able to achieve its original goal of overcoming the middle-income trap.

International experiences of financial liberalization, especially those of middle-income economies, should offer important lessons for the PRC. In our new research, based on cross-country data analysis, we find that financial liberalization, in general, reduces, not increases, financial instability. This powerful conclusion is valid whether financial instability is measured by crisis occurrence or by fragility indicators, such as impaired loans and net charge-offs. The only exception is that financial liberalization does not appear to significantly lower the probability of systemic banking crises, although it does lower the risk indicators for banks. These results have higher statistical significance and are greater in magnitude for the middle-income group than for the entire sample.

The insignificant impact on banking crises, however, should be interpreted with caution. One of the possible explanations is that under the repressed financial regime, the government supports banks with an implicit or explicit blanket guarantee. This reduces the probability of an explicit banking crisis, although the banking risks may be even greater because of the moral hazard problem. In fact, government protection of banks could also increase the probability of a sovereign debt crisis or even a currency crisis before financial liberalization.

If financial liberalization significantly reduces the likelihood of financial crises, especially in middle-income economies, then why did some middle-income economies experience financial crises following liberalization? We further investigate whether the pace of liberalization, the supervisory structure, and the institutional environment matter for outcomes of financial liberalization.

We obtain three main findings. First, an excessively rapid pace of financial liberalization may increase financial risks. The net impact on financial instability depends on the relative importance of the “liberalization effect” and the “pace effect.” In essence, what the “pace effect” captures could simply be the prerequisite conditions and reform sequencing that are well discussed in the literature. Second, the quality of institutions, such as investor protection and law and order, also matter. International experiences indicate that investor protection can significantly reduce the probability of financial crises. Third, the central bank’s participation in financial regulation is helpful for reducing financial risks during financial liberalization. This is probably because central banks always play central roles in financial liberalization, especially in the liberalization of interest rates, exchange rates, and the capital account. If a central bank is responsible for financial regulation, its liberalization policies might be more cautious and prudent.

Our research findings offer important policy implications for the PRC. (1) Further financial liberalization is necessary not only for sustaining strong economic growth but also for containing or reducing financial risks. (2) Gradual reform may still work better than the “big bang” approach, and sequencing is very important for avoiding the painful financial volatilities that many other middle-income countries have seen. (3) The government should also focus more on improving the quality of other institutions, especially market discipline, to contain financial risks. (4) It is better for the central bank to participate in financial regulation. The new regulatory system should focus exclusively on financial stability and shift from regulating institutions toward regulating functions. It should also become relatively independent to increase accountability.

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About the Author 

This submitted article was written by  and  of Asia Pathways, the blog of The Asian Development Bank Institute was established in 1997 in Tokyo, Japan, to help build capacity, skills, and knowledge related to poverty reduction and other areas that support long-term growth and competitiveness in developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Chrissa McFarlane, Founder and CEO of Patientory

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Chrissa McFarlane is the Founder and CEO of Patientory, a patient-centered enterprise solution on the blockchain to store, secure and access healthcare information in real-time. She is a leader and an entrepreneur with a passion for creating cutting-edge healthcare products that transform the face of healthcare delivery in the United States of America and abroad.

What makes you do what you do?
I am passionate about helping people, especially when it comes to their healthcare. This is my daily motivation for pushing forward in one of the most challenging industries to innovate.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Through my networks and maintaining a strong advisory board, I am able to make an impact.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
I took on the role and decided to start this startup primary to follow my passion and be an inspiration for other women who are seeking to start their own business.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have multiple mentors. I met them through my networks.

How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
Through introductions and after speaking with them I saw a character alignment that prompted me to ask them to by my mentor.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Through one on one meetings, and team building.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity because a diversity of thought breeds success in the workplace. It is important to have different lenses of thought to be represented. Our company is a representation of the people we serve.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
A great leader in healthcare is equipped to serve the people. Unlike many other industries, healthcare is centered around sustaining the health of the human being. You certainly need to encompass a passion for seeing individuals live and lead healthy lifestyles.

Advice for others?
In building emerging technology, education is always key to success.

Our first Inaugural Blockchain Healthcare Summit will take place on May 31st in Atlanta, GA where we will discuss the current state of blockchain projects and opportunities for the future.


If you’d like to get in touch with Chrissa McFarlane, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrissamcfarlane/

To learn more about Patientory, please click here.

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