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Inspiring Women Who Have Influenced Me and My Work

This article first appeared on LinkedIn on March 8, 2020.

Happy International Women’s Day! How have the women in your life inspired you? My work and personal life have been influenced in particular by two women in my life. To mark today, I’d like to share some of the wisdom they taught me to celebrate these wonderful women.

My Mother

Resilience | When my parents divorced, my mother was kicked out of the house with a 5-year-old and a baby. She had only just got a job after being a housewife for years and within 7 years she was well established at her job. She owned her own home in a great suburb in Harare. She faced many struggles but through it all, she stayed strong for herself and for her children. Whenever I face a challenge, I think of my mum and what she had to go through for us and I know I can do it too.

Self-sufficiency | Being a single mum, my mother learned to be self- sufficient. She had to. There was no-one to look to when things went wrong, so she had to fix everything. She passed that on to me and she did such a great job that sometimes I have to be reminded by my own daughter to ask for help.

Kindness and helping others | I hope that I am half as kind as she is. My mother loves helping others, not just family but the wider community. When she was younger, she even helped people she had never met by being a blood donor. She inspired me to become a blood donor as soon as I was old enough, back when I was in the sixth form and I hope I can inspire my daughter to do the same.

Laughing with abandon | I love this about my mum and it is one of those things I am happy I have adopted. I love to laugh because of her, and I am grateful to my mum for it.

A personal relationship with God | My mum taught me how to pray and how to talk to God, as if he was right in front of me. As if I could see him and hold his hand. It was the beginning of a truly personal relationship with Him outside “church” or “religion”. It is a source of strength, comfort, and hope.

Doing your best | My mum always encouraged us to do our best. She taught us to take pride in our work and used the most interesting dramatisations of lazy people to discourage us from taking half measures. She was always trying to improve herself, and I remember at one time wondering why she was bothering to work towards achieving a course by correspondence while working a full-time job, taking care of her children and taking care of her parents. She wanted to develop additional skills in order to move onto a new role at the bank where she worked. I did not realise until recently that this did not only influence my personal “doing everything better” drive but that it is also the basis of my business: helping independent schools build systems that make it possible to do everything better without having to worry about inspection.

Mrs Madzima – High School Headmistress

Citizens of the world | I went to an all-girls school. Mrs M wanted her girls to become citizens of the world. She did everything she could to ensure that we spoke English with native proficiency. She hired teachers who were native English teachers and made sure we spoke English all the time, even at break and lunchtimes. We were not allowed to speak in our native tongues while at school, except in lessons where they were taught. She made sure that other languages were taught by native speakers – French was taught by Madame Barnett. She hired teachers from a variety of countries and cultures. She talked about what was going on in the world during assemblies.

I am a citizen of the world. I have lived in Zimbabwe, Cuba, now the UK. I speak 3 languages with native fluency.

Etiquette | Mrs M wanted all her girls to behave as ladies and to represent the school well. She went to great lengths to ensure this and focused on every last detail including dress: shirts always tucked in, ties properly done, blazers worn at all times especially when out of the school, shoes polished, hair – conservatively done and not too oily, correct posture, no running, walking in single file on the left-hand side of corridors, no chewing gum, no laughing like “women at the market”, no hanging around in town after school, you went straight home and if your parents needed you to do something in town they wrote a note.

I think this influenced me a great deal except for the laughter. I wouldn’t say I laugh like a woman at the market but my laugh is certainly not that of a lady as according to Mrs M.

Excellence | Mrs M was very ambitious and had high expectations for all her girls. She celebrated those who excelled and encouraged us to do so. I remember one girl from our school became the first female pilot in the air-force of Zimbabwe. Prize giving days were meaningful events during which excellence was truly celebrated and also rewarded. All staff were required to wear their graduation robes and I would look at them and think I want that to be me one day.

I guess this influenced me a lot more than I realised. I was the first person to graduate in our wider family. I later got a Masters with Distinction. In 2015, I won a studentship to study towards a PhD but I had to withdraw after a year because studying full time left me with very little time to do the work that I needed to do in order to survive financially.

What have the women in your life taught you?

I am just realising now that my education and career was guided by a combination of my mother’s “doing your very best” approach and Mrs M’s “striving for excellence”. This led to my obsession with “doing everything better” – which is what Marell Consulting Limited is all about.

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