Aminata Mbaye, Deputy Chief of Party of the Trade Hub, Shares Her Thoughts and Experiences

By Akua Mensah, Communication Specialist

Aminata Mbaye is currently the Deputy Chief of Party (Grants and Administration) for the West Africa Trade & Investment Hub activity. With over 20 years of experience in international development, particularly for USAID-funded projects, Aminata has served and honed her skills across all aspects of operations, including Administration, Grant Management, Financial Management, Capacity Building, and Project Management.

Before joining the Trade Hub, Aminata was a Senior Operations Advisor for the Integrated Health Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a 7-year project funded by USAID and implemented by Abt Associates. Aminata was also the Deputy Chief of Party for the former West Africa Trade Hub project and was responsible for overseeing the operations, finance, capacity building, and grants component of that project.

Originally from Senegal, Aminata has worked and lived in Canada, the United States, Kenya, Ghana, and Senegal. Aminata has a bachelor’s degree and an MBA in Finance from the University of Quebec in Montreal. She is fluent in French, English, and Wolof.

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2023, under the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” Aminata shared her experiences attaining positions of leadership in the development sector in West Africa, her thoughts on the progress towards gender equality in the region, and the Trade Hub’s contributions to achieving that goal.

Aminata Mbaye Deputy Chief of Party – Grants and Administration, USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub delivers a presentation on the work of the Trade Hub at the organization staff retreat held in Abuja in May 2022.

In West Africa, it can be challenging to find women in positions of leadership in organizations like the Trade Hub. What experiences would you say have led you to see such success in your career so far? 

It is indeed challenging to find women in positions of leadership, although significant progress has been made in closing the gap of gender inequity. Over the years, as society is changing, we gradually see more women in positions of leadership—even in male-dominated industries.

My first job was an analyst in the finance industry; however, I knew that I wanted to work in international development. Through determination, research, and networking, I was able to obtain an entry-level position in an international development organization two years after I entered the job market. I had specific objectives and goals in terms of my career path and knew where I wanted to be 10 years later.

Through hard work, determination, pushing forward when things were tough, and believing in myself, I was able to climb the ladder and be in a position of leadership in the international development arena. I believe that every woman who wants to be in a leadership position can do it if she believes in herself, is determined, and works hard.

What do you see as major challenges to gender-inclusive leadership in the development sector? 

I believe that some social and cultural norms challenge gender-inclusive leadership in the development sector, especially in Africa. In the West African family setting, it is expected that the women are responsible for the household and the family in general. Women leaders are often faced with the issue of managing a demanding career and the responsibilities of being a leader, and their household. Most women leaders in the West African context need to prove that they can assume their responsibilities as a leader while also prioritizing their family and household needs—this can be quite challenging.

In addition, while most organizations in the international development sector have clear gender-inclusive strategies and policies, it can be difficult to foster a workplace culture of “conscious inclusion” by increasing people’s awareness of any biases and increasing their ability for proper, gender-inclusive decision-making.

This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the efforts of women and girls to create more access to transformative technology and bridge the digital gender gap. How do you see the Trade Hub contributing to the empowerment of women and girls in this digital age? 

One of the Trade Hub’s objectives is to promote social inclusion and to empower women and youth and help bridge the digital gender gap. I believe that the Trade Hub has done a lot in contributing to empowering women and girls as the Trade Hub is partnering with several private sector companies that are either led by women or impacting the lives of women.

The Trade Hub has provided co-investment grants to several women-led/owned companies in the West Africa region, such as Enterprise Salma, Biosene, and Delta SA, to upgrade their facilities and support them in having access to state-of-the-art facilities. As part of the co-investment grant that was signed with the Trade Hub, Biosene, a Senegalese company specializing in agro-processing and cosmetics, is building a new facility to increase its production and storage capacity. The Trade Hub is also supporting Entreprise SALMA, a women-led company based in Niger, to modernize its feed production capacity and has awarded the company a grant for the production and commercialization of enriched and compounded animal feed in Niger.

Additionally, the Trade Hub is working with Delta SA to enhance existing sanitation facilities and access to improved sanitation services in Senegal. Through its services to public and private customers, Delta is increasing access to safely managed sanitation services and safe drinking water. Such services are directly helping to improve women’s well-being—women have access to better sanitation services and benefit from reduced distances to potable water sources.

Pictured left to right: Precious Okafor, Lead Grants Manager, USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub; Aminata Mbaye Deputy Chief of Party – Grants and Administration, USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub; Geoffrey Peter, Procurement and Logistics Officer, USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub; at the organization staff retreat held in Abuja in May 2022.

Gender and Social Inclusion is one of the Trade Hub’s key focus areas. How do you see the progress made so far in women’s economic inclusion and empowerment across sectors from agriculture to manufacturing in West Africa? 

I believe that over the years many West African countries are seeing great improvement in the involvement of women in all sectors, including the ones that are male-dominated, such as the aviation and construction industries. Several governments are putting in place policies and measures to address the issue of gender inequity. Donors and NGOs are working to promote women’s economic empowerment by emphasizing the inclusion of women in program activities.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done as, especially in rural and poor areas in West Africa, women and girls are still told that their place is in the kitchen and women are faced with abuse, discrimination, and gender-based violence. We see that women in West Africa are choosing to create their own businesses due to a lack of better opportunities and discrimination. I believe that governments, donors, and civil society must play an important role in ensuring the inclusion of all, especially women and youth, to help with the economic development of West Africa.

What advice would you give to young African women interested in leadership? 

I believe that every woman who wants to be in a leadership position can do it if she believes in herself, has the inner strength and determination to push beyond female categorizations, stereotypes, and other limiting circumstances. I advise young African women who are interested in leadership to work hard and to set clear objectives and goals. They need to have the determination to push forward when things go wrong and the tenacity to work around obstacles when they are presented.