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Catherine Kimaryo: Learning sustainable leadership agility

By Salome Gregory

Dar es Salaam. Efforts to take the woman agenda beyond seems to bear fruit as in recent years, the country has witnessed women taking up leadership roles in different sectors.

Catherine Kimaryo’s story is jam-packed with experience and lessons from the United Nations, International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (TDB).

According to the report titled “Leading Tanzanian Women in Financial Services” prepared by the IFC in June 2021, her journey was groomed by the quality education she received before coming back home and using the experience gained to build her own country, setting a good example for people who have opted not to come back soon after their studies.

In 1997, soon after her graduation from McGill University in Canada, she returned to Tanzania and began to work at the Akiba Commercial Bank (ACB). Her desire was to fulfil the bank’s mission of transforming the lives of commercially ill-equipped people around the country.

She worked there for two years before she was ready to face new challenges in helping communities in post conflict regions with the UN in Kosovo.

She started with volunteering for six months and was able to work there for four years.


It was during this time that she was able to learn how private and public sectors can partner to facilitate economic and social empowerment.

She saw the need to promote socio-economic development through finance in connection with post-conflict economies.

Along with that, she thought of how finance could be an important catalyst in developing a strong and thriving private sector which could help provide revenue for the public sector through taxes.

After she finalized her work in Kosovo, she joined the IFC as an Associate Investment Officer. It was good timing for her as it was the same time the IFC was setting up shop in Africa.

Her working station was the IFC headquarters in Washington, DC, before transferring to positions in Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa. She joined the IFC at the time it was seeking people with diverse perspectives to increase its impact in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Her time with IFC gave her experience to understand different things and became more knowledgeable and was able to help increase investment in Africa. She believed in herself and when she felt ready, she took up a new challenge. Using the skills she gained, she then started her leadership journey at the TDB (former PTA) bank.

“Twenty years in banking and finance has taught me that access to finance is only one factor involved in business and even personal success. Leadership agility and resilience are also key. The ability to re-frame perspectives and see opportunities where others see challenges, is another crucial skill to develop,” Ms Catherine says.

She joined the management team in 2013 as a Principal Investment Officer for Strategic Business Initiatives.

It was followed up by double promotion to the Director of Project and Infrastructure Finance (PIF), as well as the Regional Director. She was covering 12 countries (the East African Community, the Horn of Africa, and North and Central Africa).

At the TDB, she was the youngest and first female executive who built a high performing, high integrity, and empowered team. In just her first year, PIF syndications grew from zero to 70 percent. She is also the first woman chair in her clan’s history.

It did not end there. In her fourth year, PIF achieved 70 percent revenue growth, and 40 percent portfolio growth year on year. This success was through her ability to bring out the best in the teams she managed and her experience

As it is with other women working in a male-dominated field, it came with a lot of challenges. She also experienced gender, age, and racially based prejudice.

“In the early days, I wanted to be viewed as an investment professional instead of a young African woman, and I adopted a Western male wardrobe: dark pantsuits, starched shirts, simple pearls for jewellery, and practical shoes. I also learned how to compartmentalize my feelings, so I could focus only on the task at hand,” Ms Catherine says.

Commenting about her leadership, she says over the years, she came to realize that leadership was not only about being able to deliver, but also to inspire others in what they think and feel. In realizing this, she was able to create a more conducive working environment at all levels and it gave a sense of recognition among individuals.

Her determination has gone beyond the walls of her career and using the experience from different phases of her journey, she established NCL which is a boutique advisory firm that focuses on re-framing leadership perspectives.

She serves as a strategic advisor to leaders at the C-suite and board levels, both in the public and private sectors. She also does individual and team coaching through customized leadership solutions.

She serves as a board member of several local and regional organizations.