Ms.   Caroline Abel was first appointed Governor of the  Central  Bank of  Seychelles  (CBS)  on 14th  March  2012,  becoming the first woman in  Seychelles to hold the position.  She was re-appointed to serve a  second six-year term in  March  2018.  She is also Chairperson of the CBS Board.

As Governor, she also represents Seychelles as the Alternate Governor for the International Monetary Fund,  World  Bank, and the  African  Development  Bank,  as well as Governor for the  African  Export-Import  Bank.  She is also  Vice-Chairperson of the  African Financial  Inclusion  Policy  Initiative  (AfPI),  a  position she assumed in  August  2020,  serving a two-year term.

Ms. Abel holds a BA in Economics, with Distinction from the University of Leeds and a Masters in Philosophy (MPhil) in Monetary Economics and Finance graduating with Distinction from the University of Glasgow.

In this E-interview with African Leadership Magazine, Ms. Abel talks about her achievement as Governor of the bank of Seychelles and also bared her thoughts on gender issues in leadership.

Excerpts;

Question 1: On 14 March 2012, you became the first woman to be appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles; succeeding Mr.  Pierre Laporte.  What has been your major drive in attaining this prestigious position?

 Being the head of a central bank is a notable feat for anyone attaining or aspiring to be in that position.  When deciding my career path,  I  first considered joining the medical  field  as  a  nurse. Back then, I would never have imagined that I would end up working in the financial sector, let alone become Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles.

 I was instilled with the values of working hard from a young age. Upon joining the Central Bank, I approached my  work  with  the  same  determination,  spirit  of  understanding  and  collaboration that I apply to everything I decide to do as a matter of principle. We are fortunate in Seychelles that we have no institutionalised gender barriers. Girls and boys have equal access to education and are free to aspire to become whomever they want to be.  Therefore,  I  would  say  that  having  the  first  female  Governor  of  the  Central  Bank  was  only  a matter  of  time,  as  appointment  to  the  post  is  based  on  competency  and  ability  to  steer  the country’s economy.  Having said that, I am proud to be serving in this position, and I hope that it motivates other  women  to  move out  of  their  comfort  zone  and  not  be  afraid to  challenge themselves in whatever career they aspire to join.

Question 2: As the First Runner-up in the female business leader of the year category, what achievements do you acknowledge about yourself that made you attain this position?

 When thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us mostly see the challenges and disruptions it has brought to how  we  usually  do  things.  We need to  keep  in  mind  that  changes often  come  through  upheavals;  when  challenged,  we  are  urged  to  think  out  of  the  box  and  do things differently and more efficiently.

I decided to look at the obstacles brought about by the pandemic through the opportunity lens, which has  allowed  me  to  lead  my  team  to: 

  • Design innovative policies  to  ensure  the  continued functioning  of  the  financial  system  and  provide  support  to  the   
  • Work on  adopting  a Digital Financial Agenda guiding the implementation of the Modernisation Plan of the National
  • Payment System  and  adopting  a  National  Fintech  Strategy  was  accelerated  in  the  wake  of  the pandemic. 
  • The Central  Bank  also  seized  the  opportunity  to  intensify  its  financial  education initiatives, which we hope will increase the uptake of digital financial services.
  1. For nearly a decade, you have served as the Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles, excelling in a field that is highly dominated by males. What are some obstacles you may have come across and how did you overcome them?

 I  believe  that  what  matters  most  to  me  in  my  role  of  Governor  is  not  the  gender  but  rather  the ability to approach  your  duties with zeal and confidence. The challenges that  I have faced have indeed been more than what my predecessors had to deal with, and I am sure that the challenges awaiting  my  successor  will  be  more  complex  than  what  I  have  faced,  as  such  is  the  evolving nature  of  the  financial  sector.  Like we have  seen  recently  with  the  pandemic,  challenges  are neither  kinder  nor  harsher  to  women  leaders.  Economic and financial circumstances do not change depending on who sits in the Governor’s chair, and decisions that need to be made are the same, regardless of if the Governor is male or female.  As long as the individual is willing to work hard, they should overcome any challenges.

  1. What would be your  word  of  encouragement  to  other  young  African  female  leaders anticipating holding such high positions in their respective countries?

 To  other  young  African  female  leaders,  I  would  say,  do  not  allow  your  gender  to  become  a barrier  to  your  aspirations.  As  recent  as  a  few  decades  ago,  tradition  and  culture  had  women primarily  pigeon-holed  in  nurturing  or  support  roles.  Today, however, women are making their marks  in  domains  previously  mainly  attributed  to  men.  Work  should  not bear  a  gender-specific stamp. As long as an individual is willing to put in effort and dedication, they should be able to reach the highest echelons in any chosen field.

 If you  are  going  to  focus  on  your  gender,  place  emphasis  on  qualities  such  as  adaptability, tenacity,  determination,  support  and  flexibility  –  some  traits  that  I  believe  to  be  inherent  to  the female  gender  –  and  use  these  qualities  to  make  you  an  asset  to  your  organisation.  The  rest should fall into place.

  1. As the Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles, do you have any plans with Africa’s

Striving financial sector?

Being connected  to  Africa  and  the  rest  of  the  world,  particularly  with  regards  to  the  financial sector,  is  of  utmost  importance  to  Seychelles,  being  a  small  island  state,  dependent  on  tourism and cross-border trade.

The Central Bank of Seychelles is represented on or participates actively in initiatives driven by several  key  institutions  and  groupings  working  to  strengthen  the  development  and  growth  of Africa’s financial sector and African economies. This includes  the  African  Development  Bank, African Export-Import Bank, the Committee of Central Bank Governors from the SADC region, and  the  African  Financial  Inclusion  Policy  Initiative,  which  is  part  of  the  broader  Alliance  of Financial Inclusion network, among others.

The continent has a lot  of  potential  for  the  financial  sector’s  role  in  facilitating  activities, including  trade,  that  will  strengthen  economic  development.  As Governor,  I  am  particularly focused on ensuring that the Central Bank collaborates with its counterparts across the continent and the stakeholder organisations to continue finding ways to address challenges hindering more progress.

We cannot  overlook  the  need  to  ensure  convenient,  affordable,  reliable  and  safe  financial services  –  at  the  core  of  which  is  the  provision  and  access  to  innovative  and  digital  financial services  and  products.  Equally important  is  the  need  to  have  financial  inclusion  and  education strategies.  Our  policies  should  also  ensure  that  as  individual  countries  and  as  a  continent,  we have  robust  regulatory  and  supervisory  frameworks  to  deter  and  mitigate  the  various  risks  that have not ceased to threaten global financial stability in recent  years. This includes cyberthreats, terrorist financing and money laundering, among others.

  1. How have  you  managed  the  perceptions  and  stereotypes  in  a  financial  sector  which  is largely dominated by males?

While  generally  worldwide,  the  financial  sector  is  dominated  by  males  –  even  at  the  level  of Governors, where there are currently only 14 women heading central banks across the globe – the perception of gender inequality and stereotyping should not be generalised. If I may draw on the Seychelles  example,  many  women  are  working  in  the  financial  services  sector.  Going  further, while central banking has traditionally been male-dominated, the Central Bank of Seychelles has a 65 percent female workforce, a 50/50 representation of both genders at Management level and 37 percent representation of women at Board Director level.

The statistics point towards a larger percentage of males when it comes to more senior positions and  rather  than  simply  attributing  this  fact  to  the  sector  being  male-dominated,  we  should consider the possible factors that are hindering women to join the higher ranks. As such, I firmly believe  that  both  men  and  women  should  be  given  the  support  and  opportunity  to  develop  and reach their full potential when it comes to their careers, including making it to leadership roles.

  1. Seychelles is a small island and a major tourism centre. How does the Central Bank drive investments and  finances  in  Seychelles  tourism,  And  what  does  this mean for the Island?

The primary  objective of the Central Bank of Seychelles is to promote domestic price stability, which  assists  economic  growth  and  helps  maintain  investor  confidence  in  the  economy.  The institution supports  domestic  economic  activity  and  reduces  financial  stability  risks  through  the

effective implementation of Monetary Policy.

The  CBS  is  also  a  forward-looking  institution  that  does  not  shy  away  from  taking  bold  and unconventional  measures.  This  has  been  particularly  true  since  the  onset  of  the  COVID-19 pandemic that has severely impacted the country’s mainstay – the tourism industry – and in this process, the entire economy. Last  year,  the  Board  of  the  Central  Bank  approved  two  credit  line  facilities  being  administered by  various  credit-granting  institutions,  to  assist  private  sector  businesses  impacted  by  the pandemic. Through the schemes, impacted businesses in the tourism and other sectors have been able to access funding to meet their critical operating expenditures and make necessary improvements driven by the impact of the ongoing pandemic, such as introducing new technologies.

Although the recovery path remains uncertain, the various policy measures implemented by the Central  Bank  and  the  Government  have  contributed  to  support  the  domestic  economy  and safeguard financial stability. This has contributed to a gradual pick-up in tourism activity and the resumption of economic activity, with encouraging signs being observed albeit the performance has not reverted to pre-COVID-19 levels.

  1. Being in  the  capacity  of  financing  Seychelles’  tourism  sector  and  the  major  financial provider for Seychelles’ economy, how has the COVID 19 Pandemic affected the economic reforms in Seychelles?

Following  the  2008  global  financial  crisis  and  Seychelles  defaulting  on  its  sovereign  debt,  the country  embarked  on  an  economic  reform  programme  supported  by  the  International  Monetary Fund  (IMF).  Much  success  had  been  achieved,  where  the  country  was  seeing  strong  economic growth and on track to reduce the public debt-to-GDP ratio to 50% by 2021.

Given  the  severe  impact  of  COVID-19  globally,  local  authorities  had  to  implement  policies  to support the livelihoods of individuals and businesses and prevent the economy from collapsing. To implement some of the measures meant incurring more debt for the Government, which led to the debt-to-GDP ratio increasing to just above 100 percent in 2020.

Faced  with  this  reality,  the  country  has  now  embarked  on  a  new  economic  reform  programme with the support of the IMF, where reducing the Government’s budget deficit and improving the country’s debt sustainability level are among the key objectives. As with any reform, there will be challenges to overcome, but if well-implemented – and if the country stays on track to achieve the set targets – the reforms will bring the country on the path of recovery and in an even better position than it was before the pandemic.

 

 Concluding Statement

 The past months have been somewhat challenging but also present us with a learning curve that allows us to grow on a personal as well as on a professional level. The unprecedented pandemic has shown the world that all economies are vulnerable, and we need to be ready to take bold and decisive actions to maintain economic stability. Post the pandemic, we all need to take stock – be it at a personal, organizational and country-level – of our actions and what we can do differently to prepare ourselves better  to face any future eventualities.  We must remain resilient when adversity strikes,  as it is in these testing times that we should take  the  opportunity  to  grow  and achieve  our  full  potential.  I  am  honoured to  emerge as  the  runner-up  for  the  Governor  of  the Year Award, which would not have been possible without the support and dedication of my team at the Central Bank of Seychelles.

THANK YOU