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Business Despite Covid-19

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Business Despite Covid-19 Asante Afrika
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Hazel Lifa

Anyone can tell you that this year was terrible; but for the young African coming up in the world, it was depressing. With economies taking deeper dives all over Africa, and career moves rendered at a standstill, many have all but given up. Most of the lucky few to have been employed lost their jobs, as lock down measures were implemented.

It is inspiring to see some young Africans stand strong in the face of adversity, taking matters into their own hands and starting small businesses during these times. In particular, two young ladies are leading in the field of entrepreneurship. I managed to catch up with these ladies who are in business for themselves – Joyliz Njenga from Kenya, working hard in the food industry, and Rumbidzai Winini from Zimbabwe, selling the best women’s fashion.

First of all, kudos to anyone with the guts to even think of starting a small business in such economic turmoil. Joyliz Njenga was a semester away from becoming an IATA Certified Travel Consultant, Travel Agent, and Travel Business Manager, she says, before Covid-19 shut things down. She had her eyes set on making money off of Kenya’s tourism industry, which is one of the most affected industries in the world. I asked her how the idea of starting a business during such times came about.

Business Despite Covid-19 Asante Afrika
Joyliz Njenga

“Staying at home for that elongated period of time, with the economy shattering and my country being one of the highest leaders in terms of corruption worldwide, I figured, why wait for a greedy system to land back on its feet just so it can steal from me and the others again? A small business was the right place to start. Make some small ‘bank’ while waiting for the education systems to get back to normal and hope that the degree that I get will further me in life; if not, at least, I will have gained some intel on how to run a business.”

Njenga’s fears are popular amongst many young Africans who can see that the system is rigged. This is why so many Africans are now looking overseas for a chance at a better future; like Rumbidzai Winini who left the continent to attend university in Ukraine.  Luckily, Winini had been back home when the Covid-19 pandemic broke. She had been doing part-time work at her father’s company whilst looking for employment. Forced, like the rest of us, to put our plans aside whilst adjusting to life in the motherland again, it would have been easy to pack up and return to Europe, but she made a plan. Winini saw her salvation in selling women’s fashion. I asked how the idea came about and Winini responded:

“I just thought people still need to wear clothes even if we’re going through a pandemic.”

Both ladies had wanted to be in the business sector, but the timing and the type of businesses are unlike what they had desired – one has to adapt as of late. Njenga had always wanted to have a business, “But in a whole other industry… a story for another day though”, she states. Granted, the food business has been made complicated by Covid-19, so I asked Njenga how she manages her customers.

 “It has honestly been a struggle, that’s for sure. With the economy not serving us as the citizens so well, people are saving up all the coins they can, meaning they omit even the smallest of luxuries from their budgets. The type of food we sell is grilled meats, and in my country, these are in the category of small luxuries. The only way to manage customers is to make sure that the products we are selling are delicious and worth the coins they are spending, and to just have faith that they will keep coming back.” Njenga states.

Business Despite Covid-19 Asante Afrika

Winini says she had always wanted a business, though in the future. “l wanted to gain experience and learn more about business management.”

Business Despite Covid-19 Asante Afrika
Rumbidzai Winini

Staying true to the idea of women empowerment, Njenga went into this business with her cousin, another African woman set on making moves. Looking to the future, I asked the businesswomen where they see themselves in a year:

“Knock on wood, Covid 19 is kicked to the curb, we have big ideas for this business… In just 3 months of running the business, we have managed to open up two more branches. So in a year’s time, we could be doing bigger things,” Njenga says.

With such success and determination, I had to know if Njenga’s community was supportive? According to Njenga:

“Very much so. The culture for young girls in this generation is to find a ‘blesser’ or a ‘sponsor’, and feed off their money. People seeing two young educated girls taking a different approach has given us not only positive feedback, but also motivation to know that being independent should be the forefront of our goals and no alternative ways are acceptable.”

While facing challenges with pleasing all her customers, Winini stays positive, despite the imposition made by Covid-19 restrictions. She says, “When you’re in business, you learn every day and you get to understand what clients want, so that next time l do better.”

Hoping for all African youth to make it, Njenga advises:

“As cliché as it might sound, I have learned it is the absolute truth… Just believe in yourself. That’s all! The mind works wonders and miracles. That faith can light up a fire within yourself, and truly, you’ll find yourself in a blazing bonfire of thoughts, ideas, and passions you never knew you had. After you believe and conjure up the faith, do not forget the most important part… ACT on those ideas. Bring them to life. An idea is just intellectual property, so turn that into something tangible, and that’s the magic.”

 Njenga’s positive attitude is what keeps her going and growing, which is why she urges other young people like her to, “sit back and have a positive perspective. As hard as it might sound, there is always a silver lining. We have only three months of 2020 to go; find your silver lining! Meditate on the good, and plan for the better.”  Having returned recently to the continent I asked Winini how she has overcome readjusting to the environment. “I was lost and did not have confidence, but what l can tell you is that nothing is impossible. You can do anything! Do not wait to have a lot of capital – start small and you will grow day by day.”

Business Despite Covid-19 Asante Afrika
Rumbidzai Winini modelling her merchandise

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Careers

Women in STEM – Dr. Diana Kululanga

I started my clinical work as a student, and witnessed the deaths of many children from diseases that can be prevented

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Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
Dr. Diana Kululanga
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Saving people’s lives has always been what Dr. Diana Pempho Lisosa Kululanga wanted to do from a very young age. She tells us about her journey to becoming a medical doctor, and why she chose that career path.

Can you tell us about yourself? What do you do, and what does your job entail?

I am a medical doctor by profession. I work at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital  (QECH), which is the biggest tertiary hospital in Malawi. I see patients with different conditions, and work with the QECH health personnel to manage their diseases and conditions.  

Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
Dr Diana Kululanga

Was that always your dream job?

Yes, yes, and yes, a million times yes. 

You mentioned that you chose to do medicine because you wanted to make a direct and almost immediate impact on people’s lives. Can you tell us what you mean by that?

A doctor knows a whole lot about a patient; in one conversation I learn of a person’s illness, beliefs, family, social, economic and mental status, hence I am able to address needs in all these areas. While we are all doing so much for mankind, most are doing it indirectly through policies, laws, education and other activities; yet as a doctor, I work directly with my patients and help them directly. The direct impact of helping a patient recover from a point of death to life again, is joy unspeakable!

Biology was your favourite subject at school and you actually graduated high school as the best Biology student. What other subjects did you focus on in order to qualify for medicine at university and which university did you attend?

I focused on science subjects – Mathematics, Physical Science, and of course English. I Attended University of Malawi, College of Medicine, the only college in Malawi that trains medical doctors.

Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
Dr Diana Kululanga

If you had not been accepted to study medicine for example, what other career path would you have chosen?

Architecture, because beautifully designed, decent houses make me happy.

You were raised by a team of very strong women; a single mother and an overseas aunt who paid your university tuition for over five years out of six, as well as other educated and professional women in your family, including your grandmother. In a poor country like Malawi where girls are told that they cannot go far in school but should get married instead, how important is it to you to educate the girl child? What benefits does educating the girl child bring to a family and to a nation as a whole?

It is of ultimate importance that a nation invests in educating a girl and boy child. I believe that a nation needs the special qualities that distinguish men and women to achieve great things; without the other, there is a delay or a failure in achieving the vision a country bears. An educated girl child is a huge asset to a country and family. An educated woman will always make sure that her children get educated, like my mom did. She encouraged me, believed in me, and supported me. There was never a day where I felt like I couldn’t do anything because I am a girl. She did not just say it, but she showed us that a woman can do anything, for example by riding a bike daily when going to work. I will forever be indebted to my family for the culture of educating a girl child. My great grandparents, Mr and Mrs Chiphwanya, saw potential and believed in their daughters. To them, their daughters were not just objects for marriage, but seeds worth watering, and the harvest still feeds the generations that follow. I have grandmothers and aunts who have worked,  in fact led, in the corporate world, and there is no doubt in me that I will take the same road. I draw my inspiration from my aunt, Mrs Maureen Kachingwe, who is a lawyer, and I’m so thrilled and blessed to be the first doctor in the family.

Medical school was obviously not very easy; can you tell us about the challenges you faced as a student and moreso as a female medical student? How did you overcome those challenges?

The challenges were from internal and external sources. My internal challenge was the ability to work out my life on my own. I had spent the previous years of school following schedules, and now I had to develop a schedule that works, given the numerous things I had to learn, study and practice, while having only myself as the overseer of the schedule. Secondly, there were more males than females in my class, and as such, I had to work hard to survive and not really to excel.

The external challenges were the financial challenges; whilst I was in my second year of college,the government decided to increase the tuition fees. I am grateful that my aunt Angella Laura Horton did not back down. However, I still had hiccups in terms of my other needs, other than tuition fees. However, this motivated me to start considering starting a business .

You are now in the internship phase of your training, which you will be completing in May next year; tell us more about that… the triumphs, the hardships faced, and especially as a woman in a male dominated field?

Well, well, well… the first hardship is the fact that female doctors are assumed to be nurses by patients. It takes a great deal of patience to explain that you are actually a doctor.

The second hardship is patients doubting you because you are a female. They have always been treated by male doctors, and the presence of a female doctor does not sink well within them.

Thirdly, some comments made by colleagues are just gender biased, but I remind myself of the reason why I started on this journey, which is to save lives.  

Once you are done with your internship next year, that will mark eight years of your training to become a medical doctor. What has motivated you to stay strong and keep on pushing to achieve your goal?

I am results oriented, hence I look forward to the end of things, and I endure the process, just like my master Jesus, who for what was set before him endured the cross.  

The financial benefits of being a medical intern in Malawi are not that great. How do you stay motivated to get up and go to work every day and keep on pushing towards your goal?

Medical internship is not the end, it’s just a step in my career. I choose the benefits of this step above financial benefits. This is the step where you learn to be more responsible over another person’s life, and where your decisions have an effect of life and death, hence  they have to be made with the right reasons, and sometimes defended. These are skills needed beyond patient management, but life in general .   

You are a very industrious young woman, and some time last year you had to find ways to fund yourself, as your mum’s work contract had just come to an end. Can you tell us about your initial business ventures which you embarked on with your business partner to fund your well-being during medical school?

I have embarked on several ventures with my business partner Dalitso Kaluwa, and we keep learning. We started in 2016 by selling hair extensions (weaves), and then milk scones.After that we bought a sausage-making machine and sold sausages, and eventually we turned to baking cakes. We had and still have big dreams, and knowing we didn’t have any other source of money, we got into business. Yes, there was a time when I had to support myself with other needs, for example processing paperwork for my internship and my graduation, as well as assisting with other bills at home. My last option was to use the business money, on account that I would return it to the business, which I did after I started receiving my internship salary.

Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
Dr. Diana Kululanga

What were the successes and failures of those business ventures and what did you learn from that experience?

The ultimate success is to maintain partnership. Truth be told, black people seem not to trust each other, and hardly work together for a greater goal. They would rather compete with each other than work together. I count this partnership as a great success, because we have been through the lows and the highs together, and we have managed to stay together.

We have lost money before, not once, not even twice. Business on paperwork is overrated, (laughs). I mean, its good to be positive, but never disregard the threats and weaknesses, which is what we would miss in our plans previously.We have failed to win bids before. When I was going into my final year of college, I wanted to run the college tuckshop. I wanted this opportunity so bad, but unfortunately our proposal was turned down, despite being visionary, good and creative. We have failed to convince a customer before, and worse things still disappointed us.

I have learnt important lessons from each failure. Firstly, you have to keep going regardless of what happens because you only make progress if you keep moving. Secondly, always seek counsel, because there is nothing new under the sun. There is someone willing to share their wisdom, whether for free or at a fee. Never the less, the reward is worth it, for in the multitude of counselors, there is safety (Proverbs 11:14). Thirdly, it takes humility, patience, and a particular level of commitment to a greater goal, to start a small business. One must remember where they are going, and stay focused.  

You have a very industrious circle of friends as well. How important is that in motivating each other, and assisting each other to get through the difficult periods in life?

They say “Show me your friends, and I will show you who you are.” I don’t think you can keep drawing motivation from distant relationships and stay motivated. Sometimes reality hits, and you need real motivation. My circle of friends inspires me big time, I never feel alone, and I enjoy talking with them about business because it is something we all relate to. My boyfriend, Confidence Banda, runs 3in1 Events, planning weddings and other events. My business partner’s boyfriend, Peter Mwamlima, owns  CEPHA Biomedical Solutions, and I have another pair of friends, Dorice and Zengani, who  own Donga Investments. My study partner, Dr. Josephine Gondwe, sells perfumes, and my mentor owns several businesses. There are also other ladies in my circle who sell second hand clothes.

After your business trial and error phase, you then resorted to baking and selling cakes. Tell us more about that. Did you do a course to learn how to bake and decorate cakes? How is that business doing?

Yes, we attended a course on cake decorating on several occasions for the development of our baking skills. This has been the longest time we have been in a particular business, and it keeps getting better. We have grown our customer base as our skills have been improving through investing our time and dedication. We have also employed a lady to help us, thereby contributing to the President’s vision of 1 million jobs. I consider this good progress.

Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
DnD Cakes

How do you market your business?

We mainly use social media and posters. We are on Instagram and @dr_dee_dnd_cakes is our handle. We are currently working on our Facebook page.  

Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
DnD Cakes

You sell your products even at the hospital. With the usual notion that doctors are highly paid, how do you manage to put your pride aside and decide that even as a doctor, you are not shy to move around marketing your products?

One of the lessons I have learnt in business is to be humble, and to commit to a greater goal – I have to do this now for the vision at hand. I meet other doctors selling custom made bags or cosmetics, and it’s just the norm of the day.

Where do you see your business in the next few years?

It’s true that one cannot buy happiness, but one must certainly buy cake, for it is always a good starting point. I therefore want DnD to have spaces in town like coffee shops, where everyone can walk in and enjoy the ultimate pleasure of life – eating cake.

Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
DnD Cakes

How do you manage to balance your studies, your work and your business?

I only commit to what is worthy of my time. I give each of these the most of me whenever required, and never at the expense of the other. My business partner is also very supportive, and working with her certainly lightens the load.  

Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
Diana’s Business Partner, Dalitso Kalua, a Medical Laboratory Scientist working with Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust. 

Learning is a long and continuous process in the medical field. When you are done with your internship, what is the next step? If you are to specialise, what would you specialise in, and how many more years would that take?

After my internship, I want to study for a Master’s Degree in Infectious Diseases, as I have a keen interest in elimination and prevention of infectious diseases which are a huge burden in developing countries. After that, I will specialise in paediatrics.

Why would you want to specialise in that particular field?

When I was 5 years old, our neighbour’s son died from Malaria; it was the first time I ever saw a young person die, and it was strange because I used to think that death was for the grown-ups. I had kind of forgotten about this, until I started my clinical work as a student, and witnessed the deaths of many children from diseases that can be prevented. I therefore would like to join the team that works hard to save the lives of these little angels.

Women in STEM - Dr. Diana Kululanga Asante Afrika
Dr. Diana Kululanga

What are your parting words for a young African girl who is facing challenges but would also love to become a doctor one day?

There is no obstacle that can overcome your desire. Consider your dream as water – through persistence, water strikes through a rock. Never take the advice of those who say you can’t, for they do not exist when you close your eyes and see yourself in a lab-coat, using a stethoscope. When the desire to go after your dream seems to fade, water it with faith through prayer, for this is the evidence of things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1), and there is  a greater force working for you, not against you. Your story will inspire many, so don’t let them down. I, Dr Diana Kululanga will always be cheering you on, screaming and rooting for you! I did it, you can do it too!

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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Fashion

Sandra Awino Odino – Talks About Being a Model & Entrepreneur in Kenya

From frequenting Kenya’s high-fashion runways, interior designing and owning her own hair extensions brand, professional model and entrepreneur, Sandra Awino Odino, tells us about her journey to becoming the power house that she is.

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From frequenting Kenya’s high-fashion runways, interior designing and owning her own hair extensions brand, professional model and entrepreneur, Sandra Awino Odino, tells us about her journey to becoming the power house that she is.  

Sandra Awino Odino - Talks About Being a Model & Entrepreneur in Kenya Asante Afrika
Sandra Awino Odino

Tell us about your journey in the modelling industry. When did you decide you want to be a model and how did you manage to break into the industry?

I started modelling when i was in high school and after high school i got scouted, trained and signed to a modelling agency. Afterwards, I went for A LOT of auditions and finally booked my first runway show which was an international show and the rest is history.

What do you enjoy most about being a model?

I enjoy dressing up, taking pictures, walking down different runways, traveling, meeting new people and bringing a designer’s idea to life.

Sandra Awino Odino - Talks About Being a Model & Entrepreneur in Kenya Asante Afrika

What are the highlights of your career? What big events have you taken part in and which designers in Kenya have you worked with?

I got to work for African Fashion Fair , Swahili Fashion Week, The AngelsHair Show, Kenya Fashion Week, The Wedding Fair by Kempinski, Afro Hair Show, and The Blue Economy Fashion Show, where I got to meet the President of Kenya and other dignitaries from around the world. I have worked with some of the best designers such as Chela Seurei, Sally Karago, Lucy Rao, Peggy Onyango, Shenu Hooda, Sharon Wendo of Epica Jewellery, Neema Nkatha, Idah Aluoch, Aisha Rotich, and Loise Adhiambo, just to name a few.

What are the challenges faced in the modelling industry in Kenya and what do you think can/should be done to improve on those?

Some of the challenges I face in the modelling industry are that the pay is not so good, or sometimes we don’t get paid at all, scarcity of the jobs etc. I think the modelling agencies should protect models by getting them legitimate jobs which would extremely help the models to become financially independent. Agencies should also stand up for models and fight for their rights.

I also wish that international agencies would do more recruitment of Kenyan models, because the talent here is abundant. Most of us want to go international, but breaking through that glass ceiling is very tough. It would be really great if more international agencies came to scout in Kenya.

You also work as an interior designer. Tell us more about that. When and how did you get into that industry? What kind of services/products do you provide?

Yes I work also as an interior designer and it has always been my passion to beautify spaces and transform houses into homes. I studied interior Design at El Interior Designers and afterwards I started practicing it. The services i provide are soft furnishings, consulting, wallpaper installation and upholstery.

Apart from being a model and interior designer, you also own your own brand of hair extensions. Can you tell us how that came to be and what inspired your decision to start selling your own hair extensions? Do you produce them or do you have a supplier? Who is your target market?

Yes my hair extension line is called Rubellite Extensions and I have had the idea for almost a year now. I decided to take a leap of faith and I did it. What inspired the idea of my hairline is that I wanted women to look great. Hence, if you are called for an impromptu event, you can simply lay your hair clip-on of my extension and you are good to go. I have a supplier who provides me with the extensions and my target market is ladies who are 18-60 years old.

Sandra Awino Odino - Talks About Being a Model & Entrepreneur in Kenya Asante Afrika
Rubellite Hair Extensions
Sandra Awino Odino - Talks About Being a Model & Entrepreneur in Kenya Asante Afrika
Rubellite Hair Extensions Campaign

In April this year you embarked on an extraordinary project which was photographically documenting how black women are normally not used by big companies in Kenya when advertising cosmetics. Can you tell us more about that project and did it achieve the desired results?

For some time I noticed that various companies in Kenya were using only white models on their billboards, and so I called some of my friends and we came up with a mood board. We then did a photoshoot which we wanted people of colour to relate to, and the outcome was OUTSTANDING. Unfortunately we did not get the results we were hoping for because soon after, the pandemic had hit the country hard and there was a total lockdown. So we have had such a hard time pitching our idea to the targeted companies. It was an exciting experience though, and I learnt so much from it.

You are an enterprising woman. What drives you and motivates you to be so entrepreneurial and how do you balance your business ventures and your personal life?

My drive and motivation comes from my mother; she is an amazing role model and she inspires and encourages me to not stop until I achieve all my dreams. My family is very supportive of what I do so it makes it easier for me to balance my business and personal life.

Sandra Awino Odino - Talks About Being a Model & Entrepreneur in Kenya Asante Afrika

What are your parting words for the young African upcoming model and entrepreneur?

Put God first! If you can’t stop talking about it, don’t stop working for it. Believe in yourself and NEVER give up.

Follow Sandra on IG @lasandrah254 and @rubellite_extensions

Image Credits

👗: @afrovazidesignhouse; 📷 @afrikanfilmstudio, jkiragu; Jewellery 💍: @Frankartscreations; 💄: Mutisya H, Sharon Atieno, mdeizimakeup; Hair: @rickykish

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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Careers

Women in STEM – Hlalani Samantha Mlilo

For the longest time I wanted to be a Medical Doctor because I thought that as a lady good in Science and Mathematics, that was all I could become.

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Hlalani Samantha Mlilo
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Engineering has never looked more classier! This past August our cover feature was Hlalani Mlilo, an Industrial Engineer. August being Women’s month, we figured we would feature a strong, intelligent woman who exudes confidence, boldness and power. She currently works in a Supply Chain Department at an Electronics Manufacturing Company, managing their Logistics and Distribution network for the company headquarters in Johannesburg and remotely doing so for three other branches in Port Elizabeth, Durban, and Cape Town.

What/who inspired you to choose a career in STEM?

I come from a big family, full of engineers (males), including my late father and nurses (ladies). For the longest time I wanted to be a Medical Doctor because I thought that as a lady good in Science and Mathematics, that was all I could become, until I had a conversation with an older sister of mine who resided in South Africa, while I was doing my high school in Zimbabwe. She told me that she was seeing a breed of young women in Engineering in the mining town that she lived in and she thought it was something I would be interested in. I started reading about engineers and inclining more to my brothers and fathers for career advice. I watched my dad more closely. He was nicknamed “MacGyver” because he could literally fix and create anything. I knew then that if I ever got a chance to study and become like these men, I was going to make it.

What did you have to do to get to where you are now?

I was in the Sciences class in high school (Physical Sciences, Biology, Mathematics, and Integrated Science where all my strong points), but for my Ordinary level (O’ Level) in Zimbabwe, I wrote 11 subjects including Commerce, Religious Studies and History. I did not really want to limit myself in what I could do. In my Advanced Level (A’ Level), I added Business Management and Communication Skills.

My university modules included Mathematics, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Digital Systems, and Software Design for my first qualification. My second qualification included Project Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Systems Design, Information Systems, Project Research, Quality Management and Logistics Engineering, which is currently my main focus at work.

Women in STEM - Hlalani Samantha Mlilo Asante Afrika
Hlalani Samantha Mlilo

What challenges did you face at university as a woman in a male dominated faculty?

My first qualification was Electrical Engineering. A lot of wiring for practicals had to be done and help did not come by easy, I must say. Generally, boys play with hard toys and wires, climbing trees and other structures from a young age. We girls on the other hand may have the brain, but getting our hands to catch up with what our brain knows sometimes takes a little more effort, and guidance is required. Luckily, I was drawn to a group of friends which had a good mix of males and females, so we held each other up through the qualification. But the general vibe from the guys was, “You chose this course, so do all the work yourself!”

How did you overcome those challenges?

I had to constantly remind myself that everything that the University was asking of me at that point was all preparation for the real job which I would have to do for myself. So I had to step up to the plate and learn fast how to do everything for myself. It took a couple of sleepless nights and tired days. Weekends simply ceased to exist on my calendar. What also played a big role for me was that I had a supportive family structure behind me and a few individuals who were knowledgeable on my subject matters. So when I got stuck I knew who to call. I also had the privilege to do vacation work at one of the Anglo American coal Mines, and that hands-on experience boosted my theoretical knowledge, because when I went back to school after the holidays, I now had practical experience to refer to.

What is the biggest challenge that you face at work as a woman in a male dominated industry?

The discrimination against women exists, yet so subtle. Males believe that we belong behind the computer screen, typing reports from their field findings; yet we want to be on the field as well, doing the hard work, climbing the masts and fixing the world’s problems and coming up with life changing solutions. Women still need to work multiple times harder to be recognized or found worthy of doing certain tasks in the Engineering space. Lastly, no matter how hard women work, when promotion opportunities arise, it is mostly inclining the women to general management roles, and seldom is there a push for women into technical management roles.

What do you think can be done to address this and other challenges faced by women in your position?

As women, we have to be our own motivators and redefine our own narratives. Any woman can be absolutely anything they want to become. We just need to keep our focus on our goals. The appeals and social media drives are clearly not giving us the equality results we need. Study those science subjects, pass them well, go to university and apply yourself fully, graduate, nail the job interviews and get on the job and do it well. Let your results and job trail speak for you and qualify you where society generally says you cannot fit.

What are your biggest achievements so far?

Successfully completing two Engineering degrees, Electric and Industrial Engineering.

Women in STEM - Hlalani Samantha Mlilo Asante Afrika
Hlalani Samantha Mlilo

What are your future career goals?

I’m aiming at bagging a Master of Business Administration degree (MBA), which will allow me to aim at more Strategic Management positions in my prospective employer’s organizations. My plan is very clear. My first qualification was a technical one. Allowing me to acquire hands on technical experience. My second qualification routed me into Operations Management, allowing me to have hands-on experience on how a company operates on a day to day basis. My next qualification should score me a seat at the table where strategic decisions are made. There is no limit to what one can do, if they set their mind to it.

Given an opportunity to start over, would you still choose a career in STEM and why?

Yes, I would choose a career in STEM because I’ve come to realise that there is no industry or economy not contributed to by science, technology, engineering or mathematics; from medical, farming, education, accounting to construction. You name it.

Women in STEM - Hlalani Samantha Mlilo Asante Afrika
Hlalani Samantha Mlilo

How can you encourage younger girls to be more exposed and more interested in STEM?

I think MENTORSHIP is the biggest challenge. The fact that girls are discouraged or not encouraged in STEM fields very early in their education, means society is not breeding enough mentors for girls. It is always so much easier to look up to someone that you can relate to. When you look at another woman, you know that some of the challenges that you face, she will understand them because she has gone through similar phases, and when you see older women winning, then you know as a young girl, you can win too.

Although I still need mentoring myself, what I can do is give my time to share knowledge and guidance to girls through formal and informal mentorship, and maybe even start WOMEN in STEM clubs at schools, which can become as popular as Interact or Debate and Toast Mistresses Clubs in schools. This allows for platforms for girls in schools to also share their dreams and encourage each other and instill interest and competitiveness in STEM.

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Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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