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TANZANIA: MODESTA MAHIGA

A Word From “African Queens Project” Founder:

When I first heard Modesta Mahiga speak, I had to pinch myself. It was like she knew what I dreamt of when I thought of my country, my people, and my continent. I knew I had to get to know this woman who spoke of, “Developed people Develop Nations!” It has been over 5 years from that day when I first heard Mode (her nickname) speak and I have had the pleasure of working with and for her. She has mentored me, spoken into my life, and has been an example not just for me, but for many women (and lets face it, quite a lot of men) who look up to her. African Queens Project got a hold of her, and was able to see what makes her tick! 

BACKGROUND

I have a legal background, my law degree (LLB) focus was on human rights with leaning on gender rights, family law, the rights of a child and labour law. I am an Advocate of the High Court and Subordinate Courts Thereto in Tanzania.

From as early as secondary school, voluntary and paid work experience has leaned towards the same areas from, representing student rights and community involvement as student form representative and eventually Student President at Waterford Kamhlaba (UWCSA) – a role that cost me my grades (due to workload) and almost got me expelled (for being too strong an advocate of student rights), teaching English and Mathematics to matriculating orphans living at the SOS Children’s Village as well as English and Computers to Deaf Adults (as I had taken a course in Sign Language) and taking Children Living with Disabilities from a local children’s shelter on Excursions (Mbabane, Swaziland).

 After high school I interned at the Tax and Legal Department at PriceWaterHouseCoopers for six months in Dar es Salaam before setting out to university where I had at any one time 3 part-time jobs during the term and a full time job when on university breaks. The most memorable for me was my role supporting a Social Services team working with Refugee Mothers and Children in the most impoverished area of Birmingham, England.

 On return from my studies I worked as a Human Resource Management Trainee and within a year promoted to Recruitment and Labour Relations Manager. I received numerous recognition awards in this role. I resigned for further studies in Germany where I also worked as a Technical Business English Tutor for multinationals during my studies in Trier, Germany.

 Since returning from Germany in 2007, I have had a senior management role at Professional Approach Group where some of my more notable achievements have been made.

I am married to a most supportive husband, Mhando Philemon Mbughuni and we are expecting our first child, Jedidiah Ariel Mbughuni. 

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

As a lawyer focused on representing women and children, I didn’t see the effectiveness nor sustainability of seeking legal redress in a system that remains largely prejudiced against these interest groups. If women and children were being marginalized because they were deemed to not have a position and voice worth respecting, especially in matters governing economic independence and basic rights, then I wanted to build their capacity outside the legal system so that they would.

 In this pursuit I realized that it is both men and women, boys and girls who need to be equipped and empowered to value their worth, apply their skill and grow in socio-economic independence so that through action and evidence, society can see that no progress can be made without the inclusion, that there is a co-dependence between all interest groups.

  • AQP: Who and what are some of your influences?

 I am grounded by my faith in Jesus Christ and the calling He has placed on my life to prepare Tanzanians to drive both the Nation’s assent to an economic superpower and through Tanzania, the Continent’s renaissance and ownership as a driver of global transformation and prosperity.

 Ordinary people who have done extraordinary things whether the people be real or fictitious (in books and films) have always warmed my heart and stirred my passion to want to be that person that intervenes rather than with furrowed brow exclaims “somebody needs to do something about this situation.” I think had the people who influence and inspire me not been ordinary, I would have found reason to quit when pressed against the wall, seeing them as superhuman and me as a mere struggling mortal.

 Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Moses’ Mother, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, Daniel, Nehemiah, Job, King David and King Solomon as youth, Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ parents, Jesus, Apostle Peter and many others that dropped everything when Jesus said “Follow me” and they knew not to where He would lead.

 I have come to see that even the men and women we hail in contemporary times as “great” (there are too many for me to list here) are but spirited people who often had little to start with but the conviction “there is a calling on my life, someone has to do something about the status quo and I am that someone. Whether I live to see the promise or die in the pursuit of it, whether I stand on my own or am supported by kindred spirits, whether it cost all that I am, I will not compromise, there will be a transformation, we shall not be defeated, not on my watch.” I have read about and watched documentaries of many such “heros” and had the privilege of meeting many more in my travels.

 Closer to home, Julius Kambarage Nyerere and the less celebrated men and women that stood with him, such as my father,Augustine Phillip Mahiga, are made from this fibre. Their counterparts as founding fathers in the region too. My mother,Janet Zebedayo Mbene continues to stand as a testimony of what God’s favour, continuous learning and participation and doggone determination can do not just for one person and their generation but through them for all time. My mentorObafemi Banigbe continues to teach me the same thing, always urging me “to speak those things that are not as if they are.” My mother in law, Anne-Clauder Mbughuni is an example of what principled, uncompromising yet humble and quiet strength can yield both in the home and the boardroom. Happiness Mchaki, my friend and partner of many moons also carries this quality, something of greater value than pure gold. Jane Mutua is another woman of virtue whose faith, faithfulness and generosity humbles me. I am encouraged to keep things in perspective as I daily watch and listen to the wisdom and resilience of my husband, friend and mentor, Mhando Philemon Mbughuni. My colleague, Lillian Secelela Madeje’s work ethic and people skills teach me how to lead through relationship and influence, even when not necessarily wearing the “leadership” title. And my sister, Eunice Chiume, having always been in positions of influence continues to shine the light on the organization she works for, never seeking any for herself, my brother Andrew Mahiga is the same, ever humble, helpful and honourable regardless of other people’s status or stature. I will never forget Ms Changu Mannathokowho from her pocket generously paid for the tuition of two children who were but friends of her son and in asking to pay her back when I was able to stand financial independent she said, “just pay forward to someone else as I did for you.” My mentor Ali Mufuruki, for teaching me pragmatic lessons about life and business, including upholding the highest standards of workmanship and business ethics, never asking or receiving any favours, spending within or below my means or suffering fully accountable, for the consequences of not doing so and, building a business first for the name and influence to take root and grow. There are many, many others who may have but spoken a word or given me an encouraging glance that has changed my life forever.

 I remain focused and encouraged by being able to see the challenges and opportunities the status quo in Tanzania and Africa’s development affords. Seeing where we are in mindset, leadership, policy, systems, capacity and competitiveness (in product, professionalism and ethics) shows me how much farther we have to go which energizes me to press forward towards the goal.

 With my purpose and vision clear, I strive to live daily as a mentor leader that grooms and elevates future leaders into strategic positions governing Tanzania and Africa’s interests and influence. 

  • AQPDo you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance?  

Oh yes. Hindsight always affords us 20-20 vision with plenty of opportunities to grow. I could list page after page of “if onlys” and “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” and in times of reflection I do; not to regret and “wish” I could undo the past but rather to extract the lesson and wisdom for the future. For instance, I would have started saving in my teens, I would have not confronted school administration as I did as Student President, I would have handled the client that made sexual passes at me or asked for a bribe a little more diplomatically, I would have trusted some employees less or from the onset, would have focused just as much on income generation as I did on fulfilling a social cause, etcetera. There are many things I would have done differently, but given the resources at my disposal, at that time (and probably impatience to take action), I am grateful that God continued to keep me on course. Tongue in cheek, had I done all things perfectly from the start, I would today, have no lessons from which to learn and grow, no?

  • AQP: What do you count as your greatest achievement?

Modesta Mahiga greeting Tanzanian President Kikwete

 There are many, at times small, incremental ones that lead to significant impact. One being, always sticking it out with a course of action where no one else saw a light at the end of the tunnel or even when the few that did fell away. For instance, my message about Tanzania’s future was either misunderstood or not understood at all, but I am now called on the world over as a resource person to contribute towards casting a mindset change and capacity development led vision and strategy for Tanzania and Africa. I continue to mentor, coach and elevate leaders who have already started shaping our world into the vision God has put into my and their hearts.

  • AQP: What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

 I have never had to struggle in life because of my gender, because very early in life my mother modeled out for me the thoughts, actions, speech and engagement of a “person”, not a “woman”. Only later in life did I hear her emphasize that we had equal rights with men and must hold ourselves as such, something she didn’t have to voice, because I had already believed and lived that truth from infancy. As I see it, being a woman has neither catapulted nor impeded my progress in life and we all know that “as a [wo]man thinks so is [s]he.” Regardless of what happens around me, gender discrimination does not slow me down because it does not register let alone have power, in my mind. I owe all that to my mother and the women that surrounded me as I was growing up. I am however not blind to women who do struggle with gender discrimination and therefore spend a lot of my time speaking to audiences of and mentoring girls and women so that they too can see and be all that God has created them to be and in time, break the chains shackling the men and women, including themselves, concerning gender equality.

  • AQP: How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

Modesta Mahiga (right) with brother Andrew Mahiga (left) and Host Gloria Mangi (center) on talk show, “Heart 2 Heart”

 Of paramount importance. As an advocate for a specific ideal in society and nation, I would go against everything I believe and work towards to not put my family (immediate and extended), being the smallest unit yet most crucial building block for any society values and culture, at its rightful place at the top of my priority list.

  • AQP: Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

Modesta speaking at TWAA International Women’s Day

 It is vital that I do. People, men and women, boys and girls, need to see women “do” not just hear talk about what women “can”. When people see ordinary people doing something about a challenging situation, it empowers them to see themselves as people who can also intervene to transform their world, no matter how small their sphere of influence, knowing everyone’s effort “adds up” to address the whole.

Sharing one’s story also allows others to make mistakes, to fall and get back up without feeling that they are a failure or their pursuit too heroic and unattainable. It is important for me to share my story because then people will understand that ‘the law of the farm’ means that you will sow today and have to go through many a stages before you reap and the harvest may not always be bountiful, but they must get up, dust themselves and keep at it. Telling the story of my journey relieves others, especially women, from seeing me as a hero or role model, without the detail to see how I got to where I am and remain on track to where I’m going. When people see you as having arrived with no clue about the sacrifices and setbacks you have had to endure to stay on course, they can easily give up on their journey to what they would deem insurmountable. But when they see you as an ordinary person who only began with what you had at hand and overcame all kinds of obstacles to stand where you are, impassioned to continue to where you’re going, they too feel energised and more equipped to start and keep moving towards their goal.

Everyone needs to tell their story because everyone has someone looking up to them and that person needs to know the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of your journey, not so much so that they can emulate yours but more so, so that they can craft out their own after principles such as yours and thereby reach higher and achieve greater because they stood on the shoulders of who they consider to be a life-sized person achieving gigantic feats.

  • AQP: In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

–  Not knowing their identity, value and purpose as people. Seeing their worth through the mirror cast by the thoughts and actions of women around them telling them how far a woman can go (and no farther).
– Not having other women mentor and support them.
– Having ‘thin skin’ at school and in the world of work. Giving up too easily when the going gets tough.
– Feeing unqualified without the confidence to pursue a desired outcome, position.
– Unwillingness to confront and fight institutionalized discrimination.
– Feeling guilty for pursuing both home and professional roles.
– Being unable to delegate so that they can pursue domestic and professional endeavors.
– Choosing to give up one role for the other, usually a professional leadership role for family.
– The responsibilities that come with being wives and mothers.
– Gender, cultural stereotypes, discrimination and assault.

  • AQP: What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

 More women “doing” what for a long time we have said they “can”, more women stories and recognition for achievements being shared and more women mentoring and coaching into strategic leadership. 

  • AQP: What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

Please count the cost then join the movement today! There is not a moment to waste.

  • AQP: What do you do to give back to your community?

Really G? (:-P)

Okay, here goes (just what’s been accomplished, not what’s in the process):

1. Influencing Through the Media.

a. Maanisha! Radio Programs:

Temino (on Clouds FM) and The Link (on Choice FM) radio shows.

Temino focuses on youth personal development for national transformation by focusing on the mindset required to drive personal and community development.

The Link is one of our interventions to equip Tanzanian youth who aspire for decision making positions both whether they choose to start their own businesses or climb the corporate ladder into management positions of established ones.

2. Public Talks

a. Women Empowerment

– On Women Entrepreneurship: Women in Africa: Time to Invest (Kenya)

– Mothers & Daughters

– EcoBank Women 

– Sumatra Union Women

– National Bank of Commerce Women 

– Role modeling, mentoring and coaching motivational talks.

b. Youth Development

Church Ministries & Universities

c. On Capacity Building for Business Competitiveness

– Africa Day – London Business School (England)

– Mavuno Church Business Outreach (Malawi)

– Association of Change Management Professionals Africa 2012 Conference: Transforming Tanzania One Mind at a Time (South Africa)

– Finnish Goverment and Business Delegation (Thursday this week)

–  Website (www.modestalilianmahiga.com), Twitter (@ModestaLMahiga) and Facebook Fan Page (/ModestaLilianMahiga)

3. Board Membership

a. Foundation for Civil Society (Board Member)

b. Tanzania Gatsby Trust (Board Trustee)

c. Tanzania Professionals Network (Executive Committee Member)

4. Mentoring and Coaching Youth and Women Professionals.

  • AQP: If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

You are here for a God-given purpose and were born with everything you need to accomplish it. Find out what it is and pursue it with single focus and determination. Know that we were created to live in community and when you prayerfully ask, God will bring you the people and resource to fulfill His mandate. The journey will test you to see how badly you are set on your vision but be strong and courageous, you were born for such a time as this and I am here to support you as best I can with the resource at my disposal.