Jitske Cnossen appointed as the Chief Operating Officer for the Agora Group

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Jitske Cnossen as the Group’s Chief Operating Officer. Jitske is based in Cape Town and will lead Agora’s expansion in the Southern African region, while supporting other areas of work.

Jitske comes with considerable experience of financial inclusion in Africa. In the past she has worked in various roles with FMO – the Dutch Development Bank including as an Investment Officer for Africa. In more recent times she has consulted with non-profits and FinTech’s in the region to obtain a better understanding on the needs of small business owners, specifically in the informal sector. This gives her an all-rounded perspective of our field of work.

She is passionate about financial inclusion, women in leadership/entrepreneurship, and coaching/mentoring as a tool for development. In her spare time Jitske likes to stay active and spends her time hiking, camping, and traveling around Southern Africa.

We asked her a few questions:

1.What made you take this role, and what do you expect to achieve through Agora?

My motivation stems from a deep-seated desire to create positive change in the world. From a very young age, I became aware of the inequality between people across different countries. Seeking to understand these complex dynamics, I studied economics, which eventually led me to the field of development banking. By embracing this role, I am committed to advancing the cause of creating a more equitable world, where people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to meet their basic needs. Through my experience working closely with micro-entrepreneurs in Africa, I have come to recognize that promoting financial sustainability requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account the broader socio-economic environment. While there are numerous factors that contribute to financial stability, I strongly believe that access to financial services and products is a key driver of progress. By providing individuals with the tools and resources they need to manage their finances effectively, I can help create more opportunities for economic growth and social mobility. This, in turn, can lead to greater equity and empowerment for people across all financial backgrounds.

2.Where can Agora play a role in creating a difference in the region?

Agora has the potential to bridge the gap in access to financial products and services for underserved rural communities that often lack access due to low literacy levels, informality and infrastructure constraints such as non-accessible roads, weak mobile and internet penetration and limited identification coverage.

Despite the rapid growth of FinTech’s and digital product offerings in Africa, we still have a long way to go in achieving digital inclusion. We must consider communities that may need more time to adapt to and access these digital services due to the barriers mentioned above. This is where Agora can make a difference by leveraging their long-term expertise and unique client-centric approach, and such to walk the path of digital inclusion with their clients.

I believe that Agora’s approach is special because the clients are truly at the heart of all our decisions. We work closely with our internal Research and Social Performance experts to gather valuable feedback from our clients on our customer service and product offerings. We use this feedback to inform our product design, and we continually learn from the process. Our goal is to create products and services that support clients throughout different phases of their lives. By staying with our clients over time, we can make a lasting impact. Currently, we offer a wide range of products in the countries where we operate, including insurance, micro-loans, agricultural loans, equipment leasing, and larger business loans. However, we are always striving to do more. In addition to expanding our product range, I believe that we can make a difference by offering more inclusive products and services that are equally accessible to everyone, regardless of age, race, or gender. To achieve this, our research function will be again crucial.

3.Lastly, who has been the biggest influence in your life, and how has that shaped your decisions at work?

My mother is the person who motivated me with her strong determination to pursue a career despite the societal expectations that were stacked against women. Back in the 1970s, women were anticipated to abandon their professions when they got married. Though she initially adhered to this custom, she struggled to adjust to the role of a stay-at-home mom, prompting my parents to agree to her return to work. After some years of teaching at a secondary school, she decided to study Theology and, in time, became a pastor. This achievement is particularly notable as she was simultaneously raising three children, tending to domestic responsibilities, and working part-time. Juggling these varied roles was already challenging enough, but my mother was further pressured to prove herself in a male-dominated environment. Despite these obstacles, she remained true to herself and never compromised her values or opinions. Her journey instilled in me the confidence that women can attain equal levels of success as men whilst remaining true to themselves. This enables me to make work-related decisions that are aligned with my morals and values, so I can remain authentic.