‘To make a dent in the universe’ through development finance

Zimbabwean Tonderai Mazingaizo, an MPhil in Development Finance alumnus at Stellenbosch University, writes that working in the field of development finance has forced him to accept that development work is not just about ticking boxes, it is about directly affecting people’s lives. Here he shares his journey:

To make a dent in the universe: That, apparently, was the late American entrepreneur Steve Jobs’ expression of the purpose for his being on the planet, as well as his exhortation to those who may want to follow in his footsteps. Being born and raised in Zimbabwe, a poor developing country, I can say my goals weren’t as grandiose or even as purposeful. My bachelor’s degree was in accounting (graduated in 2005 at the University of Zimbabwe) and like most of my peers, my prime goal on graduation was securing a decent job with good growth prospects. I fortuitously went the unconventional route and joined a small non-profit organisation whose focus was the development of media standards and promoting public information rights in Zimbabwe.

…my prime goal on graduation was securing a decent job with good growth prospects.”

This was not by choice as the prime jobs I expected to get after graduation were simply not available. I graduated at a time when the Zimbabwean economy was in unprecedented decline characterised by investor flight and job market contraction. In hindsight it may seem as though I navigated my career path with a clairvoyant ease towards a sure destiny, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, embarking on an atypical career path was more of a leap in the dark than it was inspired percipience on my part.  Since accepting that the development sector was going to be my career for life in 2007, I decided to pursue a master’s degree to further strengthen my underpinning theoretical knowledge in development. Choosing the MPhil in Development Finance (MDevF) with the University of Stellenbosch Business school was a very easy decision as the degree offering was ideal for my career goals and to pursue the same with a world renowned business school was more than a plus.

The depth of the MDevF is something I cherish to this day.”

The depth of the MDevF is something I cherish to this day.  I particularly enjoyed the course that focused on Economic Development Perspectives in Africa as it particularly focused on how African nation states pursue development and the underlying political economy perspectives.

I have since worked in various roles in the development sector, including private sector development, environmental protection, regional development, agriculture, basic services, capacity building and nurturing livelihoods, among others. What I can say for certain now is the work we do in the development sector is quite different from the detached, and vague idealism I envisaged at the beginning of my career. For starters, I learnt early on that in order to be effective, you must go beyond and expand your métier, in a manner that is foreign to most job roles.

I learnt early on that in order to be effective, you must go beyond and expand your métier.”

Multi-skilling has always been a necessity in practically all the roles I have assumed. There was always far more expected of me and those I worked with beyond standard job descriptions. Beyond this, the intensity of the work itself and the weight of expectations was and is always so great even with limited resources and myriad external pressures.

Being an accounting and finance professional, I always had to deal with restricted budgets and was constantly under pressure to maximise return on the resources we had to work with. Complicating matters of course was the fact that return in the development context is not a simple set of inanimate quantifiables. Return is furtherance of the mission, which in most cases has to do with attainment of broad, often subjective metrices that cannot always be quantified in financial terms.

I was surprised to discover that instability is a constant in the development field…”

While those in rock-and-roll corporate careers only ever have their boats rocked by the occasional recession or financial market crisis (as with the COVID-19 crisis now), I was surprised to discover that instability is a constant in the development field, with funding challenges and the resulting shift in priorities always looming. Job security, it appears, is practically non-existent. This may appear contradictory considering the importance of mission and potential for transforming entire societies.

With the foregoing one may wonder why I have practically committed my life to development work! To borrow the cliché so beloved of sports stars, I do this for the love of the game. Specifically, the work we do is its own reward. When you see the actual impact on the ground in some of the most far-flung places on the planet, you realise it is all worth it.

…the work we do is its own reward.”

Contributing to improved livelihoods for many vulnerable families in remote Samangan, Badakhshan, Takhar, Ghor, Herat, Logar, Nangarhar and Herat (all provinces of Afghanistan) warms my heart. It gives me a sense of purpose and brings alive the management accounts I so love to prepare, present and analyse.

In addition to appreciating the results of our work on others, I cannot think of any other field of endeavor with so much impetus for personal growth. My work has taken me to many countries across the globe, from Southern Africa to the bustling metropolises of Europe and even to the most troubled hotspots.