Juggling motherhood and a career is not for the faint-hearted but Fadzai Chitiyo-Kunaka takes her inspiration from many exceptional professional women – including the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who brought her small baby to Parliament and recently won a second term in office following widespread praise for her handling of the coronavirus crisis.
“If anything, becoming a mom has made me aware of how motherhood activates more parts of a woman’s brain. You are always planning, thinking two or three steps ahead to make sure everything is fine – those are valuable skills when you think about it!”. Specifically, she has been thinking more deeply about how financial solutions should be tailored for women in developing countries. “We need more of a social and gender lens when we talk about investment, not only in South Africa, but in the rest of Africa too,” she says, citing the $320 billion financing gap for female entrepreneurs in formal sector SMEs in developing countries alone, and the $93 billion credit gap for women-led SMEs. “There is a strong business case for investing in women, since they are known to invest 90% of their earnings back into their family’s healthcare, food, and education, which further boosts economic activity", she adds.
Born in Zimbabwe, Chitiyo-Kunaka came to South Africa at the age of 13, going on to study International Relations and Economics with an Honours in African Studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT), before enrolling for the MCom in Development Finance at the UCT GSB in 2016.
She had intended to study engineering but while still at school she was invited to attend the Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) in New York – “a tremendous honour” – and there she became aware that she was passionate about socio-economic development and uplifting the African continent. This realisation was to shape her career. Following her studies, she was a senior research associate at Jack Hammer before joining Dalberg, a global development consultancy group, as a senior consultant where she has been asked to apply her expertise at macro and micro level to address challenges on the continent.
She has travelled widely across Africa and says the continent is her home. “I am very optimistic about Africa. I have seen how many countries have grown in leaps and bounds and how good leadership, even benevolent dictatorships, can help progress. Africans really do have the solutions for many of the issues facing the continent.” She also thinks the strong emerging middle class is shaping into a major consumer base, while there is a big untapped workforce, another positive for the continent.
But much of this will depend on whether the continent can achieve greater financial inclusion. As Chitiyo-Kunaka sees it, the political and economic landscape will be shaped by the flow of capital. More than that, individual citizens on the continent need to be empowered to understand and gain access to finance, she believes, especially those who are currently not part of the formal banking system and yet represent so much potential in terms of productivity and entrepreneurship.
Armed with an MCom in Development Finance from the UCT GSB, her current work with the National Treasury is in drafting action plans for the national financial inclusion policy in South Africa and the national consumer financial education policy.
With a new baby in the house, some might expect her to change her pace, but that is not on the cards for her. Although she admits that “juggling responsibilities as a working mom is harder than doing my MCom”, she is too ambitious – both for herself and the continent of Africa. “There is so much to be done and I can’t wait to get started!”