Sha'ista Goga Profile
Sha’ista Goga (South Africa-at-Large & St. Antony’s 2004) is an economist at Acacia Economics with a focus on competition, economic regulation and healthcare. She is also an associate at the Centre for Competition Economics at the University of Johannesburg. Sha’ista holds a MPhil in Economics from the University of Oxford, and a B.EconSc(Hons) in Economics from the University of Witwatersrand.
Rhodes Project: How would you describe your time at Oxford? Are there particular moments or experiences that stand out for you?
Sha’ista Goga: I think my time at Oxford was really, really wonderful but it wasn’t necessarily easy. In the beginning I really struggled—I struggled to adjust to the weather, to the intense academic work and also to my own feelings of inadequacy. Overall, however, the stimulating environment, the people I met and the exposure I had definitely made up for those initial issues. The memories that stand out most are snapshots of the beauty and timelessness of the city. I remember the snow covering the allotment outside my window, the Radcliffe Camera at sunset. Most of all, however, I remember the many times sitting on a bench in the summer, eating food from a kebab van with friends and chatting for hours.
Rhodes Project: What inspired your interest in economics, and later your specialization in healthcare issues?
Sha’ista Goga: I came of age in South Africa in the 1990s when we had undergone a political transition, but the economic inequalities and social disparities were still significant. At the same time, many structural adjustment programs were being implemented and I was interested in understanding how economics could be used to reduce inequality and improve poverty levels. I joined an economic consultancy with a strong developmental and African focus, and fell into competition and regulatory economics by chance.. Health care issues had always been of interest for both personal and social reasons—my dad had opened a hospital and my husband was a doctor so we often had discussions about the healthcare system and ways in which it could be improved. When I started out working in competition and regulatory economics, I realized that there were lots of issues in the regulatory framework that affected healthcare provision and this increasingly became my focus.
Rhodes Project: What are some significant challenges in the healthcare system in South Africa that interest you? What do you think the priorities should be going forward?
Sha’ista Goga: South Africa is an interesting country because it has a two-tier health system. For the wealthy, there is the seemingly efficient, high quality private sector and then for the bulk of the population, there is the public sector, which is tax funded but faces serious challenges in terms of service delivery. The problems in the private sector, relate to a lack of effective regulation. How do you regulate the private sector to prevent the exploitation of people, while enhancing quality and efficiency? On the public sector side, there are many challenges and I think they are partly connected to political economy questions—how decisions are made, how processes are run, and who is behind them. Going forward, I think the main priority should be strengthening the public sector by strengthening the systems such as supply chain management and human resource management, improving communications across the different levels, and ensuring thatresources are used in the most effective way.
Rhodes Project: About ten years into your working life, what have been important learning experiences or opportunities for growth?
Sha’ista Goga: Ten years in, I think some of the most important growth has come from stepping off the ladder at different points to re-orientate myself. Mid-career, I took three months off and went to volunteer in Palestine for a while and that just gave me time to think about what I was doing and what I wanted to do, and I had time and space away from the corporate world. That laid the foundation for changing a lot of the balance in my life and my priorities. Working in Palestine gave me the inspiration to move back into working with things that were for the good of people in a more direct way, which is why I moved to Section27, a healthcare non-profit, when I returned.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about your current work at Acacia Economics?
Sha’ista Goga: Acacia Economics is a boutique consultancy that my partners and I set up two years ago. We consult on competition regulation and policy issues, and there is a strong focus on providing advice to regulators in Africa. I enjoy working with people who are bright and interested, and also enjoy having the choice to do work that we’re passionate about and that aligns to our moral compass. We focus on those types of projects—the ones that excite us, not the ones that pay the bills. We focus primarily on projects in regulated industries such as telecoms, banking and healthcare. The work is about understanding the market and understanding what improvements could be made in it, so it involves research and interaction with people in the market, and then trying to come up with reasonable solutions to problems. It has been very stimulating. The startup entrepreneurship experience also has provided me with the flexibility to also balance some of the demands of motherhood while being able to do the work that I really want to do.
Rhodes Project: What books have been most transformative for you?
Sha’ista Goga: On a personal level, there is a group of books related to feminist interpretations of Islam, which have been quite transformative in my way of looking at religion and faith. An example would be Qur’an and Woman by Amina Wadud. Another book that I found transformative is actually by Susan Cain, called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It gave me so much insight into myself because she picked up a lot of personality traits that I had not actually attributed to introversion.
Rhodes Project: What role has mentorship played in your life personally and professionally?
Sha’ista Goga: On a professional level, I’ve been blessed to have a range of mentors to draw on. There were two men in particular that I worked with, who spent a lot of time teaching me and really mentoring me in all aspects of career development in the early years. Now years down the line, I still call them up and use them as sounding boards. I have a range of people that I turn to for advice—their mentorship has been immensely valuable in guiding my decisions. I think one of the tragedies, though, is that my mentors all tend to be men. So although I have a great support system I haven’t managed to find a mentor to assist me with certain questions that relate to women in the workplace.
Rhodes Project: What do you imagine the next ten years of your life will look like?
Sha’ista Goga: That’s a really tough one because things change so much. I think I want to grow my business but at the same time there is a big part of me that actually is yearning to go back to studying. So, at some point, I might take a break and do a PhD with a focus on healthcare innovation or healthcare regulation.
Rhodes Project: Beyond your work, what are you passionate about? What brings you joy?
Sha’ista Goga: I’ve got many interests and passions, from politics to cake decorating. I think my true joy though stems from my marriage and my children. My husband Ismail, who was my high school sweetheart still manages to surprise, amaze and interest me. And then my little boys, they’ve really forced me to slow down and take the time to notice the worm lying on the floor, or the pattern of the leaves, and that has been really, really special.
Back to Scholar Profiles F-J