Youth Partner Network Spotlight Features Spotlight Feature: Mpho Mpofu Name: Mpho Age: 27 Country and Location: Bristol, United kingdom Area of interest in International Development: Sustainable Development, Gender and Development, International Human Rights, Advocacy, ending child marriages, girls access to education SRHR Twitter Handle/Social Media accounts: Twitter* (Link & Handle) Facebook (Link & Handle) Instagram (Link & Handle) Linkedin (Link & Handle) @MpofuMphoMpho Elizabeth@mpofumphoMpho Elizabeth Mpofu Website: www.mphoempofu.com Organisation/affiliations: Chevening Scholar, Founder The Voice of Africa Trust, and Former Gender Advisor Actionaid international Uganda Background – Tell us a little about yourself? I am a philanthropist, development practitioner and professional criminologist from Zimbabwe. With over seven years’ experience of working on tri-sector led social impact projects and programmes in Africa, my long-term goals are to enable underprivileged and marginalised communities to have access to education, as well as reduce gender-based violence cases and poverty. I am passionate about transforming lives and believe in the possibility of a world free of poverty, where equity and dignity is possible when youth, women and girls drive the development agenda as agents of change. My work involves constantly innovating for social good while providing out of the ordinary, adoptable solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. I am a recipient of the Chevening Award and currently pursuing my Masters in International Development at the University of Bristol. Tell us about your area of work? In 2014 l founded The Voice of Africa trust, a youth-led organisation that has been advocating for the rights of women and children. The organisation operates in Botswana and Zimbabwe and has made amazing impact, reaching over 30000 women and children in both countries. In 2017 I joined Actionaid International Uganda as a Gender Advisor and was stationed in Katakwi. There l supported women protection centres and community members on gender and women’s rights cases. I pioneered safe spaces for girls in school and l am glad to learn that they are still functioning and the team has added more schools. I have travelled extensively presenting on issues including ending child marriages, gender and women’s rights and girls access to education. What issues do you consider to be the most prevalent to women and young people in your country? Having worked with various cultures in different countries l have found common traits of what affects women and girls from the poorest to the most empowered women. ACCESS TO SPACE AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES. For the longest time l always thought that the problem was not having access to education until l met the most educated women who still have no access to space, myself included. l have to work double if not triple the amount my male colleagues work in order to prove my worth. My qualifications and experience aside, l have to work even harder to sit at the table and address issues that affect women and girls. This is why when Wellbeing for Women shared their idea for the WaWimbi Campaign, l wanted to be a part of it. I could relate, l was a woman in leadership yet I was still struggling to access a space where I could be heard. The campaign is a much needed and long overdue project. We have all advocated for education and ending violence but never have we thought of space. The WaWimbi campaign is giving women a platform to share their ordeals on the bottlenecks they face in leadership and governance positions and it doesn’t end there. The most important aspect of the campaign is its desire to draw political will and funds to change the status quo. Come 5th March 2020, l urge all partners, donor organisations and philanthropists to give a blank cheque to this amazing project that will change lives. What programmes are currently operational in your country and do you think they are working? If yes why, if no why? And what could be done better? Every time l am asked county specifics, l struggle to pick one because l believe every country l have worked in has become home and l have left a part of me in all those countries. There are so many programmes taking place in various countries all trying to respond to ending child marriage, girl’s access to education and sexual reproductive health rights. To a certain extent they are working, slowly but surely but l believe we could do better. If only we could have a bottom top approach to development because the top bottom one does not work. We miss a lot of contextual issues based on lived experiences and cultural values that are mostly ignored. Programming thus does not become sustainable or impactful. What do you think is the biggest obstacle that needs to be overcome in the field of International Development? At first l used to think developmental aid was the problem until l furthered my studies in development and got to understand the real issues. So, from my response two years back, the issue is not developmental aid but rather the top bottom approach associated with aid. When donor agencies and international organisations want to implement developmental programmes in communities, they use a top bottom approach. Their idea of development and sustainability is not what the community has in mind and in most cases clashes with cultural religious and community values. I’ve witnessed projects that had millions invested in them but failed because they did not have community members buy in, let alone get the chiefs’ approval and engagements as custodians of communities. In some instances, members telling you that this will not work. We must learn to shut up and listen, sometimes they don’t need a borehole close by because they use the time it takes to fetch the water to be free and at peace and check up on each other. What do you think are some solutions to these problems? Baseline studies and consultations with open and objective approaches. We need to have an understanding of community contexts before we impose our solutions to their problems. One would be surprised at how much knowledge and solutions community members have and all we need to do is ask them. Not just ask them but go ahead and implement what they have asked. On one instance l asked parents in a school in Katakwi how we could improve girls’ access to education and the role they could play in keeping them in school. One lady responded with ”what’s the point? you all come and ask us then go ahead and do whatever you want”. That made me change the structure of the programme and l engaged them with the safe spaces for girls. To date, parents are still engaged and the biggest supporters of the initiative as it has not only kept girls in school, but has added extra curricular actives that they can take part in. They can now have conversations with their children in a safe space. I am sure if l had imposed a top bottom approach and structured everything my way, the project would have failed. What makes this sector so special for you? Many people do not understand how l moved from criminology into development. It’s something l could never understand myself but l guess passion led me. I am in the field because of passion for change and trying to change the status of women and girls. It’s special because l had an ordinary childhood experience and saw many young girls drop out of school, teenage pregnancies and girls married off. Having lived past that l vowed to make a difference. I lost a friend to illegal abortions because the system does not recognise that as a fundamental right. Everyday l work in the SRHR space, my dream is to make sure that my friend’s death was not in vain and that one day every right will be recognised regardless of one’s cultural or traditional beliefs. Those must not be imposed on others thus hindering social justice. This sector is special because it’s a personal battle with the unjust system to hope for the better. Its enjoyable because organisations like WBW are realising the importance of youth voices and affording young people space to bring about change. What future progress in International Development – regionally, across the continent, or even for your own personal future – excites you the most about this sector? The possibility of one day having human rights enjoyed by all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, race or age. We are exactly one decade away from completing SDG2030 and l have not seen much progress. I am hopeful that the next goal life will take a different approach. That it will take context into play and realise that not every country can have the same indicators. The amount of pressure placed on developing countries is insurmountable and difficult to achieve. Most had failed to achieve the MDGs and the SDGs just became impossible. l am hopeful that the journey for development will be inclusive and have a listening approach. We need to shut up and listen at all stages and in the future that might just be the solution.