Namrata Thapar – “For me, learning by doing is key!”

May’s Monthly Profile

Namrata Thapar has led the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Mining team since 2015 playing a powerful role in developing its mining business with a focus on sustainability and development impact. For her, making a contribution beyond the monies — $924.37 million mining portfolio as of December 31, 2016 — given by the IFC to projects is vital. Namrata says she was pretty shy when she was starting out and thought that hard work was all one needed to succeed.  Over the years she’s learnt to be less self-critical and urges others not to undersell themselves. She believes in learning by doing, cherishes the strength of teamwork, and values building trust and good relationships. Her advice to women considering a profession in the mining industry is to work hard, believe in yourself and learn by doing as it makes everyone stronger in the end. By Camila Reed

How did you choose mining as a career?
After completing my MBA, I joined the IFC in the oil, gas and mining department and started working on financing mining projects in the developing world. For me, it’s an honour to be in a leadership position after two decades in the sector.
Working on financing projects in emerging markets has been an amazing journey! It didn’t take long for me to realise the importance of the mining sector to World Bank Group client countries in terms of revenue generation, employment and boost in exports. Perhaps the most rewarding things I have seen are the economic multiplier effects on the local communities, benefits provided by shared infrastructure development (rail, ports, and roads etc.) and broad economic growth mining can provide at a national level.
It is a fulsome experience because the team is not just looking at financing and providing money to an entity. IFC Investment Officers look beyond the financing for partners, focusing on our ability to work with companies, communities, banks, governments and sponsors on complex deals.  Only then can we successfully manage the challenges – community, environmental and social aspects mining operations present.
Although mining is a difficult sector, there are a plenty of opportunities to make a positive impact on the world. That’s why I’m at the IFC.
For me, learning by doing is fundamental and working in finance has provided both a challenge and an opportunity to make a small contribution towards improving the mining industry. I like to  reflect on the vast role mining plays in our society, from the use of metals in sectors such as energy, healthcare, technology and transportation to the contribution to the rapid urbanisation and building cities as well as the role of the industry to combat climate change is incredible.
Although mining has a negative reputation, I have come to realise each one of us is an ambassador for the industry. We can make a difference by bringing some positive things to it. Although there is an enormous challenge to develop mining projects in an environmentally sustainable way, IFC’s performance standards provide a road map for  companies, governments, communities and other stakeholders to ensure that projects can meet international best practice on governance, transparency and environmental and social risk management.  This has kept it interesting, challenging and rewarding on a personal basis.

What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
To be fair, it is a male-dominated space, but at least we have come a long way since the time when I started out. For me, gender has made very little impact on my career progression and I think that I can attribute that to working at a great organisation like the IFC and I would not say it has hampered my professional growth.
As for working in the sector, although on many occasions I have been the only woman in the room, my overall experience has been good. I never felt marginalised or excluded.
During meetings I have found that at the end of the day everyone is interested in finding the best solution to developing a project and to take that forward. As long as I was able to show my expertise and knowledge then the gender bias did not come into play.
The most important thing is for people to understand the role, expertise and knowledge of everyone involved in a deal. In that context, the issue of gender rarely came into the picture and people do make the effort to be inclusive. Creating trust and building relationships is key to success. This takes time and effort, and we should not be complacent. It’s crucial to be yourself.

Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
I have had a few people I have looked up to and others who have guided me in my leadership journey. As I think and ask myself the question of how and why I am at this position today – I keep coming back to the same answer: Teamwork. No one can do this alone, so building solid relationships and good teams has been key to me being who I am today.
Working with high performing teams and managers has meant along the way you emulate and learn a lot. I’ve also benefited from good mentorship within an institution where aspirations and innovative thinking are not quenched and allowed to mature.
Sharing knowledge is essential for both individual and corporate growth and I try give back to the younger generation by sharing experiences. Also the IFC has training and leadership programmes.
I also make parallels in my work life to my being a golfer – a golfer has a level playing field. I am not playing against anybody, only against the course and myself. So, my advice to women is to challenge themselves and build their expertise and skills to get better.
It’s not about who’s doing the right thing or the opponent – it’s about your own personal journey, expertise and talent. How we use our skill set to play all 18 holes and play them well! This is something that I tell my daughters.

What is the ratio of men to women on your team and the percentage of women leaders at the IFC?
Within my team, I think on the technical side we have found it difficult to find women engineers with the required knowledge and expertise to meet our needs. We have a number of women working focusing on mining investments and helping companies share benefits with communities and local content through our advisory programme.
As of March 31, 2017, the World Bank Group has 772 managers, of which 295, or 38.2%, are women.  IFC has 211 managers, of which 76, or 36%, are women.
At the mid-level across the World Bank Group we are nearing parity and we’re working on boosting the number at the highest levels.

Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
I have faced many challenges: as an individual, as a family and as a mother, but the one that I always go back to is how I grew in this institution.
As an investment professional, a key motivating factor in one’s career is to close a deal. As we all know, mining projects are complex and are long-term investments with a competitive market. Once after working two years on a very challenging project – the deal did not close. This was early  in my career and it was very disappointing.
Although it was demoralising, the take away for me was that it was not two years of hard-work being lost. I learnt a lot and had become a better investment officer through the rich experience.
A fundamental lesson learnt was that even though outcomes are important, as individuals we should not lose sight of the journey. A friend and mentor at the time told me – life is a marathon not a sprint!
I’ve had many similar experiences since then and I’m a better person for it because I learnt a lot from that first deal loss.
The way I overcome challenges is by going back to my basic principle of learning by doing. I do not view working on deals that do not close as wasting time. Instead, I look at trying to put together these deals as an important learning opportunity.

What are you passionate about in your work?
There are a number of things I am passionate about. First and foremost is providing development finance in emerging markets and in a sector that can have significant economic impact in the country of the project.
At IFC, we  do so much more than just financing the deal. For example, mineral revenues on average account for 5% of GDP in mineral rich countries in sub-Saharan Africa and are critical for government expenditures. Africa’s resource potential accounts for 30% of global resources and growing investment flows indicate the role of minerals will be greater in the future. The key is to make sure that the natural resources are developed in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Corporate Social Responsibility has become a major factor in making sure benefit sharing is fair. Having a social license to operate has become a theme which is here to stay and companies and governments have to manage the growing need for employment.
At the IFC we strongly believe financial sustainability can be achieved only if there is development impact and economic growth on the ground. Secondly, it’s the people that you work with. As I mentioned earlier, team work is a key ingredient to the success of organisations.
I enjoy coming to work, to be able interact and learn from colleagues who bring a wealth of knowledge and global expertise.

What would you love to do next?

I have much to accomplish and learn in my leadership journey. I want to continue to work in development finance.

What is one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
When I was starting out I was pretty shy and I thought that hard work was all I needed to get on. Over the years I have learnt to be less self-critical and have tried to be less of a perfectionist. My message to all women is don’t undersell yourself and be less self-critical.
One of the leadership qualities I’ve acquired is to have the ‘courage of my convictions’. Be sure to follow your convictions. I have thought about this and maybe if I had been a bit more assertive my path may have been different.
In my family tradition, respecting ones elders is a big deal. As a young woman, I felt I should not question. But it’s important to remember that in the work environment it is different.

Do you sit on a board? If not would you like to?
Not yet, but I will probably consider it in the future. At the moment I feel I add more value doing deals than sitting on a board.

What is your opinion in the women on boards debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I strongly believe a diverse management and board with the right calibre bring a lot of value with innovative thinking and thought leadership. A lot of articles and research have shown that gender diversity and inclusive teams outperform peers.
But it cannot just become a box ticking exercise both from the point of view of attracting women to leadership positions as well as ensuring expertise. Equal growth opportunities and pay parity are key to building women leadership in corporations.
Again as more women join the workforce and companies make policies on gender inclusion, the issue still remains at the senior level positions where women are less represented.

Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
Absolutely! As I mentioned, the mining sector has made progress but needs to continue and do more. Making sure we have women in management and technical streams will be important to keep up the progress, not only to build a level playing field but to also attract more women to the industry.
Women also have to play their part by ensuring competitiveness and talent growth – the younger generation have to also make a conscious effort to be a part of this growth given the number of career choices out there.
As part of its commitments on gender, IFC is preparing a gender toolkit for natural resources client companies and its investment staff to enable them to thoughtfully consider at all levels (management, employees, suppliers, stakeholders, governments, board directors) whether a company has an inclusive strategy to enhance its operational performance. We’ll make it available at http://www.ifc.org/ogmc  as soon as it is finalised.

Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Always have goals and aspirations and reach for the stars!  I believe in passion and perseverance – if you undertake anything – give it your best effort, work hard and believe in yourself.  I have two girls and I always tell them “put your best effort forward as doing so will build confidence and help achieve your goals and make you stronger.”
Work hard, believe in yourself and learn by doing – it makes you stronger!

How do you find the work/life balance?
It can be tough sometimes – but I just have to manage it. I have a very supportive husband who helps me balance my time with family and he is always there for me and for the girls. Prioritising my daily life is key – I am also lucky that I have a very supportive team and management allowing me to integrate work and family into a fun, full and enriching life.

Have you any hobbies or pass-times you would like to tell us about?
I am an avid golfer and I’m teaching my girls to play now and that’s fun. I also love to cook and paint.


BIOGRAPHY
Namrata Thapar was appointed IFC Global Head of Mining in March 2015. Namrata joined IFC in 1999 and has played a leadership role developing IFC’s mining business with a focus on sustainability and development impact. She has worked primarily on the financing of mining projects globally and has led multiple deals with clients ranging from major diversified companies to juniors, including both debt and equity investments. She is based in Washington D.C.

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