Mapule Mzimba, the Chairperson of the Advisory Board of the Unisa School of Business Leadership, sat down with Leadership in Education Editor-in-Chief Prof Onkgopotse JJ Tabane to share her vision about all matters education and leadership
Mapule Mzimba exudes energy, passion, and confidence. Her extensive experience in the private sector has prepared her for both her current day job as COO at Discovery Bank and her non-executive role at the helm of the Advisory Board at Unisa SBL. The school is privileged to have someone of her calibre to help them navigate the challenges but also extensive opportunities confronted by the school. Having been appointed to be part of the pioneering team of the first behavioural bank in the world back in 2017, Mzimba was able to ply her skills and experience in strategy, innovation, and leadership—trades sorely needed across all sectors in South Africa.
Mzimba has strong views on leadership and believes that “there has seldom been a more exacting yet exhilarating era than now, the 2020s, to be a leader in business, government or civil society”. She avers that the COVID-19 pandemic has offered a leadership learning experience that is both brutal and illuminating: “Brutal in exposing the deficiencies of leadership styles built on flimsy, ethically questionable and self-serving foundations; and illuminating in shining a light on the leadership attributes that have enabled some organisations to thrive, even when others count themselves lucky just to survive.”
Mzimba argues that the leadership construct that has been emerging in recent years—and which gained momentum during the current global health crisis, is conscious leadership. She believes that “conscious leadership is an evolved form of leadership in that it is built on a sense of higher purpose rather than on the pursuit of mundane goals such as profitability or constant improvement. Yes, those things are important because organisations cannot sustain themselves without them, but they cannot be ends in themselves. Conscious leaders know that”.
Mzimba believes that conscious leaders have a sense of purpose entrenched in changing the world for the better, and that “they serve rather than expect to be served. They respond rather than react”. She underlines the issue of integrity as key in building conscious leadership. She believes that such leaders speak and act with integrity and honour, and hold themselves accountable, first and foremost, instead of demanding that others display accountability.
Mzimba also embraces in her leadership style the importance of collaboration. “For me, connection is one of the main reasons we are here. Be it to connect with our teams, stakeholders, and customers wherever they are planted. I believe that our ability to be successful in these challenging times, pivot on our ability to harness the power of connectedness, and collaboration to bring about not only exponential but inspirational impact in the communities we serve.”
Listening to her, it is clear that the issue of leadership is fully internalised and is not dealt with superficially. Her being at the helm of a business school that specialises in leadership is clearly an appropriate and welcome fit.
She believes that as the world navigates through the socio-economic and moral challenges of humanity today, “the SBL is poised to take on the task of building conscious leaders who go above and beyond”.
Asked what makes UNISA SBL stand out and why a post-graduate student should choose SBL, Mzimba was quick to remind me that Unisa SBL, as the oldest business school in Africa, has a long heritage of building leaders ready for the challenges of the time. She believes that this is a unique proposition because our challenges need leadership and not just skills in business administration. We need conscious and inspiring leaders in all critical sectors of the economy that can take us to the next level of development.
She shares the elements of the vision of the board in taking the institution to a higher level. It is clear from that vision that Unisa SBL is in good hands and there is much more to come.
Mapule Mzimba in her own words
On the vision of the board…
The Advisory Board brings its collective experiences to guide the executives on strategy, governance, market context, and relevance. It also serves as a reflection point and to inspire innovation: reflection on the past intents, successes, and challenges; and to inspire innovation for the school’s future and sustained relevance. I believe that the discussions, debates, and synergies are a powerful alchemist in helping the school, through the executive team, to achieve its purpose and build on its longstanding success. My vision, as an Advisory Board Chairperson, is to see the school remain an integral part of the response to the challenges that South Africa, Africa, and the world are facing, by building inspired conscious leaders who go beyond. Much work awaits, however, I am encouraged and inspired by the SBL executives and the incredible work that they do. I’m equally inspired by my fellow colleagues on the board. I’m inspired by their stories, the honour they feel for serving on this Advisory Board, and their commitment to make a difference.
On what the SBL can build upon to sustain its flagship position in the market…
The UNISA SBL must resonate with the ambition of this nation and the continent. Today we find ourselves in an economic discontent where people feel anger towards what they perceive to be a lack of a moral compass, short-sightedness, and self-serving decisions that governments, big business, credit-rating agencies, central banks, and the like make, which have resulted in the financial crisis endemic globally today. SBL has a unique opportunity in its offering of the Masters in Leadership, among other propositions, to instill these skills, and thus build conscious leaders whose sights are set on a much higher purpose.
On what worries her about the state of education in the country…
With over 60% of our youth unemployed, this ranks South Africa worst on the scale of youth joblessness in the world. The key question on my mind is how do we transform our education system to produce more entrepreneurs, creators, and innovators, rather than job seekers? We have a youthful population, resilient nation, a sophisticated business sector, and a growing number of activists who want to build and see this nation thrive. We need to build on the strengths of our collective institutions, businesses, and legacy, to disrupt our current trajectory of hopelessness, unemployment, and a decaying education system plagued with mediocrity. With over R300 billion allocated to education annually, we can produce better results than what we currently do—a 30% pass mark is a shameful indictment. My frustration is our contentment or fixation with the percentage of matriculants who pass more than the quality of the students we produce. This will haunt us as a nation for a long time—an opportunity squandered and life sentence we impose on our children.
On what worries her about the state of the nation…
Much has been said that leaves many with a narrative that is much worse than reality. Yes, our democratic dividend has been squandered by lack of leadership. Things aren’t how we’d imagined for our 28-year-old democracy. I believe we can re-imagine a country and a future we’d be proud to raise our children in and see ourselves, communities, and businesses thrive. I work for an organisation that is the epitome of optimism, that is purpose-driven and that is fuelled to make this country a better place for all. We are not the only ones. The point is our country has shown over and over that it is capable of unison when inspired by a goal. The recent crisis of floods in KwaZulu-Natal, the COVID-19 pandemic, and so on, when we focus on shining the light on the human spirit, we are never found short. The courage and selflessness was nothing short of heroism. This is South Africa, not the prevalent narrative. What South Africa needs is inspirational leaders who ignite in us all a can-do attitude, an enabling environment that will allow people to be the creators they are, for ideas to flow, and for collaboration to enable thriving start-ups and big business. People are capable, some with extraordinary skills willing to multiply them. There is immense creativity and determination. Now those are ingredients for a nation with the energy and will to fix its challenges and harness the opportunities they present.
On what her biggest passion project is when it comes to paving the way for the next generation of leaders…
I read many books by women in varied walks of life, including trailblazing former CEOs, executives, movie stars, sportswomen, etc. What is common in them is what we all know. How so many women in today’s workplaces/businesses have extraordinary skill, intelligence, ambition, creativity, and enviable determination. Many have sacrificed immeasurably, worked very hard, and are hungry to be financially self-sufficient and contribute to society. There is no single reason why more women don’t lead big companies. Despite all the progress we often speak of, modern workplaces/businesses are still replete, with damaging customs and behaviours that hold women back. Gender bias affects every woman’s success and, in many cases, the bias grinds away at our confidence… and eventually performance. It’s a painful loop. For me, the privilege to mentor other women lights me up. It is such a fulfilling act when I can create a shift to prevent another woman from experiencing the same pitfalls I have experienced. It’s an opportunity to make someone else’s journey a little easier, for their energy is required to concur different battles than mine. Battles that will hopefully multiply the successes of our generation and create a more empowering reality than today. A world where more women continue to dream and reach their goals. This energizes me to keep paying it forward. Everywhere I have been, this has been my treasured legacy. Re-imagining and creating a reality I seek every day. Women working together, I believe we can awaken in each other what we need to do to break free from our own fears and other barriers to create shifts that can serve us to become the best we can be and create spaces where our talents flow naturally to serve the world. σ
Prof JJ Tabane is Editor-in-Chief of Leadership in Education and Professor of Communication at the Unisa SBL.
Who is Mapule Mzimba?
Mapule Mzimba is a scientist, management consultant, and now a banking executive and Chairperson of the Advisory Board of the UNISA School of Business Leadership. She was appointed Chief Operations Officer of Discovery Bank, one of the first digital banks in Africa and the first behavioural bank in the world, in 2017. In this role, she is bringing to bear all she has learnt about authentic servant leadership and the power of building teams whose potential can be unleashed to create a multiplier effect on business outcomes.
Prior to joining Discovery, Mapule held various strategic roles at Absa/Barclays Bank, including Director in Corporate & Investment Banking for Transactional Products, a business serving corporate and business banking clients. She was a COO of Transactional Banking prior to running the business. She joined Absa in 2010 as the General Manager: Services Cluster Integration Programme and led the implementation of “Simple, Streamlined Group Processes” to sustainably take costs out of the business and improve customer experience. In less than a year, she was promoted to lead a business unit of about 120 professionals that drove the “change the Bank” agenda (Group Projects).
Prior to joining Absa, Mapule was a Senior Manager at Accenture, a global Professional Services and Technology Consulting company, responsible for business development and account management, as well as delivery of large scale complex programmes. While at Accenture, Mapule conceptualised and implemented a Future Leaders Programme which today is a flagship programme at the heart of their attraction and retention strategy. She was also selected from 48 countries to serve on the Accenture Global Executive Development of Women Leaders Faculty.
Prior to joining Accenture, Mapule was a researcher and Project Manager at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). She completed her Masters (cum laude) while at CSIR and became part of a water resources management team that worked all over the world, developing water resources management plans with countries that shared water resources.
Mapule has a Masters and Honours degree in Science and a Post-Graduate qualification in Business Management, all attained in Cum Laude. In 2009, Mapule was a recipient of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu African Leadership Award and underwent leadership training at the Saïd Business School of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. In 2016, the Payments Association of South Africa (PASA) awarded her the top student of the year across Africa for a Foundational Payments qualification.