Modesta Lilian Mahiga, Founder & Group Managing Director, Professional Approach Group, Lawyer & Human Rights Activist, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Words of Wisdom: “Whether the boy child respects women, is because of the mother. It lies squarely on African women’s shoulders.” – Modesta Lilian Mahiga

Interview with Modesta Lilian Mahiga, Founder & Group Managing Director, Professional Approach Group, Lawyer & Human Rights, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Modesta Lilian Mahiga, Founder & Group Managing Director, Professional Approach Group, Lawyer & Human Rights, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Modesta Lilian Mahiga is at the forefront of private sector interventions to build capacity to transform Tanzania into regional economic dominance. As Founder and Group Managing Director of Professional Approach Group, Modesta has integrated the Group’s flagship “mindset change for national transformation” model into all client recruitment, training, labour relations, SME consulting and business process outsourcing services to render the “Professional Approach” brand synonymous with “change management and behavioral transformation for personal and national development” in Tanzania. The Group’s Maanisha! Foundation “media edutainment” programs use national media to empower Tanzanian youth to “positively change the way they think, perform and present themselves for business success”.

Awarded 2011 Tanzania Woman of Achievement of the Year in the category of Young Achiever, Modesta is also a respected writer and motivational speaker, energizing the youth, entrepreneurs and employees.

She hosted the biweekly Uchaguzi Xpress Live! Show on East Africa Television (EATV), covering the 2010 general elections and owns the best rated weekend show (Temino) on the Nation’s largest radio station (Clouds FM). In February 2012, Maanisha! Foundation is to launch “@ccess Point”, a youth “online news” live television show on EATV and “Terminal” a radio show for young execs on Choice FM.

As a young entrepreneur mentor Modesta tirelessly supports individuals, organizations, local and international think tanks to encourage entrepreneurship amongst African youth and promote responsible business policies, practices and good governance in Africa. Modesta is an Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania and sits on the Board of The Foundation for Civil Society, and is on the Executive Committee of Tanzania Professionals Network in addition to being a Trustee of Tanzania Gatsby Trust.

Recognition worldwide as one of Africa’s Young Leaders, includes: Fortune Most Powerful Women Mentoring Program (USA), President Obama’s Symposium for Young African Leaders (USA), World Bank Institute Responsible Business and Good Governance in Africa, African Leadership Institute “Leadership for Change in Africa” Fellow (2011) and was recently featured on an article, “20 Movers and Shakers in Africa” in the Times of London edition of March 19th, 2012.

Modesta Lilian Mahiga~ YouTube promo video (approx. 5 min.)


Professional Approach Group

Modesta Lilian Mahiga, Founder & Group Managing Director, Professional Approach Group, Lawyer & Human Rights, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version above. Please comment on the site, we want to hear your wisdom!

The Professional Approach Group philosophy is “mindset change for National transformation to happen, what do you think the biggest transformation can happen through your initiatives?

  1. First to realize how rich Tanzania is. Tanzania is positioned to lead Africa.
  • I am not just talking about natural endowment
  • But geographically, the relationships we have, our history in nation building
  • It is posed to take off. Unless we see the value of it it is all wasted.
  • It we don’t’ see the value of this country, then we wont see the opportunity to develop it and in turn develop ourselves.
  1. We are almost like a tourism commission as we get you to see all that Tanzania has and take pride in it.
  • We do this motivation talks
  • In coaching, we talk about where you think you are going and we have  slides of Tanzania, such as the largest free standing mountain, the deepest lake, second highest waterfall next to Victoria falls etc. At the end it says “How can a country so reach be one of the poorest in the world?”
  • People all of sudden realize all of what Tanzania has.
  • Once they see the visuals, they hear the information you can see them questioning: “What am I part of?” “What have I ignored?”
  • There is little emphasis on domestic tourism here. We see foreigners come in and we don’t see the value of it. If you don’t know the value of something, how will you tap into it, exploit it and use it for opportunities.
  • So that question in training “how can a country be so rich and be one of the poorest in the world?” really gets people thinking.

What are the objectives of your training?

  • The objective of coaching is about change management, organizational transformation.
  • You can go about change without understanding the mindset of people
  • It has been almost 50 years of socialism, we closed off; we are very Nationalistic. If you wanted to be an Entrepreneur that was treasonous  – why wouldn’t you want to be the same as everyone else?
    • Our ambitions are quite low.
    • At the same time since the state provided for everything, we don’t have a thirst for greater. What is function, utilities, just the minimal. We are very grateful for what we get.
    • We don’t have a thirst for quality and high standards, and no one demands them.
    • How do you get someone to appreciate the customer is King, because for almost 50 years it was believed that entrepreneurial spirit was treasonous.
    • People are not really moved to produce quality work. You do the minimum so you don’t get fired.
  • There is a challenge the way we see things and in the way we perform
  • However, we are very Nationalistic. There is pride, as long as I don’t bother you what I do with what I have.
  • Ultimately, our organizations want to be competitive. We understand what this country holds. We appreciate how young our free market is.

Tanzania cannot develop if Tanzanian don’t.

You are talking to organizations about change management and your uniqueness is:  First love your company, than you will love your country. And if you love your company then you can see how it can impact your country.

  • My audience is needs to be predominately Tanzanian
  • This is our edge, because we are Tanzanian – we are working with organizations
  • You need to ask “What is in it for me?”  Often Tanzanians are very shy to ask that question. But if you don’t know what is in it for you, you wont drive it, you wont own it.
  • What I am saying there is something in it for Tanzania, and in Tanzania there is a place for you if you are willing to see the opportunity. And then transform the way you think present yourself in order to tap into it.

You are helping people find a higher purpose.

Maanisha! Foundation “media edutainment” programs use national Media to empower Tanzanian youth to “positively change the way they think, perform and present themselves for business success. What was the catalyst for you to focus on youth?

My background is in gender and child law and I wanted to make a difference in the lives of women and children in Tanzania. Looking at the legal system you might win a case in court, but how is that going to transform someone life outside?

  • So I asked myself, what are the issues that actually ending up being legal wranglers, and people to be at each other for. They seem to social economic.
  • There is a need to influence, not just women and children, but Tanzanian society.  Compared to developed world, the lot for women and men is more a less the same. Tanzania as a whole need transformation. As you go higher up you will see more discrepancies between women and children. But on the onset, everyone needs help.

That is coupled with when I was working in recruitment. When we had the crème de la  crème of graduates coming in and I would only take one out of fifty for an entry sale position.  I had to recruit 200 people, so that is 200 x 50 interviews. That is crazy. And these are the best. “Our certificates are everything.” We call it a “Holder –I am this Holder or that Holder” and then you tell them that is not enough.

  • The question became, every one has a certificate, so what edge do you have?
  • This got to me because they thought their degree was it. All that sacrifice that there family made and thought they got their degree and they have arrived and all doors are open to them.
  • You are conducting the interview and at a multinational and say to them “you don’t have what it takes.”
  • I had to get out to show them what it takes.

There are a lot of disenchanted youth out there starting in business  and we thought we needed to groom them for business. But even before getting a job they need to know how to conduct an interview.

  • Every Friday we would close office for half a day and the entire team would go to secondary schools and tertiary institution. But we were not reaching enough people so we decided to go to mass media.
  • Go with media house for National reach.
  • We did not want to tell people that are education system was bad, and you will amount to nothing. What we want to say it is more than education, you need to be a little street smart and you need to positioned for business. This is what Maanisha! Foundation does, it bridges a gap between the education system and the real world.
  • It is a good education system, it is just not relevant and it doesn’t prepare you for the world work.

Beyond the fact that many youth don’t have streets smarts, what challenges do they have to make it in the business world?

1. Confidence. We are timid Nation. We really respect hierarchy. Being a women you are even lower then your brothers. We must respect the food chain.

  • Someone owes it to me, to groom me to prepare me.  My parents owe it to me. The Government owes it to me. Someone.
    • You can litter the streets and you can ask where is the Government … sure the government has jobs for that, but why are you littering and asking someone to pick-up after you?
    • There is a timidity as “I must respect my area” which is also Hypocrisy in a way because we are very fired up about our ideas, but we wont show it formally.
    • I need to bow to down to you.

2. I am incapable. Socialism does that to you. Somebody, somehow, somewhere is meant to improve my lot if they don’t I am doomed.

  • You should listen to the media… the government this, the government that… what about YOU?
  • I am of the opinion, if something needs to be done, I will do it.

3.  We want to short circuit the system. We want to circumvent the entire process. This is a new challenge. We see what the world is like and see the benefits of a good life.

  • Before, who are you to even have a mission you treasonous persons.
  • We see the rest of the world have and we want it – social media has done that. We see what we can get we don’t want to put in the time to get the results. We want to be like everyone else quickly, because it is still embarrassing to live like we are socialist in a free economy.

What can society do to help short circuit the process while promoting that youth have an obligation to give back to society and take responsibility for themselves?

1.  Society is to do the very same thing we ask of youth.

  • Our situation here are our leaders are doing as they please. We respect hierarchy, so why challenge it and do differently.
  • Do what they say, not what they do… no one even says this to lead in the right direction

2.  Let children voices be heard

  • Let them ask and answer, let them question
  • Promote critical thinking and problem solving by encouraging them to ask questions.
  • We memorize and regurgitate things.  This happens in the education system and at home because we do respect hierarchy.
  • Let children be free or they will stop being curious
  • We need critical thinking for leadership. People who are ‘leaders’ end up being ‘bosses’ – we boss each other around, we don’t coach and teach.We need to lead by example

3. We have more young people standing as a example than formal leaders

4. Exposure to a higher work higher ethic

  • Rules of engagement are not going to change for you
  • We need to see systems that work
  • We need to see people penalized when performance is compromised
  • We need to understand there are peaks and troughs and that it is a cycle.
  • We need to see it in action… we need mentorship.
  • We need to see people’s beginnings I can trace, not lofty notions of a foreigner, I can’t relate to them. Someone I know that has started.

5. We need to see people lead by example

  • And there must be a penalty when things are not done right.
  • We have to see that it is a struggle and sometimes things don’t go right, but you need to keep at it.
  • People need to share their stories so youth can appreciate that it was a journey to obtain the success, they just don’t see the success.

What is some advice for youth to take ownership for themselves?

1. Know why you want do what it is you want to do.

  • If your WHY is not strong enough you will not continue doing it.

2. Then consider the WHAT.

  • Understand that is a marathon not a hundred meter sprint.
  • If you factor in things may not go as you expected. If you can expect it then you can ride over it. It is not the end of you. It is part of the learning process

3. Surround yourself with people who think big. And they pursue greatness

  • Don’t surround yourself with someone who wants to flash. Make sure what you see i.e.. Wealth, is it sustainable?
  • Be in it for the long haul

4. Professionalism and ethics.

  • I cannot emphasis enough. It pays off in anything that you do. It is the greatest investment.

5. Volunteer – it has done wonders for me.

  • Not all youth can find employment or start a business. So volunteer.
  • Volunteer somewhere and prove yourself.
  • People give you an opportunity to show what you are capable of and it may open other doors.
  • Sometimes people feel that they have a degree and it would be embarrassing to get on the bus to go volunteer.

What are some of the challenges you encountered with creating and implement five initiatives?

1. Getting people to believe that I was on to something good – Human Resource capacity building while transforming Tanzania. Every time I spoke to someone about my vision, I would get a job offer. So initially it was to be taken seriously.
2. Being a pretty women people may take things the wrong way. They may think you are desperate and pull stunts. Making sure they understand that I am not that type of woman. 3. You will get more from me working with my mind then anything else.
Trying to decide to get the people who will help make the money, or make the money then get the people?

  • I had to do a lot on my own with few resources.
  • Eventually the people came and the money came at the same time. But initially it was very challenging.

4. What makes you so different? People hear Human Resource development, organizational development, personal transformation it all comes across getting people to work together. If there are other people in the market, what makes you different?

  • What are your qualifications to speak to us about these things?
    This is why we are constantly reinventing self. Looking at things that are gaps. When you think national development, you thing Madesta.

5. Delivery. Expectations are not that high. Service and quality are so compromised. To delivery over and above what you said you would. It is a challenge the client may give you the deal but someone wants to bribe them.

  • Sometimes people want a quick seven steps. Get the quick fix. Often people are not willing to go through the transformation with us, which takes time.

We are looking at Tanzania as the launch pad. WE are always looking at joint ventures. Constantly looking what is not being served, or how it is being served and coming in and taking great risks.

What challenges have you had with the five groups visions?

Each group has an overarch vision with a specify role.

  • Some people who have had their own businesses or still do, some have folded in their business under one of the Professional Approach Groups.
  • Some handed over some of their business and they go under a group and they will do other things.
  • They are Managing Directors. They are great competent and where I am right now I can’t afford to pay them so we have associate agreement and we split what we bring in. Everyone under the division is employed by Professional Approach Group but the heads are Associates.

What advice would you give to someone expand organization

  1. Why do you want to expand your organization? You need to ask yourself the why you want to do this.
  2. Perhaps collaborate with other players in the market, or professional associations
  3. Have a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) arm

If you are going to expand your business, be very clear how you are going to source funds to make that happen. Stager the expansion if you don’t have the resources. Start the business that will bring in income the fastest. Test everything in the market before setting out.

When did you decide that you couldn’t do it on your own?

  • I got to a point I don’t’ need to prove myself, I knew I needed to find the strategic partnerships
  • It would take too long to transform Tanzania myself. With strategic partnerships someone has the funds, someone has the expertise, someone has access to the markets. You bring your expertise to the table.
  • Many people say they can’t start business because they don’t have the money. You don’t really want money to have money, you want what money can buy.  If you can find that thing already without having to spend the money, partner with that person. What is the point of having 100% of 10,000 business when or you can have 50% of 10,000,000 dollar business. I offer the 50%. Make sure your position is not compromised. Make sure it is inline with the vision.
  • My team understands that we want to WOW the world because this is the last place you would expect greatness to come out of.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of you when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?

Speaking out. Although I am not uncomfortable speaking out, I do know there are repercussions. Maanisha is media entertainment. We have had government going out asking why are we building youth capacity. Then they want to know who is behind the show.  “Modesta”- they want to know who is behind Modest? No one. They want to know what is my vested interest is in making a difference? When I interview the president, the State House told me to “behave myself” while I interview the president.  I guess I am bringing on a revolution, but not in arms, it is economic in nature.  I am not actually uncomfortable speaking up, but it puts others in a precarious position to be associated with me. I am doing this to touch on social transformation.

What does success mean to you?

Success to me is influence. It is being involved in a think tank or something in this country or outside, and someone says “you have ignited me” I am going to transform based on something you said.

If there was on thing you would do differently in pursuit of that success what would it be?

I would have groomed my team for leadership a lot sooner. I started leading from upfront and have capable competent followers, but I wasn’t grooming leaders from the onset.

I believe I have been called to groom leaders. There are giants that are meant to step over me to lead. I am more deliberate about it now.

What are you doing to create leaders now?

  1. Getting to know what motivates them. How is this place serving their vision? If it is not, it just another job. By getting to know their interest I am very deliberate about giving opportunities.
  2. Because I am loud and visible, invitations will come to me. But I have giants on my team that people don’t know of because they are in my shadow. People on my team are on their own journey, it may align with mine or not.
  3. Linking people to people can help lift them up. Sometimes they may leave as a result but they are following their journey. If this is not their vision, that is fine. As this vision attracts. I don’t want anyone to ever say “they fed my vision. I want to feed their vision.”

Leadership Lessons Learned – Modesta Lilian Mahiga

  1. You can’t be popular. Don’t seek to impress. You can’t do things by consensus. You can’t delegate the vision. You are the final decision maker.
  2. You can’t be everyone’s friend. Seek other leaders.
  3. Lead by example. You can’t pay enough to do something to by into the vision. Live it. Live it when you are down, live it when you are up, live it when it is confusing, live it when there is an on slot of discouragement. Live it so they can see the vision too.

Reflective Realizations from Modesta Lilian Mahiga

Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yr. old daughter?

You were created for a purpose. You didn’t come to the world to start building yourself up through school and through work, to find significance. You are significant already. Listen inside. Don’t be shaken by trends or being popular. You are not created to fit in, but to stand out and attract. Don’t worry about being accepted, you will be the difference. People will want to be associated with you to have what you have.

Q. What do you wish you were told at that age?

To stand spiritually. To follow Christ. About boys.

My mother was a single mother with five children she never said, I was a girl, one of five, we come from Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world. Because that was not drummed into me at 10 years old, I did not see them as hurdles. When I went to school you claimed your space, So when I started business in Tanzania and I was being marginalized because I was a woman, I was young I didn’t quite understand it. I found it almost comical. I know who I am. I didn’t understand what insecurities you have coming at me.

Words of Wisdom by Modesta Lilian Mahiga

Africa cannot develop without African women. Cannot Cannot. Nation building, infrastructure, business, strong economies cannot happen without women. It is the women that are response for the rearing of the girl and boy child. Who we are, what we are capable of, what we think of our country, or others… stems from our mothers in Africa. Whether I think I can or a cannot will come from my mother. Whether the boy child respects women, is because of the mother. It lies squarely on African women’s shoulders.


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    4 replies to "Modesta Lilian Mahiga"

    • happiness

      Modesta is a role model for young entrepreneurs in Tanzania and everywhere .Bravo!!

    • Maureen Erekua Odoi

      Awesome Woman! Brains and Beauty with a Passion for economic development is a rare combination. I would love to welcome her to Ghana!

    • Helen

      Good Job !

    • Paul

      Intelligent, inspiring and progressive is Modesta. A rare breed.

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