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Beene Ndulo

Principal Legal Counsel, African Development Bank, Côte D'Ivoire

Why did you decide to study law?

I have always had a certain level of familiarity with the legal profession as one of my parents is a law professor. From a very young age, I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat to observing how individuals in the legal profession were using their expertise to influence and effect change within their professions and their communities as well as at a national or global level. Consequently, to me, the law seemed to be one of the most effective paths to becoming involved in and having an impact on some of the issues and causes that I am most passionate about, whilst pursuing a career in which I would remain intellectually engaged and challenged through exposure to the intellectually and conceptually challenging issues presented by the demands of the legal profession.

I started my career in the finance industry, and continued as a capital markets lawyer, which has empowered me, through the advice I provide on securities transactions, to become directly involved in the mobilization of significant amounts of resources raised in the international and domestic capital markets for sovereigns and public or private entities and institutions, enabling me to contribute to the flow of investments into and within various countries, and to indirectly have an impact on local economies, industries and communities within those markets. This has always been in alignment with my interest in seeing increased flows of investments into countries and regions in need of capital to address the development-related challenges faced by populations in those countries.

What is your proudest professional moment thus far?

My proudest professional moment was starting my career at Goldman Sachs International as an Analyst - I was proud for my grandparents, who were born in and lived in Northern Rhodesia and in Apartheid South Africa. In spite of their educational accomplishments and other inspiring achievements, there were many opportunities they were not, by law, permitted to pursue; I was, therefore, proud for them because it was likely unimaginable, under the circumstances in which they spent most of their lives, that a granddaughter of theirs would start her career at one of the world’s leading investment banks.

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Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?

There is not a lot I would have done differently, because I have come to appreciate over time that everything that we do, as well as every consequence of each decision we make, whether positive or negative, shapes us and contributes to where we are today. If there is anything I might have done slightly differently it may have been to have acted upon certain mentoring advice a lot earlier in my career than I sometimes may have; in some instances I had to go through certain experiences in order to appreciate the significance of the advice I had previously received.

Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.

Earlier in my career there were pressures that came from often being simultaneously highly visible and invisible. In my field, the transactional work often involves advising corporate and institutional clients on the due diligence process as part of the securities issuance process, which has required me to participate in Management due diligence meetings. These sessions typically involve inquiries and interviews of Senior Management, including the CEO, the CFO, the Chief Operating Officer, the General Counsel, the Head of Risk Management and other heads of departments. Although not the case with the majority of clients, on occasion, I have attended all-day Management due diligence meetings and led some of these sessions as the only woman participating in all of these sessions.

It has been on such occasions that I have become acutely aware of my gender and that I am representing an entire segment of the population that is not present in the room at the time. On the other hand, earlier in my career, there were instances where I felt invisible in attempts to convince decision-makers of the merits of potential business development ideas – the profession and several institutions in the profession can be fairly traditional and not as flexible in considering new strategies and processes. I have, however, occasionally received validation that my instincts were correct and worthy of consideration upon becoming aware, sometimes several years later, of the implementation of certain business development ideas at previous employers.

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What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?

I believe it is important to go above and beyond what is expected of you in everything that you do; it is not only the right thing to do but the effort is often not lost on the individuals that you assist and, in my experience, this has led to invaluable opportunities in the most unexpected of ways.

I would strongly recommend pursuing networking opportunities, both internally and externally, and on a consistent basis – individuals who share the same interests and ambitions tend to be drawn to the same events. By attending targeted networking events, you are increasing your chances of meeting people who will help you to achieve your goals and ambitions.

I would also recommend seeking mentoring opportunities but not restricting yourself to people in your own field or to people you personally know – finding a mentor is a significant challenge, particularly for young women professionals. I have been fortunate to have had mentors throughout my career but have also gained insight and acted upon advice imparted by high achieving individuals I admire through some of the advice they have shared in publicly available interviews and other forums – I do not believe that you have to restrict yourself to obtaining mentoring advice from people that you personally know.

It is equally crucial for all professionals to mentor younger professionals where they can; mentoring is beneficial to a mentee but provides growth opportunities for both individuals. Career opportunities for you as a mentor can also arise from mentee relationships.

Finally, I would recommend maintaining strong interests outside of one’s profession – when you face challenges in your profession, the successes in your interests outside your profession motivate you to remain positive and focused and empower you to overcome the challenges in your own profession

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