An Interview with Naoko Koyama, Co-Lead of Dalberg’s Gender Practice

“I am passionate to contribute towards creating livelihoods, whether it is through jobs or entrepreneurship opportunities or farming. It is an important way for people to gain the agency to get resources, invest in themselves, and gain a voice. Our experience working on DigiFarm showed that when women used digital agricultural tools, their income went up. One of the women who benefited from the project shared that her husband was now keen to learn from her. That tells a story of respect and progress. It is not just about livelihoods, but the agency that comes with it.”

Naoko Koyama is a Partner at Dalberg Advisors and co-lead of the firm’s gender practice, based in the Johannesburg office. In her tenure spanning 13 years, her work has cut across multiple sectors, including Agriculture, Energy, and Financial Inclusion. On one of her most exciting projects, she advised DigiFarm, a multi-partner digital platform, on how to empower farmers with digital financial services, access to inputs, markets and extension services. It enabled several women farmers to raise their incomes and strengthen livelihoods. Another project supported efforts to link cotton farmers in Zambia to sustainable global apparel companies and consumers.

Naoko’s academic and professional career has spanned three continents — Africa, Asia, and America —and she speaks fluent English, French and Japanese. This diversity of experience helps her bring the best of global and local thinking to her work. In this interview, Naoko talks about what excites her about her work at Dalberg Advisors and the unique opportunities in the Africa region. 

Having joined the firm in 2010 in Nairobi, she has since seen the firm expand across practice areas, geographies, and teams. In this time, she has learned that embracing a bottom-up approach and elevating local voices is the most effective and sustainable way for impact players to succeed in the region. She also reflects on the personal and professional influences that pushed her to leave her career in banking and private sector consulting to forge a path in social impact — and shares with us what she thinks might be the secret sauce of Dalberg offerings.

As the co-lead of Dalberg’s gender practice for around four years, what is a recent trend or development in the field of gender equality that you find particularly promising or concerning, and why?

There is an increasing push beyond understanding what gender gaps or inequities exist to understanding why they originate in the first place and continue to persist, such as understanding power dynamics, socio-cultural norms and behavioral factors. We have been increasingly working on this with many clients such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), and Children’s Investment Fund Foundation to explore the intersections of these systemic issues and develop interventions on resource access, usage, and their impacts. This trend is aligned with our renewed mission at Dalberg to continue to look at deep structural and power gaps that both cause and perpetuate gender inequality. 

You worked in the banking and private sector consulting industries for the first couple of years of your career. Moving to social impact must have been a big jump. What personal and professional influences led you to take this journey?

Growing up in Japan, I was brought up in a family that gave me a sense of gender equality from a young age. I had the same liberty and mobility as my brother, while my female friends could not even go to university if they could not go close by. It instilled an awareness early on that the world is built unequally. As a teenager, I became further aware of how the world is unfair, why there is disproportionate poverty and hunger, leading to a desire to act on this and have a positive impact in the world.

For the first few years of my career, I worked in banking and consulting, and gradually started to realize that I wanted to transfer my skills to the development sector. But I did not want to seem arrogant and assume that just because I had a university degree, I had something valuable to say. I realized that I needed a training ground to become a professional, and so I did a Master’s in Public Administration and International Development at Harvard University. After my MA I moved to Washington DC; my partner and I had a newborn, and it was a year of financial instability. I got a short-term consultancy at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), but we both wanted to be on the ground.

There is a huge barrier between the private sector and the development sector, and I did not know how to make the transition. It is especially hard at the mid-level. I was a generalist who wanted to bring those skills to impact, and Dalberg recognized that. I was the first manager in Dalberg’s Nairobi location. As a mother, my first project involved developing a business plan for an oil and gas company to start distributing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in informal settlements, and I could speak to and learn directly from the clients that would act on our recommendations and the communities that would be impacted by the change. Being close to them, being in the trenches with people, seeing it and feeling it is crucial. Ground-truthing and desk-based analysis helped us formulate approaches to make LPG, which was more expensive than charcoal or kerosene-based fuel, affordable. I realized that if you want to make an impact, you have to spend enough time on the ground.

From our work in Nairobi and across Africa, what are some of the unique opportunities you have encountered when working in impact?

Whether through corporations or governments – I have encountered people who are truly passionate about creating impact through their corporation’s work. For them, it is about family, community, and friends, so it speaks directly to what is important to them. While they also need to address the bottom line and make a business case, they are equally passionate and innovative when it comes to creating impact.

A client I particularly enjoyed working with was DigiFarm, a digital platform that brings agricultural services to farmers. It was a multi-year engagement with our partners Mercy Corps Agrifin Program, which was supported by people who were deeply invested in the outcomes. We started with Human-Centered Design research and product prototyping that was led by Dalberg Design. I then led the advisory team to identify the right partners for DigiFarm and developed a business model. Dalberg Advisors and Design worked together to facilitate partnership building and the initial launch of the product and continued to provide the necessary support. Dalberg Research also played a role in MEL for improving the product delivery of DigiFarm. It was truly inspiring to see that they stepped out to talk to farmers and traders, rather than sitting in an air-conditioned office in Nairobi. The team from Safaricom, which hosts the DigiFarm and Mercy Corps AgriFin platforms, also joined us on multiple field visits and learnt on the field with us.

Your academic and professional careers have spanned three continents – Asia, America, and Africa. What is unique about doing business and projects in Africa?

Data availability remains a challenge and in cases where it’s available, it can often be outdated or inaccurate. So one cannot merely collect data from desk research and analyze it; one would need to start with in-depth ground research. This is particularly true for understanding low-income and middle-income customers, who tend to be grouped into one bucket as “unserved” or “underserved”, but their needs, barriers and aspirations are very diverse. Making products that see uptake requires deeper understanding of these customers. In that sense, Dalberg Research and Dalberg Design complement Dalberg Advisors’ work to address the need for better data, which is significant everywhere but especially in Africa. Dalberg Data Insights also plays a large role in helping us access and make use of data that is not necessarily coming from research and may be informing policy or business decisions, such as mobile network operators’ data, for instance.

Similarly, there is a great need for capacity and partner mobilization for implementation. In Europe, US, or in Japan, once we provide recommendations on a project, the client often takes it forward. In Africa, however, organizations need and benefit from additional support to bring the plan to life, which is where Dalberg Implement comes in. Our agility to pull in the expertise and capability from within different entities of the Dalberg Group as the client needs evolve has been the secret sauce for Dalberg offerings. 

 What is the most important advice you have for clients about working in the Africa region?

Africa and its people must have the agency to invest and co-invest with those interested in scaling impact in the region. In Africa, governments play a significant role in the region’s economy. As a private investor, you need to be able to collaborate with them in a meaningful way to ensure long-term investment. It is not about market entry and market share, but more about market creation and expansion. And you do that by empowering people on the ground, enriching them, and creating resilient communities. 

My advice to top-tier Japanese trading houses, for instance, is that if you do not have this mindset, you will not be successful in Africa. As a business, you cannot think only of the bottom line. If you think of the bottom line and impact, there will be progress. We have been working with mobile networks and banks; they are local companies that need to work on expanding the purchasing power of their customers to see improvement in the market and grow their customer base. 

Companies need to think bottom-up. If you are serving smallholder farmers, you cannot think only of the agricultural inputs. You need to factor in expenses on farmers’ kids’ schooling or for medical emergencies. You need to think of how you can involve people to help improve their quality of life. You need research to understand farmers’ needs, what works, and what does not. This helps develop archetypes and prototypes, identify potential partners to bring on board, match big companies to the startups, and develop financial models. 

Dalberg was one of the first consultancies to commit to adopting a gender lens across projects. What role can organizations like Dalberg play in advancing gender equality?

In our recent work, we have been pushing to create a space where it is not about giving something to women, but about addressing the power dynamics and structural inequities that put women in positions of scarcity or disadvantage to start with. Often women are bucketed as a vulnerable group and treated as victims. We need to change this, see them as agents of change who can contribute to profitability, and make changes for others. This is something we have been working hard on. I am also co-leading the firm’s initiative to bring gender lens to all client projects we do, whether or not the primary objective of the project is about gender equality.   

On a current project being funded by the BMGF, we are working with them, CGAP, and World Bank to empower rural women to access and use digital financial instruments and tools. As a small part of the larger program, we are designing products and services that work for women. This is a start. We are also thinking of what kind of governance models and processes can be in place, so organizations will automatically create gender-inclusive services. This includes, for instance, women having a greater share of voice in government, so processes are designed with a gender lens. That’s the kind of power shift we want to see. This is not about reaching women with products and services; it is about raising women’s voice in decision making.  We are also working on the root causes of gender inequity, which boils down to power differences between people of different genders and our collective tolerance of those differences, their sources, and their impacts.  Work we have done with the Spotlight Initiative for example, focuses on the imperative for donors and governments to invest in the imperative to end gendered violence.

How have your unique personal experiences contributed to the value of diversity within Dalberg and in your interactions with clients and colleagues?

I am a major introvert, a mother, and a non-native English speaker. These aspects of my life intersect with my professional life and my approach to work. When I joined Dalberg, most of the staff members were extroverted and native English speakers. It was a difficult adjustment to make but I am grateful that the firm valued me. Since then, we have evolved into a firm that is diverse in ethnic background and gender, as well as in personality and the skills we bring. So many hires are introverts. While it might be harder working together, it is what makes us better. We do not want to be a firm that does the same thing the same way. It has also allowed us, as a leadership team, to lead people and engage clients that are diverse. That is very important to me.




古山修子は、ダルバーグ・アドバイザーズ(Dalberg Advisors)のパートナー、またジェンダープラクティスのリーダーとして同社のヨハネスブルグ事務所に勤務している。在職期間は13年にわたり、これまで農業、エネルギー、ファイナンシャルインクルージョンなど、さまざまなセクターの仕事に携わり、多くの日本企業のアフリカ進出も支援してきた。中でも特筆すべきプロジェクトの一つとして、ケニアの通信会社サファリコムが中心となって運営している小規模農家向けデジタルプラットフォームであるDigiFarmに対し、立ち上げ段階からデジタル・ローンや天候保険、農業資材へのアクセス、作物販売先へのアクセスなどのサービスの構想、事業計画策定、協業先との提携支援など長年にわたって支援を行ってきた。このプロジェクトの成果として、女性も含め多くの農民が農業収入を増やし生計を強化できている。別のプロジェクトでは、ザンビアの綿花農家をサステナブル経営を行うグローバルアパレル企業や消費者につなげる取り組みを支援した。



1. ダルバーグのジェンダープラクティスの一リーダーとしての約4年間を踏まえて、男女平等を目指す最近の動向の中で特に有望なこと、逆に懸念されることは何ですか。その理由も教えてください。


2. キャリアの最初の約10年間は、銀行や民間コンサルティング業界で働いていましたね。ソーシャルインパクトへの転身は一大決心だったに違いありません。個人的に、あるいは仕事上、どのような影響を受けたことが、この道に入るきっかけになったのでしょうか。





3. ナイロビとアフリカ全土でのダルバーグの仕事を通して、ソーシャルインパクトに取り組む中でめったにない機会を経験されたと思います。それはどんなことでしたか。


特に一緒に仕事をして楽しかったクライアントは、DigiFarmでした。農家に農業関連サービスを提供するデジタルプラットフォームです。それは、ダルバーグのクライアントであるマーシー・コープス(米系NGO、Mercy Corps)のAgriFinというプログラムとの複数年にわたる取り組みで、その成果に深く身を投じている人々に支えられていました。本プロジェクトでは、ダルバーグ・アドバイザー及びダルバーグ・デザインが共同プロジェクトチームを形成し、人間中心設計(Human-Centered Design)による顧客調査とプロトタイピング、パートナーシップ構築、事業計画作成、及びプロダクトの初回リリースの支援を進め、必要なサポートの提供を続けました。ダルバーグ・リサーチのチームも、DigiFarmのプロダクトデリバリーを改善するためのプロジェクト評価で役割を果たしました。DigiFarmのホストである通信事業者サファリコムのプロジェクトチームも、私たちと一緒に何度も現場を訪問し、現場について学びました。快適なナイロビのオフィスに座っているのではなく、外に出て農家や業者と話をする姿勢に心を動かされました。




5. アフリカ地域で仕事をするクライアントに向けて最も重要な助言は何ですか。




6. ダルバーグは、すべてのプロジェクトにジェンダーの視点を採用することにコミットした最初のコンサルタント会社の一つでした。ダルバーグのような組織は、男女平等を推進するためにどんな役割を果たせるでしょうか。


また、現在、ゲイツ財団、CGAP、世界銀行と協力して、農村部女性がデジタル金融商品・ツールをもっと使えるようになることで生計を向上し、エージェンシーを獲得していくことを目的としプロジェクトを担当しています。このプロジェクトでは、女性が使いやすい金融商品の設計もしますが、どのようなガバナンスモデルやプロセスを整備すると、農村部に根付いた金融機関や農協が自動的に女性のことを中心に考えた金融商品や付随サービスを考案・提供できるようになるかということも検討、設計しています。例えば、政府内で女性の意見が占める割合が増えれば、ジェンダーの視点を取り入れたプロセスが設計されるでしょう。それこそが私たちが見たいパワーシフトです。このプロジェクトでは女性に金融商品やサービスを届けることが最終目的ではありません。女性が意思決定の場において発言力を上げられるようにガバナンスやプロセスの設計を通し環境を変えていくことが重要な目的なのです。私たちは男女格差の根本原因にも取り組んでいます。それは結局のところ、男女間のパワーの格差と、その格差及びその原因、またその格差の結果を社会全体が容認していることに行き着きます。例えば、国連及び欧州連合のSpotlight Initiativeと行ったプロジェクトでは、様々な男女格差の根本的要因の一つである性別に起因する暴力をなくすためにドナーや政府による投資が必須であるということを強調しました。

7. あなたのユニークな個人的経験は、ダルバーグ内の、またクライアントや同僚との交流において多様性という価値にどのように役立っていますか。


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