ONE Campaign Interim Executive Director for Africa, Nachilala Nkombo, speaks to Sheleadsafrica.com in an exclusive interview from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Published in She Leads Africa
Nachilala Nkombo is a woman on a mission. As ONE Campaign’s Interim Executive Director for Africa, she leads the global advocacy and campaign group’s office based in Johannesburg to deliver on its mission in Africa. A daughter of the continent, she strongly believes that with the right policies and leadership, Africa can be ahead of the global development curve. From her position at ONE, she works to connect like-minded people to believe in Africa, write Efam Awo Dovi.
As head of ONE Africa, Nachilala Nkombo has a busy life focused on creating forces to bring about change in Africa. Whether she is meeting government officials, policy makers or business leaders to sell the ONE vision, or leading a call to action campaign in Nigeria to draw attention to that country’s health crisis, or visiting a ONE partner project in Soweto, Ms. Nkombo aims for one thing: to be part of the catalyst that bring about the much needed change in Africa.
The reason why Africa is behind is not for lack of talent or lack of commitment by Africans. There are Africans who believe that Africa can change and are committed to actually leading on that change but they are not connected.
From her position at ONE, she is confident that she could be part of “the group to connect people, to inspire people to believe in our continent and to own our problem.”
The problems in Africa, the economist says, should be seen as “opportunity to forge the partnerships that are needed to fix them and hopefully be ahead of the curve globally.”
“I just realised how big the problems around the world are and I realised that Africa carried the larger share of poverty, of disease and all the problems,” Nachilala recalls.
While this might seem like a long road, the ONE Campaign Africa chief states: “there are people that are trying to put systems in place, when all those dots connect…to create some power, that can promote change.”
The Zambian born global citizen studied Economics at University of Zambia and was destined to either join the country’s finance ministry or the central bank – like most of her class mates have. But an internship at a peace and human rights organisation in the United States of America in 2000 changed her path: she picked up a passion for a career in development.
“I just realised how big the problems around the world are and I realised that Africa carried the larger share of poverty, of disease and all the problems,” Nachilala recalls, “I felt I had a responsibility to be part of that solution.”
With that conviction, she returned to the motherland and led a number of pan African projects before joining ONE Africa in 2012 as Deputy Executive Director for Africa.
Nachilala recalled her early work in Zambia at a think tank that advised the Zambian government against signing an EU-Africa Trade Partnership Agreement. “A number of African countries were actually ready to sign,” she says, “but in my country we did the research, gathered data that showed the potential negative impact of signing the agreements in their original form, — there weren’t any measures to protect local farmers and local industries.” Adding: “I am very proud of that advice because my government went in the right direction.”
“One of the fulfilling aspect of my career is that through that programme, some of the young people that we trained have emerged into emerging leaders – advising the government
She also worked on rural programmes funded by the Danish government that strengthened citizen’s participation in the monitoring of public services by promoting local democracy. Her work strengthened the work of local governments and local organisations in mobilising their communities to drive local progress. “Working on monitoring and evaluation in the Zambia local language was a challenge and a major empowering highlight of my career,” she said.
Prior to that role, Nachilala worked at the American Friends Services Committee under the African Youth Initiative Network programme in Zambia, where she led a number of programmes that trained young Africa change makers from 17 African countries. She recalled the many lives her work impacted: “I had the honour of developing a leadership development training programme in 2004 funded by American Quakers that trained about 240 young people that are right now serving in different institutions and are catalysing change.” Some of those young people, she says, are now leaders in their own right, serving on several high level global panels, advising on issues of peace and development on the African continent. “We partnered with training institutes in Nairobi-Kenya, in Ndola- Zambia, in Cape Town South Africa and in Kigali – Rwanda.
For me, when something continues after I have been a part of it that is what counts as success.
“One of the fulfilling aspect of my career is that through that programme, some of the young people that we trained have emerged into emerging leaders – advising the government (of Zambia), several United Nations agencies and working closely with people like Ban Ki moon (immediate past UN Secretary General) and engaging NATO.”
With a sense of self-fulfillment, she states: “This is work I did 12 years ago but I can see the fruits of that,” adding, “it gives me hope then that whatever it is that I am doing now, using ONE Campaign as the platform, I am going to see the results in my lifetime.
“For me, when something continues after I have been a part of it that is what counts as success.” She explains: “The fact that the governments we worked with on agriculture continue to get inspired in that direction, the fact that people we trained are impacting policy and institutions in their own country, for me that counts as success.”
Since joining ONE in 2012 as the Deputy Africa Executive Director, the hands-on leader says she has been privileged to lead a number of important campaigns.
Nachilala is particularly proud of a 2014 campaign popularly known as ‘Do, Agric, it Pays’ that mobilised over 2 million Africans to take action to get their governments to recommit to investing in agriculture.
“The success there is surge of interest we were able to garner across the continent, the level of partners that came to the table and the level of political support that we got.” The momentum gathered with that campaign is still delivering results on the continent, states a confident Nachilala, who also manages the ONE Africa Policy Advisory Board.
“I see a link to the work we did on the campaign to what is becoming an agricultural revolution,” she says, “it brought into the conversion people who will not stop to think about agriculture but who have continued to work on that effort.
Last year, Nkombo led the ONE Africa team in the fight against HIV/ AIDS, particularly as it affects women. Her team was part of the global mobilisation to get African governments to put money in the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
“I am happy that we succeeded with that goal.” She notes: “We were able to convince several governments to allocate some money for that effort.
“In Mali, we supported partners to secure a law to give land rights to women.”
“We think that it is not a nice thing to do for girls and women, it is a strategic thing for governments of Africa to do.”
The One Africa team has also been spotlighting Nigeria’s health crisis. Nigeria, she points out, contributes a lot in terms of poor health indicators of the whole continent. “There is a silent crisis that is happening in Africa but particularly in Nigeria because of the numbers.”
If Nigeria prioritises health, she states, it won’t just save lives, “it will save money in the future to actually plough into the development of the country.”
This year, her group is focusing on girls’ education in Africa to help boost the number of girls in school, “as too many young girls in Africa are not in school,” she said. “We think that it is not a nice thing to do for girls and women, it is a strategic thing for governments of Africa to do.”
She urged African governments to be strategic and put money in sectors where women operate to enable them to equally contribute to the continent’s economic development.
Now, with more than 14 years of international development experience up her sleeve, Nachilala has dedicated her career to development work.
Asked what she will tell her younger self, the single mother of one says, “it is not so easy to juggle a professional life and personal life.” She wished there were more conversations about the challenge of balancing professional goals, activism and family life.
“I have a family, a son and a partner that are all supportive of me. But life is hard because my life involves a lot of travelling. My son needs me and my job needs me, that has really been a challenge,” she shares. – Nachilala.Nkombo-Leads-Africa — SLAFRICA