From her first trade mission to Cameroon, Ms. Diboma has led missions to French-speaking countries that haven’t always been top of mind. In 2013, for example, she led a trade mission to Côte d’Ivoire, when it was just opening up after going through a civil war. Soon enough, the NABC was getting involved with the Sahel region, namely Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Interest from the Dutch Private Sector began to build up and it didn’t take long before the Dutch government announced to increase their focus on countries they had not considered before. Côte d’Ivoire has become a partner country for the Netherlands, Mali is now seen as a promising market for trading, and the Netherlands has official embassies in Niger and Burkina Faso. In addition, a number of private sector development programmes and strong relationships with both the public and private institutions have been built.
“The Western perception of Africa is an issue therefore if we do not go there to witness and experience it for ourselves, we miss out on developing untapped opportunities,” Ms. Diboma stated. This has given her a lot of drive and taught her to approach this misconception with patience and persistence, which Ms Diboma believes is key. In addition, she notes that the work done by the NABC has micro and macro implications. “I always work with the two questions in my mind: what am I going to contribute to and how does this influence the local community, besides the context of business,” she explained. “It’s been great seeing not only the NABC succeeding in becoming the organisation that does business in Africa, but seeing others engage more in Africa as well”.
The Climb to the Top
Since 2009, Ms. Diboma has led several trade missions, held numerous roles and facilitated multiple conferences. In 2017, Ms. Diboma, became the Deputy Managing Director of the NABC. Though she went from volunteer to being an integrated part of the Management Team, climbing the NABC ladder was never on top of her mind. Ms. Diboma notes: “Being in the leading position doesn’t make you a leader and leadership is not something that is given, it is something that you earn by taking space. It is also something that comes from within and is shaped through the positions that you hold.”
A key factor to succeeding in her leadership position was embracing the organisation as if it were her own and making sure that through the use of relationships, whether it be personal or professional, the economic and sustainable empowering of the African continent was at the root of it all. “Everything boils down to relationships. Someone won’t do business with you if they don’t like you. Relationships shouldn’t just be shallow and transactional. Engaging at a personal level is how we can mutually work together”.
Female Leadership is Leadership
This nurturing quality, and what tends to be seen as a female attribute, was how Ms. Diboma navigated the male-dominated space of trade and economic development. She, however, never entered a room with the thought of being a woman. Having a professional mindset and authentically staying true to oneself, is how she was able to unapologetically take up space. “I would never try to act like a man in a room, it leads back to always being authentic. I don’t need to act like a man to be heard, understood or accepted. I say what I have to say. At the end of the day, it’s the diverse mixture of all of these ideas that bring out the best result. It shouldn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man”.
In relation to this, though many accomplishments have been achieved in the Dutch and African trade and investment relations, there is still insufficient work done in highlighting and elevating the Dutch and African female business champions. As a result, Ms. Diboma was a part of introducing the Nana Benz Business Club, an NABC led initiative designed to foster female leadership through business knowledge exchange and community support.
Vision for the Future
Together with the development and continuation of empowering communities, in the next 12 years to come and more, Ms. Diboma envisions NABC with a smaller office in the Netherlands and many satellite offices within Africa. 12 years ago she believed we needed a local presence in Africa, and COVID proved her right. Because of the local project teams, the NABC continued to do the work and create the impact that we desire. Africa is constantly developing and collaboration with Africa will have to take place on the continent.
While Ms. Diboma herself is moving to Ghana to work on sustainable economic development of Africa with a focus on agricultural value chains at 2Scale, when it comes to private sector development, the NABC is the partner in the Netherlands. Marina makes it clear that while she might not be part of the NABC, she will remain in close proximity to continue enhancing the mutual vision of building bridges between the Netherlands and Africa with politeness, patience and persistence at the forefront.