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Making Inclusive Banking Agenda Reach Young Entrepreneurs: An Interview with Dr. Will Derban

Q: Tell us about your professional background.

WD: I currently work for Fidelity Bank focusing on CSR and inclusive banking. I started my career working for Barclays in the UK within their financial inclusion department. I earned my BA degree in Ghana and an MA in the UK, after which I worked with a small firm that operated in poor areas. At the time the percentage on unbanked people in that area was about 3% and I realized that back home this reality was the reverse. Initially my job was around deprivation and financial exclusion in the UK. After that experience I believed that the bigger poverty-related issues were in Africa, so when the CEO of Barclays at the time asked me to head a project in Africa to foster financial inclusion here I was glad to accept it.

Q: How did you become involved with Junior Achievement?

WD: When I got promoted to be the head of community investment, Barclays decided to develop a partnership with JA to promote entrepreneurship among the youth. My job was to identify strategic partners and NGOs to work with. Youth entrepreneurship was important to us so we decided to develop a regional project. We partnered with JA on a big program called “You can B,” which was launched in Dubai where I was based at the time. It was implemented in 10 countries in Africa including Seychelles and Mauritius as well as a few in the Middle East.

Q: Why JA?

WD: The story of JA is a compelling one and the need across the African continent is great. I believe that there is a lot that JA can achieve.

Q: What role does CSR play in development? What impacts can it achieve?

WD: In Ghana, most people see CSR as some kind of donation to give but it is much more than that.  The money that can be allocated to CSR fluctuates and some companies don’t have a strategy to roll out a strategic CSR plan. People often focus on the ‘social’ part of CSP. For me, the emphasis of CSR is responsibility- what is your responsibility as a company to the community? As part of what an organization does, it should also look at the overall benefit of CSR, for example investing in young entrepreneurs would benefit Fidelity in the long run. I believe in shared profit or shared benefit. Companies will invest in CSR if they see mutual benefit whether short or long term. We call it shared value. CSR should be aligned with the organization’s line or ethos. Fidelity Bank is a financial inclusion-focused institution, so whatever CSR we do has to be finance related. At the end of the day, everyone should something out of CSR in a partnership. We don’t just throw money at development. It has to be aligned with our core business. We recently did some projects in Northern Ghana where Fidelity Bank is interested in expanding.  There is a benefit for the people in the North to have somewhere to save their money. It should be clear in partnerships what all parties get out of it.

Q: How can the banking sector in Africa become more inclusive for youth?

WD: First of all, ‘youth’ is a tricky definition. For us we define it starting from age 18. Banking is changing, finance is changing. The world has changed. Last year we conducted an innovation camp and we brought piggy banks to share with the kids. But for the kids who came everything had to be technology-based. That is where the creativity is. When I went to school there were only three universities [in Ghana]. Our parents kept once job their whole lives. We don’t even know the jobs that will exist in 10 years. The youth who took part created really interesting concepts for banking for young people such as Money Apps, electronic wallets, etc. Best thing we can do for young people is teach them to be creative. I just recently read about a virtual football player who earns millions a year sitting at a gaming console. Mobile phones have changed banking; the jobs of bank tellers are changing. All jobs are changing. The best thing we can teach youth is how to be creative. People are building wealth now before the age of 40. In the past people used to only build wealth beyond that age. There are more young millionaires today. Youth have the potential and can create the jobs that can hire even older people.

Entrepreneurship is critical to the African economy. To some extent buying and selling is not very entrepreneurial.  We need to look at our environment and create the solutions to the problems in the community. Our levels of education [in Africa] are very low. There is an issue of capacity. I would not say that entrepreneurship is for everyone and sell it as a panacea for everyone. It is a skill. We have to put entrepreneurship into perspective. Entrepreneurship alone cannot catapult a person to success. We need to create the space to encourage the youth because some people fail. Some cultures celebrate failure, but failure is tough.

Q: How can we promote Youth Entrepreneurship in Africa?

WD: Promoting youth entrepreneurship is bigger than tackling it through a CSR agenda. It is the government’s job to make sure youth have gone to school so that institutions like banks can employ them. Some coordination needs to be there. In terms of youth entrepreneurship, there should be some responsibility of companies such as employing youth from a certain section of the community. There needs to be something more coordinated through governments and through advocacy  so it can be sustained.

Q: What are you passionate about? What informed your career choices?

A: I’ve always been development-oriented, always wanted to figure out how to make people’s lives better. During his time in the UK whilst working in the poorer boroughs of England, High levels of poverty in concentration really concerned him as he wondered how there can be deep poverty amongst this wealth. Hence he likes the entrepreneurship route and believes that for any country to develop, you need strong leadership. If people can be empowered to set up businesses and run them, they can rely less on governments and sustain themselves. That’s how I got into financial inclusion in an attempt to eliminate poverty from the route.  NGOs need to advocate for the Private sector to let the general public know if there are problems in the community. This is why they (the banking institutions) usually coordinate with NGOs since they know what is actually on the ground.

Q: What advice do you have for African Youth?

WD: I would advise African youth to get creative and form their own jobs. There is no reason why the next Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg cannot be African. We are too dependent on outside solutions to Africa’s problems. I believe youth in Africa should be encouraged to find home-grown creative solutions to problems within Africa, but innovation is key.

Q: What advice would you give to a younger Will Derban?

WD: I’d encourage young Will Derban to contribute himself, to create his own thing; be more entrepreneurial. If you’ve ever been successful you owe a lot to others who were not fortunate. It has to go back.

Q: What advice would you give to your kids about their future careers?

WD: My kids are young now, not quite ready for these conversations. I would like my kids to be more independent. I hope that whatever education my children get will help them be creative. People used to leave Africa and not come back because there were no jobs. Young people now are bolder. I hope my children will be bold.

 

Dr. William Derban is the head of CSR and Financial Inclusion for Fidelity Bank, Ghana and the Vice-Chair of JA Ghana. He is a banking professional with over 20 years of experience across the world from London, Dubai to Ghana. He has expertise in Corporate Social Responsibility and inclusive banking and is passionate about financial literacy for youth. Dr. Derban is the father of three young Africans.

 

About JA Africa

JA Africa is a member of Junior Achievement Worldwide (JAWW). JA is the world’s largest organization dedicated to youth empowerment. JA helps youth own their economic futures through programming in entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy

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