Sekai Chirume, (pictured) the managing director of the Export Credit Guarantee Corporation (ECGC), has a message to women who dream of occupying senior positions: they have to be focused, confident and bold as they chase their goals.
“Life is all about trusting yourself. Do not be afraid to follow your passion and never stop believing, even when you are at your lowest. You can achieve anything if you set your mind to it. You need to have personal goals and actively push yourself to attain those goals,” Chirume told Business Times.
“Be confident of your choices, your contributions and your vision. Follow your passion. If it were up to me, I would impart knowledge and courage on all women, especially young girls. Knowledge is a powerful tool to achieve great results. Powered by courage, the results are unbelievable.”
She said women are proving to be as strong leaders as men, being able to take on the responsibilities that come with the particular job “despite the general stereotyping by society”.
“Women bring a different perspective in the workplace, balancing issues that normally men would not be passionate about,” the executive said.
With 30 years of experience, Chirume joined ECGC at inception in 1999, rising through the ranks to her current position.
The journey in the insurance industry had started in 1989 when she joined one of the country’s leading broking firms as a trainee broker.
Chirume learnt the ropes of insurance from some of the leading insurance practitioners in the industry at that time. After five years as a broker, she moved to a direct insurance company for another five years, before joining ECGC which has been her home for more than 20 years.
The executive told Business Times that the 10 year experience in the broker and insurance sector prepared her for her task at ECGC.
“This invaluable experience from both sides of the insurance divide gave me a sound foundation for the role I was to play at ECGC,” she said.
ECGC is a member of the Berne Union, the International Union of Credit and Investment Insurers, which is the leading global association of the credit and investment industry, where ECGC benefits from shared expertise and experiences in underwriting and risk management, among many other benefits.
Chirume said she was excited to join ECGC because of its uniqueness and worldwide recognition.
“We were all very excited to be making history as ECGC is a unique type of organisation known worldwide as Export Credit Agencies. These are organisations given a special mandate by their governments to promote exports through providing export credit insurance solutions and guarantees for the financing of exports. I was one of three Account Executives and our role was to market, underwrite and administer ECGC’s products. We were able to grow the company to what it is today and I rose through the ranks, eventually being appointed managing director in May 2017,” she said.
At inception, ECGC had a staff complement of nine and two product lines.
Today, the company has 27 employees, has five product lines, is profitable and recently moved into their own premises in one of Harare’s leafy suburbs.
Chirume says she is facing her fair share of problems, chief among them, is ensuring that the company remains relevant in delivering value to our clients and all stakeholders, competitive and viable in relation to the current macro-economic environment.
To circumvent the problem she revealed that some government policies have played a great role in an economic environment laden with foreign currency shortages and also exchange rate volatilities among other things.
“I am happy that the policies that have been implemented by the government are now bearing fruit, such as the introduction of the foreign currency auction system, which enables exporters to access funds for importation of raw materials and re- tooling. The implementation of the National Development Strategy 1 is also a very positive development for the economy,” the executive said.
Apart from being an executive member on the EGGC board, Chirume sits on the board of the African Trade Insurance Agency, which is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.
The executive takes responsibilities seriously and strives to achieve work-life balance.
Chirume told Business Times that during her time off work, she enjoys reading books and has just finished reading one of her favourite books, Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Currently she is reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey and What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H McCormack. These books have helped her to gain different perspectives on issues from what she would have ever learnt in the classroom, the executive said.
Apart from reading she also takes morning walks, which helps her to clear the mind and reflect on issues.
Chirume also enjoys playing golf, which she says helps her to unwind, network and interact with a variety of people from all walks of life.
The executive emphasised the importance of teamwork as it is important for every leader to achieve the desired results.
“I believe in teamwork. You cannot be a leader without a team, especially one that shares the same vision with you. I have learnt this valuable lesson through leading a very capable, vibrant and committed team, which I am immensely proud to be associated with,” she said.
Apart from self-belief, the executive draws inspiration from other highly effective women who have also made it in fields which are usually male dominated.
“I draw my inspiration from my inner strength and from phenomenal women who have managed to break the glass ceiling in business, who have been trailblazers in their chosen fields and have shown us all that women can do it, the likes of Dr Grace Muradzikwa, Dr Divine Ndhlukula, Dr Charity Jinya, Chipo Mutasa, former Commissioner General of Zimra, Faith Mazanhi and many others. What keeps me motivated is that women are increasingly rising up to the challenge of leadership and showing that they are equal to it, lighting up the path for others to follow,” she said.
In the outlook, she has tasked herself with the responsibility to see ECGC to grow even further and offer investment and project insurance to Zimbabwean entities doing business in the region and beyond, and to other entities, with presence beyond the borders.
Her favourite quote is “it’s always impossible until it’s done” by anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.