My name is Farai Munjoma from Zimbabwe, I am an alumnus of the African Leadership University who recently graduated in February 2020. I am now working as the Deputy Chief of Staff to Fred Swaniker, the CEO of the African Leadership Group. This is an organisation that is on a mission to develop 3 million leaders for Africa by 2035, and we do this through our network of leadership institutions, ALA (African Leadership Academy), ALU (African Leadership University and ALX (Leadership Accelerator).
As I reflect about my journey, I am certainly convinced that the power of storytelling is at the core of our journeys. It impacts how we view and define ourselves, but most importantly how the world understands us as individuals. So I would like to tell my story.
I come from an extended family of 4 children. As a young Zimbabwean, my journey has been characterised by numerous cycles of economic turmoil. This forced me to become more resilient and remain committed to achieving academic and career success.
In 2012, I lost my mother who was the breadwinner in my family, afterward, I faced so many challenges accessing education as my retired father was unable to support my education. At some point, I dropped out of school for months and had to sell chickens on the roadside to raise funds for my education.
Luckily, through my mother’s civil servant pension fund, I was extended school fees loans that educated me throughout high school, but this wasn’t enough to take me to university. I was determined to work hard and get a scholarship to attend university, but this wasn’t the case. I will tell you what happened later on.
The only solution to escape a vicious poverty cycle was to get into a good university and I was convinced that university was ALU. After engaging in multiple entrepreneurial extra-curricular activities at my school, I founded an e-learning social enterprise, Shasha Network.
Shasha is a free online learning platform to prepare high school students for examinations and connect them to career experts. Shasha Network reached over 15,000 learners across Zimbabwe, but regardless of this success, the company was still too young to finance my dream education.
Before enrolling at ALU, I found myself lacking the finances to access this education. Instead of giving up, I came up with an idea. After having spent the last 2 years of my academic and entrepreneurial journey networking at various forums and conferences, I realised that my network had significantly grown.
I planned to write emails to 50 different people who I had met and ask for USD$24,000. Coming from a country such as Zimbabwe, this is a lot of money, but I was optimistic. After strategically selecting my 50 contacts I started receiving multiple emails of regret. The opening lines simply read, “We are proud of you Farai, however, we cannot support you at this moment. God bless.” I received 39 of these emails and the rest never responded. It took a great deal of courage and vulnerability reaching out to all these people, I was simply desperate to go to college.
After 3 months of knocking on so many doors, I was about to give up. It was only 10 days before ALU opened when I received an email with the headline, “Get Ready for College.” An American videographer who had come to my school in 2012 had convinced 15 of his friends to contribute towards my tuition. This is how I ended up being able to attend university. However, my funding was only enough to cover my first year, I had 3 more years to go. I had faith that somehow I would land an opportunity and raise enough money to finish my degree. Before my first year ended, I secured prize money for the work I was doing as a young entrepreneur and this was enough for me to finish the second year. After the second year, I went back to my initial sponsors who gladly supported me and made it possible to get 1 year closer to the finishing line. At this point I had exhausted all my asks and it became difficult to continue raising money, until I was finally connected to the Higherlife foundation through my university. Higherlife’s investment in my last mile of college enabled me to reach the finishing line. I am truly grateful for this investment and confidence they had in my ability to contribute to my community.
At the core of my story is the ability to build relationships. When we go out into the world ready to add value and to learn about people, we cultivate meaningful relationships. Never in my entire life did I ever think that someone I’d met earlier on in my life would later open up doors for me to get into university. As young leaders, building meaningful relationships will be a big part of your journey. Always think about what value you can add to someone’s life and the rest will take care of itself.
Higherlife foundation has created an opportunity for you to go into the world and share your story and build relationships that will last a lifetime. This is what will add meaning to your life.
During my time at ALU, I had a transformative experience. I knew that all my years and struggles invested in education had to amount to something at the end. At ALU, we talk about missions and not majors. When you simply want a degree, it will take you 4 years and afterward it’s done. But when you choose a mission, you are able to work on it for the rest of your life. That means you’re comfortable to fail and pick yourself up in times of adversity.
After joining ALU, I became part of the student ventures program. I have worked with many entrepreneurs and mentors from the continent and all over the world. In 2017, I was selected as one of the top 1000 young people in the world to participate in the UNLEASH innovation challenge in Denmark. My startup Shasha Network has attracted partnerships and funding from Facebook Africa, Junior Achievement and FedEx. We’re now on a bold mission to scale our impact to 3 million learners by 2030. You can access some of our work here.
My internships have taken me to Kenya and Uganda, where I have been able to work in fast-growing startups and NGOs and continued to cultivate my love for youth development and entrepreneurship. Whether you are an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, artist or academic, you’ll find your place in the world, you just have to be willing to look for it. However, the number one ingredient to your journey will be intentionality, start by asking yourself, “what do I want?” Being a scholar of life will help you answer this question and put things into perspective, it will not be an easy process but it will be worth it.
To all the HLF scholars and fellows, always remember your future is bright and the world awaits your story. You just have to be willing to tell and own it.