To many viewers across the continent Nozipho Mbanjwa is recognizable as the award-winning business journalist on one of Africa’s leading news channels, CNBC Africa, however Mbanjwa simply describes herself as a communicator and connector.
This ability to build connections and talk a good game is what she believes has helped to drive her success, first in the government, then the corporate world, and now as a business journalist and entrepreneur.
Mbanjwa joined CNBC Africa in 2013 where she reports on politics, business and youth and gender issues. She is also a well-known face in the conferencing and speaking circuit and has moderated various high profile events globally including the World Economic Forum (WEF). She typically travels to three or four different countries in a month.
Mbanjwa (33) who originally hails from Pietermaritzburg, says she has always been able to engage with a wide array of people and articulate seemingly complex ideas in simple ways; this gave her the advantage when completing her studies at the University of Pretoria and later in her work in The Presidency, and the Mayor’s Office in Washington DC, US, and now as a broadcaster.
“I’m so happy as a broadcaster because everyday I’m using my talent to articulate very strong and powerful ideas in the interviews and the stories I tell and the stories I write,” says Mbanjwa.
Mbanjwa has also been able to build a business out of her love for facilitating connections. In 2013 she launched her own talent management firm, Akwande Communications, which advises corporates on millennial talent in Africa.
Mbanjwa talks to SME South Africa about the power of being able to connect with people, and why she has always been able to close the deal.
I Have Been Able To Make A Living Being A Storyteller – I really like talking about passion because I always tell people that I have multiple degrees and I’ve done quite a number of things, but if you were to strip me of all of the degrees, the titles and all of the things I succeed in, the one God-given talent that is innate and can never be taken away from me, is the fact that I have an insane ability to tell stories.
I’m a great storyteller, I know how to move people with my ideas and engineer belief in people. I know that sounds ‘up in the air’, but my passion really lies in the ability to use dialogue to bring about change, so I think that has been a really clear constant throughout my career.
My Style of Leadership is Engaging Others – I came back to South Africa and worked as an executive director for the Umlambo Foundation, and there I was responsible for leading a team that worked on a number of projects, and one thing that I learned about leading a team is that you have to be able to have conversations that bring the best out of the people you’re leading and the people that you work with, and it was very clear at that stage that storytelling was a key skill that I was bringing to those conversations.
I’ve Also Learnt To Be Comfortable Not Knowing Everything – I think that you actually need to allow yourself to be okay with the fact that you don’t know everything, because that opens you up to learning and to learning quickly, and that is what has differentiated me from others. I’m willing to learn. I’m not a master and I don’t fully understand the depth of particular functions, but I allow myself the permission to say “I don’t know, but I will learn” – that’s very important.
I think just tenacity and committing to putting your head down and committing yourself to working hard is very important. You can’t get into anything without really opening yourself up to the idea that it’s going to be long and hard, and that you need to push to get through to the end.
I’ve Used My Storytelling Ability To Close Deals – This is where storytelling becomes important, because we’re articulating a business idea that not everyone thinks is a problem worth solving. We [Akwande Communications] have to not only convince corporates that they need to invest in strategy sessions for talent, but you need to convince the delegates who attend the workshops that there is another place where the potential [for success] is completely unlimited, and you can’t do that unless you’re selling a really good story to both your clients and others who are part of the programme.
I’ve Made Sure To Grab Every Opportunity That’s Come My Way – The openness to learn is very important. I think oftentimes, especially women in corporate, when we are faced with a new challenge or a new opportunity and we’re not masters of that space, we’re very quick to shy away from that opportunity because we don’t think we know enough.
Being An Entrepreneur Has Been My Hardest Role Yet – I certainly think as an entrepreneur you work harder. That was my experience. It’s not this mythical thing which all of a sudden gives you all of this control over your time and what to do. I find that as an entrepreneur you’re working much harder and you’re also taking on multiple roles.
There was a point in my business where I was the tea lady, I was the marketing manager, I was everything in one, but the difference with [being an] entrepreneur is that you also get to a point where you can take all the responsibility for the decisions made.
Remember To Be Kind To Yourself – I also learned to be kind to myself and to do the best I can do and not take on extra things that I can’t handle.
I balance between my work as a lecturer, broadcaster, global moderator, as well as leading the team [at the talent firm].
It’s taken a lot for me to delegate and let other people do bits of the work, which is a challenge for me because I’m a control freak and I pay an insane amount of attention to detail. But truthfully you realize, in fact, that what you need to do is surround yourself with the ‘A-team’ and to not always be the top player yourself.