Women in Sustainability series: Meet Mariam Cassim

Mariam Cassim is Chief Executive Officer for Financial and Digital Services at Vodacom Group, the biggest mobile network operator in South Africa and Africa.

Her portfolio focuses on disruptive financial services for mobile network customers, specifically in the areas of microinsurance, payments, microloans and financial inclusion for small and medium enterprises in South Africa. It has a customer base of just over 14 million and generates over a billion rand of profit for the Vodacom group.

She is passionate about developing sustainable, innovative business models which benefit both business and society. She also supports the development of women in business through education and mentorship.

Here, Mariam explains what she has learned about sustainability over the course of her career.

I’m driven by making a difference to the lives of people across Africa

I come from humble beginnings, and I’ve witnessed the impact that a lack of access to financial and digital solutions can have – I experienced it myself and saw it in my family and in my community. My personal mission is to ensure that financial services are accessible for everyone, and not just the privileged few. I want to enable financial freedom for as many people as possible in Africa. 

It’s so rewarding to see a product go from being just an idea to making a real difference to someone’s life. That’s what really fuels my passion and makes me love what I do.

Providing businesses with access to financial services solutions can give them a fighting chance in a tough economy. Often, entrepreneurs are unable to sustain their businesses due to a lack of support and capital. This is something that is very close to my heart – especially when it comes to helping female-owned businesses and empowering women to reach their full potential. 

The more I learn and understand about this beautiful continent, our people and our struggles, the more strongly I feel that my purpose is to use my knowledge and platform to make a difference.

Digital financial services can help create a more sustainable future

I feel strongly about preserving our environment and its resources. It's not just about how we are impacting the world we live in now – it's about the impact we're having on generations to come. By investing in more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, Vodacom can make a real difference, while creating opportunities for competitive advantage.

The acceleration of digital journeys is helping reduce the consumption of paper, decrease the carbon footprint of our communities, and drive our transition towards more sustainable ways of living.

Let go of the world’s expectations and claim your space

Being a female in the financial services industry is challenging. It's something I have had to learn to navigate. Moving to Vodacom added a new layer of complexity, because telecommunications is also traditionally a male-dominated industry.

I joined the Vodacom Financial Services team at a time when the business was operating at a loss, so I was under severe pressure to turn things around. Back then, financial services were not core to the Vodacom Group, so it was even harder to get the right support. I had to make some tough and unpopular decisions, but I knew they would benefit the business in the long run.

I’m often juggling many different hats - as a mother, wife, daughter, and South African woman. I can be extremely hard on myself when I prioritise work over school drop offs or attend a board meeting instead of a recital. Fighting that guilt is a constant challenge, but I’ve learnt not to be so hard on myself and to turn those moments of self-doubt into opportunities to learn.

There is a specific space in this world that only you can occupy. You have to let go of the expectations that the world has of you, so you can become the most authentic version of yourself. I completely embraced who I am, and that is my superpower.

Mentorship can drive sustainable progress for women in business

Women are increasingly being acknowledged for their skills and achievements - but men still dominate in leadership roles.  When a woman is given the opportunity to lead, she must open the door to other women. I believe in mentorship and education; they are what brought me here.

There is so much value in listening and observing. Nothing beats the feeling of a mentor telling you about a time they went through a similar situation to the one you’re experiencing. We underestimate the need to identify. That's what people in influential positions should give to aspiring women - something to identify with. We rise by lifting others. Women can achieve anything we put our minds to. Equip yourself with knowledge, and never stop learning. The fintech space is exciting and fast-paced, so it’s important to be flexible, keep an open mind, and embrace change - because the industry is full of it.

Mariam Cassim about women in sustainability.