Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
Growing up in the dusty terrains of Mutoko, Lucy Marowa’s childhood was marked by hardships that saw her walking to school barefoot.
But that never diminished her hopes of attaining the best out of her life.
Living off a German benefactor who paid for her fees, after her mother lost her job, only spurred Lucy to work hard and escape the perennial poverty that had haunted the family for years.
Today, she is among young female executives in Zimbabwe, stewarding big corporate organisation, having proved to be hard-working, determined and able.
She is the chief executive officer of the National Blood Services Zimbabwe, a position she has been holding for a few months, taking over from the former chief executive officer, Mr David Mvere.
Lucy might have been holding the fort for a short time, but she has already proved her mettle, having been with the same organisation for more than a decade, before her recent appointment.
Prior to her appointment as the chief executive officer, she served as the safety health environment and quality manager with the organisation, while secretly working on her “succession plan”.
“I long prepared myself to become the chief executive officer of this organisation in 2003, a month after I had joined the organisation.
“I even told the then chief executive officer (Mr Mvere) that one day I would replace him. Of course he might have taken it as a joke, but I was working my way up and I am glad, my dream came to fruition,” she enthused during an interview at her office recently.
And true to her dream, and a decade later, she is now heading the same organisation which actually gave her the wings to fly, when she was a novice in the industry.
But her ambition was not without tact. It was matched with hard work, and determination to wriggle off from her impoverished background that characterised her upbringing.
“I was raised by a single mother who started off her life as a maid to a white couple in Harare, before she trained as a teacher.
“Although life improved after she became a teacher at different schools in Mutoko, it was a constant struggle, where resources had to be shared and were sometimes not enough for the four of us,” she recalled.
Her mother’s career was, however, cut short in the early 1980’s after the Government phased out teachers who had attained teacher’s training with Standard Six qualifications. The family tracked back to the city, to Chitungwiza, where her mother had bought a house.
Her mother’s nurturing role as a provider was heavily diminished, and it became increasingly difficult to raise fees for her children.
“When I was in Form 2 at Monte Cassino Mission School, life became unbearable. A series of misfortunes befell my brother (now late) who had taken over my fees payment. As a result I was constantly in fees arrears,” she recalled.
Because she was extremely intelligent, the school could not expel her even though she owed much more than what she was worth. It was through the intervention of one sister at the school, Sister Sturmia (now late), who managed to get her a German benefactor to assist in her fees payment.
Although someone had taken over the fees burden off the family, the battle was far from over.
It meant that she now had to intermittently exchange her uniform with an apron and work to supplement her upkeep at the school because the benefactor could only pay for her fees.
“But since the benefactor only paid fees, I had to work at the school during the holidays so that I could raise money for other necessities,” Lucy said without a glaring shade of complaint.
Having been giving a lifeline, Lucy did not sink into a comfort zone, but continued to work hard, because she knew that her grades would determine the benefactor’s continued interest in her studies. Unlike her peers, she could not afford other luxuries that came with boarding life such as linen and “takkie”, because that alone, would sky rocket her bill from the meagre earnings she was getting at the school.
“I went for a good six years with one pair of sheets that I had received from my benefactor, and I was very grateful,” she recalls.
Being a science wiz kid, she came out with flying colours for her A-level results and got a job as a temporary teacher before enrolling with the University of Zimbabwe for a degree in Medical Laboratory Sciences.
Her first job was with Chinhoyi Hospital, but she never lasted a mile, after it dawned on her that opportunities to develop were very limited.
“I went back to Harare and joined the National Blood Services Zimbabwe. Although I was fairly new, I realised that I wanted to be more than an employee. I just told myself that one day I would head the organisation,” said Lucy.
Her dream might have taken longer than what she had anticipated, but she is now living her dream.
She however, concedes that it has not been an easy stroll in the park, but it has been a lot of hard work, employing a lot of strategising and ensuring that she is up to date with global trends on medical laboratory.
But probably her biggest strengths lie in her constant upgrading of her professional studies and her ability to communicate well with all stakeholders from the shop floor right up to the chief executive of any organisation.
Research has actually shown that women, who communicate well, embody executive traits and harness their own power, turning impressive careers into great ones, something Lucy has been able to do.
“I interact with everyone across, so I am constantly improving my communication skills so that we can move together for the good of the organisation.”
However, Lucy is taking over the organisation that recently suffered a serious media onslaught after several governance allegations were levelled against the management, threatening to put the company on its knees.
Some of the stories included the extensive publication of an audit report which unearthed a number of administrative and financial irregularities by the organisation’s top management
“That is now water under the bridge, since most of the issues highlighted in the media were dealt with. I will work hard to ensure that our work as the organisation will speak for itself.
“Right now, we have a number of strategies that we have put in place, including re-branding the organisation to improve the operations of National Blood Support Services
Although she might not be like Irene Rosenfeld — the highest paid female chief executive officer in the world, according to Forbes — Lucy says she is content.
Her wish at the moment is to see more women holding similar positions to bring diversity within the ranks.
Lucy says although the debate about the lack of female participation at the upper echelons of business remains high several spaces occupied by men and women, organisations should give more women opportunities to lead, because they are just as good as men.
“Although I have been heading the organisation for a few months, I have since realised that gender is not really an issue, but one needs to be a hard worker, assertive, share the company’s vision and be able to take it to another level.”
“For too long, women’s roles in the home have long been trivialised, but they are fundamental and can still be fine-tuned and form the basis of good management anywhere, be it in a corporate organisation, family unit and even in the community.
“We need to demystify leadership in corporate organisations. Too many young women who are talented are afraid to dream big and aim high. They see decision making roles as the preserve of men who play golf together.
“That is why it is important to focus on creating a pipeline of female talent for senior executive positions,” she said.
She however, urged women to invest in education, which she says gave her a competitive edge to fight her way up, and fish her from poverty.
“I value education so much. I am where I am today because a lot of people invested in my education and for a good reason.
“I do not hesitate to assist extended families in paying for their fees, whenever I can,” she said.
It is for that reason that Lucy takes time from her busy schedule to assist her three children with homework regularly.