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Born in Kenya, Dr. Vera Songwe is a highly regarded economist and banking executive, with a long history of providing policy advice on development and a wealth of experience in delivering development results for Africa, as well as a demonstrated strong and clear strategic vision for the continent. Vera took up the role as the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in August 2017 – at the level of Under Secretary-General. Dr. Songwe has, to date, published multiple resources and policy ideas on development and economic issues.

In this week’s Business Unusual podcast, Karla Fletcher, Head of Marketing at Topco Media, engages in conversation with Dr. Songwe for an incredibly insightful discussion on Digitalisation in Africa, Gender Peace, and creating better access for all.  Vera addresses the need to accelerate women in Africa, young girls having access to good mentors, Identity and registration issues, and formalising the African economy. 



Key takeaways to listen out for in this podcast:


  • We as native African women know the continent, what we can contribute, and how we can do it. We know how to bring opportunities to light for other women who need assistance. Therefore, our voices need to be heard. 
  • People need to be able to follow a leader and their perspective and values – spend enough time understanding what your goal truly is. Only then can you lead. 
  • Having good mentors, as a girl or grown woman, is so important for building communities that are invested in a specific vision and end goal. 
  • As a woman coming into a new team, you must learn who your staff members are, and understand their ‘why’, individually. This way you can uplift and motivate your team members. 
  • Amazing lessons come from the amazing, real stories told by women (especially women leaders) across Africa. This is the power of an idea – this is how people get invested. 
  • We must create inclusive access and vocalise the efforts of women in the tech and digital space. Unfortunately, many women in Africa (including their babies) still need to be identified and registered in order to be on the system. Only then will they begin gaining access. However, there are still many identity and registration issues we need to overcome. 
  • Accountability and programme reviews are important for tracking and stabilising systems. Critique, recognition and collaboration are the tools needed for building a system to speak with one voice. 
  • As African women, we need to work continuously towards leaving a great legacy behind – leaving stringer institutions, impact decisions and better policies. 
  • Africa’s economy, as a whole, needs improvement to create better opportunities. The idea of this ‘informal economy’ should not be the main goal. We need to formalise the economy, and a ‘Digital Economy’ is a solution to this restriction. 
  • Young graduates preparing to join the UN need to understand that there are graduate and intermediary student programmes, as well as a Global Hiring Programme. However, you don’t need to be in the UN to assist it’s plans and goals. Start conversations in your own communities and get the cycle of improvement and growth going. It won’t go unnoticed! 



Dr. Vera Songwe Is the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa. She has a long-standing track record of providing policy advice on development and a wealth of experience in delivering development results for Africa, as well as a demonstrated strong and clear strategic vision for the continent. Dr. Songwe has, in addition, previously served as Regional Director of the International Finance Corporation, was Country Director for the World Bank and Adviser to the Managing Director of the World Bank for Africa, Europe and Central and South Asia. She is widely published and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative. 


In 2011, Dr. Songwe contributed to the Africa 2.0 initiative – bringing young Africans together to assist with the continent’s economic development. Later, in 2013, Forbes recognised her as one of the ‘20 Young Power Women in Africa’. In 2014, the Institut Choiseul for International Politics and Geoeconomics selected Dr. Songwe as one of their ‘African leaders of tomorrow’. She went on to, then, collaborate with the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme – pledging $100 million towards African start-up companies. 


She holds a PhD in Mathematical Economics from the Center for Operations Research and Econometrics and a Master of Arts in Law and Economics and a Diplôme d’études approfondies in Economic Science and Politics from the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Political Science from the University of Michigan and is a graduate of Our Lady of Lourdes College in Cameroon.



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