[WARNING – This is an 8 minutes fast read OR a 25 minutes slow read]
My name is Ennie Chipembere Chikwema. I am a Career Coach, a Learning Expert, a holistic Life Wellness Coach and a Global Development Worker. I exist to influence individuals and organisations to utilise a learning approach, for individuals to reach their career potential doing meaningful work and for organisations to achieve their strategic commitments. My personal vision is to have impacted Africa and anyone who encounters me and my work, and for them to value learning, wellness and proactive career management as a means of living meaningfully and achieving their goals. I also want to be remembered as having lived a meaningful, authentic and purpose-driven life, guided by the values of hard work, honesty, a belief in people and lifelong learning. This is my Career Story.
PAST – Where did I come from?
In Zimbabwe if you did a Bachelor of Arts Degree, as I did in 1997-2000 at the University of Zimbabwe, you were destined to be either a Teacher or be on a non-linear career path. The country has very limited professional career development services, so when I graduated in 2000, I had no access to career guidance, so I struggled to find a career home. Being a deeply spiritual person I also grappled with what my life purpose was and what would be meaningful for me to do. These four issues made me land on career development outreach work as an aspiration for the future (vision) so that no one else needed to go through the struggle I had gone through. I saw it as critical work that needed to be done in my country and on the African Continent, and it still is. I had a clear mental picture of what kind of institute and services would have been helpful to me, and this is how the first draft of my personal vision was developed in 2000.
Struggling to have a career identity and options was a career turning point for me as I was just entering the employment market. I therefore found myself gravitating towards work options in the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) sector. This was aligned to my interest in helping and working with people in need, what I was also good at, which is facilitating learning, and what I saw as a valued contribution to society, which someone was willing to pay me for. A combination of these four factors is how the first draft of my life purpose was developed in 2000.
Image – Facilitating group reflection on feminist organising at the annual ActionAid International’s Senior Leaders Learning Conversation, 2019
With a draft vision and purpose in mind, I organized and planned my life around a vision I had back then of setting up a Career Services and Living with Purpose Institute (LWPI) to serve the people of Zimbabwe and the African Continent. For example, my education choices such as going to Canada’s Dalhousie University for a Masters in International Development in 2003-2004 and not anywhere else, was based on the availability of a career development sector that I could learn from. It was a good and strategic decision. In Canada, I invested in my vision despite limited resources and a mother and three siblings who relied on me for food, clothes, medication and school fees. I still have and I am now using strategy documents, career development program tools, templates and books that I bought while in Canada as a contribution to LWPI in 2004. After Canada, life took me on a journey of developing my three other career pathways – learning expert, holistic life wellness coach and global development worker. It therefore took me another 15 years before I returned to the now more refined career development professional focus. My lesson here is – fulfilling your vision and passion may be delayed, but it never dies!
I could have stayed in Canada as Zimbabwe was already going through an economic and political crisis in 2004, but I returned home. I recall telling my mother that “…development work does not happen in Canada, but in the global South. The people I want to serve and the work I want to do is relevant if I’m closer to Zimbabwe and Africa”, so I returned home to my mother’s chagrin. What she did not know, may her soul continue to be proud of me and be at peace, was that I had factored this return when I planned to go and study abroad in 2002.
I had been working for Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Foundation for a year, from 2002, without any Development Sector qualification. I quickly realized that without the proper knowledge and skills for the sector, I would struggle to progress and reach my goal of working globally in development. I looked for scholarship opportunities using my Doctoral student status with the University of Zimbabwe and an almost complete doctoral thesis as leverage. I also negotiated with my employer for a one year unpaid leave of absence with a commitment to return and work for a year so I share the knowledge and skills gained. This was unheard of in the KAS Foundations, but my Resident Representative, Anton Boesl agreed as he saw value in me. After all, he had picked a Bachelor of Arts in Economic History recent graduate based on transferable skills learnt mostly from unpaid voluntary work and soft skills that come with an Arts degree.
The career strategy paid off. I wrote a Masters thesis on women’s rights and integrating a gender lens to an organizational capacity assessment and strategy development framework, and applied this practically to a KAS partner, Self-Help Development Foundation (SHDF). I figured this was a technical skill that I could “use and sell” having reviewed the career pathways in the development sector open to me and what KAS partners also needed, which was leverage. I returned to Zimbabwe in 2004 and had a ready-made ground to apply what I had learnt. As I had committed, I worked for a year and in that period did 5 gendered organisational capacity assessments for KAS’ partners as a new portfolio capacity support offering from the Foundation. I am reliably informed by Wadzanayi Vere, who really helped my young career, that this was one of the processes and my coaching accompaniment that helped her as Executive Director and her organisation SHDF, to transition to explicit women’s rights work.
Image – Exhibiting the wares of the women from Self-Help Development Foundation’s – Training Advisory Services 100,000+ members all over Zimbabwe, at the Bulawayo Trade Fair, 2005
At the end of 2005, due to personal pressures of looking after three siblings after mum passed on and a challenging relationship with the new Resident Representative, I put out an e-mail to all the people in my network that I was ready to move. It paid off. One of my network members alerted me to an opportunity with ActionAid International, connected me to the hiring manager and I was asked to apply. It was such a huge leap from working in a tiny office of 5 people at KAS in Zimbabwe, to a global arena that I had never worked in. My interview strategy therefore focused on packaging my transferable skills through career stories and the STAR Technique to demonstrate via a Career Portfolio, which I submitted to the panel, that I could take on this global role. It worked! By January 2006 I had secured my first role with ActionAid International as their International Women’s Rights Technical Advisor. My role was what my Masters thesis had covered. It was to strengthen the organizational capacity of the 46 countries in the federation to integrate gender analysis capacity and women’s rights in programs, staff capacity and organizational systems and culture. It was a major mandate, but in six years it was done.
Image – ActionAid representative at the African Feminist Forum, Uganda, 2008
Career theories such as Sunny Hanson’s Integrative Life Planning theory’s 6 critical life tasks have been useful in explaining what was going on for me during this whole period in my career. I was looking for a career identity that was tied to my spiritual belief, which is ~ I was created for a particular purpose and given the inert abilities to fulfill it. I really wanted and still want my life to be meaningful and for whatever knowledge and skills that I have to be used to help others locally and, on my continent, to reach their potential, thus integrating my personal values into my work. What I have had to continuously work hard on for the last 20 years has been aligning passion, expertise, what people/organisations need and getting paid for it, and that sweet spot that defines a life purpose is how one lives a meaningful life.
PRESENT – Where am I now?
The past is usually a rosy narrative. I do not want people to think I did not have career disappointments or missteps. This is the reason I am a Career Development Practitioner and Coach, to help you minimize missteps and successfully navigate career transitions.
One major career disappointment I had happened when I was focused on transitioning my career in ActionAid from an individual contributing Technical Advisor role to a Manager and eventually a Senior Leadership level role. I had done deep work in the organisation because by the time I finished six years, I had done 1-2 weeks of field assignments in 35 ActionAid countries on women’s rights capacity development and program design. I felt I had to transition. So from 2008 I was applying internally for anything that was management, senior in title and responsibility. I unfortunately had lost my spiritual and life purpose compass as guides in this period and relied on external motivation and influences.
In 2009, I was asked to apply for the ActionAid Zimbabwe Country Director position. I interviewed well up to the last two candidates, but did not secure the job. I felt dejected, but I had to go back to the drawing board. I asked myself if managing a country, dealing with fundraising and a difficult context was what I really loved to do, saw as aligned to my life purpose and my core skills? The answer was No! Sunny Hanson’s Integrated Life Planning framework provides tips for safely navigating a similarly challenging time in the future. The 4 career transition tips are – ensure the opportunity is aligned to your life purpose; ensure it is meaningful work that needs doing and is valued; ensure it considers your family situation and negotiate work demands and relationship needs in the family space; and focus on holistic wellness, including spirituality.
Image – Self-care through holistic wellness practices such as regular exercise and journal writing are an important part of who I am and my work with others, 2019
My career’s highest achievements were born out of having missed the ActionAid Zimbabwe Country Director opportunity. My then CEO, Joanna Kerr, seeing how dejected I was, sat me down and reassured me that I was a valued leader, but I needed a few more years to grow in other roles. My line manager during this period and today, who is also my mentor and support, Everjoice Win, said something I will never forget – “you are unique my dear, shine where you are”. Three years later this was echoed again by the in-coming, now former Secretary General of ActionAid, Adriano Campolina, who gave me full executive support in my role and encouraged me to – find my niche inside and outside ActionAid, which is what I did. From 2010 to today, I have had 3 different Head of Unit roles whose mandate covered: global development programmes quality support, capacity development, monitoring and evaluation, learning and knowledge management. Globally, I am now a recognized learning expert with Global Awards from the NGO sector [HUMENTUM AWARD – https://vimeo.com/190047798%5D and 3 Board level roles to back this up. For the HUMENTUM profile on me visit ~ https://www.humentum.org/blog/learning-profile-ennie-chipembere-actionaid. My current role as ActionAid’s Head of Program Quality, M&E, Learning and Knowledge, combines all my four technical areas of expertise. These are all aligned to my personal vision, life purpose, values, passion, core skills, personality and what I am paid to do.
Image – Awarded the Global Rising Star Award in Learning and Development in 2016 by Learning in NGOs (LINGOS), which is now part of Humentum
My career journey inside and outside ActionAid has allowed me to live the life purpose alignment that I envisioned 20 years ago as a rose-tinted dreamer doing a then denigrated Bachelor of Arts in Economic History degree at the University of Zimbabwe. The said career alignment and vision is also expressed outside my paid employment space, in my social contribution work as a career and life coach and learning facilitator to 1000s of mainly young people since 2006 when I left Zimbabwe. This was and still is via a lean Ennie’s Gift of Time and Skills model. From 2006 to 2015 (10 years), I annually partnered with 3 youth organisations, gifting time (10 days of my annual leave) and gifting the skills/expertise areas I was using in ActionAid to their set programs on leadership development, learning programs design, organizational capacity strengthening work and life coaching. This was and remains part of my life’s work and contribution to Zimbabwe and Africa.
Image – Young Christian Students of Zimbabwe Strategy Session, 2010 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1690580141154&set=t.588765585&type=3&theater
I did this social contribution work in-person in Zimbabwe and other Southern Africa countries for 10 years before catching up with the digital age in 2016. In January 2016, pushed by young people and my changed family status, I set up an Ennie Career Coach Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/EnnieCareerCoach/ and 5 WhatsApp Groups. These became cost effective, accessible, and work-life harmony conscious strategies vehicles that allowed my work to reach more people. I began to use an e-coaching approach, guided by the learning ecosystem model, which allowed for sustained coaching accompaniment for behaviour change in the flow of life.
From January 2019, I shifted gears and intensely focused on career development marking my 10th anniversary of being a coach and Ennie’s Gift of Time and Skills work. I currently write and share career trends and holistic life wellness self-coaching guides and blogs via www.ennielifecoach.com. I post daily on all my social media platforms motivational quotes and career tips to inspire proactive career management, lifelong learning and holistic life wellness. I also curate and share career information and learning resources, as well as facilitate two weekly webinars. On Thursdays I host a Career Trends and Wellness Webinar, which is more about future proofing yourself, and on Saturday I host via Facebook live and Zoom, a more practical e-coaching Career Advice webinar. I have done 36 of these in 2019 alone, which was a huge learning curve for me, as I prefer smaller group settings behind the scenes.
Image – an affirming tweet from my Team Leader and Mentor, Everjoice Win, on the path I am on and my contribution to the team and her leadership, 2019
FUTURE – Where am I going?
My personal vision, life purpose and values stated in this blog’s opening paragraph are still the life anchors that define my career direction, identity, decisions and actions. For me it remains the convergence of four primary elements: passion (what I love), vocation (what I am good at), mission (what the world or society needs) and profession (what I can get paid for). This work-life purpose alignment is what I have sought and worked to have since 2000. It is my intrinsic motivator and driver in life, the reason I get up in the morning, and do what I do and the compass for making life decisions, which influences my behaviour, resource investments and choices.
I continue to invest in my vision and purpose by building my muscles in learning and coaching expertise annually. For example, I am currently on a Certificate Course with eCornell University on Design Thinking, which is the latest trend in learning or product user experience design. Last month I completed a rigorous 250 hours Certificate Program with Life Strategies Limited, which is affiliated with York University in Canada, to become a certified Career Management Professional. This is a major milestone for my year 2000 vision of setting up career services in Zimbabwe and Africa. Delayed, but not dead.
I already have the sweet spot of living my life purpose ~ so if ActionAid will continue to have me, and I have alignment with them, I remain just as committed as I was when I joined in March 2006. In my personal capacity, I now have a team that supports the ever-expanding work of the 20 year vision of setting up Career Services and helping people live a purpose in Zimbabwe and the Continent. This has crystallised into Ennie Career Coach work. I remain committed to the career development outreach work that I started in 2006 as a way of giving back to my country and the continent when I left for the diaspora. You can access these free resources via my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/EnnieCareerCoach/ and through www.ennielifecoach.com blog space or follow me on Twitter ~ @EnnieChipembere.
In conclusion…5 Key Career and Life Lessons
I hope my Career Story will inspire you to write yours. It is a powerful tool for career planning, one that I tasked my latest cohort of coachees in my WhatsApp groups to do as part of an online #90DaysCareerProgram from October to December 2019. The 5 key career and life lessons for me have been:
- The individual influencers in my personal life or system such as values, vision, purpose, self-concept, personality, gender, age, abilities etc have a huge hold on your career path and success, so shape them to benefit you.
- My social system influenced certain events and opportunities, but I still overcame that by not seeing for example cultural expectations, parental voice, my history/where I grew up in the high density area of Gweru, Mkoba etc as limitations. I reframed them to be positive enablers.
- Your social (family and friends) and professional network, is the backbone of your career. You alone can only take yourself as far as your shadow 😊. You also need a life partner who understands and supports you in fulfilling your vision.
- There are many chance events, encounters or “lucky breaks” in life, but you can successfully make use of them is you are aware of them and prepared to harness them.
- There are big influences in our environmental and societal system, such as politics, digital trends, economy, labour market and location that are beyond our control. However, if you invest in career research and knowing them, you are likely to be better positioned to successfully navigate whatever they throw at you.
If you ever feel moved to work with me or to apply any of the insights from my story, please get in touch with me. Feel free to share this story forward and I would love to hear your Career Story too.
- Sunny Hansen, Integrating Work, Family, and Community Through Holistic Life Planning, https://www.saramwills.ca/uploads/7/5/9/4/75948963/sunny-2001-the_career_development_quarterly.pdf
- Chip Richards, Ikigia: Finding Your Reason for Being (Life Purpose), https://upliftconnect.com/ikigai-finding-your-reason-for-being/
- Ennie Chipembere – Life Lessons To Shape Your Career, https://ennielifecoach.com/2019/03/23/5-life-lessons-that-could-shape-your-career-looking-back-to-move-forward/
- Ennie Chipembere – Career Story: What is it? Why you need it? How to Write it and use it – https://ennielifecoach.com/2019/09/26/career-story-what-is-it-why-you-need-one-and-how-to-write-it-and-use-it/
- Ennie Chipembere – To Tap into the Opportunities Market – Build a Strong Social and Professional Market – https://ennielifecoach.com/2019/09/07/to-tap-into-the-career-opportunities-market-build-a-strong-social-and-professional-network/
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Date published: 01 October 2019