#SheSpeaks with Stephanie Bamfo

FullSizeRender (5)Stephanie Bamfo is a current MBA student at Kellogg School of Management. Before coming to Kellogg, she worked in banking industry and lived in 3 very different countries while doing so. She is also extremely passionate about women initiatives and has founded Ntoboa Foundation which mentors undergraduate female students. She started her professional journey in Ghana and dared to break away from the societal pressures and created her own path.

Through her story, you will travel through Ghana, Dubai, UK and USA and it will definitely inspire you to believe in your dreams even if that means being the ‘different one’.

We at Womentorship are extremely proud of Stephanie and are privileged to have her feature as our first international guest @SheSpeaks !!!

So go on and read her story.

Be Mentored. Be Inspired.

Stephanie, you have pursued your education in Ghana, UK and now US. You have also worked in 4 different banks across 3 different countries in the last 8 years. Can you please explain in detail a bit about your professional background?

For high school, I went to Wesley Girls High School which is undoubtedly the best in the country and graduated in the top 1% of the class.  Thereafter, I completed a Banking and Finance major at the University of Ghana Business School and joined EcoBank (Pan African Regional Bank) after competing for the limited 50-60 spots in their entry-level graduate program.  In 2010, I moved to the UK  for a Masters in Finance at University of Strathclyde and also worked with Lloyds TSB part-time. Upon graduating in 2011, I joined the Royal Bank of Scotland and moved to Ghana in 2013 to join Standard Chartered Bank. Two years later, I moved to their Middle East office in 2015. It’s been a roller coaster professional journey for sure!

Also share with us a bit about your personal background…

Talking about the personal aspect, I am the eldest of 4 kids and naturally assumed a leadership role early on in my life to guide my siblings along life’s path.

I belong to a family of entrepreneurs.  Both parents and grandparents worked as entrepreneurs and so did aunties, uncles and family friends as this is an attribute of the people within the community in Ghana (Kwahu) that I originally hail from. So being skewed towards the corporate world, I am somewhat of an outlier!. In my primary school days, I remember completing my homework sitting on paint buckets in the hardware shop my parents owned; those were certainly interesting days!

I am ardent supporter of women initiatives. I strongly believe in the power that women possess and always strive to help any related development initiatives,whichever corner of the earth I find myself in. In Ghana, I did a fair bit of informal mentoring and coaching for younger girls and more formally spoke at seminar series organised by the University of Ghana Chapter of the Africa Women’s Commission. I have recently founded a non-profit firm called the Ntoboa* Foundation and currently working on our first event/initiative dubbed as “Women Influencing Progress (WIP)” which is aimed at helping undergraduate students with the right mentoring to navigate early-stage  careers.

In the Middle East, I did volunteer tutoring in Financial Literacy at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children. Currently at Kellogg, I am the VP-Personal Development for Women Business Association.

Lastly and perhaps, the most important aspect of my personal life, I am a woman of Christian faith. I pray every day and go to the church every week :).

*Ntoboa means Contribution in the local Akan language of Ghana

How difficult was it to leave the comforts of your home and move to Scotland?

It certainly wasn’t an easy decision. I had lived in Ghana all my life and then had to leave my comfort zone in pursuit of something better. Of course, I lived on a tight budget as a student and the winter in Scotland was brutal. Culturally too it was very difficult, especially when I started to work in RBS. I was the only African in the entire management program and for some of my Brit colleagues, this was their first close working relationship with an African so let’s just say there were a few “doubts”. But I believe that eventually, people get drawn to your competency and positivity. So I kept being positive and was able to strike a chord with most of my colleagues at later stages.

Was your family always supportive about your career decisions and you leaving Ghana?

I wish! !*laughs out loud* .In Ghana, there is immense societal pressure about getting married before the “Golden Age” of 30! age. So the fact that I was constantly moving countries and not “settling down” was something that was of a concern to them as with most African parents. You can imagine the shocks and reactions when I announced I was moving to take up a role in Dubai and then a year down the line, come back with a planned transition to Kellogg for school.

Having said that looking back now, despite all the initial apprehensions, my family especially my father, is super proud of me.

Any particular time when you felt like giving up on your career?

More like give up in general, yes! First instance was when I was offered a role in the Middle East office. There was a quite a pushback from my employers as well as from some friends and family to stay back. They did make strong arguments; I was doing well, I was being offered a more senior role after just 2 years on the job, why leave it and venture alone into a country you have never been to. For my family, there was the additional angle of settling down like peers and starting a family asap. While it all made sense, I realised, I had a different path and wanted to stick to it. The chance to experience the Middle East market was a fantastic opportunity and the perfect transit before pivoting into a Business School. Also, I knew I wanted to show younger girls like my little sister that there was the status quo and then there was what you wanted!

Second toughest decision was coming to Kellogg. Even though it was in the blueprint (and I slaved over the famous b-school applications!) when the Kellogg offer actually came through, I realized how big a decision I was facing to move to the US and go back to school, forfeit income and the lovely Dubai life, especially since I was doing very well in my career! Just before coming to Kellogg, my country management team showed sincere appreciation for my work, and offered a salary increment! It was a tough choice to make, but again I revisited my planned path and what I wanted to achieve in life. Kellogg perfectly fit in the larger scheme of things. After few discussions, with my “core people”, and lots of prayer, I took the leap!

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?

I would say these people (below) have had tremendous impact on me either due to their leadership skills or due to the support that they provided:

  • Pastor of my church in Ghana- He comes from a non-traditional background but has done such a good job to grow and lead our 350-member church. He is only 34 years old and yet his leadership qualities are spoken of across the senior members of the community as well. He is usually my first call, when I hit a challenge and his guidance and support has always been priceless.
  • Family: My family has been source of motivation for me. The pride I always seek to bring to my parents and the fact that my younger siblings look up to me is very inspiring and keeps me focussed.
  • “Mr”: He has been a tremendous pillar of strength, no one pushes me to punch higher at my professional goals, no one! 🙂
  • My best friend: A 10-year friendship that has evolved into a strong sisterhood. She’s been an amazing support!

If you could speak to your younger self. What advice would you give yourself?

I am not perfect and made some silly mistakes in the past. There have been times I swayed and conformed to external pressures against what I knew was the right move.

My dad always says “life is not a kaba** style”, which essentially means that something which looks good on someone might not necessarily look good on you. Translating that to my life, it essentially means everyone has their path, so stick to yours.

Secondly, I would advise myself to not waste time and energy on unproductive things that add no value to the end goal.

** Kaba is a traditional outfit for the women in Ghana

How do you unwind

Dance! Dance! Dance!

I love to dance. I am big on Zumba classes, which apart from being a good exercise, is a fun activity and also helps me to unwind.  Also, I find parties that have no dancing extremely boring!!

Can women really have it all

Yes, I strongly believe that women can have it all. It doesn’t need to be a binary decision. Like we learned in one of the classes at Kellogg, that there is always a third , fourth or fifth option, if you think hard critically about the situation at hand.

Women can have  a good balance between personal and professional lives. Granted, it’s not an easy balance to achieve but women like Sheryl Sandberg and Helena Morrissey are good inspirational figures and have proved that it can be done.

In addition, I believe that having a good supportive partner is also necessary for women to achieve that balance in their lives.

Cheat-code for all the young aspiring women out there

I would advise women to be true to themselves (each person is unique) and have a positive outlook in life.(It’s never that bad!)  Everyone experiences negative/unpleasant things in their lives but how you come out of those experiences is entirely up to you.  When you hit a road block, draw on your inner strength, deal with it internally in your own way and jump over it!

This is the one thing that I would want all women to remember as they move ahead in their journeys.

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