Lagos, Nigeria: July 01, 2019 – Self-driven and passionate about women and youth empowerment, Mariah Lucciano-Gabriel, Head, Commercial & Business Development, Asharami Energy (A Sahara Group Upstream Company) represents the growing wave of vibrant African professionals committed to transforming the continent. Mariah joined the prestigious Graduate Management Training Programme of the leading energy conglomerate, Sahara Group in June 2008 after which she was assigned to Asharami Energy, the Upstream division of Sahara.
The programme has produced several leading young energy sector professionals across Sahara’s locations in in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. With over 10 years of experience in the industry, Mariah coordinates negotiations for the company’s Asset Acquisitions, Crude Handling Agreements, Sales Purchase Agreements, Unitization discussions, and Production Entitlement Reconciliations. She has an M.Sc in Energy Studies with specialization in Energy Economics from Dundee University, and a BSc in Economics, Finance & Management from Queen Mary, University of London.
Mariah was one of the panelists who addressed the theme: “Encouraging STEM Subjects to Balancing the Boardroom: Gender Diversity & Equality in the African Energy Industry” at the recently concluded Oil and Gas Council’s Africa Assembly in Paris.
In this interview, she shares details of her growth in the industry, her passion for mentoring younger women and highlights the need for gender parity at all levels in the energy sector.
What has your experience been as a senior manager at Sahara Group’s Upstream division?
I joined Sahara’s training program at the age of 22 with no prior knowledge or desire to work in the energy industry nor a STEM degree (my first degree was in Economics, Finance and Management) and after six months of hands on training within all the Sahara companies which cuts across downstream, midstream, upstream and operations, I was deployed to the upstream arm and asked to coordinate the next internship program simultaneously. These are the sort of opportunities and challenges you face working in a fast paced innovative company like Sahara.
After a year of juggling both roles, I focused solely on the Upstream covering Government & Partner Relations, Business Development and Commercial Operations and 10 years down the line I now head the Commercial & Business Development Unit of the Upstream arm.
The upstream sector of the Nigerian energy industry is a highly regulated and competitive one being that it accounts for over 90% of Nigeria’s GDP and as such this brings its own set of challenges to my role. However, I am able to work through problems and achieve solutions because the work environment at Sahara fosters innovation and employees are made to own the vision and given the freedom to be creative around solving problems.
I have been able thrive in the company because your contributions and successes are valued, recognized and rewarded regardless of gender, age or position.As I say to my colleagues; I don’t work like a man or a woman, I work like someone who needs to get the job done and that is all Sahara sees and that is what is rewarded.
In Sahara, you do not get passed up on a promotion simply because you are female and they fear your family obligations as a woman may conflict with your work obligations. In stark contrast, the company supports you in achieving those obligations so that you are able to better perform at your job and that performance never goes without reward!
What do we need to do in Africa to encourage the emergence of more women in the sector?
On a foundational level, the government and private sector need to encourage young girls to pursue Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees through workshops and organized school programs. To start with, many girls don’t even know the career options available to them in Energy industry, it is important to start at the school level to promote the various career paths available both through STEM and Non-STEM pathways because the Energy industry is bigger than just engineering.
Furthermore, younger girls need to see more female role models at the top so they know what can be achieved and be inspired to do more. It is hard to want what you cannot visualize so leading women have a duty to promote themselves more and share their stories with other women.
More critical than just getting women in through the door is retaining and promoting them, a study showed that at entry level there was 35% women participation in the industry but as it got to executive level the percentage dropped to 8%! So women are coming in but the companies are not retaining or promoting them into leading roles. As women, we need to know that there would be sacrifices to be made and the road to the top may not be easy when combined with our roles as nature’s chosen primary caregiver but it is not impossible, we need to use all the support we can get from family and friends and we should be willing to be flexible and think creatively around juggling our roles.If companies are really serious about getting more women in leading positions then they must adopt female friendly work policies such as nursing rooms, allowance for childcare, flexi work practices etc to support women and help them achieve their career goals without jeopardizing personal goals.
What would be your greatest achievement in the sector?
The interesting thing about being an intrapreneur in a company like Sahara is that the company’s successes are my successes and vice versa. Sahara was one of the first indigenous E&P companies to enter into the Nigerian upstream sector as far back as 2004 as an Operator (not just an ‘asset broker’ peddling off assets to IOCs with the technical and financial capabilities) and has grown its assets organically form exploration thorough appraisal, development and production.
I am proud to have been an integral part of its success today by way of Bid participation, government stakeholder engagements and commercial negotiations. I look forward to playing my role in making the company the pre-eminent indigenous producer in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025 with production in excess of 100,000 barrels of oil production per day.
Having made my mark professionally in the sector, it would be my greatest achievement to reach young girls through sharing my experience and to drive the movement for gender parity at boardroom level in energy industry on a national level.
How do you intend to help younger women find their feet in the industry?
I started making a conscious effort to offer advice to younger girls within my immediate sphere of influence who want to pursue a career in the energy industry.I mentor some younger ladies in the sector. I will continue to strive for excellence in my career and share my stories, challenges and successes on a wide platform so that younger girls can have not just a role model to emulate in the energy sector but also a blueprint and relatable pathway to help them navigate their careers. It is important for women to know that it can be done despite gender specific challenges.
Where do you get the inspiration to keep up with the rigors of work in your sector?
The rewards and recognition for my contributions to company’s success certainly makes the countless late nights, early mornings and constant flying worth it but more than anything; I like to WIN! And winning does not come without sacrifice so that keeps me moving.
Why do think achieving Balance in the Boardroom is so important?
It is important not just because we should all have the same rights and opportunities regardless of gender. But also because a boardroom of 10 men of a similar age and similar background are likely to think in the same way and have the same ideas whereas a diverse group of gender, ages and backgrounds would produce innovative ideas that change the status quo and achieve the unthinkable. Furthermore, energy use is not gender neutral, women are more greatly affected by energy availability and policies than men yet you have 89% of men at helm of decision making in energy.
The struggle for gender parity cannot truly be achieved without a balanced boardroom because in some cases, even though the men have the intention of achieving a more gender balanced workforce, they would not know those policies that would help women. I recently spoke around some of these issues on a panel and gave an example of the introduction of a nursing room in Sahara, afterwards the CEO of a Nigerian Oil servicing company came up to me and said he was going introduce the same in his company because he didn’t realise something so small could have a great impact for women. It wasn’t because he was unwilling to support his female staff, he just didn’t know how he could because there was no female perspective at the decision making level.
What are some of the perceptions or biases in the Africa Energy Industry that hinder women’s entrance and/or growth and how do we overcome them?
There’s a dominating perception that the energy industry is for engineers and thus for men mostly, we need to also promote the non-technical but equally important career paths in the energy industry such as Legal, Commercial, Government Relations, Supply Chain, Business Development etc. Furthermore, many companies have a biased pay structure that favour the men and penalise the women for taking time off for personal/family issues and as such many women exit the industry mid-career because they feel undervalued.
The perception that the energy industry is reserved for men can be pulled down further if successful industry women put themselves out there a bit more so that younger girls have more role models.
We also need to realise that when we as women get to the top we don’t need to strip away our femininity or bury those female specific hurdles we had to jump and blend in with the men by replicating the habits of our successful male executives, the world needs our fresh feminine perceptive. We can’t keep sending the message that ‘we need to be men to succeed in this industry’ it discourages younger girls from pursuing this career line.
The perception that to be a successful woman in a male dominated field you must be unmarried or be a bad mother kills many women’s ambition and this perception could not be farther from the truth! According to William Domhoff; author of Women, African American Leaders of Fortune 500 companies, of the 28 women who have served as CEOs of fortune 500 companies, 26 of them were married for over 10 years minimum.
Mentorship and sponsorship in the workplace are important in reaching the top of one’s career however women are disadvantaged because unconsciously, people are drawn to mentor those that remind them of their younger selves so unconsciously men are drawn to mentor/sponsor younger men and the boardroom in the first place is full of men so no one looking out for the women. Men need intentionally overcome this unconscious bias and take up sponsorship roles for younger promising female talent in the industry and not just provide them guidance but also recommend them for opportunities when possible.
What is your advice to women in more junior positions?
Be intentional about your growth, be visible in the workplace, seek assignments and seize opportunities, join and be active in networks. The road to the top will not be easy or straightforward, stay determined, be flexible and creative in achieving balance between the home and workplace. It is not enough to be good at your job and sit quietly in the corner waiting to be noticed and whisked to the C-Suite, you need to break walls, smash windows and take a seat at the table because you deserve to be there, you are doing the world a huge favour by being there and remember that you really can have it all but just not at the same time so know when to pursue what.
Credit: Sahara Group/Adekunle Aliyu, Vanguard
Rwandan women making a difference at water treatment plant
About 30 minutes’ drive outside Kigali, the tidy capital of Rwanda, past lush forests, marshland and makeshift roadside stores advertising their offerings on hand-painted signs, a group of women are quietly making history.
On a construction site next to the Nyabarongo River, the women are hard at work on a water treatment plant that will change the destiny of the country, as well as their own.
Florence Ntibazakwirwa spends several hours a day bending steel to precise angles, after which the metal is used to reinforce the structure of the buildings.
“This comes along with passion. Success has a lot to do with the commitment/urgency and passion you devote to your profession,” said the 30-year-old mother of one.
“If I manage to acquire a long-term contract in this project, I think in two years’ time I will be able to manage my own project, and to build my own house. I am looking forward to building a strong house, using my own skills, and this house will be a great example to other women.”
Florence is part of a group of 80 women on the site, as well as 421 men. In many ways, this is a landmark project, not least because so many women are involved in the construction process.
The Rwanda water treatment plant began construction in 2018 and is expected to be completed in 2020. It will service 500,000 homes, businesses and factories. It is the first public-private partnership of its kind in the country. The African Development Bank financed about $18.87 million of the estimated cost of $61.42 million.
In Rwanda, water is more than a source of life. It is also an economic enabler, especially for women. According to researchers, the less time women spend walking long distances to fetch water, the more it frees them up to be gainfully engaged in economic activities.
For that reason, water will be a major theme at the Global Gender Summit to be hosted in Kigali in November by the African Development Bank and the government of Rwanda. The topics include:
- Water, sanitation and hygiene services – enabler for women and youth empowerment in Africa; and
- Mainstreaming gender in water management.
The women at the plant are already feeling the benefits of their involvement in the water project.
“I enjoy being around my colleagues, especially the most experienced ones, because they offer me guidance. As a woman, I feel valued and proud to be in this profession, unlike before when it was known to be a man’s job only. I am grateful,” said Charlotte Nyirangarukiyimana, a carpenter.
She said her earnings at the plant had put her in a position to support her family and invest in her future, which includes buying a plot of land.
“This job has enabled me to pay school fees for my siblings…My plan is to go back to school to upgrade my skills, along with an increased income, then I can manage a full project on my own.”
E-commerce taken off in Egypt but needs more achievements: Mashtal founder
CAIRO – 19 September 2019: E-commerce in Egypt has already taken off, however it faces many challenges, Managing Director of Jazmur which owns Mashtal Garden Centers project, Karim Harouny told Egypt Today.
Harouny emphasized the importance of having digitalized business, stating that any business that doesn’t have any digital component will not succeed.
“Anything that is involved in retail can be translated to online nowadays, but infrastructure of e-commerce needs more achievements, so internet speed is definitely a very big concern,” he also referred to challenges that the sector face in Egypt.
He elaborated that internet speed needs to be improved, adding that another challenge is payment gateways. “They exist but need to be much easier,” he said.
“One of the things that slows this process down is the payment gate, so this is something that I’d love to see improved in Egypt because electronic payment will make the process much faster and easier, and it will be a huge support for e-commerce industry,” Harouny stated.
Haroun clarified that the purpose of e-commerce is that people effortlessly will be able to go through shopping experience, pick what they want, click a button and to have it delivered to the doorstep.
As per e-commerce laws and regulation; Haroun commented that at least there is a dialogue and a discussion about how to frame laws regarding e-commerce.
“I don’t see that there will be a problem, it’s moving forward, a bit slow but as long as there is a discussion and moving forward clearly, I’m optimistic, I think formalizing any business will be everyone’s benefit,” he stated.
The clear laws and frameworks are; the easier for people to do and conduct their business, according to Haroun. “It’s important to have framework controls commerce on internet.”
Regarding Mashtal Garden Centers, Haroun said that the project started two years ago, aiming to serve people who want to have gardening projects or others who already have their existing projects.
“Most of gardening stores are outside Cairo or they are informal business where there is lack of transparency,” he stated clarifying the importance of his project.
According to Haroun, Inspiration for Mashtal is that to be able to give people a beautiful shopping experience, where they can go online and find everything they need from A-Z to start and implement their gardening projects.
Going Cash-less: Hard Choices, Easy Life
Yesterday, the CBN released a circular on the “Implementation of the Cash-less Policy”. Much of the social media dialogue diverted from Andela’s restructuring to the policy’s potential impact on the economy – especially for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). A lot of comments highlighted the perceived “ineptness” of this policy and conceived it as an attempt to further complicate things, frustrate small businesses and increase the number of businesses within the informal economy.
Do the facts agree with this position? No.
In this article, I argue that yesterday was calculated and is a step in the right direction.
A Short History Lesson
On 1 January 2012, there was an attempt by the government to curb excess cash in circulation by introducing the Cash-less Nigeria Policy. It was first introduced in Lagos and prescribed handling charges on cash in excess of N500,000 (individuals) and N3,000,000 (corporate bodies).
The policy was not put in place to remove cash from the equation but to reduce its volume. It also aimed to encourage more electronic based transaction systems e.g. POS terminals, short codes and the like. The policy was first rested in Lagos state with service charges taking effect from 30 March 2012.
Under the policy, effective from June 1, 2012 daily cumulative withdrawals and lodgment in banks by individual would be limited to a maximum of N150,000, while daily cumulative withdrawals and lodgments by corporate customers is pegged at N1million. However, individuals and corporate organizations wishing to withdraw above the fixed amount would have to pay special charges.
Essentially – this has happened before, it was always in the offing.
Why is Everyone Worked Up on Social Media?
To clarify the position in yesterday’s release, if you withdraw or deposit N500,100, the charge will be levied on the N100 and not the entire sum. After all, it’s little drops of water that makes an ocean. Dissenting opinions on the issue argue from two major standpoints and I have set them out in the following bullets.
The first and most popular argument against the CBN’s cash-less move borders around financial inclusion. Proponents say Nigerians will be less interested in the banks and frequently conjure an illiterate Nigerian man who lives under a rock in some remote Nigerian village to prove their point. However, Nigeria’s current vector does not support the conclusions many commentators have reached.
Strong economies have equally strong banks; Nigeria’s banks are only beginning to get back on their feet. The informal economy valued at $240bn (IMF) presents an opportunity for the government to stabilize monetary policy and redefine banking in Nigeria. The pertinent question is, how does the government intend to do it?
Enter the CBN’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS)
The long term move for the NFIS is to ensure that 80% of bankable adults in Nigeria have access to financial services. This is the reason why you have telecommunications companies offering Mobile Money nationwide, why there are more vending machines on the Island and why POS Terminals are available at barbershops in Modakeke (for a commission, you can withdraw and send money).
It has taken time but, it is working out – execution is key.
Ease of Doing Business
Another argument borders around ease of doing business, especially for MSMEs. Ask anyone who makes this argument a simple question: what is easier, physically depositing/withdrawing N3,000,000 or transferring N300,000,000 via internet banking?
This particular argument sees the entire situation as high risk because, if handled improperly, there is the possibility that businesses in the informal sector are crushed in the wake of yesterday’s announcement. Businesses and individuals alike have to pay N52 bank charges (plus VAT) on inter-bank transactions. Arguments from this quarters note that transferring money or using POS Terminals to make payments can reduce the incentive to have money in the bank in the first place.
I will use an illustration to explain how difficult it is to agree with the above position. A woman walks into Tejuosho market with N500,000 – she intends to buy 4 items from 4 different vendors. Which of the following options makes her life easier?
- Making those payments with *737# mobile transfer and paying N208 extra or
- Withdrawing N500,000 from her bank, taking it into Tejuosho market and making payments at 4 different shops.
Would you rather risk your personal safety because you intend to save N208? If we consider ripple effects in the illustration above, there seems to be an upside for companies involved in online payments, procurement and logistics. An upside any responsible government should leverage. If you do not want to use electronic payment channels, you would have to shoulder time costs, transport and think carefully about security.
Understanding the N500,000 Threshold
The statistics show that if 100 Nigerians read this article, only 2 will have over N500,000 in their bank accounts. Thus, there is at least a 20:1000 chance that this policy may never apply to you. On the off chance that it does, you most likely are in the 2% of Nigerians that own 90% of all bank deposits.
The aforestated shows that the Central Bank of Nigeria has by default safeguarded most Nigerians and inadvertently created an exception to the policy – the 98%. It is simple, the bulk of Nigeria’s individual and business demographic will never have to shell these fees. It shows that this policy was carefully thought out, all that’s left is effective implementation.
Corruption has been touted as an existential threat to Nigeria. As a country, we hold multiple records on several corruption indexes. Through this policy it has become easier to monitor the movement of money and track illicit financial flows. Whether we grasp this or not, it is a big win for Nigeria.
Monetary inflation is becoming an increasing threat to efforts to stabilize the economy. Monetary inflation happens when there is a consistent rise in the amount of money available within a currency area/country. When this happens especially with the admixture of several other factors including the transmission mechanism, there is a tendency for prices of goods and services to cost substantially more. Essentially, with less cash in circulation – chances that the price of garri will go up become minimal (too much money makes garri expensive).
Also, it is impracticable for this government to pay interests on loans, fund the new minimum wage, protect the foreign reserves, subsidize petrol, cover federal salaries and continue projects under the current revenue streams. The government realizes this and is taking steps to create long term sustainability. More money from the 2% means that more projects are possible going forward.
There are obvious risks with the policy especially as there seemed to be no warning or a phasing stage. The Buhari led administration has brought this policy at a time when there is the ban on CBN forex for importation of certain goods, proposed increased in VAT to 7.5% and tons of other policies that we cannot seem to agree are in Nigeria’s best interests. However, we can all agree that the government is driving change with monetary policy.
For the Cash-less policy to work, proper execution is more important than a viral A4 printout/PDF with the CBN letterhead. The government must clarify exemptions to the rule, increase the ease of access to mobile money and better network coverage.
The Cash-less Policy, if properly executed, might put an end to tally numbers and long queues in banks, increase the amount of diversified small businesses (small businesses providing peripheral financial services) and increase the formal economy.
Irrespective of Nigeria’s lingering challenge with implementation, I am taking the road less travelled by saying, Nigeria is actually playing to her strengths – we will be fine.
Samuel Korie is a graduate of Law from Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife). He is passionate about policy, volunteering and the unchartered frontiers of the legal profession.