In a company’s organisation chart, the CFO often appears just below the CEO, emphasising its importance as seen with the vice-president of the African Development Bank (AfDB).
In October 2022, Hassatou Diop N’Sele, a convinced pan-Africanist, was chosen for this strategic role. For her, the AfDB’s strategy must be “innovative and forward-looking to enable the continent to climb the mountain of challenges it faces”.
The woman who has the ear of Adesina, president of the pan-African institution, was not, however, predestined to occupy such a position.
Trained in the US
After a peaceful childhood on the island of Gorée (to the east of Dakar), Diop N’Sele moved with her brother and parents to the Senegalese capital, where they became very successful in the hotel business. At the time, everything seemed set for the young woman, who was expected to follow in her family’s footsteps in the hospitality industry.
“My parents quite naturally expected me to work alongside them,” she says, adding that she preferred to listen to her intuition. “I had a thirst for understanding and dissecting the workings of the world around me. Economics seemed an appropriate choice, because finance is the lifeblood of the business, so I went for it.”
The young woman began her studies in her own country, at the Université Cheikh-Anta-Diop in Dakar (Ucad). “Then I had the privilege of continuing my studies in the United States. I seized the opportunity and flew to Washington, not really knowing what to expect,” she says.
The result of her American adventure: a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from George Washington University, in international business and finance respectively – enough to allow her to take her first steps in the professional world through the front door.
Starting out at Citibank
Diop N’Sele’s career took off in the private sector: first at Citibank Senegal as manager of financial institutions, then as administrative and financial director at Tiger Denrées. In 1999, her husband was transferred to Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire, followed by a combination of circumstances, which prompted her to apply to join the AfDB.
“It was completely by chance that I ended up working for the AfDB. It was a happy coincidence and a sincere desire to contribute in my own way to the continent’s development,” she tells us. “That was almost 25 years ago. You know the rest of the story,” says the woman who has risen through the ranks of the institution in a number of roles, notably in the Treasury Department and in the Capital Markets and Financial Operations Division.
A fine strategist
With “optimising the institution’s financial capacity” as her mantra, Diop N’Sele is responsible for the strategic and technical leadership of everything to do with the AfDB’s financial capacity, as well as the development of innovative financial products like new forms of hybrid capital.
The Senegalese economist spearheaded the institution’s breakthrough into the green and social bond markets. Her major achievements in the capital markets include award-winning transactions, including the $3bn Fight Covid-19 bond launched in 2020, which made the AfDB one of the largest issuers of social bonds.
Diop N’Sele manages the AfDB’s borrowings portfolio, which currently stands at over $33bn, and oversees the investment strategy for the Group’s liquid assets, which total $25bn spread across multi-currency portfolios.
“[She’s] rigorous, [has] a keen sense of responsibility [and is] determined and passionate.” That’s how her colleagues at the AfDB describe the mother of three. “Today, my daughters are grown up, but it hasn’t always been easy to find a balance between my personal and professional life. I’ve been very well supported and helped,” she says.
A typical day? “About 15 tasks and meetings in my diary. I rarely have time to do everything I’ve planned, even if I finish late in the evening. Even so, I’ve been stubbornly writing to-do lists for years,” she tells us, accompanied by an approving nod from one of her colleagues.
When asked about her status as a woman in a predominantly male environment, she says: “I have never been aware that being a woman could hold back my career. I have never questioned myself as a woman, [even] in an environment dominated by men”. Diop N’Sele believes that “this is also [and above all] thanks to my parents’ education”.
“I don’t censor myself and I invite all women to do the same. You have to dare,” she says. “I find my work fascinating and my mission exhilarating, which is a great help to me on a daily basis.”
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