Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY February 23, 2021

Leading the Way in Vanuatu: Odile Siro


For International Women’s Day 2021, we’re sitting down with women across East Asia and the Pacific who are taking on leadership roles and working towards an equal future in a COVID-19 world. Odile Siro does not shy away from a challenge. On top of being a mother and an international athletics coach, she works in procurement within the Vanuatu Infrastructure Reconstruction and Improvement Project (VIRIP) – the largest active World Bank-funded project in Vanuatu. Odile believes that true success requires courage, determination and a rigorous desire to improve.

How did you get into your role as the Senior Procurement and Contract Officer at the World Bank? 

My career started from a desire to take care of my family. I started as a Procurement Officer at Save The Children and later worked in Roads for Development (R4D), a project supported by the Australian Government. When my contract ended, a colleague told me that there was a position advertised in the Vanuatu Infrastructure Reconstruction and Improvement Project (VIRIP). When I found out I got the job, I was really happy. I was keen to learn new skills so I could be more productive and valuable to my community. 

However, there are still challenges. I work in a male-dominated environment. When I first went into the office, I realized I was the only female staff member. My evaluation panel members are male, and the contractors are male. I had to learn how to work around men and understand how they think. It is not always easy. There are negative stereotypes about women in decision-making, the gender pay gap and having to balance work and caring for children and parents, are all challenging. In my case, I am now a single mother after losing my husband last year. 

Procurement can also be perceived as unfair. In Vanuatu, fairness means sharing what is given amongst all of us – including the disabled, the elderly and the young. But procurement ultimately comes down to who is the most competitive person or group for the job. 

Despite these challenges, I still love my work. I want to continue to gain skills and become better at what I do. I am committed to working extra hours, watching online procurement tutoring videos and seeking out mentors. Ultimately, I do what I do for my people and country as a whole. 

Could you tell us a bit more about what VIRIP involves? 

VIRIP is a World Bank-funded project of about US$50 million. It is the largest [infrastructure] project in Vanuatu and aims to improve disaster and climate resilience within selected public assets – roads, schools and public buildings. After Tropical Cyclone Pam, it sought to create infrastructure that could immediately respond to crisis. Through a careful procurement strategy, almost all of the VIRIP work is done by locals, local contractors and local consultants. 

Do you think the pandemic has presented any new challenges or opportunities for women in Vanuatu? 

It has posed both challenges and opportunities. On the positive side, I think it has encouraged more women to step outside of their comfort zones and become who they want to be – for themselves and their family. I see how women can be strong leaders in this crisis. I believe that women are already good managers at home, which is, to me, a God-given skill within all of us. 

What female leader inspires you? 

My biggest inspiration is my mother. She inspires me with her simple love and care. She was my very first teacher. She prepared the essential foods for me so I can be healthy. She taught me how to navigate this life as a woman. Having her around as my mentor has helped me become who I am now: being the very best I can be and never giving up, as a mother, as a procurement specialist, and in life. 

What do you think needs to be done to ensure that more women end up in leadership positions in Vanuatu? 

Women need to be the best they can be in whatever area of life they are in. It is not about competition – all women have leadership skills within us. Vanuatu’s first Prime Minister once said, “Small is beautiful.” I believe that small things lead to big things. Whether you are a youth leader, a mother, a teacher or in a women’s community group, you are already a leader. 

Do you have advice for Pacific women? 

Whatever you think you can do, do it to the best of your ability. If you have passion and self-belief, people will slowly come to recognize you for what you are doing. Challenges will come. But challenges have made me strong. They build me up so I can face whatever new things I come across.  

What are your hopes and plans for the future? 

I want to use my position to inspire and motivate other women who seek to move forward in their own specialties. I dreamt of becoming a procurement specialist one day and want to support other women who seek to enter the same field. 

When my kids grow up, I hope that they find a good job, care for their family and, above all, be happy doing what they do. I think that’s my simplest wish. That they be happy and are able to do what they want to do. 


Follow World Bank Pacific on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss any of our Pacific Women in Leadership series.


**The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group.