The Power of Social Media

Web & IT | By Rutendo Mutsamwira, Artist | 01 November 2014
PHOTO: © Tinashe Njagu

Once upon a time, I was in my final year of an undergraduate degree at Monash University in South Africa. I was broke, broken and with no guarantee of graduation in sight. During that time, our family, like many others, was going through a very rough financial patch. We owed the university thousands and thousands of rands and as a result I was encumbered.  My diet drastically changed, my concentration levels plummeted and isolation gradually became more and more appealing to me. Despite all my temporary transgressions, I learnt invaluable lessons in budgeting, endurance and reaching out. These are lessons that have played a colossal role in my personal and career development. I have always believed I was born to serve a purpose. What that purpose is, I cannot define, but all I know is that it is bigger than anything I have ever been through. It is bigger than my triumphs, my fears and insecurities. It is this overwhelming sense of purpose that has kept me sane when I have been on the brink of insanity, depression, suicide and self-doubt. It is also the reason why I am where I am, and who I am today.

I was recently selected to be part of the first group of interns part of the Microsoft 4 Afrika initiative. Out of thousands of applicants all over the continent, only 70 were selected. I was one of them. The only one from Zimbabwe. My mind still can’t fully wrap itself around that.

The Microsoft 4 Afrika Initiative was launched in February 2013 to help accelerate Africa’s economic development and to improve its global competitiveness. It is a long term commitment to help empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent and the world. Microsoft would like to enable Africa become a net producer of technology, rather than a net consumer. This is premised on the belief that African innovation can and should shape Africa’s future.

Up until I went for on-boarding at Microsoft South Africa, I did not own my own laptop. While I was in university, my family could not afford to buy me my own device. I did, however, use my brothers’ old laptop, but it had gone through a lot in its time and so, it gave up on itself, and it gave up on me! As a result, I became the Queen of the Media Labs on campus. I literally resided in those rooms 80% of my university career. While everyone else who had the luxury of owning their own laptops or PC’s was downloading series and movies on DC++, I was online enlarging my sphere of influence virtually. I have always been cognisant of the impact and influence I have on people, especially my peers. Don’t get me wrong, I also wished I could snuggle up in residence watching Sex & the City, NCIS, Modern Family etc. However, it is only now that I realise those years spent in the media labs engaging and collaborating virtually, were my biggest investment in myself to date.

I realise that I have been very privileged to be where I am today. To have access to a plethora of resources and people that are enabling me to realise and maximise my potential. However, with privilege comes responsibility. To be a young Zimbabwean woman learning from and being mentored through the Microsoft 4 Afrika initiative means I have an enormous responsibility. Firstly, that is to impart the knowledge and skills I have and shall continue to acquire from the programme to my peers and fellow youth. Secondly, to advocate the importance of skills development from an individual, organisational and national perspective.  As Zimbabweans we boast about having the highest literacy rate in the continent. However, I firmly believe that as a country, if we invest meaningfully in skills development we will be well on our way of reaching economic stability, and eventually global competitiveness. I also believe that there is a colossal need to revise the current curriculum to ensure that our students learn and are equipped with relevant subjects that enable them to realise their fullest potential. Organisations need to invest in developing the skill sets of their employees to not only increase morale and productivity, but to enable their staff to reach self-actualisation. Skills development from an organisational frame work encourages and motivates staff through empowering them with the tools to be more productive and efficient. This is also great for business. 

In Shona, there is a saying which goes: Kudzidza hakuperi, which means one never stops learning. Through sharing my story I hope and believe that it will be a call to action for the wealth of talent and potential that is the youth of Zimbabwe and Africa to invest in themselves. Investing in yourself means you realise that in order for either an investor or organisation to invest in you or your idea, there has to be tangible value you can add for them to realise a return on investment should they invest in you.  Below are some rules I follow religiously that might guide and inspire you.

The more you read. The better you write and speak. Invest in yourself by enriching and expanding your mind. Reading widely and critically is very important. It not only enables you to develop informed opinions, it is a great starting point for conversations. Conversations are great ways to start networking, so READ more broadly!

Invest in your relationships. You cannot achieve much through isolation. Collaboration is the key to success. Be sure to surround yourself with people that appreciate you, those that are hungry for growth, and those who strive for personal excellence. You are the company you keep so be mindful of that and invest in maintaining and starting relationships that serve a positive outcome and purpose.

Volunteer when you can. Apart from the social responsibility that is attached to volunteering, it enables you to learn more about yourself through doing good for others. Set aside a date and time to volunteer, whether in your community or neighbourhood. Do what works for you. If you feel you are not ready to volunteer at a community organisation, then start where you are. If you have a family friend, relative, or one of your workers who needs help or assistance, invest in them. This can be by either teaching them how to read or write. Just be consistent in what you choose to volunteer in.
 Exercise! A healthy mind = A positive, go getter attitude. With life’s challenges swinging at you with menacing blows, exercise keeps you going. There’s no substitute to exercise. Invest in your health because nobody else can do that for you but yourself.

Where do I see myself in the next five years? To be honest, I don’t have a clear answer to that. My goals keep on changing, and God keeps on revealing different plans than I ever had so we’ll see how it goes. I have strong interests in women, skills development and how technology can be an economic change agent. I am looking to invest my time and resources into all three in the near future. With regards to my music, that has taken a back seat for now. However, don’t be surprised when you hear that RuTendo DeNise went to the moon to shoot a music video! That’s just how crazy and big my dreams are!