Esther Akwaake - Integrating capacity building

FOR 18 years, Esther Akwaake felt she displayed entrepreneurial tendencies but she never got the chance to assess her own aptitude for running her own business. Like many people do, she dreamt about owning her own business and when she did, she excelled to greater and rewarding heights that she was accorded with the 2009 Regent Business School award in South Africa recently.

A member of the National Council of Higher Education and Managing Director of New Vision Namibia (NVN) Consultancy, Akwaake received the recognition for her efforts in “pioneering and tireless efforts in seeking to extend educational services in Africa”.

“I did my Masters with Regent and they have acknowledged my role in mobilizing training and capacity building for Namibians,” says Akwaake.

Consulting can be a lucrative and rewarding career for professionals who are able to offer specific services to clients. Consultants who have strong entrepreneurial drive may prefer to establish their own business rather than work for an existing consulting firm.

Whichever way, whether one is a stay-at-home mom with young children wishing to help out with the family finances; or a mom whose kids are older, possibly in high-school and is preparing for the day they leave the nest; the desires to be their own boss, develop and sell their own services are some of the reasons women are pushed into becoming an entrepren”her”.

These dreams are what places the desire deeply into our inner selves and drives most women to become disciplined to achieve goals of owning and running their own businesses.

New Vision Namibia (NVN) Consultancy is Esther Akwaake’s dream come true. She is the Managing Director of a company that is fully engaged in providing training for capacity building to both government and private sector.

The company was established in 1993 as a proprietary company but went dormant as Akwaake pursued other avenues. It wasn’t until 2006 that NVN was resurrected and to date, the company has offered both tailor-made and open courses to almost every ministry, regional councils and several parastatals in the country.

The courses include Motivation, Attitude and Change Management, Managing HIV/AIDS in the Workplace, Public Sector Accounting, Fleet Management, Stress Management, Strategic Management, Training of Cleaners, Financial Analysis, Corporate Governance and Performance Audit, among others.

To manage this, Akwaake has assembled a team of full-time professional staff recruited on a competitive basis and who have distinguished in the industry, public sector, commerce and academic fields.

The 52 year-old consultant says, “Our facilitators have to be on their toes because people are getting educated in Namibia and we have to be more educated than our clients all the time.”

“Having started New Vision at grassroots level, developing people through tailor-made programs according to the needs of the clients, we became the first company to conduct the State and Diplomatic Protocol Course in Namibia, following demand by councillors who did not know how to handle protocol issues, for instance, if the President was touring their regions.”

Between 1990 and 2005, Akwaake worked as the Regional Coordinator for the Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute (ESAMI), a job she started first by coordinating and facilitating workshops for civil servants in Windhoek and elsewhere.

With ESAMI, she became the intergovernmental agency’s Resident Representative of the MBA program where she facilitated MBA workshops as well as gender sensitization workshops for Members of Parliament. By the time she left ESAMI, she had become the regional coordinator for the organization, which is jointly owned by SADC member states. With full diplomatic powers, she coordinated ESAMI activities in Angola, Botswana, and DRC, among other countries.

“I trained a lot of professionals in Namibia through ESAMI, including those who did not meet the requirements but had the potential. I remember fighting for certain Namibians who had not received better education because of the war. I wanted them to get a chance to be trained,” she says.

Among those who made the cut with ESAMI are Cabinet Secretary Frans Kapofi, Erongo Regional Governor Samuel Nuuyoma, Oshana Regional Governor Clemens Kashuupulwa as well as Ohangwena Chief Regional Officer Daniel Kashikola.

“Most Namibians who were trained through ESAMI did not disappoint me. They all excelled. My only problem was that, despite the fact that I had become the face of ESAMI in Namibia, all the institute’s funds was going out of the country without being taxed even. Having been involved with the liberation struggle of this country, it felt like I was involved in the very looting of my motherland. I wanted to work patriotically, that is why I opted out, but it was not easy. It was tough. It is even tougher now because there is a lot of competition where the competitors do not follow us but are copying our programs,” comments Akwaake.

Among the NVN staff of nine professionals are Senior Consultant, Robert Nasilele BSc (Banking and Finance), BA (Mass Communication), Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, London; and Operations Manager David Kanonuwa Bachelor of Technology in Accounting.

Being in the capacity building business, Akwaake is quick to point out that there is a misconception among Namibians that in a free Namibia, things will come on a silver platter.

“We have started development courses on Fraud, Corporate Governance and the Balance Scorecard and the feedback we are getting from clients gives the impression that Namibia is going somewhere. My only worry is that the private sector is not penetrable in terms of capacity buildings. They are not open to help us build a better Namibia. This is mainly because they are foreign controlled, mostly South African.

Companies in the private sector, including banks, do not want to be trained by locals. They still have a white-black mentality. Some of them, once we have submitted our offers for training; they call us to take back our papers. That shows there is lack of trust in the industry. How do you turn down an organization which offers training to top government agencies and ministries?

We also get resistance from supervisors in Ministries and other agencies who don’t want to attend courses and training. These include CEOs and Permanent Secretaries, the same people who come to the office twice per week only to read the newspaper or do their nails. I keep asking them whether they feel obliged to get that salary.

“We are proposing to government for everyone to get special skills training according to their work. Perhaps this will enhance delivery. We have had seminars where the seniors know nothing as compared to their juniors. Permanent Secretaries, directors, under secretaries and other top executives need attitude, motivation and change-mindset courses. If the juniors who come for training change and their seniors do not come for training and thus remain the same, we are doing nothing.

There is a need for the same programs for everyone rather than wait for courses only in South Africa and Europe. Directors have not changed and most have remained at the same level as in 1990. They do not attend local programs but want to go to Europe which has developed countries. We are a developing nation with a different set-up,” Akwaake sums up.

Married to the late Advocate Akwaake and is mother of two, 22 year –old Kauna who is the NVN Company Secretary, currently finishing her Legal Studies and 20 year old Kapamba.

“By 2030, we want to produce our own graduates at MBA level and have satellite campuses across the country. Already NVN has entered into the Mozambican, Botswana and Zambian markets, soon we should consolidate that base,” says Akwaake with dreams of taking Namibian’s capacity building to greater heights.

The Maputo Municipality (Mozambique) has contracted NVN to help its workforce know more about Strategic Planning, while the Ministry of Trade in Botswana has sent people to Namibia to be trained by NVN on Report Writing.

No sooner had NVN purchased its first offices in Windhoek North than it opened a branch in Helaho Nafidi and Akwaake says all this has not been pure plain sailing.

Born at Engela in the Ohangwena region, she lost both parents before the age of 18, and adds, “On his death-bed, my father asked me to be educated and to get married not to a simple person, but either a pastor or someone equally educated.”

She went into exile in March 1975 in Angola and stayed in Ondjiva under the supervision of David Similo, before moving to Okashapa, a place she terms as a “living hell.” Later, she went to Lubumbashi, Zaire and was moved to Sakanya on the Zaire/Zambia border under the supervision of the late Peter Sheehama.

By the end of 1975, she had become a commander of the Pioneer’s Platoon at Oshatotwa. The Platoon was the Swapo Party’s kindergarten which educated youngsters on the party’s policies.

“I reluctantly moved to the Old Farm in Lusaka where I did not stay long before moving to Onyango to be part of the opening group, the Namibia Education Centre with Nahas Angula as Principal. There were no classrooms; we had to erect it on our own. The environment was not friendly as there was constant rumour of an imminent attack by the South African forces. In 1977, I got three scholarships from Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.”

She then went for her Form 1 to 5 in Ghana at a school just outside Accra. “I started Form 1 at the age of 20, the same age where some would be finishing Form 5. I was the oldest in my class and was passing with high scores each time.”

She even got the West African Examination Council Certificate in 1982 for being exceptional. After her completion of Form 5, all paid for by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), she returned to Angola where she taught at Kwanza Sul.

In 1983, at the insistence of Nahas Angula, Akwaake went to the University in Tanzania to study Cooperatives, shunning an offer to go to France to study Medicine.

“In Tanzania, because of the superiority of Ghanaian education, I became a top student and returned home in 1989 before doing my post-graduate due to the passing of Resolution 435.

At independence, she spurned offers to join the National Planning Commission (NPC), the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Namibia and the Office of the Auditor General, preferring ESAMI.”

She concludes: “My experience in Ghana had taught me that people working for government do not have an interest in exerting maximum effort. UN agencies like the UNDP work with performance targets, and ESAMI had targets. In government, you just work. So I chose ESAMI because I wanted to make a difference that way, but later I realized I could make a bigger a difference by starting my own company to enhance capacity building through training and other consultancy services. I had the idea in 1990 when the company was established but waited this long to get to know the industry.” PF