For this month’s focus on Changemakers in global institutions, Darlene Nzorubara (DN), Principal Quality and Development at IFAC, spoke with Adenike (Nike) Oyeyiola, an Advisor with the Governance Global Practice of the World Bank and the Co-Chair of MOSAIC Steering Committee. Nike managed the Governance Global work program at the World Bank, aligning the Bank’s Governance knowledge on Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability, Public Investment Management, Domestic Resource Mobilization, Governance of State-Owned Enterprises, Corporate Financial Reporting, Governance in Human Development Sectors, Governance of Infrastructure, and fiduciary assurance in various client countries. She worked extensively on international development and supported governance in several countries in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia, and at the global level. These engagements include fragile and conflict- and violence-affected countries such as South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
Nike is a Chartered Accountant and member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Nigeria. She has a Master of Science degree in Public Policy and Management from the University of London, a Master of Science degree in Business Administration, and a Bachelor of Science (Hon) in Economics, both from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She holds a Public Leadership Credential from the Harvard Kennedy School and is a Ph.D. student in Public Administration at Liberty University.
Darlene Nzorubara (DN): Nike, you started your career at EY in Nigeria and are now at the World Bank. Tell us about your journey; what has led you to follow an international career path?
Adenike Oyeyiola (AO): I had my foundation in my home country, Nigeria, and I believe the step-by-step progression from elementary, which we called primary school, through university at the prestigious premier University of Ibadan in Nigeria, studying for a bachelor's degree in economics, laid the excellent foundation for my career in EY and my professional development as an accountant. I wanted a career in the social sciences but was caught between banking and accounting, so by a stroke of luck, I opted for Economics at the university, a good foundation for both. I got articled at EY, Nigeria, in 1990, and that became my entry point and path into the accounting profession. I qualified in 1992 and continued strengthening my accounting experience in EY until 2001, when I joined the World Bank.
Working with EY was my initiation, the first step on the international path. However, my engagement with the World Bank gave me a broader perspective, coverage, and engagement. At that level, the focus was more on supporting countries' developmental aspirations and journeys. The vision of the World Bank is to end extreme poverty and boost prosperity on a livable planet. My work represents my contribution to this laudable vision and agenda. I had put in eight years of work in my home country, Nigeria, when I discovered and developed a passion for working on countries referred to as “countries in fragility, conflict, and violence, (FCV)." The World Bank FCV Strategy indicates that by 2030, FCV countries will be home to up to 2/3 of the world's extreme poor. In this regard, I invested eight years of development work in South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Sudan, including traveling to and living in some countries. In my six recent years in a managerial position at the World Bank, I led cross-sectoral teams of the World Bank and other development partners to enable the government to translate their policy objectives into action. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I led the World Bank's teams in delivering a series of policy notes for timely action to adapt to needs for speed and flexibility in providing timely support to counties. The World Bank had a substantial financial support package for developing countries globally during pandemic. My team and I ensured our COVID-19 support packages had the necessary technical support to provide country-level impact.
DN: You have worked around the world. How has pursuing an accountancy education enabled you to have an international career? What are the challenges associated with this path?
AO: Accounting skills are now fundamental to strategic leadership work. And an interdisciplinary skill that enables better achievement of organizational objectives compared to any other stream. My engagement at EY (then Ernst & Young) Nigeria between 1990 and 2001 built a solid professional and career growth foundation. I started as a Staff Accountant, the hands-on, cutting-edge professional level, and left in 2001 as a Manager. I worked on audits in various sectors, including banking, oil & gas, and manufacturing. This foundation was a strong baseline for my international career. When I joined the World Bank Group in 2001, a requirement for my first job as a financial management specialist was a professional accountancy qualification. The discipline developed as an accountant and the professional ethos required in engaging with various clients in several sectors and at several managerial and executive levels are strong baselines that prepared me for engagement with diverse colleagues, different countries' counterparts, development partners, and other stakeholders at the international level.
Some challenges include extensive travel and postings to other locations/countries when international engagements are required. However, it is gratifying to engage with several governments and other stakeholders.
DN: What is your advice for the younger generation of women interested in pursuing a career in a global institution such as the World Bank?
AO: First, the World Bank is an equal opportunity employer and a champion for more significant opportunities for women to join the World Bank at every level in the hierarchy. In fact, in all World Bank job advertisements, there are clear indications and emphasis on this selection criteria. If you are a woman with credentials, a passion for development work and are looking at the World Bank for opportunities, you are looking in the right direction.
Second, the World Bank cares for women throughout their careers and beyond. I have seen scores of immensely successful women in the World Bank building their careers and optimizing their potentials.
Third, closely linked to the above, be prepared. You need to be among the very best to be able to join international organizations like the World Bank, as competition is enormous. Many organizations have several webinars and trainings on these platforms. These are valuable tools that keep you prepared when the opportunity arises.
Finally, a tough one for us as women: be open to taking calculated risks. For instance, I lived in South Sudan for three years in the early days of their independence and nationhood, and it was a non-family post. I also traveled frequently to Afghanistan and Somalia. There were other career women in these locations. Many would be averse to such risks for family reasons, which is understandable. Emphasis should be placed on and consideration given to one's peculiar family circumstances.
DN: You have held several leadership positions at the global scale. How can women in the accountancy profession reach their full potential as leaders?
AO: The future of women professional accountants in the corporate world, governments and other institutions is unparalleled. We have seen female professional accountants move as C-suite executives, CEOs, and CFOs in the corporate world, and the trend will continue. In governments, female Chartered Accountants occupy high offices like Finance Ministers, Finance Secretaries, and Auditors General.
I have also identified some essential and helpful steps during my career development.
- Identify a mentor. Several women in top positions, have emphasize the importance of mentorship, identifying a good mentor and a constructive critic. Some mentorship programs connect women with successful mentors in their chosen fields. These networking opportunities can provide valuable support and guidance for professional development.
- Be open to new ideas, opportunities, and areas. As accountants, we need to respond to global and local demands, and the question is, are we nimble enough to react quickly to the frequent changes in our professional environment? How do we adapt these changes to our local conditions? And how does our capability respond to the new international requirements? We are in a period referred to as the digital revolution, the fourth industrial revolution, which involves several aspects of technological use. How can/do we respond to these requirements from the public and private sectors?
- Make contributions and speak out at meetings, and other engagements. Let your voice be heard. Women have so much potential, important information, and great ideas. You must ensure that you speak out, are listened to, are ready to lead your ideas, and volunteer to lead others.
- An aspect that may sometimes be difficult, particularly with us women, for obvious personal or family reasons, is exploring positions in high-risk environments. I can understand the reticence if any woman would not explore that. However, engaging in fragile environments can be rewarding for a woman or a man. This is because there are critical development issues in these environments; at this level, your engagement becomes visible and rewarding. One of the concerns for many people is the security in these areas. I believe that many employers and I can affirm for the World Bank that they are very conscious of this security issues, and the welfare and safety of their staff are sacrosanct; therefore, appropriate mitigating measures are put in place to manage those risks. Of course, there are other ways to progress, but it’s worth exploring.
- Increase engagement in community projects, advocacy, and social issues. Community participation can positively impact society and provide a platform for development.
DN: Besides your responsibilities at the World Bank, you are also pursuing a PhD in public administration. Please share more about your motivation to pursue your educational journey.
AO: I've always strongly desired to pursue a doctorate program. This has been a burning desire since 2008 or thereabout. I tried in Nigeria, but my work and external posting made it challenging. I loved academics, and my friends and colleagues would refer to me as 'efico' in one of my schools because of my penchant for reading and following up on schoolwork. When the opportunity for a Ph.D. in Public Administration presented itself, it aligned with my current career progression and spiritual development. It is a 2-in-1 doctorate for me because of the core technical contents and life application. Continuous learning has always been one of the most satisfying aspects of my professional career. This doctoral work is a significant step toward consolidating and building on my over three decades of professional experience. There is no end to learning, irrespective of age and job placement, and I plan to continue to pursue more.
DN: Besides your responsibilities at the World Bank and your PhD, you are a mother of two. What are some of your recommendations for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
AO: My two kids are in middle school and preschool, respectively. Balancing professional and personal life is essential for overall well-being. We should sincerely recognize that the balance is always tilted for an ardent professional, usually in favor of work; it requires an understanding of family and good coordination.
However, aligning the two core functions of work and life activities is easier with an understanding family. My submission usually is that we need to work hard while at work and play hard while at home. I cannot promise that it works that way always. There are usually crossovers, particularly with work. I recall during the COVID-19 pandemic, I just had my son in 2020, and I also had a very active, well-motivated, and proactive work team. So, work was a full-time plus. I had no core work time as I worked almost 15 hours on technical but more on managerial engagements. Because of the sensitivity of the pandemic and the need for expanded human relations, I opened my doors to a 24/7 call by staff and colleagues. This was only possible with an understanding family. I recall I had to strap my son on my back to have meetings at some point. It was a good picture for a Unit competition (lol).
In summary, in many cases, both work and life have merged. I call it 'lifework.' However, finding the family time that resonates as memories is still pertinent. Sometimes, I combine family time with work as much as possible. When my daughter was 6 months old, I had an official engagement in South Africa, so I traveled with her and engaged a nanny in the hotel who was with her during my work hours. After work, we visited a few memorial places. She was too young to remember the specific places, but I have pictures as evidence when there is any discussion of ‘mummy focused too much on work than family’ (lol). I have a very understanding spouse; I call him my crown, my creative director (lol). We both progress on our separate work assignments and joint life activities.
About the World Bank
With 189 member countries, staff from more than 170 countries, and offices in over 130 locations, the World Bank Group is a unique global partnership: five institutions working for sustainable solutions that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries.
Adenike Oyeyiola shared her thoughts on what opportunities exist for the accountancy profession to support the World Bank agenda to provide sustainable solutions that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries?
“There is a popular misconception that the World Bank is an organization of economists. While it may be valid to a certain extent, many need to know the enormous opportunities for professional accountants in the Bank. This year, we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Financial Management in World Bank operations, a massive group of accountants with mandatory professional accounting certification (Chartered Accountants). Chartered Accountants are core to assuring the use of funds on World Bank-funded operations in all countries. They review the treasury controls, financial statements, cash flows, and other internal controls in client governments. This is one side of the coin. On the government side, Chartered Accountants support governments on Public Financial Management (PFM) reforms. For example, Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) is a gold standard PFM framework of the World Bank, IMF, the European Commission, and 6 other development partners. I managed the PEFA Secretariat housed in the World Bank for over five years, one of my most rewarding work experiences as a professional accountant. Suppose public finances in a country are delivering services to citizens effectively. PFM systems make it happen, and financial management specialists in the World Bank support governments in strengthening these PFM systems. Further, there are several other departments like loan processing, operations policies, trust fund accounting, internal audit, internal evaluation, Auditor General of the World Bank, etc, where opportunities for professional accountants are in great demand.
The World Bank engages significantly with the Ministries of Finance, Offices of the Accountant and Auditor Generals, the standard setters, amongst others, and these are institutions where accountants are a core part of the operations. We support the capacity development of several of these institutions. I’ll give a few examples of situations in which I have been directly involved. I have been given the opportunity to lead or manage analytical work and strategic support to the accounting profession and the development of accounting education. In Nigeria, I led a World Bank support to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the National Accounting Standards Board (now Financial Reporting Council), support to the Accountancy Bodies of West Africa (ABWA), and the Federation of Accountants and Auditor Generals in West Africa (FAAGWA). I managed support for accountancy education in several countries. Notably, the strengthening of foundational accountancy is ongoing in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Tunisia, and Morocco. I supported strengthening the capacity of the external and internal audit functions in South Sudan, including attempt to set up a professional accountancy body while I was based there. I have managed some interesting engagements in Europe and Central Asia that supports accounting education and assisted some Eastern European countries in their ascension to the European Union. These and many other endeavors are part of the Bank’s support and engagement across regions of the world. I am also delighted that in addition to the World Bank, several other development partners are part of the memorandum of understanding for strengthening accountancy and improving collaboration (MOSAIC), which is led by IFAC and co-chaired by the World Bank. You will note that these are critical areas that require accountants to be engaged. On a broader level, professional accountants collectively play a crucial role in the World Bank's goal of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity on a livable planet.”