By Charndré Emma Kippie
Kudzai Mqingwana has been passionate about the development field for well over 12 years now. She completed her studies at Rhodes University and obtained a Bachelor of Commerce. As of her early schooling years, Kudzai has been actively involved in projects geared towards connecting people to better opportunities and giving people solutions to the struggles that they face. Today, she is a core asset to the African Habitat Conservancy Foundation (AHCF).
African Habitat Conservancy (AHC) is the environmental management company for the newly established Babanango Game Reserve situated in northern Zululand, a rural under-resourced area of KwaZulu Natal. Here, Kudzai has been working hard with her team to form the African Habitat Conservancy Foundation (AHCF) – which acts as a catalyst for Community and Conservation, with the communities living on the periphery of its boundaries. The Foundation is also fundraising and partnering with NGOs and government agencies for sustainability and scale.
How did your journey with African Habitat Conservancy Foundation (AHCF) begin?
I became aware of a team of people doing incredible work in Zululand through a friend. The team at African Habitat Conservancy were part of a pioneering project committed to Community, Conservation and Capital Development on 22 000 Ha of beautiful grasslands. We established the African Habitat Conservancy Foundation in 2020 through the largesse of our Investor, who invested up-front in the work of the Foundation.
Please could you tell us a bit about your background – what led you down this career path?
I love KZN, having lived here for almost 20 years. I was a member of Interact in High School and continued into Rotary as a young adult. I have always been passionate about developing others and have watched my parents commit their lives to developing others. I have had the privilege of growing up in different countries and I value culture and community building which is key when you move around a lot.
After I graduated from Rhodes University, I worked in Brand Marketing for Unilever, then joined a Africa!Ignite, a rural development agency for 3 years and for another 9 years managed the Sibaya Community Trust Fund disbursing over R150 million in grant aid.
All my experiences with Business systems, business leaders and the people we were working to serve have made me a better development practitioner. The skill of insight development and connection is key whether you are developing beauty products or traditional craft. A practitioner must implement and manage the project effectively or the intentions remain theory. I love being in the Foundation working directly in the community.
In partnership with Babanango Game Reserve, the AHCF has been assisting local communities with Covid-19 Vaccines. Please could you briefly tell us about this initiative.
AHCF was invited to a forum of the Department of Health Leadership and other businesses in the region. In the meeting the Department noted the difficulty rural community members were facing accessing EVDS. Even with the opportunity to ‘walk-in’ to a vaccination site, the Department needed mobile devices to assist the community to register at the site.
AHCF and Mondi Group SA responded to support four Department of Health Districts in KZN with 10 Samsung tablets and Data for a year so the elderly could be registered on site as they came to receive vaccines. Health care workers will assist the elderly at Vaccine sites and in some mobile centres to register and capture patients. The importance of vaccination is a global priority, and we want to be part of accelerating that in our region. A greater impact can only be made with partners in the field.
How do you hope to have an impact on society through the work that you do?
The partnership of the land-owning community Trusts, the Conservation of threatened species and mist-belt grasslands and the creation of income is a journey to creating shared value. We are working to impact society in the surroundings of the Reserve with projects, funding and partnerships that bring positive change.
Conservation is led by people, when we expect communities with limited access, knowledge and partnership to celebrate conservation, often misunderstanding results. We are educating young people about Conservation through sponsored camps exposing them to careers, animals and the environment. With exposure young people learn the value of conservation and it opens the window to greater careers they can choose in the sector.
The communities we are interacting with are looking for improved livelihoods and are working with them to realise their aspirations. Small Businesses are being coached, Cattle farmers small and large are improving herd health which increases their market price.
Along with economic livelihoods we are also working to provide Sports & Recreation to the youth. Rural living means limited access to resources and entertainment, we are proud sponsors of Babanango’s Local Soccer and Netball teams. We look forward to seeing local talent rise from the region.
What is your ‘why?’ (Why are you passionate about the work you do?)
I find a deep sense of worth in assisting others to discover their own worth. Being part of an organisation that is working to catalyse these processes for people and place is a joy! We see lives changed in the moment and for the long term. I experienced the power of a developmental community and I believe we can apply the same principals in development. I was invited to participate from a young age, I was trusted to interact widely, and I was equipped to serve others. I am always learning and believe it’s a key principle.
Have you read any books or listened to any podcasts that have inspired you and your career thus far?
I am an avid bookworm, I feel books are a gateway to the world. I have read so many titles – recently I read Their eyes were watching God and Zora Neale Thurston’s lyricism inspires me. When I need motivation, I turn to Brene Brown’s The gifts of imperfection, and Liberating Jonah: Forming an Ethics of Reconciliation by Miguel de la Torre reminds me I belong to a faith with a long history of social justice. Locally, I have been reading Adv. Thembeka Ngcukaitobi’s book Land Matters. Finally, I include reminders to balance my insights to action. I refer back to Getting Things Done by David Allen which I re-read often.
Are there any career highlights you’re proud of thus far?
I have been part of may amazing projects and I will never forget the launch of my first brand variant, or the launch of Wow!Zulu to profile craft from the region through Africa!Ignite. I am so proud of the work AHCF has undertaken to improve access to water for our communities. We have built 3 new boreholes for communities lacking access as well as adding 5 solar pumps replacing older infrastructure of hand managed pumps making access for women and children easier and separating drinking areas for livestock and people. Currently we are pioneering a massive Rangeland Restoration Project with over a dozen partners, in over 3 Provinces. I believe its work and outcomes will be a model for community development in the years to come.
There are so many small ways the team at the Foundation makes a difference and we have worked to bring immediate relief to homesteads because of hardships caused by the Pandemic, bringing relief to vulnerable households.
Outside of work, are you involved in any extracurricular activities and/or community outreach projects?
This is totally my space in my own life and work, I have the privilege of serving on the Beast Foundation Board supporting the strategy and leadership of the Foundation. I serve on the Board of Africa!Ignite and I am also a Board Member of the South African Council of Churches Leadership Initiative SACLI leading the journey from Racism to Reconciliation.
What advice do you have for young women in South Africa who aspire to work in your industry? How can they differentiate themselves?
I think those wanting to work in the space will best serve by bringing innovation, hard work and compassion into the arena. Compassion with insight will mean for meaningful project design and if we can work the solutions with the community then we can have sustainable change. They also need to believe in themselves and the change they are working for. Women in leadership have led incredibly in this space – I recommend learning and walking with others who have been in the space for some time. My mentors are a lifeline to me.
*Interested in discovering more inspiring stores about Top Women? Check out the 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.