Spotlight on Voices of Movers and Shakers: In pursuit of closing the career aspiration gap

Image credit: Farai Munjoma

In this Spotlight post, Farai Munjoma shares his challenging journey in accessing higher education and how it inspired him to build the Shasha Network: a global network of mentors and scholars working together to close the career aspiration gap for young people across Africa. Farai’s story is part of Teaching Matters’ Spotlight series: Voices of Movers and Shakers.

My name is Farai Munjoma, and I am an education entrepreneur with a deep passion for leveraging the power of community and technology to enhance education outcomes. The work we do at Shasha Network specifically focuses on closing the career aspiration gap for young people across Africa. Through our experience working with young people from the continent, we have realised that the talent and appetite for success is in abundance. However, there are a couple of barriers that impede result in unrealised potential: lack of access to information on how to progress further; limited resources; and, more importantly, lack of mentorship. Without these key ingredients most young people are left helpless, and this is something I have personally experienced in my own life.

My journey begins in 1996, in a small fern-coloured house in a township in Zimbabwe. I come from an extended family of five children. As a young man growing up in Zimbabwe, my journey was characterised by numerous cycles of economic turmoil and political instability. Growing up during the 2008 hyperinflationary period, where food and fuel were scarce and the country was experiencing a mass exodus of educators to neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Botswana, we were left vulnerable to failing our national examinations. This situation drove me to be more resilient and remain committed to achieving academic and career success. In an era of uncertainty, this was the surest way of enhancing my odds of a better future.

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 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 fee loans that educated me throughout high school, but this was not enough to take me to university. I was determined to work hard and get a scholarship to attend university, but this was not going to come easy: a challenge which many gifted students across the continent face in pursuit of education.

Before enrolling at the African Leadership University (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 two 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 to reach out to all these people – I was simply desperate to go to college. After three months of knocking on so many doors, I was about to give up. It was only ten days before ALU opened when I received an email with the headline, “Get Ready for College.” An American videographer, Arthur, 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.

Image credit: Farai Munjoma

At the core of my story is the ability to build relationships and have a community of people willing to bet on my dreams. 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 had met earlier on in my life would later open doors for me to get a tertiary education. This is what inspired me to embark on this journey and create Shasha Network, a global network of mentors and scholars working together to close the career aspiration gap for young people across Africa. We accelerate their early career transitions by networking and training them in soft skills such as Self Leadership, Mentorship, Career Research, and Personal Branding. At the Shasha Bridge program, we promote a collaborative environment among the scholars because we believe that some of the best collaborations of tomorrow are seeded today. That is why we bring scholars from all corners of Africa to grow together through the same program.

The goal is to grow our network to a million alumni across Africa in the next decade, and we will achieve this through collaborations and partnerships with organisations on a similar mission. We have mentors from top universities, companies, and non-profits such as Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, University of Edinburgh, Facebook, Deloitte, and Junior Achievement, just to name a few. Our global network of mentors is growing, and we have mentors located in 32 countries and counting. We have already started seeing the impact of our scholars such as Yadah Ngolo from the DRC, a young man who has started Robotics training camps to educate young people in his community. Another example, Valerie Lobo, is a young woman from Zimbabwe combating period poverty through raising awareness and collaborating with small businesses to support 1000 girls with sanitary products. This list of stories is endless, and to me that is what the future of Shasha Network looks like: having courageous scholars who are ready and well equipped to solve challenges in their jobs, industries, or communities.

I believe that no other student should go through such a strenuous process as I did, in pursuit of realising their dreams. Hence, at Shasha Network, we are committed to building the infrastructure for future generations of gifted African scholars to achieve their dreams and aspirations.

photograph of the authorFarai Munjoma

Farai Munjoma is an education entrepreneur who founded Shasha Network, a virtual early career accelerator that supports young people in Africa with career development. Shasha Network has been featured by the BBC World Service for the “People Fixing the World” program as recognition for their efforts to close the career aspiration gap. Farai’s experiences span eight countries, working with organisations such as Junior Achievement, Edinburgh Innovations and Ashinaga. He has worked as Deputy Chief of Staff to the CEO of the African Leadership Group in Kenya. He holds an Honours degree in Business Management from the African Leadership University in Mauritius. Currently, he is pursuing an MSc in Entrepreneurship and Innovation from The University of Edinburgh Business School.

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