Her name is Agness Chimbiri and she does not hide the fact that she is proud of her achievements. She has seen her hard work and drive push her to where her parents always wanted their children to be. Assistant Resident Representative Responsible for Growth and MDG Achievement Programmes for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malawi. She had this to narrate to reporter SAM BANDA JR.
Tell me your full names and when were you born?
I am Dr Agness Chimbiri and I was born on July 26, 1960 at Mlale Mission Hospital in Lilongwe.
Which schools did you go to be where you are?
I started with nursery school at Lilongwe Girls Primary which used to be called 'St Maria Goreti Primary School'. Then we moved to Nambuma Girls Primary School where I did all my primary education. Actually I did both my primary and secondary education in Lilongwe before going to University of Malawi - Chancellor College in Zomba. At Chancellor College I was selected to do Education. I graduated in 1984 with Bachelor of Education Humanities. When I graduated, I taught for one year at Lilongwe Girls Secondary School. Since my dream was still to work for the poor people, I felt that teaching kept me away from the poor.
So what changed?
When I was selected to University of Malawi, I was put in Education – which was my second choice. Otherwise my first choice was Bunda College of Agriculture because I was told during 'Career Guidance' meetings that this is where 'rural development' was taught.
After my teaching experience, I started looking for other jobs. In 1985, I applied for a position of Administrative Officer in the Office of the President and Cabinet, which I was offered. I worked there as a Personal Assistant to the Secretary to the President and Cabinet. That is how the career path in development opened up. I applied for a Masters Degree course in International Affairs in the Uinted States of America and was admitted to University of Ohio in Athens. Through government scholarship, I attained my Masters Degree in International Affairs.
I came back home and worked for a year before being transferred to Ministry of Information. This is where I started working on real development work. I was placed in the 'Research and Planning Unit' where I was involved in planning and conducting development communication.
I became involved in the development of the first Population Policy for Malawi and was among the Malawi delegation that went to the International Population Conference in Cairo in 1992 and the Global Women Conference in Beijing in 1994.
And what led to a PhD in the field?
In 1996 I joined the World Bank Malawi office where I worked as the Community/NGO Liaison Officer whose functions involved linking communities to policy-makers.
It was there that I received a scholarship from the New Zealand Overseas Development (NZODA) to do another Masters Degree. But since I wanted to have a gender lens to my second Masters Degree thesis, I started with a Post Graduate Diploma in Gender Studies. With my first Masters Degree, Post Graduate Degree in Gender Studies and work experience in Population and Development, I was able to enroll for a Doctoral Degree in Social Demography. I graduated in Doctor of Philosophy in Demography.
What does your current job entail?
I am the head of the GMDGA Unit that supports Government in broad program areas including private sector development; financial inclusion in Malawi; Gender Mainstreaming and Equality; HIV and AIDS Policy Management; Integrated Rural Development; and MDG-based Planning.
What are the challenges that you face in your current position?
Time management and availability of quality human resource are a bit of a set back. I also find that work-life balance is not as easy as it sounds. Delivering what I am expected to at the end of each year and at the end of the UNDP five-year programme cycle requires that I delegate a lot. They do say that good management goes hand in hand with people skills.
What is your take on key challenges facing Malawian women?
The key challenges facing Malawian Women include: a) access to education especially Secondary Education and beyond; b) access to finances to allow them develop; c) Lack of confidence due to the cultural context that is not conducive to empowered women as tradition expects women to be submissive at all times; d) Early marriage and early childbearing among girls due to high school drop out and unemployment.
What has been the secret to your success?
My secret is influencing things in silence. I believe in 'Silent Power' knowing that women are not traditionally expected to be vocal. So I have learnt all along that women are not easily listened to and therefore I use my 'Work Products' to show who I am.
Which fellow women do you look up to for inspiration?
In addition to Margret Thatcher, other women who inspire me include Mama C. Tamanda Kadzamira, my own Mother, and Condoleeza Rice.
Do you have any regrets?
My regrets are that I should have pursued Economic Development Studies which I really wanted to do for my first Degree.
If you were to be given another chance to choose a job, would you go for the same job?
Yes I would because I value development work. I see myself dying while doing development work either in employment or in self employment.
What is your advice to fellow women and girls out there?
My advice to girls and women is that everything is possible under the sun. Even if the beginning is tough and not rosy, one should always have HOPE. With hope, determination and hard work, one's dreams will always come true. Do not rush to get things in life. Take your time. Do one thing at a time. Make sure that you acquire adequate education. Make sure that you network with people who have succeeded in life – learn from them the strategies for success.