Breaking Barriers: Women Changemakers in Financial Inclusion, Ep. 3 featuring Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa

November 18, 2019

Intro clip (Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa):

If I have this opportunity, let’s use it not for my own privilege, my own benefit, to get a nice salary, drive a nice car, and that’s it. So, I have really to see what else I can do to uplift them knowing that as I do, I also give this opportunity to the country. I unlock this potential.


Karen Miller (Host): Women’s World Banking is bringing you a series of podcasts about trailblazing women leaders who are driving change to ensure that women worldwide have access to and usage of financial products and services they need to build a better life for themselves and their families. I’m your host Karren Miller, Vice President of Knowledge Communications for Women’s World Banking.

Today I have the distinct honor of interviewing Dr. Monique Nsanzabanganwa, Deputy Governor from the National Bank of Rwanda, who I’ve had the distinct pleasure of knowing for the last several years. Monique, I realized though I don’t actually know much about your childhood. What was life like for you as a young girl in Rwanda?

Monique Nsanzabaganwa (Guest):  Oh, thank you for the question. My childhood was really nothing very dramatic. My parents were teachers. I just grew up as a normal girl. As I was growing up, my country was really traversing a very difficult time, challenges of bad leadership. Politics were not really doing well because of divisions, hatred, injustices, and so on and so forth.

There was this funny system of quotas. In my region where I come from there was a certain limit they had set, so I missed my opportunity to climb up to the secondary school. And I was really sad because I was otherwise performing well in class and had performed well on my national exams. It was something going around for the country for everybody. I mean, it culminated eventually into a genocide a couple of years or dozens of years later.

Miller: So, what do you hear when you get into secondary school?

Nsanzabaganwa: As a solution, because as I told you this was not an isolated case, it was really a rampant situation. Parents in some places had come up with this innovative solution of coming up with private schools. So, I actually attended a private secondary school.

Miller: Did you have a sense in secondary school that you were going to be interested in economics?

Nsanzabaganwa: Kind of, wow. Yeah. I had a relative, my aunt. She was one of those leaders who really promoted education and she herself had done economics. I think I was inspired by her role modelling and I decided I was going to do that though I didn’t know what it entailed.

Miller: After secondary school you went to university and then got your PhD in economics. You have this PhD in economics and then what prompted you to say, “I’m going to dedicate my life to the public sector.” You’ve worked in the Rwandan government for a long time and then went over to the National Bank of Rwanda. Why did you make that choice?

Nsanzabaganwa: Actually, I’m not sure if I made that choice, but the choice I had made was teaching, which is public service anyway, like my parents were teachers. But I wanted to be promoted a little bit and not teach in primary school but teach in the university. So, when I went for my studies for master’s and PhD later on in South Africa, I was actually a lecturer at a university. Upon my completion of master’s then public service the way I’m serving it now, I was appointed and called to serve in government. That’s why I’m saying maybe it wasn’t much of my choice.

Miller: And what was your feeling about being in the government when you started working there?

Nsanzabaganwa: It’s a huge opportunity. It’s a privilege to serve. But it’s also a huge responsibility. I must say that serving in the government of Rwanda, it’s something also uniquely interesting. Because we have a system where meritocracy is really given room. A system where accountability is enforced. A system where you really have to deliver. It’s tough. You’re given an opportunity to use your technical knowledge as an expert but at the same time occupy a political role, which is a combination of the two. All the things I had studied in school in theory books, I was now able to apply and sometimes things really don’t work out like they are in the textbooks. So, you have to be innovative. You have to involve people. You have to manage human beings in terms of them playing a part but also it terms of what you’re doing having an impact on them. It’s really interesting. And I like it.

Miller: And so if you go to young women in university, today what would you say to them about pursuing a career in the public sector?

Nsanzabaganwa: I would tell them what I tell myself always. You have to first of all be equipped, get educated, know as much as you can, and really perform well. It doesn’t matter which subject. You really need to have that attitude. Be able to be taught and to learn and to share. I think that attitude can take you far in life because you don’t know what you’re going to do when you graduate.

Miller: Monique, something I’ve always found really interesting about Rwanda is that it ranks in the top five countries for gender equality. It is the only country in Africa that has made it to the top five list along with the ones you might expect, the Scandinavian countries. And so why do you think that is?

Nsanzabaganwa: Today’s system really puts first inclusion. And inclusion starts by including everyone, men and women. And Rwanda having 52% of its population being women, and that’s what our president likes to say, you just can’t ignore 52% of your resources and think that your company is going to be okay. So that’s one. Second, in our culture, before maybe some bad manners were introduced and some bad politics, women are respected.  We don’t have really that entrenched culture of disregarding a mother or a young girl. But again, you have institutions. You have like the Constitution that mandates certain principles.

For instance, the 30% minimum of representation in leadership. Another institution is the gender monitoring office that was created. And it reinforces really that constitutional principle across government, across the private sector, and civil society. Another institution is gender budgeting and gender mainstreaming, which is also taken to the level of Ministry of Finance. Actually, acting on behalf of the Ministry of Gender to demand that every government agency demonstrates what they are planning to do in this field of gender equality. So those are a few examples of institutions that holistically creates an environment that makes Rwanda succeed in those in fields.

Miller: And so, within that context, in that culture, and the accountability do girls grow up in Rwanda thinking I could be whatever I want to be as an adult? Do you notice any difference between girls and boys while growing up?

Nsanzabaganwa: Our young girls are really empowered. We are seeing growth of programs directed to them in education, mentoring, in role modelling. Actually, empowered to the tune that we have started worrying about our boys. We have realized that boys also need to be catered for. HeForShe and many good programs tell us that you can’t do it sustainably if you don’t really look at both boys and girls as they grow up. We still have issues of norms and legacies. And actually, here at the central bank for instance, a few years back, we were struggling to see women coming to us when we put adverts out there looking for staff. And we wondered why. And some answers we get are like, “Oh we thought maybe central bank is not for us. This is a very intimidating institution and they do hard things,” and girls will feel like they don’t even belong. You still have those small  things that are stuck in our minds. You still have a few perception issues. You still have those stereotypes that are conscious or unconscious.

Miller: I think you raise an interesting point because in your work with the National Bank of Rwanda, but more broadly in central banks, gender diversity is severely lacking particularly at the higher levels. Why do you think that is, and what should we be doing to change that?

Nsanzabaganwa: Actually, this is a global phenomenon, I would say. Actually, even the institutions like the IMF, it’s only recently that we had female MDs. It’s still a challenge. It has to do with how the humankind, I don’t know, has shaped these relationships. It has to do with those norms and cultural issues. It has to do with the political systems that are not really being deliberate enough to encourage and challenge and actually yeah decide to put women up there because women are capable. All the schools I’ve attended, women, girls were actually top in our classes. But because of those issues maybe you get married and, in that process, you start having your babies and then you lag behind in your career. When it comes time to really promote or appoint, you don’t show up or you don’t actively look for those opportunities. You know, those are the issues really that are in the end creating the gap we are seeing. But I’m also confident that that gap is closing.

Miller: At least in Africa it seems like there are a higher percentage of women at the deputy governor or governor level than there are in other regions. Is that anything that you think is specific to the various countries and their efforts of what they’re doing or that just happen to be where we’re seeing the most traction right now?

Nsanzabaganwa: Yeah, I think there’s really substantial goodwill out there to look at these diversity issues but also women have demonstrated that they can deliver. Actually, I was looking at some statistics showing the talent pool out there. It’s really majority female. The female talent is increasing more than the male talent. For Rwanda, for instance, I don’t see any particular institution where you have top seniors and they don’t have at least 30% being of either sex. It’s becoming almost a norm. So that even in social life like when you are in a cooperative and you are electing your members of your board, your governing body, it comes naturally now.

Miller: Monique, we haven’t even touched on yet your work in financial inclusion for women. Both the actions you’ve taken as the Deputy Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda as well as your passion for this issue. Can you tell me a little bit about why you feel so passionately about women’s financial inclusion?

Nsanzabaganwa: I’m passionate about women. And I’m passionate about inclusion. So financial inclusion for women, actually it’s a good couple for me.

I’m being rational, but also, I’m being emotional about it. And I’m being politically correct about it because this is the priority. And I’m being selfish about it because I’m a woman and I have really to be there for them. If I have this opportunity let’s use it not for my own privilege, my own benefit, to get a nice salary, drive a nice car, and that’s it. So, I have really to see what else I can do to uplift them knowing that as I do, I also give this opportunity to the country. I unlock this potential which is at 52%.

Miller: That’s amazing Monique. I love the rational, emotional, political, and selfish. That combination though really rolls up into something quite incredible that you’ve accomplished.

Nsanzabaganwa: Thank you.

Miller: I’m wondering what’s next for when you think about what you have accomplished, what more is there to do?

Nsanzabaganwa: I think there is a lot. We have a plan as a country. This is access to loans. But loans for what? Loans for really the farms, farmers who were struggling, SMEs who are struggling to improve what they’re doing, these cross-border traders who are struggling to improve on their systems and increase their businesses, women who are already in business who lack a lot. And we are now opening our markets in Africa. We are becoming a featured area, a continental one. This is the work we are doing at the central bank. But also, this is the work I’m doing together with my colleagues at New Faces New Voices Rwanda. There is a lot to do. It will take many many years to two to achieve inclusion and to sustain it. The gender diversity is a long-haul kind of challenge.

Miller: What would you say to your peers in other markets about tackling this challenge?

Nsanzabaganwa: You have to admit that there is a challenge. You have to know how big the challenges is, what is your measuring data. You have to plan to have a strategy and more than just having a strategy you have to have the will and capacity to implement.

And you don’t have to think that you’re going to finish it or do it all alone but do something. In whatever position you stand use that to create something. And I also think there is a lot you can do by coming together and learning from each other and inspiring each other and actually holding each other accountable.

Miller: I think that’s a very useful advice for your peers. Because I am such an avid reader, I always love to ask people if they have a favorite book. Do you have one?

Nsanzabaganwa: That’s a tricky question. Do I really have one apart from the Bible? But maybe a book that I read and it really stuck in my mind is Left to Tell, written by a Rwandan lady, a survivor of genocide. It really speaks to how powerful we can be as human beings when we really take the courage to choose life and how it can be so destructive when we disregard others, when you exclude them, when we hate them. It challenged me and forces me to think about those normative things especially in a country like mine where we had suffered a lot but we have come out of it and are now thriving.

Miller: Well I am adding that to my book list. Absolutely. It sounds like an incredible story. Monique, I know you have, is it three children you have?

Nsanzabaganwa: Yes, I have two boys and a girl.

Miller: So, as you think about their future and the future of the children of Rwanda, what do you hope for their future?

Nsanzabaganwa: Of course, I hope for them a peaceful country, a prosperous country, a united country. But I also hope that they don’t take it for granted. Because now they’re growing up having all those privileges, good leadership, really a country that is growing, that is being present there. I want them to be responsible citizens. I want them to be in touch with their history because you need really to constantly check where you come from, your roots, and the things that went bad, things which went good. Today’s world tends to ignore humanity, ignore those good values. We are growing in a materialistic kind of world. I don’t want them to be like that.

Miller: Monique, I think that’s a wonderful way of thinking about it. Thank you for sharing that. I have so enjoyed this discussion today. I think it’s so important to think about the accountability and to find your passion and your commitment and make sure that you are delivering and contributing to building that more secure and prosperous future for Rwanda. So, I thank you for everything that you do and all of the work that you are currently driving in your country. So once again thank you. I so appreciate everything that I’ve learned from you.

Nsanzabaganwa: Thanks Karen, I enjoyed the interview.

Miller: Wonderful. Thanks so much.


This episode was produced by Jessica Bodiford. Thank you again to Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa for sharing your wisdom with us. For more podcast episodes and to learn more about Women’s World Banking, visit