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A Word with Kristin Ceva

Posted 16 February 2022 in EMpower News   |   Share


Recently, Cynthia Steele, EMpower’s President and CEO, spoke with Kristin Ceva, Managing Director at Payden & Rygel, member of EMpower’s Board of Directors in the United States, and expert on emerging markets debt and global fixed income. They spoke about blazing trails, women investors, and more.

As you know, one of EMpower’s priorities is to try and open up new pathways for young women and girls that are less gendered. You’re somebody who has firsthand experience with this as women are under-represented in finance. What would your advice be to other women who are similarly trying to overcome barriers?

In my job as a portfolio manager, I constantly have to make decisions, about which countries to invest in and which to avoid. I remember one of my mentors always telling me, “You can’t be afraid to make a mistake in this role—don’t be afraid to fail.” That’s really important: to make sure that you get out of your comfort zone, that you don’t let fear of failure prevent you from making tough decisions. Another mentor, Joan Payden [founder and head of Payden & Rygel], once told me: “Kristin, don’t hide your light under a bushel.” And that really stuck with me because as women, we all do a lot behind the scenes. We want to be humble and we don’t want to brag. But we also have to make sure that our work gets out there, that we share it, and that in doing so, we can help other people as well. So my advice would be to make sure that you are letting people know what you’re working on, what you’re doing, and what your successes are.

We’re coming up on International Women’s Day on March 8, which is something we always celebrate and take to heart at EMpower. I’m interested to know: what do you think can inspire more women to become investors? There aren’t that many.

We have a lot of senior women at Payden who are running key strategies. Seeing women in leadership roles brings more women in, as they feel they too can work, move up, and take on more senior positions. That’s always going to be helpful and that takes time. Joan has also built a culture that’s centered very much around collaboration, teamwork, and not just relying on star managers. I think that kind of culture has certainly appealed to many women, and to men, too. I’ve tried to instill that kind of culture in my team as well, so that everyone has a contribution and can come up with ideas outside of the box, and those ideas are listened to. We also have a mentorship program, making sure that women and other underrepresented groups are supported.

What attracted you to become engaged with EMpower back in the day and to stay so actively involved all these years?

It was really attractive to be able to give back to the countries that I’ve made my career in. I’ve always looked at these countries very much through a macro lens: what’s going on in economics, what’s going on in politics, what countries are improving their fundamentals, and so forth. It was interesting to be able to contribute to them on more of a micro level and see what’s going on with our NGO partners from the ground up. For me, it was also that attraction of working with other people within my field, who I trusted, who I think are really smart and have great ideas—working with them to give back to the countries that we’ve all made our careers in. I have a lot of confidence in the people who are on our board and in the fact that they know these countries very well. There is a lot of dedication to making sure that this organisation succeeds. I also think that it fits very well into our culture at Payden; Joan has built a culture of giving back to the community. In particular, a lot of our focus has been on youth and education, and there is firm-wide support at Payden for EMpower.

I’m curious to know, are there learnings that you’ve had through your engagement with EMpower?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve learned a lot about grantmaking and that is very interesting to me. I’ve become more knowledgeable about how NGOs operate, some of their challenges, especially with COVID—what they face with mental health, with funding, and with lots of different areas. I appreciate what EMpower does, not just on the funding side, but providing technical support for many of these NGOs and also bringing them together with other NGOs in a particular country. I like the whole idea of trying to establish networking between different NGOs so that they can learn and grow from each other. I’ve learned about strategic decision-making and some of the things that are important to consider: like what sorts of countries do we want to prioritise? What do we do about countries that are becoming more authoritarian and more difficult to work in? I’ve enjoyed engagement with EMpower from a number of different aspects, both the micro side: learning about these NGOs, what types of NGOs we’re funding and how they operate, to the very big picture: strategic decision-making, and a lot of the strategic planning reviews that we’re doing. It has all been very interesting and inspiring, and I’ve learned so much.


Perfect note to close on—thanks so much Kristin!

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