A Conversation with our Chief Investment Officer

October 25, 2013

Women’s World Banking intern Melisa sat down with Chief Investment Officer
CJ Juhasz and talked about her impact investing work and interest in women’s issues.

M: You have more than 10 years of experience working in finance. What made you switch to microfinance and gender issues?

CJ: In some way, it’s not so much a change as an evolution. During my time on Wall Street, I became very interested in the premise that access to finance gives individuals the opportunity to improve their lives, realize their business ambitions, and that on a macro-scale,  you can make a difference on a development agenda.

Additionally, women’s issues have been with me all my life. My favorite T-Shirt as a kid growing up in the 70s said “Anything a boy can do, a girl can do better”. I graduated from West Point, served in the US Army, and worked on Wall Street, so you can imagine the kind of gender issues I was confronted with over the course of my career. I decided that if I can continue to support other women in fighting this battle, while giving them the tools to realize their dreams and to not be held back by their gender, then all the better.

M: You are in charge of Women’s World Banking Asset Management. What do you like the most about your work? What is the most challenging part of it?

CJ is welcomed to the Ujjivan board in March 2013
CJ is welcomed to the Ujjivan board in March 2013

CJ: What is terrific about Women’s World Banking Asset Management is that it is a new business line that grew out of my old responsibilities managing the Capital Markets Group. We were often asked by our network members to be an investor partner; however, as an NGO, we did not have the capital to do so. We decided to look into raising a third party fund, and part of our research was to determine if there was in fact a need for Women’s World Banking to play the role of an equity investor. We answered that question with a resounding yes, for two reasons. There are two trends that accompany microfinance commercialization that concern us: 1)  the movement away from women in general as clients and as staff; and 2) the movement away from the social mission, as the profit maximization motive can overshadow the institution’s mission to be a responsible lender. We see Women’s World Banking’s role as an investor to protect our network members’ missions by investing in in their continued commitment to serving primarily women, and identifying and promoting women in their staff and management, and also in supporting responsible, client–focused growth strategies.  When the fund has a successful track record, we will also have demonstrated the business case for investing in women-focused microfinance.

M: You have been working for Women’s World Banking since 2007. What is the most positive characteristic that you have found in the organization?

CJ: After going to West Point, spending three years in the Army, and working for 12 years on Wall Street, the opportunity to work primarily with women has been refreshing  My colleagues at Women’s World Banking are so committed, hardworking, and intrinsically motivated that it makes the organization a really special place to work. I also value the opportunity to travel around the world and see the impact of microfinance operators on the lives of their clients, and witness what is taking place on the ground,

M: Could you tell us a bit about the work you will be doing increasing financial inclusion in the Middle East microfinance institutions as an Eisenhower Fellow?

CJ: I was truly honored to be invited to apply to Eisenhower Fellowship last year. The mission of the Fellowship is to engage mid-career professionals from around the world to enhance their leadership skills, broaden their network of contacts, deepen their global perspectives, and unite them in a diverse, global community where dialogue, understanding, and collaboration lead to a more prosperous, just, and peaceful world. Each year, the Multi Nation Program brings Fellows from countries around the world to the U.S. while the USA Program sends Americans abroad to gain international exposure to people, institutions, technologies and ideas. Eisenhower Fellows propose itineraries for themselves, and I immediately thought of going to the Middle East, first because it seems to be the flash point of misunderstanding among America and the rest of the world, but also—which is significant for my career and what I want to accomplish at Women’s World Banking–I would very much like to identify investment opportunities in microfinance institutions that are focused on helping women in the Arab World, because of the unique role that women play or don’t play in their societies there. I will be travelling to Turkey and Jordan and will get to meet with some of my peers in microfinance, as well as policy-makers, regulators, development organizations and other key players.  I will be able to develop a real understanding of the current microfinance landscape in those countries.

M: Sounds like an amazing opportunity. Since you’re a fellow too, what do you think are the benefits of Fellowship program at Women’s World Banking?

CJ: I am personally a huge fan of it, because the Isis Fund has benefitted from the assistance of Fellows, first through Ines and now Liannette. I cannot comprehend how I would be still afloat and doing what I am doing without their assistance! The Fellowship program is a fantastic way for Women’s World Banking to attract really talented individuals with real passion in a generalist capacity.

M: What special qualities do you bring to the organization?

CJ: One of the key strengths I bring to the organization is my over a decade of experience on Wall Street and being able to see firsthand where finance can go wrong and where it is a tool to accomplish wonderful things. Particularly, I understand how to get deals done, how to value a company, and how to structure a legal transaction within the appropriate regulatory environment.

I also believe that as one of the more senior staff members in the organization–I’m old (laughs)–I am able to represent a woman at a different stage in her life trying to balance the priorities that come with that.  There are a lot of young people in this organization and I would like to think that I play a mentorship role to some of my younger colleagues.

I will also always point to my military background. Wherever I go, I have the strength of the West Point/Army leadership training that translates into an ability to work with people from a very broad range of backgrounds, and an ability to effectively manage up, down and sideways in order to get missions accomplished.

Follow CJ on Twitter: @cjjuhasz