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Alumni Q&A: Mubuso Zamchiya (Zimbabwe & Wadham 1996)
Wednesday 20 October, 2021

Alumni Q&A: Mubuso Zamchiya (Zimbabwe & Wadham 1996)

by Mubuso Zamchiya

Q: Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?

A: "I have the great privilege of serving as the Managing Director of the Age of Learning Foundation. We are working to secure universal access to free digital learning for children in lower and lower-middle-income countries.

There was a learning crisis before the COVID-19 school closures. The pandemic has exacerbated both the learning crisis and the digital divide. We are working to close the gap on both challenges."

Q: What are you passionate about?

A: "I was born in Zambia in the 1970s, to a wonderful mother and father. In their young adulthood, they were part of that formidable generation of Africans who cried freedom and won independence for their nations and people.

Growing up, then, in the shadow of their audacity, my siblings and I were constantly pointed toward the opportunity that lay ahead in the paths of our lives to follow. If the role of our parents’ generation was to pursue the emancipation of nations, then it would surely be the task of our generation to advance the intellectual freedom of individuals. Indeed, as Frederick Douglass noted, “physical freedom without intellectual freedom is no freedom at all.” Aluta continua, vitória a certa, as they say.

My passion was mine before I was born. Thus, my daily battle is a fight for education – one for both children and adults. I live by what my parents taught me through simple words, yet profound in meaning.

“Wisdom learned is freedom earned, and joy lies in the path of the discovery.”

Q: Has your career trajectory panned out as you planned?

A: "I studied law at the University of Bristol because I desired to follow my father’s exact footsteps. Upon completing his LLM, he forwent a scholarship to Oxford to take up, instead, his fight as a legal advocate for Zimbabwe’s independence.

I had no such difficult choice upon completing my own LLM. Exactly a year earlier, and two days after my 21st birthday, Nelson Mandela had been inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa. Except for South Sudan, all African countries, by 1995 were either beginning or continuing their own experiments with self-determination. I therefore went to Oxford on a comparatively more personalized experiment with self-determination.  

What I discovered at Oxford was the complexity of choice. Freedom comes with responsibility, and responsibility requires wise decision making.

It would be a tall tale if I claimed to have a clear plan for my career upon arriving at Oxford. I was quite unlike many of the American Rhodes Scholars I met at Oxford. All women and men with a precise 10-step plan to becoming CEO, Senator, or President. No, mine has been a meandering path of discovery. One with several career experiments – in banking and finance, the power industry, international development, social entrepreneurship, U.S. charter school education, international education, and now, global digital learning.

If you had asked me two days before Madiba became president, I would have told you that my lifelong ambition was to become a lawyer, just like my father. With the benefit of hindsight, though, I can confirm today that it was not the legal aspect of father’s career that held my interest. What sparked the light of my ambition was his profession of character. The fact that he strived to make the world a better place for others.

By that yardstick, I think my career trajectory is panning out as I had planned. I am not a practicing lawyer. But I am in the practice of striving to be just like my dad."

Q: What excites you about the future?

A: "My three delightful sons."

Q: What’s been the best lesson you have ever learned?

A: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Psalm 127:4-5

Q: Who inspires you as a leader and why?

A: "So many leaders. But I like Olaudah Equiano for his persuasive articulation, Booker T. Washington for his hopeful pragmatism, and Wangari Mathai for her understanding of the times."

Q: If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself about applying for the Rhodes Scholarship?

A: "I put off applying for the Rhodes Scholarship for a whole year. Even then, dragged my heals, I only applied at my father’s urgent and admonishing beseeching. I didn’t think I was smart enough. As life would have it, upon hearing the good news regarding my scholarship award, I was also reminded by the awardees that I had been selected, not for my intellectual prowess, but for my potential as a leader.

In every debate I had with him prior to applying for the Rhodes Scholarship, my father would lean not upon his fine-tuned legal argumentation, but upon his wisdom as a philosopher, to dismantle any reservation I tried to proffer as an excuse not to apply. This wisdom would be delivered to me repeatedly in one simple recurring Shona refrain of his.

Usa tyire kure.” Don’t fear from afar.

If I could go back in time, I would share my own recurring simple refrain with my dear younger me.

Teerera baba vako.” Listen to your father."

Mubuso Zamchiya is Managing Director of the Age of Learning Foundation and was previously Managing Director of the Luminos Fund. He was formerly Senior Vice President of Partnerships at Ashoka and was previously CEO and regional director of charter school networks in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

Mubuso has served in strategic roles at the International Finance Corporation, AES Corporation, and Barclays. He is an advisor to Halcyon, the b*free freelance community, and Lead Africa. Mubuso is also a member of the Anacostia River Church.