“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small”, Richard Branson. Today, I can relate to this saying ever so closely than when I was growing up. From a tender age, I knew that I was born to make a difference and that my gateway was education. My parents never neglected to instil this in us – my siblings and I. That education came at a great cost when there’s eight of you competing for limited family resources. My mum, God rest her soul, substituted the family income by selling at the market. I had to sell vegetables, placed in a basin on my head around “kuma yard” – the high income locality, every day after school. During the rainy season and holidays, I joined the family cultivating for subsistence. Fast forward, I live on a farm producing eggs, fish and other farm produce – thanks to my childhood training. That’s my past time, created because I knew that whatever life took me through, I needed to make a difference.
As first Chief Executive Officer of the Zambia Qualifications Authority (ZAQA), I had the task of establishing an institution of a specialised nature – qualifications. Having worked in the education sector before, I had a pretty good understanding of the expectations and potential hurdles ahead of the task. Thankfully, I had great support, coupled with my experience in strategic roles, the task was not as challenging. Of course until I had to deal with opposition from least likely sources. I had to employ tact, positive attitude and much prayer for God to give me grace and wisdom in order to overcome.
An Accountant by profession, I had the priviledge of leading teams early in my career. Accountants often say that “an accountant is the person in any business enterprise most likely to know what is actually going on, and least likely to be able to do anything about it”, I decided to defy the saying. Wherever I worked, I deliberately learnt everything and got involved in the core business so that I could influence change. I read and networked in the industry that I worked in – manufacturing, non – bank financial services, internet services, development agency and of course the education sector. With this focus, I broadened my knowledge base by studying corporate governance, arbitration and strategic management, to mention a few, realising that to make a difference, you need to defy the status quo.
A while back, I met a colleague who asked me how long I had been at ZAQA. He was surprised with my response and especially when I indicated that I set up the institution from a corner office at the Ministry of Higher Education to the reference institution for any qualification in Zambia. He chuckled and said he thought there was a “doctor someone” behind ZAQA. Today, we see a lot of interest in having a genuine and recognised qualification. Beyond this, is the work that my team puts in, to set standards and recognise qualifications in Zambia. There’s still a lot to do, especially when you have to correct a system that was becoming free for all as was evidenced from daily declarations of people becoming doctorate holders overnight. I am glad to have received recognition and awards, regionally and internationally. The Boardroom is also my home as I continue to contribute and make a difference to various institutions, locally and internationally, where I serve as a non – executive director, providing a strategic oversight role.
Making a difference is a choice and I always choose to do just that, regardless of whether it is at home, church, work or following other interests. Small steps, make a mile – be that change!
Mirriam Chiyaba, CEO, Zambia Qualifications Authority