Nothing works without research!

Hers is a key and a strategic position in driving developmental initiatives, not only within the confines of the University of Namibia but nationally. She stands out as a model of leadership, being the director of Multi-disciplinary Research Centre at Unam; meet Dr Irja Nelago Indongo.

Dr Indongo’s career path began in 1997 upon completion of her studies as a developmental planner in the Ministry of Education. In 1998, she joined Unam as a staff development employee in the department of Statistics. In 2001, she was promoted to being a lecturer in the same department where she ended up being the head of department (HoD) and last year, she was posted to her current position.

She regards her elevations to this very important position as an important learning curve, “The promotion has helped my leadership skills to develop and grow while teaching me how to handle people of different characters.”

This position, however, did not come on a silver platter as she believes she has proven beyond any speck of doubt what she is capable of and history has proven just that.

“I have worked very hard and smart throughout my professional life; it’s been not by chance,” she says.

Her academic profile is proof of her raw academic prowess; a rarity among most Namibian females. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Statistics from Unam; a post certificate in Statistics (Honours) as well as a Master of Science degree in Social Statistics from the University of Southampton, UK.

She further creamed all this with a PhD in Social Statistics (population and demography) from the University of Pretoria.
In addition, she is an active member of five professional bodies and associations related to statistics and demography.

Somehow, being a first born to former teachers has had an influence in pursuance for excellence in her life.

Her love for mathematics, which has led her to the road less travelled, began while she was at primary and high schools.

“I liked mathematics from the start and I became one of the best students,” she beams.

At MRC, her role is to ensure promotion, co-ordination, conduct and collaboration of applied researches among Unam researchers, “Without research, there is no development.”

However, MRC’s mandate is also to strengthen collaborative researcher abilities with other institutions of higher learning locally, regionally and internationally, “We contribute to the vision and mission of the University of Namibia by ensuring that researches conducted are relevant, of priority and benefit the nation at large.”

Researches are two-pronged - one part is inclined towards addressing social issues while the other is based on science and technology, which she prompts that Unam is conducting a research on the use of indigenous plants and how useful they are in the treatment of diseases such as malaria. This research takes lessons from the past on how our village elders used to treat various ailments.

MRC is in strong collaboration with universities and research institutions across the region and internationally on research aspects relating to health, climate change, pharmaceuticals, socio-ecological systems and community-based natural resources.

On whether policy-makers and decision-makers make use of the findings, she explains that research has two outputs: The first part is called the ‘discussion report’ with a given ministry.

The report is kept comprehensive to capture the interests of the ministry based on the findings and recommendations, which are consequently taken up for further developments.

The second output is a scientific report, which is availed internationally for peer review by other institutions worldwide.

To be successful in research, it takes the value of team work, it involves sharing ideas with others and commitment, Indongo alludes. “Team work is my motto to do what I do to the best of my ability. I don’t believe in failure and I believe in postive thinking and this helps in achieving my goals,” she says.

She has been taking up opportunities as they come in the academic environment as well as by attending international conferences, thus enabling her to keep growing and enriching her career.

By sharing her findings and presenting research papers, she has enjoyed the full benefits of being a researcher. To date, she has presented eight research papers and made four publications in the peer referred journals. Besides all this, she has conducted trainings, done several research collaborations, conducted consultancies and has facilitated workshops and meetings.

She is currently working on a book entitled The Demography of Namibia, which will be on the shelves soon. She is also working on two other projects: Determinants and Consequences of Urbanisation in Namibia as well as Understanding the lifestyle of people living with non-communicable diseases.

As part of giving back, she does a lot of collaborative work and serves on a number of boards, the recent Census undertaking being one of the many.

Despite being a wife and a mother to her four children, Dr Indongo has managed to balance her life pretty well, “I don’t compare the two. I try to do my duties and still have quality time with them and they do understand. I am fortunate to have an understanding husband.”

She is proud of her father who she wholly holds in high esteem as her hero, “My father is my hero, I am grateful for what he did for a family of eight and even up to now, he’s still actively involved in our lives and checks up on us from time to time.”

In order for Namibia to achieve the goals of Vision 2030, she advices the youth to remain focused and learn to be creative and innovative in order for us to reach the visions and goals of Vision 2030 as a nation, “They are in charge of our future.”

Her success motto includes Prof. Kissinger’s famous words: “The task of being a leader is to get people from where they are to where they have never been in terms of success”.

Currently, she is reading a self-help book by Robert Kyosaki to help her gain more perspective about life. PF