Mwamvita Makamba, Business Performance Partner: Corporate Affairs for Vodacom International Business

Words of Wisdom: “African women, stay the course. Our continent needs us to evolve from where it is. If you are in the position to that, make it faster or change it, do it. Take it personally to take it to the next level. It is up to us. If you are leader in Africa today, you have to go for it.” – Mwamvita Makamba

Interview with Mwamvita Makamba Vodacom International: Corporate Affairs & Trustee at Vodafone Foundation

Mwamvita Makamba Vodacom International: Corporate Affairs & Trustee at Vodafone Foundation

Please note: this interview was conducted when Mwamvita was Chief Officer, Corporate Affaires Business and Enterprise Sales for Vodacom Tanzania. She has now been promoted to Corporate Affairs &Trustee at Vodafone Foundation for Vodacom International.

Mwamvita has accumulated extensive knowledge in telecommunications industry in emerging markets and has acquired intimate understandings required to steer a company into prosperity while also maintaining its moral responsibility to a society. In her four years experience holding multiple senior positions with VODACOM Tanzania, where she now holds a post of Corporate Affairs & Trustee at Vodafone Foundation. Mwamvita has been a key player in its growth to become the largest telecommunication company in Tanzania. Her leadership and vision was instrumental in making M-pesa Women Empowerment Initiative- MWEI (Through M-pesa platform) a successful entity while overseeing the re-branding process of VODACOM Tanzania. Mwamvita also sits on Vodafone Group Foundation Board of Trustees where she is representing emerging markets. On the global scene she was noticed and selected as a Fortune Most Powerful Woman, which enabled her to be mentored with multiple Silicon Valley’s executives in Unites States of America.

Mwamvita has earned both undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Politics and International Relations from University of Dar-es-Salaam. She is also a Director of MossWood Transport Tanzania Ltd a private entity that owns three aircrafts and train private pilots in Tanzania. Mwamvita’s stints with youth wing of Tanzania’s ruling party (UV-CCM), East African Business Council (EABC) where she is a board member and Tanzania Centre for Democracy bring wealthy of network and unprecedented access to government and Telecom regulators in Tanzania and East Africa at large.

Mwamvita Makamba:

Resource: to learn about Fistula:

Mwamvita Makamba Vodacom International: Corporate Affairs & Trustee at Vodafone Foundation

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!

What draws you to a career in Public Affairs?

I like to give good news. People are always waiting to hear what is happening and what is good for them.

So I am in the public space because:

  1. I like to give news
  2. Connect with people at different levels with the different things that we do.
  3. I believe I am here for others, and Public Affairs allow me to do that.

In Public Affairs, sometimes you have to give bad news.

This is true. But it is news that is supposed to be given always for the good. If could be bad news but at the end of the day it could deliver something good. If it is bad news people want to be told one way or another so they can move on.

What strategy do you use to give bad news to the public as a Public Affairs Officer?

  1. First you need to realize what impact that news will have on the audience you will be delivering the message to.
  2. You need to find ways to deliver that message so they can resonate with that news in a nice way.
  3. I will tell it as it is, but I will do it in the humble positive way.  It is all HOW you deliver it.

The key is to understand the impact and delivering the information in the most positive way you can.

As an executive woman in the technology, what draws you to a career in technology?

I always want to be where I can be in service to others. In Africa technology is the place to service others. In 2000 in Tanzania there was no mobile phones, eleven years later half the Tanzanian people have a mobile phone. People use to travel from one area to another to deliver a message or to give money to their families. Today they will just call or SMS or send money via mobile money transfer.

So being behind and marketing this information to them, and tell people that we have mobile technology and driving the message to them so they understand it and then for them to adopt it.  Having technology is one thing, but having a society not use to technology to adopt it and make it part of their lives is a fabulous thing. I am part of that and it is a great feeling to 27mil people use mobile phones. It is what we do to help them adopt it. Their lives are much better today because of that.

Looking at women in certain careers, there are tendency to go down certain career paths. Where do you see the opportunity for women in technology?

There are different ways women, men and youth resonate with technology. They all have different needs. Our role as women is to communicate what you want technology to do to meet the needs in all communities – rural and Africa at large, for example, M-Pesa, money transferring capably which is used with your cell phone. Today because I am here in this organization and I understand the need for women in broader Tanzania, we are able to launch a loan system to the women at the bottom of the pyramid in rural Tanzania today.

Ninety percent of Tanzania is unbanked. Women store their money under the mattresses. It is expensive to buy a mobile phone. Today we loan them money in groups, interest free, and they adopt M-Pesa. And somehow today they have a bank in their hand. This is because we can influence technology to come up with a system to create it.

That is the role for women in technology. Look for what is the need for women and inform technology. Anything can be created with an informed perception and what it can deliver.

Where do you see the biggest opportunity for women in multi-national organizations?

People think, especially in Africa, that to make a change you need to be a Politian. Everyone wants to be a Member of Parliament and a Minister. I believe our society can make change at many levels, civil society, politics, business… all are important. However, technology is massive, and to work for multi-national company you drive a lot of agendas that are good for development in our country, whether they are a lending institutions or others. You can pull through other women, pull through leaders and really drive a lot of agenda. I believe I change a lot of lives working in a multi-national. I don’t have to be a Politian or have to be in civil society. There are a lot of opportunities to drive change working for big companies.

To that point, it has been said the you are a key player in the growth to being the largest communication company in Tanzania…

That is a big statement isn’t it?

I also think it is an interesting statement from where the role of Public Affairs. Tell us some of strategies you have implemented to help Vodacom become so highly regarded in Tanzania?

I joined the company in 2008, and at that time the company did not really have a Public Affairs strategy in place. The relationship with Government and people was not so good because it was a new company and it is an African company. We must remember Tanzania only opened up investment in the late 90’s so there were a lot of people that were not quite welcoming to multi-nationals. We needed a strategy so Tanzanians would understand that we are here to empower them as well as make money. Through that we formulated are CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) agenda, the foundation, to demonstrate that we really care about the communities we are in. We really did this from the heart. We didn’t go to areas where we wanted to put our tower, we went to areas were we were not their but the competition was. We went there anyway and changed life there because we really care about this country.

We also had a strategy to engage with government and we wanted them to understand who we are and what we can do for this country in the case of technology. Not only selling airtime, but also connecting people. We connect governments and businesses. We inform them what they can enjoy from connectivity. We went out to all stakeholders that we are here for you and we can work together to change Tanzania.

That approach worked quite well. We did a reputation survey in Dec 2011 and Vodacom is number one reputation wise.

It is such an important message, regardless if you are a multi-national or an entrepreneur look at who your stakeholders are and how they will be affected by your presence and ensure they understand what your goals are and communicate your goals.

Absolutely, but also for them to understand they can benefit. We give them messaging so they know what we are and how they can benefit.

I say this with respect, although I don’t know how old you are, I do know you are still fairly young, yet you have established yourself in a multi-national, Vodacom is #1 in reputation (that has to be largely due to you)… what are some of the mistakes that other Executive women have made in trying to create a foothold in an organization or create a presence in to the public?

As women, sometimes we want things to happen very fast and see result the next day. There is a lot of pressure from organizations; multi-nationals want to see results now. That pressure may cause you to loose your focus. If you have strategy take the time it needs. Agenda’s take a long time, you need baby steps.

In my case to establish rapport and relationship with stakeholders takes a long time. It is a trust issue. You have to go through the process. Don’t be tempted to cut across, but you wont get there. Be patient, but work hard as you will get there eventually.

This is a mistake I think a lot of women make, but it is also a mistake I made when I started. Too much in a hurry and at the end of the day you ruin everything for yourself.

Are there a lot of women in Tanzania at the Executive level?

There are a few, but not a lot. In Tanzania, men dominate corporations. You go to the Boardrooms, and you find one or two women.  There are a lot of women who are middle managers.

From your perspective, what do you think it will take for women middle managers to break through to Executive level?

  1. Hard work
  2. Aggressiveness. Many women have great ideas, but don’t speak up.
  3. We are humble. We are doers. Corporate is quite aggressive. So you need to do it, and get out and deliver.
  4. I think women in Tanzania do need to work harder and show what they do in order to get somewhere. Men are quite aggressive; they will steal your idea and go sell it. Be out there and show what you do. If you are excellent, let people know you are excellent and you do the job.
  5. The most important is work hard. Sometimes we think we can put on high heels and we can become a Chief Officer, it doesn’t work that way. Excellence is not an accident. If women want to get there they really have to work harder.

What does work hard mean to you?

Doing every ordinary thing in an extraordinary way. No matter what it is.

You will never be mediocre if you strive to be extraordinary. I believe when you do your best and it is good enough you can get somewhere one day.

Really try to do ordinary things in an extraordinary manner and it will always be different and always stand above.

Follow through. If you are given a task, finish it extraordinarily.

To me that is hard work. Really giving your all to a cause that is in front of you.

You also mentioned letting people know you have done something extraordinary. Culturally many African women do not ‘fly their own flag’ and this is why we created Wisdom Exchange TV. How would you suggest that women start communicating that they have done something successfully, still acknowledging that culturally they are inhibited?

Perhaps that is why a lot of Tanzanian women, or African women are in middle management, like you said. I just think we should just speak-up. I also think women should be inspired by other women who have done it already. I look at other women such as: Asha-Rose Migiro, from Tanzania was the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, we all could see what was done because she made sure that she delivering a cause. She is not talking about herself, ‘I am good, I am excellent’ she is doing something to impact and bring change and people will see it. When you are bringing change you have to talk about it. You inspire other people to speak up. I make sure women working for me are seen, they sing their song. I put them up to present to management so they are seen, and it is seen that they have achieved success.

Another tendency of women is to stop other women’s from being successful. I personally believe that women themselves will bring women’s development. We should start talking about what women do. We are stronger, more passionate, we work better, it is about time we talk about it and use it for our own success.

I really like the concept of talking about a cause, as it is so much easier to be heard when talking about a cause rather than yourself.

Where do you think it is the best foray for a women into a multi-national – Public Affairs, sales capacity, marketing capacity – where a women’s intuitiveness and drive could be best utilized?

I believe women should go to where they can be most useful. It doesn’t matter if it is marketing, engineering etc. It is where you can be of most value for yourself as a person and also to the organization.

Find out what you are really good at, what you can grow into and where you can contribute the most.

It is important that we love our job and be happy to go work. Know you are growing as a person, which is just as important.

As the Chief Officer for Enterprise Sales, do you have any sales advice for companies who are trying to win large pieces of business?

It is a new area for me and extremely exciting because we are selling technology to people to make their lives easier.

First selling to my network and getting them to buy into my product is one thing, but make sure I service you and you want to stay with me is an entirely another thing. You want to be able support your clients. That is the biggest thing. Don’t sell if you can’t support it.

What do you feel the biggest impact you have made in your career so far?

I run the foundation (Flaviana Matata Foundation); part of Corporate Affairs is running the Vodacom Foundation, which is our CSR wing. We have come a long way, as I said we like to give from our heart. But recently, in 2001 we set up a program with a Hospital in Tanzania. We set up a program for fistula (The most common type of fistula involving these systems is a vesicovaginal fistula, in which the woman’s vagina is connected to the urinary bladder. This causes leakage of urine from the vagina and results in frequent vaginal and bladder infections. Find out more, visit Women could not get to the Hospital because they do not have bus fare. Secondly they were not aware that they had a disease that could be cured with a thirty- minute operation.

So we devised model to communicate to these women that if you have Fistula you can be cured for free, all you need to do is get to the hospital. So how do they get to the hospital, there are so many barriers? We created Ambassadors around the country to assist. This was a personal issue, as I believe no women should have Fistula and live with it. It can be cured in thirty minutes. What is associated with the disease is inhuman, and no women should have that happen to them. There are 24,000 women in this country, who have it today, and every year 3,000 more women get Fistula and there is no treatment.  The backlog is growing and it is massive.

So our Foundations mission was to operate on as many of those women as possible. So we have Ambassadors around the country. These Ambassadors could be anyone – a teacher, someone working in a Church, or Mosque, these ambassadors would look for women with Fistula, because these women do not come out, they hide. Once they find them, they call a toll free number and we send a bus fare to those women via M-Pesa regardless of where they are in Tanzania, they will withdraw the money and the Ambassador will put them on the bus to come to Dar Salaam to go to the hospital for treatment. Then we send $3 token to the Ambassador for a thank you.

Since we implemented this model the number of women that were receiving treatment grew by sixty percent. It was magic.

So I also sit on the board of the Vodafone Group Foundation through South Africa, located in London. So we sit five time a year and discuss what we are doing globally to change lives. Our goal is to use technology to change lives, so with using M-Pesa and the Ambassadors what we did was quite unique and uses as much technology as we can to change lives. So we presented what we did in Tanzania to the board foundation. I was invited to present to the senior leadership team, which included the top 200 of Vodafone. I spoke about this program and how it works. From that meeting in June 2011, the entire Vodafone management team decided to raise money to embark on a campaign to eradicate Fistula in Tanzania all together.  So we made a packed that day to raise 15 million dollars, and as I speak we have raised 15million dollars. Through Vodafone across the world, twenty-seven markets, our development partners, my CEO and has taken it as a personal goal. We have done a massive campaign globally. We have called it the Vodophone Moya Challenge (Moya means heart). It is all over the world.

For me to be able inspire that for my country, is the biggest achievement I have ever done.

Our plan is to be complete by 2016.

If there were one thing you could attribute your success to, what would it be?

The way I grew up. My Father was a politician all his life. I grew up seeing him work for people.  He moved from Region to another because of his job. So I grew in most of Tanzania; I was always the new girl in school. Seeing him work for people in this country that was his mandate.  He was not a rich man, but he wanted to work for the people of this country. I grew up seeing that. I took that. He is a big inspiration of my life. That is why I want to work in the service of others, in technology in CSR etc.

My family has inspired me. I am blessed to have the education I have, and the drive I have for the benefit of others who cannot otherwise do it for themselves.

I believe we are all here for a purpose.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career and how did you overcome it?

The challenges are ongoing. Keep being excellent. Keep discovering and doing things in an extraordinary manner in our society.

We are use to mediocrity in our society and not really to push the boundaries and getting things in time and deliver change as soon as it can.

If I am to do something it has to be excellent no matter what. The challenge is to stay excellent and not being pulled down by a lot of forces. You may find a lot of people around questioning you. There is a lot of pressure to make you not excellent, yet you want to ensure you stay there.

Has there been an initiative that just hasn’t worked, from a CSR perspective, a sales perspective or Public Affairs perspective?

When I finished my Masters degree before I started working with Vodocom, in 2006, I started a DVD Magazine. I believed people liked to watch a DVDs, people like to read about other people and get inspired. I would launch DVD Magazine where I would go around and talk to people that can inspire other people, talk to people about lifestyle and sell that on the street for people to buy. I was going to publish once a month. I had a team with me, people who put together the concept … we got some sponsors. It was incredible, but then no one wanted to buy it. It was too expensive. People thought I could read it why would I want to watch it? There were TV’s everywhere and it just didn’t work. People preferred to watch the TV program of the same thing.  I believed it would work.

What I would do differently? I would do a TV show with the same concept.

How do you reflect pre, during and post an initiative and measure its success?

  1. Before you launch any project you want to decide on the impact you want to make. That is key. You always measure the impact.
  2. You outline your strategy at the very beginning.
  3. Then the process to get there. Make is simple. Don’t over complicate it.
  4. Then go for it.
  5. After to achieve it, challenge if you received the target you intended.

One of my challenges is I like to over deliver, which I have received criticism of. I will aspire to higher targets then expected. I am required to achieve 10,000 – I want to achieve 14,000.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself 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?

Not spending enough time with my family – parents, daughter and friends – this is because of how hectic my work is. I find myself spending a lot of time delivering my mandates at home and the community and not so much time at home. Especially when I have a massive project to do and I have to forgo some time with my daughter and friends so my work comes first. Because my work comes first then I will achieve the goals that I want to. Which means have to forgo an important part of my heart – family and friends.

That is why we are here Saturday.

If there were one thing you could do differently in the pursuit of your success, what would that be?

Perhaps to stay positive more. But with pressure sometimes you get negative. I would like to deliberately to stay more positive.

How do you define leadership?

When you have a mandate to deliver for your organization and you realize it.

Leadership Lessons

  1. Go for it. The sky is the limit. You can grow in your mandate. Never look at something as the end, explore. Push yourself.
  2. Be humble as a leader.  You have people looking up to you for change, humility is number one. You also need to inspire others.
  3. Integrity and honest. If you don’t have them you will impact the legacy you can leave.

What do you want your leadership legacy to be?

I want to be remembered as impacting a lot of people’s lives. Either doing things they could not do themselves, or by inspiring them to be the best people they can.

Are there techniques that you use to try to ensure that happens for your employees?

When I joined this role, I told them my leadership strategy. I told them they could talk to me any time. I try to give them everything so they can be the best they can.

Every week I take one of my direct reports to lunch. We have a heart to heart; try to escalate things they need personally and professionally. It is important that they grow as people.

Is there one thing you want to do that you have not done yet?

If I live to be 50 years old, I want to hire a Harley Davidson and drive and do a tour with all the guys. I would put on the leather outfit. I want to do it at that time of my life.

What is next for you?

There are many opportunities that my career can take. My heart is in Africa, so wherever I am I want to drive the mandate in Africa.

Reflective Realizations

Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yr. old daughter?
You have everything it takes to go and rule the world.

Q. What do you wish you were told at 10 years old?
Mwamvita go rule the world. I would have thought more global younger.

Words of Wisdom

African women, stay the course. Our continent needs us to evolve from where it is. If you are in the position to that, make it faster or change it, do it. Take it personally to take it to the next level. It is up to us. If you are leader in Africa today, you have to go for it.


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