How CFO Christine Sesay shed the ‘saviour mentality’ on returning to Africa

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When Christine Sesay came back to Africa from Europe, she admits that she had a “saviour mentality”. However, she quickly learnt that she did not know more than the people she met. It was a humbling experience, which she today uses to ground herself in her current role as the CFO of Kepler in Rwanda.

When Christine Sesay came back to Africa from Europe, she admits that she had a “saviour mentality”. However, she quickly learnt that she did not know more than the people she met. It was a humbling experience, which she today uses to ground herself in her current role as the CFO of Kepler in Rwanda.

“The people I work with have unique ideas and experiences; everyone contributes and we grow through that process. I have worked in many parts of the world and come to appreciate that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’,” she says.

Christine was born in Sierra Leone and educated in Ireland where she obtained a BA in accounting and finance and an MA in finance. She worked for Concern Worldwide in Niger as a country accountant and systems manager for three years up to September 2013, before heading back to her native Freetown where she worked for GOAL Global and the Clinton Foundation, and then joined Kepler Rwanda in March 2019.

“I have not been the type of person to be grounded to one place. I believe home is where you make it and I have learnt to adapt. There is no country that has a culture that doesn’t work; it is up to you as a manager to bring out the best in your team. This is achievable if you have a clear strategy and have project management tools that enable teams to attend to their deliverables,” she explains.

Kepler’s mission
Christine is enjoying Rwanda. “We love it; life is good! It is a different lifestyle, quiet and peaceful. The only downside for me is that I am a coastal girl and so I miss the beach.”

Kepler was first launched as Orphans of Rwanda in 2004. The organisation supports economically vulnerable Rwandan students to attend higher education institutions in Rwanda and has a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University to provide their students with access to US bachelor’s degrees.

As CFO and vice-president of Partnerships, Christine plays a role in ensuring that the 1,000 students who the programme supports get into the workplace; and currently has a placement success rate of over 90 percent. Given that a quarter of the students are refugees, she also assists in getting them grants and student loans.

“When I left Europe, I had a desire to work in Africa, but the work I was going to do had to make sense. What we are doing at Kepler gets me out of bed every morning. I had worked in the health sector tackling Ebola in Sierra Leone and once the pandemic was done, I felt that I needed to do something else. When Kepler came calling, I did not think twice because education is key to Africa’s progress,” Christine explains.

Learning and growth
Christine gets excited whenever they secure funding for the students; it motivates her to keep going. The downside of her job is that it requires long hours and she wishes she could get to bed on time. Being an expatriate also means that she misses a lot of family functions including weddings.

Looking back, she thought that the world would be her oyster once she graduated with an accounting degree and became a chartered accountant through ACCA.

“That is the biggest lie,” Christine says. “Being the best in your exams does not mean you will be the best accountant. Recognising that early was my saving grace. I now learn from those who have done it before and make a deliberate effort to identify people who can help me grow and become the best version of myself.”

In meetings with other leaders, Christine strives to speak their language and not bash them with numbers. She believes the CFO of the future will need to be much more than the person who says “no, we don’t have the budget”. They need to be more strategic and know much more than just the International Financial Reporting Standards.

“My personality is ‘blue’ for being cautious. I complete tasks accurately, plan things carefully, expect a lot of myself and have an analytical mindset. I do feel like the Duracell battery that never stops; I am driven and keep going to ensure deadlines are met,” reveals Christine.

Outside of work, it is no surprise that Christine loves to travel given the many countries she has lived in. She is also passionate about financial management; she founded a Sierra Leonean financial education company dubbed africasmoneypreneur.com.

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