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Flexibility and a smile key to not-for-profit success

Tuesday, 08 December 2020


Working in the not-for-profit (NFP) sector can present significant challenges, now imagine working for an NFP in Africa, Zambia, in the middle of a pandemic?

That’s the situation confronting ECU graduate Siboniswe (Boni) Chipembere. Her tip to success. Smile.

In 2015, Boni became the Program Manager for Computers for Zambian Schools (CFZS), a non-profit that works with UK charity IT Schools Africa to manage the distribution of computers to schools in need throughout Zambia.

“IT Schools Africa work with the UK prison service to provide refurbished computers and then we charge a cost of recovery on the price of the computers.

That cost of recovery takes care of our overheads such as our rental, whatever it is we need to pay towards government (taxes and other obligations), and to pay workers’ salaries,” explains Boni.

Since its foundation in 2006, CFZS has supplied over 13,500 computers to Zambia and helped over 800 schools.

In addition to the computers, CFZS have donated seven computer labs, fundraised in training teachers how to use equipment, donated books, sports gear and are in the process of donating school desks to overcrowded classrooms.

“What we found is that we would donate computers to a school, and they were not being used. The teachers were not trained, they couldn’t use the computers competently so that’s where we came into fill the need.”

Despite the complexity of the role, Boni loves her work and how every day brings something different. She works in a team of three (herself at the Program Manager, an Admin Controller and a part-time Technician).

“Flexibility creates a level of energy. You might have planned to do this, but the situation on the ground calls for something else.

I think that’s the beautiful thing about Africa. The environment we’re working in is laughs the whole way, you’ve got to be laughing, otherwise you’re going to be crying. Flexibility and a smile are always going to help you,” says Boni.

2020 has been a particularly unique year. Boni says that her time studying a Master of Business Administration (MBA) (International) at the Australian Business Institute & Technology (run in partnership with ECU) in 2011-2012 has helped her navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think none of us can be prepared for a scenario like COVID, but it helps with an MBA because I remember doing things such as change management, strategy modules and this is what we have to implement in a scenario like COVID. My MBA facilitated that, it really helped me prepare for this role.”

Despite completing her degree in Zambia, Boni considers her trip to Perth for graduation to be one of the most enjoyable times in her life.

“I did my degree here in Lusaka (Zambia) and then came to graduate in Perth, it was one of the most fun moments of my life. I went to Sydney and saw the Opera House, toured the city and went cycling in Perth and obviously, the graduation itself was awesome.”

She is still in contact with several other ECU graduates and says they have ended up also working in the NFP sector. Boni also has regular contact with other charity partners of IT Schools Africa.

“The nice thing about our charity is that we’re in Zimbabwe, we’re in Malawi as well so the Program Managers will come together every so often and talk about challenges. As you can imagine, in southern Africa we have a lot of challenges, even how we see ourselves surviving the next two years. It’s interesting.”

The rewarding part of her job is seeing the immediate impact it has on the school children and the feedback her and the team receive.

“I think you get to see the results of what you’re doing faster in an environment like this. Even just through our culture, we’re a very open culture, people will come and thank you immediately, you won’t have to read a report to see the impact you’ve made.”

She says having such a flat management structure means she doesn’t “always wear lipstick”.

“Sometimes I’m covered in dust. We do what we can. We get it done with a smile and then we just move on.”

Do you have skills to share?

CFZS are looking for ECU Alumni who have skills in Grant Ad Proposal Writing, Fundraising, Marketing (emphasis on social media) and Monitoring or Evaluation. If interested, please email Boni Chipembere.


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