Posted in Power Monday

Elizabeth Maloba

IMG_20200522_161059_315Name: Elizabeth Maloba

Current profession:  I am a professional Facilitator, Speaker, Entrepreneur; I am currently venturing into writing.

What did you study in college/university?  Was it what you wanted to study?

I studied Architecture. I ended up in the school of architecture because in high school I wanted to be self-employed. I went to my career guidance teacher and told her that I wanted a career in which I would be self-employed and she told me the only people she knew were architects. When I joined the University, I realized I would rather have pursued a Bachelor of Economics, or Commerce qualification but in our time we did not have the luxury of changing courses. I completed architecture after 6 years but never got to practice it.

What was your first job? Any lessons to share from it?

My first job was a Financial Analyst at what is now Centum Investments. Somewhere along the way, I realized it was not the path I wanted to go. It was too competitive and intense for me. So I left and became an Administration and Finance Manager for an NGO and from there I became self-employed.

From my training in Architecture I learned how to visualize concepts where nothing exists and create structure out of emptiness. If I had not studied architectural design, I would never have been able to understand the concept of design thinking and facilitate processes that require design thinking support. Nowadays, I tell people that while I don’t design buildings, I design conversations.  Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process which seeks to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. It enables teams to tackle ill-defined or unknown problems (otherwise known as wicked problems) and uncover new ways to solve them.

From my first sales job I learned how to be courageous and just go and talk to people and tell them what I had and make them offers. Ten out of twenty people will say No, but you have got to learn to live with the Nos, the yeses, and the maybes. I learned how to pick out the serious clients from the not so serious ones. Those are very important for my present work. I also learned how to work with teams of diverse professionals in cross-cultural settings. I worked for African Heritage which was selling cultural artifacts some clients were in Japan, others in America so there was a cross-cultural divide. My second sales job was with a sports company and a lot of the transactions were with government agencies. Understanding the government procurement processes, how they worked, and what they meant was invaluable.  That history is important to my current work. I built a framework of working with different clients and knowing what to expect and the processes involved be it a parastatal, a civil society organization, or an SME.

Is there too big or too small a job?

Two years ago, I would have said NO, but now I say yes to both. Then I was partly naïve and partly building a market. When you are doing something that is new to the market and people don’t really understand it, then you take on different assignments so that they can understand what you do and build that constituency of people who can then be your clients. Now, there are small jobs both in terms of budget and time because of the amount of effort to deliver the service vis-a-vis client’s ability to pay. In the case of such clients, I try and aggregate. I consider working with like ten SMEs at the same time instead of one at a time because the effort is kind of the same. I try to get clients with the same need and merge the work. Then there are some that I just say “No”, for example if a client wants a report, they probably need someone with a different skillset probably a lower level of experience than mine which they will pay less money for. It is not good value to be talking to me, because yes, I will write a good report but it will cost so much more and that may not make financial sense. Finally, there is too big a job such as large corporations. My sweet spot is development agencies, small and medium enterprises in the growth stage. What I have started to do is to affiliate with larger international organizations because that enables me to access work with development agencies. The organizations could be in Europe but instead of paying a ticket for a foreign consultant, they engage you as a local, based on your expertise.

Describe a normal working day for you?

There is no such thing as a normal working day for me. I have what I call preparation days that involve research, reading sometimes writing, talking to people, interviews.

There are in front of the client days… face to face days, I am in a workshop, in an event, or in a meeting setting. I will be there from morning to evening, most times standing, while supporting group decision making. Then there are days I call reporting days which comprise collating information and preparing reports for review.

Now I have started to include resting days, something which I never used to do because I was afraid that I wasn’t going to make enough money and was afraid that I would miss up on the big jobs because I was on vacation. I realized I was burning out! They are two types of rest days, one is vacation which would be anything between 2-3 weeks, but also after a heavy assignment I will gauge and plan 2 days for rejuvenation and self-care.

What drives or motivates you?

It’s a tough question to answer because some of the conversations I facilitate can easily lead to despair. Someone shared with me a quote which I will paraphrase “Don’t be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead but do what you can.” A lot of my work is in cross-cultural settings on a global level; then there is a cross-cultural setting that is the public sector, private sector, civil society who do not always speak the same language, and sometimes talk at each other rather than to each other. It is easy to give up at this point. The quote above helped me understand that I should do what I can. The motivation for me here is then; every small person doing their small bit can make a difference, at least I believe in that. Sometimes, it’s not obvious, if I just do my part and every other person does their part, the transformation will come.

Ever had a bad /good boss? Lessons learned or advice to offer?

In one of my first jobs, I had a boss who most people would consider a boss from hell (he yelled at us from meters away), yet I consider him the best boss I had because he was fair, honest, and transparent. The rules did not change because of who you were. He made expectations clear and if you did not deliver, you knew what would happen and not just to you, the whole team. I learned that if you are a boss be transparent, consistent, be very clear on your expectations, and the consequences. He stood by you when you made mistakes even if there was a cost to it and he would later give you feedback and a way forward on how to handle the situation in the future.

I have had a bad boss in my consulting experience, for me it was the lack of transparency, undermining behaviour and lack of consistency. I started out with her before she had a team, helped her write the concept paper, and present the case to prospective donors. She was a start-up but she got funding from a large multilateral agency because she presented the right arguments and because I helped. The agreement was when the funding came through, I was to take up a specific role and get paid an agreed amount. When the funding came through, the story changed and the agreement breached.

I learned to just be honest with people. Sometimes I engage subcontractors, I lay out the terms of reference and even pay them before the client has paid me as long as I am satisfied with the work. Whatever we agreed, I do my part.

The best way is, to be honest; if I am stranded and say I need an air ticket, I can get it and pay later. That trust comes from an honest relationship.

Your take on ethics and integrity? Is it important to you?

It is critical and you cannot build any successful work relationships or collaborations without integrity. It takes work and time. You have to have the understanding that when you break it, you go back to ground zero.

When you are not in your work element what do you do for fun?

I run, now more walk than run. I go camping and sometimes have to find a way to align my calendar with my husband who also has a very busy schedule. I read a lot, watch movies, I love the outdoors, go for road trips, and connect with people.

Best money advice you received or would give?

I received it from my dad who also received it from Joe Wanjui. I may not always follow it to the letter, but this is what it was: When you make money 30% should be spent on direct expenses, 30 % on medium and long term investment e.g. what will I need 5 years from now and what will I need 20 years from now. 30% on leisure, rest, and relaxation. 10% to tithe or charity, just give it away. This helps you remember that you won’t always have this money and the kind of money I am able to give away now says something about how far I have come.

 Most notable achievements?

Reinventing myself: It’s not easy to say that I have a degree in architecture, became a financial analyst then a trainer, and lastly a facilitator. I like to be in the facilitator spot, it gives me an opportunity to help groups come up with mechanisms to solve their problems and succeed. Facilitation is a daily growth process for me because I am relearning how to let others do what they need to do rather than telling them what to do.

Biggest challenge(s) faced and how you handled them?

Identifying my achievements and speaking about it. I don’t sit down to talk about my achievements… it’s an African thing like you should not be shouting about it.  I went on a personal leadership journey that helped me discover the concept of awareness, which has been key in helping me become more aware of who and what I want to be in particular situations. Additionally, I have recently collaborated with a friend who is an organization development specialist. It has been a great experience because I am now more keen to share my achievements confidently rather than second guess them.

Is reading important to you? what are you currently reading?

Yes, I grew up reading thanks to my mother. Reading was my escape from the world – I grew up in a rural home with no television or movies. It became my escape from reality and a motivation to desire a better life out of the village, so it was not an option, I had to pass.  As for the books:

  1. We are going to need more wine – Gabriel Union
  2. Ecofeminism critic and challenge – Bandana Shiva & Maria Mies
  3. Can we solve the migration Crisis – Jaqueline BhaBha
  4. Barracoon- Zora Neale Hurston

Who do you look up to for inspiration? /Most influential people in your life?

I have been looking at women who came from humble backgrounds but have suddenly found themselves in a position of wealth or influence e.g Michelle Obama, Gabriel Union, Graca Machel, I am increasingly aware that, that transition is not easy. I came from humble beginnings. My grandmothers have been the most influential women in my life. I am the 4th generation of strong women in my family, you don’t realize what you are standing on until you meet people who do not have that heritage.

Employment or entrepreneurship?


Your take on Leadership?

We live in a very complex world. There is a time the United States was the lead, China and Africa are also growing, we have a voice that we never used to have meaning the dynamics have changed for the US because they were a leadership monopoly and there is less of that for them and the other countries are taking up that space. There is more negotiation and therefore the need to have a new set of leadership skills.

Final words to young and upcoming professionals

What I do now did not exist when I was at the University. Our young people are going to work in an environment that is different from what my parents worked in which dictated that if you had a degree in medicine you became a doctor.

On my birthday, I happened to be in Berlin and some friends put together a party for me and the band was made up of three doctors!

Be prepared it’s not going to be easy, the world of the future is not going to be what the world of the present is right now. Follow your dreams even if they look crazy. Never tell someone something can’t be done, God might have been waiting for someone foolish enough to try it.

My story is an example because my profession did not exist, my family thought I was crazy, that they even tried to intervene but my dad came through and allowed me to pursue my dream, now they are able to see the fruits.

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