Profile with Muloongo Muchelemba

Muloongo Muchelemba (Zambia & Harris Manchester 2002) is an Associate Director at Standard Chartered Bank in Zambia. She returned to Zambia in September 2012 after spending eight years working in Commercial Finance at Royal Dutch Shell in London and as a Management Consultant at KPMG UK. Muloongo is a Chartered Management Accountant and holds a BA/MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford as well as a BA in Economics from the University of Zambia.

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite thing to do in Lusaka?

Muloongo Muchelemba: Spending quality time with family and friends. Lusaka is not like London where you have museums, theatres, concerts, exhibitions and lots to do. Life revolves around social circles. I see a lot of my family and a few old friends I've kept in touch with over the years. But funnily enough, most of my new friends are expats from the US, Canada, the UK and Asia. There’s a really fun, young vibrant expat community in Zambia. We get together almost every weekend and have barbeques, go camping in the bush and do other fun things. There’s a group of Americans that play Frisbee on Sundays but it clashes with my church schedule so I still haven’t been. I also spend a lot of time on my hammock reading my large collection of books which is something that I never found the time to do before. Life is very laid back which is a welcome change from the hectic pace of London.

Rhodes Project: Can you recall a favorite childhood memory from Zambia?

Muloongo Muchelemba: My favorite memory of my childhood is that I actually had a childhood. I spent it playing games outside and climbing trees - I have the scars to prove it! My brother, cousins and I would also play with our toys and use our imagination to create adventures much like the babies in one of my favorite cartoon series, the Rugrats. Today, I look at my nephews and nieces who have grown up in Europe and the U.S. and their idea of fun is sitting in front of the computer chatting online, watching movies and playing games. I really feel sorry for kids today because technology has taken away the innocence of the childhood that I look back on so fondly.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become passionate about working with businesses?

Muloongo Muchelemba: Both my parents are economists so I was raised in a house where we always talked about the economy. My father served as a diplomat in Europe, Africa and Japan which exposed me to the positive effects of capitalism and had me dreaming about the world of business from a young age. Western economies are driven by big businesses whilst Zambia doesn’t have many big companies (other than the mines) to help power the economy so we rely heavily on an inefficient State. Now that I’m back in Zambia and working in Banking, I'm increasingly seeing pan-African companies emerge. Hopefully some of them will become global Zambian players that are listed on stock exchanges in London, New York and Hong Kong.

Rhodes Project: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Muloongo Muchelemba: The most rewarding part of my job is using my international work experience to demonstrate to clients (mostly multinationals) that they can get the same level of service in Zambia as they would in Johannesburg or London. It's not easy as the Zambian work ethic lacks that sense of urgency and people are unwilling to challenge the status quo even when things are not working.  Since I joined, I've re-engineered how certain processes and tasks are performed and I'm constantly challenging people to improve and raise the bar. Many people are reluctant to change but I've touched a few people across the bank who often seek my advice on work and career matters - that's what keeps me going when I feel as though my efforts are in vain. I received an award for excellence five months after I joined SCB whilst still on probation!

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part?

Muloongo Muchelemba: Customer service is non-existent in Zambia so I spend more time addressing customer complaints than working on deals, which can be very frustrating. I've struggled with the corporate culture and the level of inefficiency and nearly packed my bags to return to London within the first three months of moving back. At times like that, I always remember the words of my old boss who when I told him I was moving back to Zambia said: “I’m expecting lots out of you. Zambia will need your energy, experience and wisdom. You have a big responsibility!” I figured that I owed it to the people who believed in me and most importantly to myself, to try to make Zambia work for two years.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favourite project?

Muloongo Muchelemba: I'm currently working on my first business venture - a media, marketing and PR firm named Pembrokoso, which I hope in years to come will revolutionise how Marketing is done in Zambia. Wish me luck!

Rhodes Project: What advice would you offer a young woman considering a career in commercial finance?

Muloongo Muchelemba: I wanted to go into investment banking after I graduated from Oxford. What put me off is that when I went to J.P. Morgan for my final round interview and walking to the interview room, observed people sitting at their desks, not talking to anybody and eating their lunch next to stacks of paper. When I went to Shell, I found the environment was much more fun and people were very friendly. I think if you are trying to get into finance in general, the first piece of advice I would give would be to reach out to people and find out exactly what they do and what their job is really like day-to-day. Reach out not only through your network, but also through LinkedIn. I find LinkedIn to be fantastic. Sometimes I contact random people who went to either my university in Zambia or Oxford or who know someone that I know.

I chose to work for Shell because I was interested in learning how businesses made money and what drove the decision-making in oil and gas. I like having a variety of work, travelling and being able to talk to various stake-holders from the CEO or CFO to the cashier. It’s important to decide what it is about finance that you want to get involved in and which sort of industries you are interested in. So I would advise you to understand yourself and what motivates you and to figure out what you want from your day job. You also need to have a feel of the working environment, have a walk around and observe how people work.

Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to address one issue – global or local – what would it be and why?

Muloongo Muchelemba: It would be investing in schools and ensuring that more people have access to education. I would start with Zambia because we have a population of about 13 million people and probably around half of them are less than 18 years old. The number of schools is not sufficient for the population. We have a pyramid shaped system of education where there are a lot of primary schools, not many good secondary schools and just a handful of universities. At every stage, so many people get left behind.  

I find that secondary school is a defining time in one's life. I did well at secondary school and went on to major in Economics at University of Zambia. I kept that mentality of doing well at university and graduated at the top of my class and was a Bank of Zambia scholar. When I graduated, I options of jobs and scholarships, and I got the Rhodes scholarship. I was one of two out of 10,000 applicants from Zambia who got it that year. Education provides a solid foundation for one to become whoever or do whatever they want to do in life.

Rhodes Project: Is there any particular aspect of mentoring that has made an impression on you?

Muloongo Muchelemba: I used to mentor a student at South Bank University and supported her during her final year when she was applying for graduate roles. Her high school grades weren't good so even though she went on to graduate with a First, none of the big Four professional service firms would consider her application. She eventually managed to get a job at a small firm and is doing really well. I've told her that everyone has a different path in life so it may take her longer to get to where she wants to but she just has to stay focused. Her story is the reason I have a keen interest in secondary school students. 

Rhodes Project: What inspires you?

Muloongo Muchelemba: Resilience and people who’ve managed to overcome setbacks. The story J.K. Rowling tells in the commencement speech she delivered at Harvard in June 2003 is still one of my favorites. She talked to the students at Harvard about the importance of failure. When she was in her twenties, despite having a degree in classics, she was divorced, a single mother and poor “just short of being homeless” is the way she put it. She wrote Harry Potter when she was struggling to make ends meet and yet when you see her now, she’s completely turned her life around. I think stories like that, of people who had everything going against them but stayed focused and had a dream that they went after, are what really inspire me. I've learnt that if you fall, you need to pick yourself up quickly and continue, or find a new path if things are not going the way you wanted. 

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