Boitumelo Mosako, the CEO of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), is making major strides after just a few months in her new role. Leadership’s Ralph Staniforth sat down with Mosako to find out more about her time at the helm, what it means to be sustainable as a development bank, what success looks like, inspiring the next generation, and her views on the plight of women in the modern world of work.
The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) is a South African government-owned Development Finance Institution (DFI) which is mandated under the DBSA Act of 1997 to drive sustainable development and economic growth through infrastructure development projects and programmes in South Africa, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the wider Sub-Saharan Africa.
The institution, which operates using their tagline ‘Building Africa’s Prosperity’, is tasked with ensuring the sustainability of the built environment and the institutions that make that infrastructure work, with the aim of improving the quality of life for all citizens.
Founded in 1983, the DBSA has undergone various changes during its 40 years of existence, including its transformation into a DFI in 1994 at the dawn of South Africa’s democracy.
At the helm of the DBSA is CEO Boitumelo Mosako, who made history by becoming the DBSA’s first woman CEO. She assumed office in April 2023, ten years after first joining the DBSA’s finance division. With a plethora of experience in both the private and public sector—including financial services, venture capital, healthcare, and professional services—Mosako has slotted seamlessly into her role of driving the strategy and operations of the institution.
While she may have only been in the CEO’s chair for a matter of months, the reality is that her career is entrenched in the operations of the DBSA, and she is extremely proud of the fact that she has been afforded the opportunity to take the renowned institution to the next level.
“The ‘how’ we earn our licence to operate is very exciting, because it’s the part of us that changes to meet the changing demands of our country. We have been around for 40 years this year and, today, I am proud to say that we do more than infrastructure financing. We have a broad offering that touches across the entire infrastructure development value chain. We have capabilities that span from project preparation and financing such as project finance, infrastructure loans, equity investments, all the way through to infrastructure delivery. Beyond that, we are adept at building institutions and the capacity of the people that run them, to ensure more effective delivery of critical infrastructure in our country,” Mosako reveals.
“We also work closely with all spheres of the government, private sector, and other stakeholders to identify, finance, and implement transformative projects that have a positive impact on the lives of our people. We do this in energy, water and sanitation, transport, information and communication technology, and municipal and social infrastructure. In delivering these services, we are committed to a transition towards an inclusive, climate-resilient economy that is just and transcends current trajectories.”
A sustainable institution
Over the years, the DBSA has made industry-first headwinds in shifting the thought process around development as a continent. As much as they can leverage equity from the national government, Mosako reveals that the DBSA has not been funded by the national fiscus for several years because the institution is self-sustainable.
This, she says, is down to a number of critical touchpoints.
“First and foremost, we have strong governance processes in place that are embraced and enforced in everything we do. As such, we operate in an environment that is transparent, where we hold ourselves and each other accountable to the highest ethical standards. As part of our governance, we also focus on operational efficiency, where we continuously review and optimise our internal processes for better and more cost-effective delivery. This is all bolstered by an active and diverse board of directors with deep expertise across development finance,” Mosako, who holds a BCom Accounting Degree from the University of Cape Town (UCT), a Post Graduate Diploma in Accounting from UCT, a Higher Diploma in Auditing, and is a certified Chartered Accountant (SA), explains.
”We also lead with innovation in our discipline. We have brought to the development arena various funding instruments from the for-profit arena that have enabled us to participate competitively in the market. Critical to this success has been prudent management of our loan portfolio, innovative solutions to financial investments, and partnerships. This approach allows us to maintain a strong financial position and fulfil our developmental mandate without burdening the national fiscus.”
For this to happen, you need the right people on board who give their all for the cause—something which Mosako believes is all-important and which she is proud to say is in place at the DBSA.
“Our success points to one central area, which is my passion point—there is power in people. We pride ourselves as the DBSA for being a dynamic home for development practitioners and these individuals with technical expertise par excellence are the foundation of our strong institution. Without Team DBSA, a team dedicated to delivering our mandate, it would not be possible to be telling such a good story of African excellence. So, what is our secret to this success? Our people,” she enthuses.
As a way to ensure the sustainability and stability of an institution, succession planning is a vital element.
Any institution whose leadership is worth its salt must have clear succession planning in place—it’s a non-negotiable part of an institution’s strength. It talks to leadership, stability, and, most importantly, people.
As a leader, Mosako understands a succession plan to be grounding; it tempers ego and focuses on what’s most important, which is the stability, sustainability, and continuity of an organisation.
She expands on the subject: ”For the DBSA, our succession planning is the mandate of our Board, working closely with relevant stakeholders such as human capital and our shareholder representatives. Our human capital team ensures that we have strong candidacy in the market, be it internally or externally. At the heart of our succession plan is to appoint and retain the best people to lead “Team DBSA.”
Projects that make a difference
The DBSA is currently spearheading several mega projects aimed at transforming both the built environment and the institutions that enable service delivery. One such project aims to accelerate renewable energy roll-out, within the guardrails of the national agenda and policies.
The DBSA spearheaded the establishment of the IPP Office in South Africa in 2010, which has assisted in renewable energy proliferation. This institution has run the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme, with numerous bid windows that have enabled energy producers to step in and supply the national grid with much needed greener energy.
“We continue to promote sustainable energy solutions in South Africa through the Embedded Generation Investment Programme, with total investments worth $1 billion to support the development of renewable energy sources and enhance energy efficiency for the private sector and sub-sovereign entities,” Mosako explains.
The DBSA is also working to ensure water security in South Africa through several projects in partnership with the Trans Caledon Transit Authority (TCTA).
“Our involvement in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase 2 contributes to cross-border water security, harnessing the potential of Lesotho’s abundant water resources. We are also funding the TCTA’s Mokolo-Crocodile Water Augmentation programme to bring water to communities and businesses in Limpopo,” she continues.
The DBSA also has a mandate to promote regional integration and development on the African continent. Along with strategic public and private partners, the DBSA is an investor in the Laúca Hydroelectric Power Station in Angola, a billion-dollar hydro-electric project.
She expands: “We have also funded the Kinguele Hydro project in Gabon and the Sambangalou Hydro in Senegal. These flagship projects are a litmus test for what we can do with our dams here in South Africa, as part of expanding our green energy sources to meet our energy requirements.”
The big question here is, how do these projects promote job creation, contribute to South Africa’s ailing economy, and impact the country overall?
In this regard, Mosako insists that as she is passionate about people, the DBSA allows her to honour that passion holistically, beyond the organisation.
“Team DBSA is the centre of that commitment because our mandate starts with the people. Our development practitioners within the Bank are the engine that delivers the change we are looking to effect in our country and continent. They ensure that this change is anchored in responding effectively to the needs of the present, while helping our society become future fit improving this moment while working towards a better future. Therefore, beyond ensuring job creation, development also means supporting small businesses, empowering black-owned and women-owned businesses, and growing local economies,” she says.
Expanding on the job creation front, Mosako says that the previously mentioned Embedded Generation Investment Programme has helped accelerate the implementation of renewable energy projects, resulting in 9 208 jobs over 20 years, and a reduction in carbon emissions by 700 000 tonnes annually.
Additionally, the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which provides water to Gauteng, has generated approximately 4 000 jobs, and the second phase will generate 5 000 jobs, benefiting both countries. These initiatives demonstrate the DBSA’s commitment to job creation and sustainable development, positively impacting South Africa’s economy and society as a whole.
Ensuring success across the board
Before taking on the role of CEO, Mosako was the DBSA’s CFO. As an interesting anecdote, she revealed that their definition of success within the walls of the finance department was and still is, “breadth beyond the balance sheet”.
She explains: “On one end, it is important that we remain financially sustainable in every project we participate in, but on the other, we focus on development impact. Financial sustainability is only meaningful if it improves the lives of people. Even better if that improvement is sustained for the long term, and, therefore, strong institutions are pivotal. We have delivered infrastructure, and with it, the institutions to run it.”
A notable achievement in relation to the above is the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which facilitates the deployment of renewable energy projects across South Africa. In this moment where our energy security is compromised due to load shedding, this has changed our fortunes as a country.
“Significant in this solution is that we are not only increasing our power generation capacity, but that we are doing so in a manner that is environmentally sustainable. That speaks directly to our development position and approach to investment, ensuring a transition towards a better future for our country in a manner that is just and fair, and leaves no one behind,” Mosako, who was nominated for the 2022 CFO Awards for her work as the CFO of the DBSA, explains.
Another commendable initiative is the Infrastructure Delivery Improvement Programme, where the DBSA’s focus has been on enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure delivery in the public sector.
However, according to Mosako, it doesn’t stop there: ”Everything we do, we measure to see what the development impact is, in other words, what is the concrete or sustained ‘change’ that the investment will bring to the people’s livelihoods.
“We use development impact indicators, as an example, if the problem in a community is about poverty—sustained jobs become the impact realised; if the problem is energy security, the positive impact is about energy solutions provided to the community. So, we always measure everything we do by tangible outcomes and positive environmental outcomes, alongside the long-term sustainability and scalability of initiatives.”
A big part of what the DBSA does involves municipal infrastructure. However, the reality is that there are problems that need urgent attention with regards to ageing municipal infrastructure in South Africa.
So, the question now is, what does the DBSA plan to do about it?
Mosako explains: “This is of great concern to us and this is why in evolving our mandate over the years, we have built our capacity to respond to the needs of our public sector. We go beyond the implementation and management of projects, delivery of infrastructure, and human capital development, to bolster institutions that deliver public services.
“That’s the ‘how’ I spoke to earlier. For municipalities, this range of support is available in its fullness. We have gone further with a programme we are calling, ‘Partner-With-A-District’, a programmatic approach to bolstering municipal institutions’ capacity to deliver services.”
Continuing with her answer, Mosako gives an example of this programmatic approach: “We recently partnered with the Green Climate Fund who are the world’s largest climate fund dedicated to supporting adaptation and mitigation projects in developing countries that address this exact challenge. Through this partnership, we secured $235 million in funding for the Water Reuse Programme, targeting municipal water and sanitation infrastructure. This is a sector-first approach that will scale-up water reuse projects to improve water security and climate resilience at local and provincial levels in South Africa.”
To ensure success in this regard, all of the projects mentioned by Mosako—and the many others we simply do not have space for in this article—are carried out in partnership with investors, industry players, and, most importantly, the communities who will benefit from the infrastructure. That approach is necessary in the DBSA’s bid to revitalise and modernise municipal infrastructure, promote sustainable growth, and improve the quality of life for all South Africans.
Another key factor for Mosako is assisting local government in enhancing service delivery. She believes that empowerment is paramount in reaching that goal in the future, with the ‘Partner-With-A-District’ programme a game changer in this regard.
Mosako, who was known as a trailblazer who ensured, insisted, and drove governance within the DBSA while in the role of CFO, explains: “When institutions thrive, they become self-sustaining, and in the medium term, will require less grants to do their business of the day. That is my dream of what we can achieve as the DBSA in the work we do with local government, to ensure that they are sustainably run. Our ‘Partner-With-A-District’ programme will deliver that, as Team DBSA has the requisite skill and experience that spans 40 years of development work to support local government. Working with the local government, we want to transfer that skill and experience for better service delivery outcomes for our citizens.”
In terms of facilitating access to grants, the DBSA leverages their strategic partnerships with multilateral development banks. Before disbursing the grants, they conduct thorough assessments to identify the specific municipal services in need of support. The output from the assessments informs what offering to put forward, and which stakeholders to collaborate with to develop customised grant application strategies, ensuring alignment with the municipalities’ goals and objectives. Technical expertise, capacity building, knowledge sharing, and peer learning platforms are all key when the DBSA seeks to empower municipalities to maximise their potential in securing grants for sustainable development projects.
“As an example, we are currently working with the Northern Cape government to access grants to speed up the construction of affordable housing in the province,” Mosako adds.
Giving women the boost they deserve
As August is Women’s Month, the spotlight is once again deservedly shone upon the plight of South African women.
As Mosako has already alluded to, she is passionate about people, and that includes ensuring that women are given the opportunities they deserve to push ahead in their careers.
For this to happen, support is required in many different areas, three of which are highlighted below in terms of what the DBSA is offering:
- “We have the Gender Mainstreaming Programme which was established to procure and channel funds towards women-led large scale infrastructure projects in the energy, information and communications technology, transport, and water and sanitation sectors. Critically, these are sectors which need intentional inclusion initiatives to ensure women participation.”
- “Our Infrastructure Delivery Division has a partnership with the Unemployment Insurance Fund to help fund the development of women service providers along the infrastructure value chain. This partnership ensures that women engineers, quantity surveyors, lawyers, architects, and other industry-related professionals have access to municipal projects financed through the Bank.”
- “Another example is our climate finance facility that targets across Southern Africa, with the aim of funding projects that are women-owned and women-led in our key sectors. This facility is pivotal in getting women involved in projects that shape our built environment with a strong sustainability lens.”
“Being the first woman and black woman at the helm of the DBSA is significant, but it is only a slice of what we do within the Bank to ensure meaningful inclusion. That work is first and foremost embraced, owned, and applied within our talent. These principles are then extended to our products and services, ensuring inclusion and equity in our approach,” Mosako adds.
In terms of youth focused projects, the DBSA are interested in ensuring that economic participation spans across all age groups, particularly young people.
In this regard, the DBSA are running several employment and employability opportunities for young people. These are their graduate programmes, skills development programmes for both professionalised and vocational career paths, and enterprise development.
“For a couple of years, we ran the DBSA Youth Challenge, an innovation drive for young people with cutting edge infrastructure solutions. And our youth have fantastic ideas that will shift how we think about the built environment, with a strong sustainability angle. As part of our just transition investment framework, we pay particular attention to people who are systemically excluded to help in achieving equality in the playing field,” Mosako explains.
“Our Development Labs, DLABs for short, are an innovation ecosystem for young people in townships, and through them, we have facilitated training, incubated innovation, created jobs and supported the township economies.”
As a society at large, we all know that more can be done to improve the lives of women, especially in areas which are predominantly dominated by men. The reality is that we all need to be given equal opportunities.
And as much as we are trying to shift the current way of the world, Mosako believes that we cannot sit on our laurels—there is more to be done, but we need to do it together and with intention. She says: “I was born in a family of both working class and entrepreneurial people. My formative years, when I was a teenager, I used to help my grandfather in his small business and I also helped him as a bean counter for our church, where he ran the treasury. The fundamental lessons and models of custodianship started then. So, I believe that foundational work, that is, increasing access and exposure to education and skills development for girls, especially in STEM, is important. But it should not stop there; increasing access to opportunities should be followed by mentorship from a young age, by all of us, not only women.
“I was mentored by women and men alike throughout my professional journey, and I was intentional about it. Sponsorship follows that—it is fundamental to the change we want to see in our society, that women are sponsored along their career paths. This means not only pointing women to employment or business opportunities, but supporting them, seconding them, endorsing them, and investing in them.
“If women are given equal opportunities to access education, with necessary social support in their homes to pursue that education, we will have more women graduates. If women graduates are mentored in their careers, and intentionally sponsored, we will have more women in executive positions, working hand-in-hand with their male counterparts for an equitable outcome for all.”
Inspiring the next generation
“If you cannot see it, how can you know it can be?”
This thought-provoking quote from Mosako speaks perfectly to the need for inspirational figures—especially women—to make themselves available for all to see who they are and what they have achieved. By leading by example and putting themselves out there, those in need of inspiration and guidance will without doubt benefit—which will only serve to strengthen us as society.
“Role models show us that it can be done, and they paint significant broad strokes for society. The little girl watching Wendy Luhabe pioneering a successful business, or Nonkululelo Nyembezi leading blue chip companies, or Wendy Lucas-Bull asserting her voice in some of our legacy businesses, driving the necessary and significant change, or Futhi Mthoba who made major strides in the auditing profession, or Maria Maponya, the first black woman to sit on the DBSA board in 1990, it shows the little girl that these pioneers take up space and that she can dare to think that she too can do it and be it,” Mosako avers.
“These broad strokes are not only for little girls watching and seeing possibilities, but for the little boys too, to see that women can and are. Girls can see their own potential, and boys can see girls’ potential—and both groups walk into the world knowing that both groups can. I am a pragmatist, inspiration is as much about possibilities as it is about context, and we need to think about role models with more breadth with regards to whom they can affect, and how, and why.”
As one of the few black woman CEOs in her industry, Mosako hopes her career will inspire young girls to see what’s possible.
“My belief in meritocracy was and is not without an understanding of the realities that black people, women, and black women face. But I know it is possible for us to rise and challenge and dismantle these norms that don’t recognise our brilliance. It’s not easy, but it gets better with every generation,” she says.
While Mosako is calling on the inspirational figures of today to do their bit, the question is, who served as inspiration for her when she was growing up?
She was incredibly quick to answer this question… “My mother and grandmother. They are the most remarkable human beings, and their resilience was a major lesson for me on what it means to weather the storms and show up brilliantly. But beyond their resilience, I learnt that a quiet storm is as effective.”
Her grandfather, as mentioned earlier, also played a major role in shaping Mosako.
“Through his success, he was able to send us to school and employ many people in our community. In all this success, he remained grounded in his religious beliefs, actively participating in the church. I reiterate that he in fact gave me my first job, helping to count the offerings from church and bank them for him. That taught me stewardship and built in me an unwavering accountability.”
Then there is Mosako’s first manager, the person who supervised her articles at EY when she kicked off her career. She says that he left an indelible mark on her back then—and continues to do so to this day. ”He helped me find my footing and encouraged my drive and ambition. He is still in my life as my counsellor, mentor, and Pastor,” she adds.
In her current role, one figure who has given her the strength to make a success of her role is Patrick Dlamini, the man who passed on the baton to her at the DBSA.
“His legacy at the DBSA is exemplary, and he underscored that authenticity is really about honesty; it is in honesty where integrity emanates and thrives,” she says.
A leader with big dreams
As a leader, Mosako has come to the realisation that leadership models can be restricting in the sense that they bog you down to a type, rather than allowing you to express your own principles—of which she has many. She believes that it is more important to “reflect your personhood, address the needs of the collective you lead, and reflect the values of the community within which you exist” as a leader.
A principle which she holds dear and leads with is pragmatism. While she has an incredible amount of respect for theories and models—being a Chartered Accountant by trade after all—she is hyper aware of context. Therefore, she wants to be practical to the context of the people, the business, and the communities.
“I am driven by an in-depth understanding of people’s realities and how they inform engagement. That anchoring is critical in ensuring successful collaboration and partnership with my teams and stakeholders to deliver on our mandate as the DBSA,” she says.
She is also not one to sit in her office and lead from behind a desk; she needs to be in the thick of the action, and in doing so, building stronger relationships with all whom she leads and works alongside.
“I am a walker in the corridors. I like to walk around our campus and talk to people across the business, from our facilities management team to our receptionists, our divisional heads, and their teams, all the way to the executive. I believe in those moments of corridor chit chats; we get to connect as human beings and grow a mutual respect. I’ve found that people’s tones change too in the corridors from their tones in the boardroom. They are more relaxed and very much likely to be their authentic selves when engaging,” Mosako, who became an Executive Director of the DBSA on 1 June 2018, reveals.
“I am people-centred. I have a deep appreciation that what we do at the DBSA is not possible without people, and at the centre of my leadership style is a strong focus on people. If we are to remain a sanctuary of development practitioners, focusing on developing and growing our people is non-negotiable.”
As the leader of the DBSA, Mosako has a number of goals which she is determined to see come to fruition. A big one for her is accelerating the DBSA’s ability to deliver infrastructure in record time with world class quality, all while staying within the budgets of the institution’s financial resources.
She concludes: “Infrastructure development is well known to be a long game, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right people, innovation, and adequate resources, we can shift that reality embraced by the industry about infrastructure taking too long. That is my vision for my tenure, to build capacity to accelerate the delivery of infrastructure so that our people have better service delivery and economic growth in the region. If I achieve anything in this role, it is to lead Team DBSA in accelerating infrastructure in order to build Africa’s prosperity.”
And we look forward to seeing those goals come to life and, ultimately, creating a better society for all of us.
Ralph Staniforth is the Production Editor for Leadership Magazine
Stylist: Mbali Rose Styling
Styling Assistant: Rirhandzu Phanga
Makeup & Hair: Sharon Msimanga
Dress: Thebe Magugu
Another key factor for Mosako is assisting local government in moving away from the need to utilise grants
Boitumelo Mosako’s Women’s Month message
“Be fearless in dreaming your dreams and pursuing them. That is the hardest thing to do, to start with believing in yourself, and inspiring yourself to show up—and to do so while embracing your unique strengths and talents. Surround yourself with a supportive network, enthusiastically seek mentorship, aggressively seek sponsorship, and relentlessly pursue coaching… demand growth. That is how you will break barriers, challenge norms, and assert your existence. Always remember that your presence and voice matter and are essential in shaping a better future not just for yourself, but society at large and the generations to come.”
“The core of a consummate leader, in any era, is integrity. Integrity is the point from which every principle that determines success emanates from. What follows from there are principles such as ethics, trust, transparency, honesty, and sincerity. This is the departure point for my leadership discipline and is the foundation for how I show up.”
“In the day-to-day operations, I believe it is essential for leaders to adapt. This is true of all eras of humanity. Whether it was during the Stone Age when people were figuring out how to make tools using stones to hunt and gather better, or during the Industrial Revolution when the world was innovating industry for better economic prospects. Or during the current 4IR that is asking us to evolve our businesses to meet this moment for better social and economic prospects for our country and continent.”
“Inclusion is very important, and I am not talking only about including women and other marginalised groups. I am talking about evolving our organisations into spaces where everyone feels included and therefore can participate comfortably to their fullest abilities. Inclusion is about collaborating and partnering with your people. Command-and-control approaches no longer work as effectively, as they hinder innovation and limit employee engagement. In inclusion, we foster a culture of trust, transparency, continuous learning, and we empower teams to thrive in a rapidly changing world.”