Written by Rumbi “Askana” Tendaupenyu
When Sam asked me to write an opinion piece on “womxn development,” every fibre in my feminist-Afripreneur-being hurled itself at the opportunity. Yet, a week later, with no content to submit, I had writer’s block, (the phenomenon of when your imaginary friends temporarily excommunicate you).
I condemned the notion that after building a career around developing womxn, my imaginary friends and I had absolutely nothing to say on the topic. I started to relive the past few years and I remembered the frustration I felt at not having been adequately prepared for, or at the very least warned of, the other side of “womandla.”
Standard disclaimer: My intention is not to discourage nor to undermine; as the work of every soul that has come before me in this movement is the reason I am able to put the proverbial pen to paper so freely. I aim to simply inform, as knowledge makes for informed decision making and a better exercise of power.
In the process of assisting to unleash the force to be reckoned with that is womxn, in others and from within myself, I discovered the good, the bad and the ugly of the development world. Below are 9 things they don’t tell you about the world of womxn development.
NB: Solutions to the below are dependent on one’s grit, social leverage, network and creativity. However, one cannot implement solutions to problems they are not aware of.
1. This is not a Liverpool fan club; you will walk alone. Everyone wants to use the hashtag #thefutureisfemale, yet very few are prepared to do what it takes to ensure that future. Thus, you may find yourself implementing initiatives in parts of the world you did not know existed, and probably without a project team.
2. Womxn don’t only require development between 9 and 5 with a break at 1 for lunch. There are times when you will work the same hours as the Mckinsey kids but for a fraction of the pay.
3. Be prepared to sacrifice. When your heart burns with an intense desire to create value and effect impactful change, it triggers the same delusional pleasure centre in your brain as love. This means that you will make decisions that put your needs and wants last because what you are trying to accomplish is bigger than you. Your relationships, health, and finances will suffer.
4. You can’t eat passion. Very rarely will you find yourself disliking whatever it is that you are doing to develop womxn. Problem is, no matter how much enjoyment you derive from it this, more likely than not, is not the path to your financial freedom.
5. Even womxn can be trash. You will encounter womxn who purport to stand for the very progressive and inclusive things you are working towards. They may even be in positions of power or influence. The coldest realisation is that they will in some way fail to support, inform, enable, protect, empower, recognise and include you.
6. Shape up or ship out. Many spaces take a traditional approach to development and challenging the modus operandi is not welcome. The unfortunate result is that talent retention is low and talent turnover is high. The upside is that you constantly get to meet and work with new people.
7. The development world is not easily accessible to everyone. Having your heart in the right place is not enough. Much like academia, you need an impressive track record to be afforded an opportunity to lend a helping hand and make a change.
8. Some do it for the “-gram.” In the story of championing womxn development, plenty of decisions will be based on how the optics play out in favour of the protagonist. Even if it is to the detriment of their beneficiaries.
9. Failure is not an option. Your work tangibly and measurably changes lives. Any underperformance on your part may disfigure or dismember womxn’s businesses and families.
There is an African proverb that says “not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.” By this token, my wish for those in the development world is for this kind of information to be passed down through cohorts of changemakers, with the same resolve that our grandparents had in telling us of the tortoise and the hare before towering wood-fired flames. If not for the improvement of the industry, then for the empowerment of womxn in their decision making.