Cheryl Buss, the UK-based CEO of Absa International, on her passion for Africa and its resilient, entrepreneurial mind-set.
Cheryl Buss lives by the mantra “smooth seas don’t make for good sailors”.
It was a quote she first heard Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s former CEO Arno van der Merwe use and one that has helped her navigate countries where populism, polarization and Brexit are rife.
It is a saying that will no doubt help the CEO of Absa International deal with one of the biggest challenges the world is facing – Covid-19, a deadly virus that is sending shivers down the spines of economies around the globe.
But for now, Buss is using her mantra to gain business in the United Kingdom and the United States.
The UK-based career banker wants to take Africa to Absa’s clients in the UK and the US and bring the bank’s clients to Africa, a continent she is very passionate about.
She is working hard to convince businesses that want to invest in Africa, to bank with Absa on the continent.
Her passion for both the continent and her job is driving her success in this endeavor.
“I’m passionate about the business in which we work and I am passionate about the opportunity for Absa and for Africa. I think that if you are passionate about what you do and you show up positive, that tends to hopefully spread around and is hopefully catchy,” says Buss, dressed in an elegant dark blue dress.
As she explains her passion for Africa to FORBES AFRICA, Buss’s eyes light up. The continent offers experience, diversity, opportunity in agriculture, farming and the provision of food supply, she says.
Excitedly, she adds it has the world’s biggest population of youth that if harnessed correctly will see the continent beaming with new ideas and new thoughts.
Africa’s people are another element that makes her an Afro-optimist.
Explaining, she says: “It struck me going into Zimbabwe a couple of years ago… this was probably three, four years ago, just a load of poverty, you can just see the roads are in bad shape, everywhere you look, you see people with beaming smiles. You think ‘God, what are you smiling at?’. But it is just African people, we are taught to be resilient, we are taught to come back and I think that is part of the excitement through which you see this entrepreneurial development and mind-set.”
But Buss does not just plan to take the conversation about Africa to the UK and the US, where the bank recently received regulatory approval to operate and has started engaging with clients, but also to Asia.
Confidently, she says “you would have seen Charles Russon, who is our CEO of Corporate and Investment Banking, alluding to the fact that we would be, we are considering what the China strategy would be like, that would be rather our next port of call… China is our first consideration that we are working with our strategy team to see and understand what that would look like and then there is the Middle East-Asia consideration as well, so we would look to kind of have the four corners.”
High in emotional intelligence, a trait the charismatic leader believes she picked up by being open to change, resilient to failure and open to learn, she says she wants to build the international business to be in the best place ever.
“For me, I want it to be ‘wow, that business didn’t actually have a blip it carried on’.”
How does she plan to get there?
“It is about that close personal touch, I like to have close personal relationships with my teams, with the people I deal with and the people I mentor and make sure I am offering guidance at the right level and I like to build close relationships with my clients as well…
“Banks are a commodity so the real differentiator is the people you employ in the bank and how they show up to our clients.”
4 Ways Women Can Better Advocate For Their Own Health
One morning, when I was 14 years old, I woke up with excruciating stomach pain—the worst I’d ever had. My mom took me to urgent care, and the doctors there concluded that I had gastritis, or essentially a “bad stomach ache.”
But I knew they were wrong. I knew it was more than just a bad stomach ache. I kept pushing my parents until they finally took me to the hospital. After doing a variety of exams, the doctors said something along the lines of, “We really can’t find what’s wrong, but you seem to be in a lot of pain.” They gave me two options: wait four hours until the next available CAT scan, or let them do exploratory surgery and see what they find.
I decided to do the exploratory surgery. It ended up being a major, major surgery—over six hours long—and they found a tear in my intestine. They had to remove about 10 feet of my intestine, and it turns out that if I had waited for the CAT scan, I actually would have died. So, I like to say that that was the first time I learned how to trust my gut (in this case, my literal gut).
I think about this experience all the time, but I found myself reflecting on it even more as I was reading my friend Dr. Alyson McGregor’s new book, Sex Matters: How Male-Centric Medicine Endangers Women’s Health and What We Can Do About It. I don’t know how much of my near-death experience was linked to my being female, but I do know that when it comes to our medical system, women have consistently experienced poorer outcomes in every area of health than men.
McGregor writes: “One of the biggest and most flawed assumptions in medicine is this: if it makes sense in a male body, it must make sense in a female one.”
Our methods for evaluating, diagnosing, and treating disease for both men and women are based on previous research performed on male bodies. But women are physiologically different from men on every level—and these differences can have major impacts on everything in medicine, from how drugs are prescribed, to how routine tests are performed, to how pain is assessed and treated, to how systemic disease is diagnosed.
Here’s an example. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, but women have statistically poorer outcomes and higher mortality. Why? Because women’s symptoms are simply different from men’s. While men might experience left arm pain and chest heaviness (“typical” heart disease symptoms), women often present with only mild pain and discomfort, possibly combined with fatigue, shortness of breath, and a strong feeling that “something isn’t right.” Since women’s symptoms are not the symptoms that doctors typically associate with heart disease, their heart disease is 50 percent more likely to be initially misdiagnosed.
There are hundreds more examples like this one. It’s clear that there is work to do when it comes to unconscious biases in medicine—but, as women, how can we best advocate for our health and ensure that our concerns are heard and taken seriously?
1. Be prepared.
Your doctor may have gone through years of medical school, but that doesn’t mean they’re all-knowing. Research your conditions, your prescriptions, and how your prescriptions interact with each other. This way, you can have an informed conversation with your physician if something is wrong. Also, keep an up-to-date list of your prescriptions and allergies with you at all times so that any provider who cares for you will have all of the information they need.
2. Ask questions.
Even after you do your research, you may still have questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them—especially gender-specific ones. For example, “Has this medication been tested in women? If, so are there different dosing guidelines?” Or, “Will this prescription/test/procedure affect my birth control/pregnancy/breastfeeding?” It’s important to make sure you’re not only being treated for the correct conditions, but also that you’re being treated properly as a woman with those conditions.
3. Trust yourself.
Just like 14-year-old me trusted her (literal) gut! No one’s voice should take precedence over yours when it comes to your body and your health care. As women, we tend to be more attuned to our own bodies than men. We are more likely to notice symptoms when they first appear, and we usually seek treatment more frequently and earlier than men. If you feel like you’re being misdiagnosed or undertreated, keep pushing until you get answers—your life may depend on it.
4. Make your voice heard.
It’s important to advocate for yourself on an individual level, but you may be inspired to do even more. Financially, you can donate to research and advocacy foundations, or even specific research projects within your local universities and hospitals. Other effective advocacy ideas that don’t cost anything are to join a medical research trial, join a support group, or harness the power of social media to share your story. Any of this could be what makes it possible for others to get the treatment they need.
The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind A New Inclusive Community Teaching Budding Professionals How To Better Engage At Work
Edith Cooper, who spent more than 20 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs, knows what it’s like to stand out in a workplace. Being one of few people of color in a sea of white faces over the course of her career hasn’t been easy. But rather than dwell on this reality, Cooper, who now sits on the boards of Etsy and Slack, has championed her differences. That’s what helped her rise through the ranks at the bank to eventually head its human resources department, an accomplishment she says was a result of her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.
That quality would continue to work to her advantage: As Goldman Sachs evolved, so did its staff. Diversity was reflected not only in employees’ skin colors and genders, but also in their ages and geographical origins. Cooper was awakened to the fact that if the company was going to thrive, it would need to create an environment wherein its multifaceted staff could feel comfortable embracing their differences and, in turn, learn from them.
“If you can figure out an environment where people can thrive together, it’s powerful,” Cooper says. But it’s a process that takes time, especially if newer, more inexperienced employees aren’t equipped with the proper skills to navigate this balance between professionalism and open expression.
That is in part what inspired Cooper’s new startup, Medley, which she launched with her daughter Jordan Taylor, a former chief of staff at Mic and Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, to provide a community in which young professionals can gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work without fear. In light of the heightened tension surrounding ongoing racial injustice that’s inevitably seeping into workplace communication, it’s an ideal time to learn this skill.
Taylor has also had her fair share of experiences being the “only one in the room,” but as an emerging leader, rather than an established executive like her mother. Graduating in the top 5% of her class and being one the first 20 Black students to be named a Baker Scholar meant she was constantly figuring out how to relate to peers in predominantly white spaces. She figured it out, but Medley is a platform she wishes had been around when she was finding her voice among people whose backgrounds were much different than hers.
Medley groups young professionals in their 20s and 30s with other like-minded members whose workplace values, concerns and priorities align. The professionals that make up these eight-person groups differ, however, in terms of gender and ethnic background, which Cooper and Taylor hope will translate to increased empathy that members can apply within their respective workplaces.
“This idea of people being able to bring their true selves to work and to be able to talk through what that looks like is at the core of what Medley is offering,” says Cooper.
In addition to full access to workshops, panels and conversations led by experts across industries, members commit to a 90-minute virtual meeting each month, facilitated by a Medley-certified coach and focused on addressing and reflecting on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives. Cooper credits Medley’s robust network of coaches to the guidance she gained from Merche Del Valle, former global head of coaching at Goldman Sachs and a certified lifestyle, nutrition and wellness coach.
Merging personal wellness and professional development in group discussions is a priority. “You can’t just look at your career in a vacuum,” says Taylor. “In order to meet your potential, the ability to have a more holistic approach is incredibly important.”
To ensure that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to join the community, Medley offers a sliding scale fee ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the financial situation of prospective members. Cooper and Taylor are also in conversations with companies interested in partnering with Medley to give their staff reimbursement for membership.
With the help of investors including Away cofounder Jen Rubio, dtx company founder and CEO Tim Armstrong and MIC cofounder and former CEO Chris Altchek, who contributed more than $1 million to the project, Medley was ready to launch in May 2020 as an in-person membership hub in New York City. Shelter-in-place mandates halted the launch, but also presented an opportunity for Medley to instead be virtual and incorporate international members. The more springing corporate workers that can benefit from the community’s aim to build the next generation of confident, communicative professionals the better, the mother-daughter team notes.
“Medley gives people an opportunity to be a better human in relation to the people they work with and quite frankly in society,” Taylor says.
Op-Ed: Women Empowerment During The Covid-19 Pandemic
Looking at Covid-19 through a gender lens
Our world has undoubtedly been changed forever by the Covid-19 pandemic, as all efforts are focused on slowing down the increase and mitigating the impact of this silent enemy that has spread across the world like wildfire. Not only have there been many lives lost, but there have also been many businesses and millions of jobs impacted, which in turn directly affects millions of families. It doesn’t help that most countries around the world were already in distress with high levels of unemployment and devastating droughts as a result of climate change, which were already making it very difficult for families to put food on the table. As the world tries to deal with this pandemic, I can’t help but think about what will happen to the efforts that have been made to help empower adolescent girls over the past few years.
Empowering girls, empowering communities
What makes this demographic more important than all the others? This is not just about the fight for women’s equal rights or the fight for equal pay, although those are valid and ongoing necessary discussions. This is about giving the adolescent girl a decent and fair start in her life, so she can have a better shot at being successful. So, with the current global crisis we find ourselves in, will the cause to empower young women remain on the world’s agenda or will this slide down to the bottom of the priority list?
Standard Chartered Bank has been running a young girls’ empowerment programme called Goal, which is our flagship programme under Futuremakers. Futuremakers by Standard Chartered is our global initiative to tackle inequality and promote greater economic inclusion for young people in our communities, especially those who are disadvantaged. The Goal programme specifically aims to equip young girls with the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their economic potential. The programme was launched in New Delhi in 2006 with just 70 girls. I count myself fortunate to have been part of the team that was involved in the launch of the pilot programme, along with my colleagues and a very perceptive NGO partner who believed that together we could make an impact on these young girls and their community.
Developing confidence and vital life skills
Sometimes when the challenge seems insurmountable, what you need are individuals and partners who simply believe that you can still make a difference, regardless of the arduous journey ahead of you. In a country of over a billion people, what impact can you really make by reaching just 70 girls? Fourteen years later, Goal is now active in 24 countries, including South Africa (since 2015), and has impacted nearly 600,000 adolescent girls globally between 2006 and 2019 – and that number is growing. This means that over half a million families are also impacted, as these girls carry the message back home. When you empower a girl, you empower a community.
Goal is based on face-to-face interaction with these young women, which presents a challenge during a pandemic. The programme is run by Goal Champions who have graduated from the programme themselves and this is one of the elements that makes Goal sustainable, as it focuses on the ‘train the trainer’ approach. After completing the one-year programme, the girls come out with confidence and skills that they would otherwise have not acquired – our post programme scores have proved that every single time. In 2019, we commissioned a global development think tank called Overseas Development Institute (ODI) to assess Goal’s impact. Over 18,000 girls were surveyed and there were over 300 interviews and focus groups with the young girls, parents, teachers, community leaders and the boys in those communities. The research found strong evidence of Goal’s positive and lasting impact on the girls, as the results showed a 14 percent increase in self-confidence, a 28 percent increase in knowledge about health and an 18 percent increase in knowledge about savings and finance.
The gender gap and GDP
Then Covid-19 happened to all of us, accompanied by varying levels of lockdowns, and along with that a halt to the valuable regular face-to-face sessions that a lot of these young Goal girls look forward to – an opportunity to be in a safe environment, playing sport with their peers, and learning about their rights, the importance of understanding reproductive health, saving money, and many other life skills.
Data is always important when presenting such arguments. According to one of the Goldman Sachs Global Economic papers, GDP growth rates rise if education pushes more women into the labour force. This makes gender equality not just an imperative but a valid economic argument. It seems the ‘poorer’ a country, the higher the literacy differential between females and males.
Apart from the inhumane forced child marriages that are still happening in this modern day and age in some countries, research also tells us that most girls without a secondary education are likely to have their first baby at a younger age, and in turn, there is a higher chance that this child will die before they are five years old. Chances are also higher that these young girls will have many more children than they can afford to raise in a way that they would like to. It becomes an ongoing vicious cycle and we need to do everything in our power to break that cycle – one girl at a time.
Looking toward the future
We need to remember that these adolescent girls are still very much a vulnerable group and we should not divert our attention away from them as we try and manage the ongoing pandemic. The two need not be exclusive. In fact, we have seen how gender-based violence has escalated during the lockdowns in many countries, including here in South Africa, and I shudder to think how much of this has been directed towards young girls by the very people who are meant to take care of and protect them.
In the last few years, there has been an ongoing debate in some quarters that we mustn’t leave the boys behind as we empower the young girls and this a valid discussion to have. As a mother to a teenage son, I totally agree – my intention is to raise a well-rounded young man who will be a responsible member of society and who respects women.
In fact, in some of our markets where Goal has advanced, we do have boys on the programme, but the reality is we need to double our efforts in uplifting adolescent girls to get them just to be on an ‘equal footing’ with the boys. Research has also proved that in countries where education levels are low, the economic performance of that country is equally impacted. What is the saying – when you empower and educate a girl, you empower a community. What’s not to love about that?
– Geraldine Matchaba, Head of Corporate Affairs and Brand & Marketing at Standard Chartered.
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