By Elizabeth Bintliff, CEO, JA Africa
This week, Junior Achievement Africa’s program in Zimbabwe is hosting an ambitious new program called ‘Take 10,000 Girls to Work.’ It is a bold program which aims to address some of the gaps that girls face transitioning from school to the world of work, especially the preconceptions they have about their mutual suitability for certain jobs. One of JA’s programmatic pillars is work readiness. What we mean by this is interventions that help young people obtain and keep new jobs: these include teaching them how to create resumes or CVs, interviewing skills, job placements, internships, how to establish a digital presence, workplace comportment, dress, attitude; the list goes on.
Job shadows are an important piece of this pillar; they expose young people to the options that are available to them in a given field, as well as demystifying and clarifying what certain jobs entail. Students learn, for example that lawyers work not only in law firms but also in supermarket chains, in banks, hotel chains and with even non-profits. Over the course of this week young girls from schools all over Zimbabwe are paired with professionals in a variety of fields with companies like Nestle, Barclays and NBCA Bank and organizations like Plan International and CORDAID. During the day, they ‘shadow’ their host; attend meetings, observe them, ask questions, and get a feel for the job. They shadow administrators, executives, bankers, lawyers and other professionals.
As part of the program I was given a shadow; a young 19 year old girl called Tiraro Mudawawiriwo, who is in her last year of high school at St. Joseph High School in Mutare, a city on Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique. Young, intelligent, perceptive and ambitious, Tiraro admitted to being hesitant when we first met, but we warmed up to each other quickly. We visited JA Zimbabwe’s offices, an alumnus who, when he graduated with university degrees in philosophy and psychology and could not find a job decided to become a beekeeper, and we visited a nearby school where JA’s programs are being taught. One of my ground rules when I speak with our students is that nothing is off the table; I welcome them to ask me anything. Sometimes they are apprehensive, but today, with Tiraro next to me the students we met at the JA program at Saint Dominic’s high school later in the day went for it. We talked about a number of topics; they wanted to know about my career journey, my educational background, my family status and how I balance work, travel and parenthood.
So much about being with the girls (and boys) I interact with on my visits to the field reminds me of my own experiences as a young girl in a catholic boarding school not far from Cameroon’s border with Nigeria. But young girls these days seem to be faced with so many more challenges than my generation had: the benefits of cellphone and web technology bring with them both distractions and temptations. Additionally, I find that the things girls worry about when they consider their futures also vary from the concerns of their male counterparts. Boys assume their career progression is a given, while girls fret about whether their ambitions and aspirations will come true and how they will balance that success with having families. So my conversations today were not just about how to run a successful business, but also the importance of marrying a supportive spouse.
My shadow had questions about many of these things and I answered openly, honestly and comprehensively. Tiraro is studying business, math and economics and hopes to major in Economics early next year at the University of Zimbabwe. As the Finance Manager in the JA Company in her school, she has learned a lot that she will take with her to her next chapter. She is not sure what she wants to do when she works; but she is clear about how she wants things to be: “I want to be a manager. I want to move to the top of the company. I want to create an environment that is fun for employees and where they can feel free and be productive.”
I learned a lot from Tiraro today and I’m confident that for Africa’s next generation of business leaders the stars are rising, and that she is one of them.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.