Every year, we are amazed by the achievements of the winners of our WIBF awards. Each winner brings an extraordinary story to the Awards Alumni community and we want to share their stories – share their inspiration, achievements, highs and lows – with you.
We are starting with the brilliant winner of the 2022 WIBF Award for Achievement, Funmi Dele-Giwa, General Counsel & Head of GRC, and Group Company Secretary, MFS Africa.
Funmi was described, in her nomination as “a governance trailblazer and champion, a risk and compliance visionary, and an inspirational and passionate leader”. Our judges felt that her exceptional achievements “ensured that she is seen as a role model we could celebrate beyond financial services”.
Four months on from her win, we caught up with Fumni to ask her about the impact of winning the award and to find out a little more about her career journey.
What does winning the WIBF Award for Achievement mean to you?
Winning the award was a huge honour and being recognised by the WIBF was truly humbling. Not only was it nice to know that my hard work was being recognised, but knowing that my story could inspire someone else to dream big and push the boundaries was ultimately the greatest reward. Having a platform to tell my story and, more importantly, a platform on which I can encourage and support other women who are building and shaping their careers is important to me, and I appreciate the platform that WIBF has provided by recognising me.
Being recognised by such an important industry body such as WIBF, made me feel very proud of my career journey, regardless of how challenging it might have been at times. This award continues to motivate me to keep pushing boundaries and to keep supporting other like-minded and ambitious women in the industry.
Is there a significant moment in your career that was particularly challenging?
In 2008, I decided to leave my job and family in Nigeria to study for an LL.M at Warwick University here in the UK. Leaving the life I was used to, my network, my family in Nigeria and moving across continents was not only a big personal move, but also had a dramatic impact on my career. It was a catalyst that ignited a series of subsequent decisions that has led me to where I am now in my career.
After graduating, I decided to take the solicitor qualifying exams and get work experience in the UK but I found it very difficult to get a job in the City. Many doors were shut before I even had the opportunity to speak to my experience or how I could add value.
Since then, I have been fortunate to work with good organisations and alongside some of the kindest and brilliant lawyers I’ve come across. And although I have never regretted the move to the UK, there was a period where my career took a downward trajectory. In that time I learned just how resilient and, maybe even stubborn, I could be when I set my mind on a goal.
Did you always have a clear vision for your career?
I never really had a clear vision for my career. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really want to study law, but rather ended up choosing law because of strong encouragement from my family. The choices made on the back of that decision were largely linear, but there were a few significant decisions that brought me to where I am today. The first was, my decision to move to the UK and to try to build a global career here.
The second was the decision to move out of private practice and into an in-house legal role to hone in on my specialisms – finance, M&A, corporate law and financial regulation. And the third was more recently when I decided to move into the fintech space, which really allowed me to grow and expand, both professionally and personally. In all of this, one thing is my north star, my guiding principle – will I be making a positive impact (to myself as well as others) and if yes, how so? This helps me focus on what I deem to be important and relevant to my growth ambitions and targets.
You have supported colleagues and others so whole-heartedly, adding such value – mentoring; guiding; feedback; internships; charitable organisation. Do you find that the type of support you have needed has changed throughout your career?
Throughout my career I have always been extremely blessed to have the support of family and close friends. But as I have progressed in my career I admit that the kind of support I have needed differed and, I dare say, evolved. In those challenging months where I struggled with finding a job here in the UK, it was the support of fellow Nigerian lawyers in the City that came through for me. They believed in me and continued to provide much needed advice on the steps I should be taking to get the opportunities that I longed for. Their support took the form of mentoring, guidance, internships and work experience.
As I grew professionally, the support of champions in the workplace became more and more important. Again, I have been lucky enough to have found this in bosses or peers who fought and pushed for me to be given platforms to push through my vision and to take on more responsibility. Finding people with whom I could be myself with and speak with freely, has been life-changing and career-defining. As much as we all believe we can do it all by ourselves, it is important to remember that having people in your corner who can support you, challenge you, push you, motivate you, and fight for you, is immensely valuable. Looking forward, I believe I have a role to play in shaping the narrative around women’s position within the workforce, and championing how a diverse and inclusive workforce can help build sustainable and long-lasting businesses.
Finding people with whom I could be myself with and speak with freely, has been life-changing and career-defining. As much as we all believe we can do it all by ourselves, it is important to remember that having people in your corner who can support you, challenge you, push you, motivate you, and fight for you, is immensely valuable.
Patrick Gutmann, MD MFS Africa, said (in Funmi’s nomination): “Funmi has faced several challenges and setbacks in her life, which she has not only overcome with grace, but she has excelled while doing so.” Can you talk a little about this?
For several years I dealt with spells of severe period pain, and for years I was wrongly diagnosed and repeatedly told that my symptoms were ‘normal’ or ‘exaggerated’. I was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis after the discovery of fluid in my lungs, and it turned out I was having a hydro pneumothorax every time I had a period, which caused my left lung to collapse recurrently and blood clots were discovered in my right lung. A number of things could have gone wrong at that time, the worst of which could have been death. This was in 2018, just as my career in the UK was starting to take shape. After having been diagnosed, I underwent several surgeries and had to significantly alter my diet, my lifestyle, and my general approach to life. Endometriosis has changed my life forever.
On the one hand it forced me to make some drastic lifestyle changes, but on the other hand it allowed me to see time as a gift, which I try to enjoy as much as I can. Equally important is that it made me sensitive to the fact that there are many people dealing with physical disabilities and conditions which are not necessarily visible.
What advice do you wish you had been given early in your career?
That it’s more important to be the best version of yourself than to be the best.
Look out for more stories from our WIBF Awards Alumni community over the next few months! Do you want to be involved in shaping the Alumni? Do you have any questions? Get in touch via [email protected].