Interview with Samantha Thomas Chuula: Country Director, Room to Read, Zambia

“If we only view leadership as a high salary, the captain of the ship with the position on the door – then we are limiting what it is.”

Samantha Thomas Chuula is Country Director of Room to Read Zambia, an international Not for Profit organization that focuses on literacy and gender equality in education.  Samantha is an experienced programme manager with a career of working in the area of the Arts, Governance, and Transformational Leadership in sub-Sahara Africa.  Samantha has also led HOPE Worldwide Zambia, a community faith based NGO building capacity amongst the poor for sustainable livelihoods.  Samantha is a mother of an eight year old, Lukomano.

Vera: What inspires you and what qualities have earned you the success you enjoy now?

I am a creative person, fascinated by the human spirit and what is possible.  I am wired to connect with people and ‘build’ – for a collective and shared good.  The qualities that God has granted me include concern for justice, communication skills, perseverance, some patience, capacity to work hard and a desire and ability to be open and honest.

Sam: How have you identified opportunities to advance your career? 

I have a deep desire to be led by God. Doing something that deeply satisfied my soul, following my interests and gifts and building on that, not worrying about other people’s gifts, not comparing myself with others or focusing on my weaknesses…just keeping my gifts and talents in view and looking for opportunities to share these and strengthen them.

Vera: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and what would be your top tip to women trying to move their career forward. 

Sam: My grandma once wrote to me ‘’do your best and God will do the rest’’.  This was the best advice. My best advice for women and men is to find God and stick with Him; not just go to church. Through all my personal and professional challenges – He and His Word have provided me with comfort and wisdom like no self help book can.

Vera: Why in your view are so few women still making into leadership and what do you see as the most significant barrier to women getting into leadership?

Sam: I see women in leadership all the time.  Mothers lead children and families all the time.  Go to a market of women – spend a few moments looking at the ways things are done and see if you don’t identify the leader. Not recognizing them as leaders is not understanding the breadth leadership.  If our definition of leadership is always through an organization or if we only view it as a high salary, the captain of the ship with the position on the door – then we are limiting what it is.

Women are making it into many areas of leadership and where they are held back, they are held back by those with negative ideas of women’s capacities or women themselves decide that they want to go so far and are satisfied to stop or stay at a level that isn’t the top position.  They are still leaders. Sideways moves or finding the spot in the organization where your leadership talents are used, appreciated and acknowledged can be just as rewarding if there are other areas of your life that you want to grow.

Vera: You are currently leading an organization that promotes literacy, what are you seeing as the critical difference literacy makes for women and girls? 

Sam: Without the capacity to read, understand and write, women and men are destined to a life where their full potential will be evermore illusive.  For the leader – reading keeps us abreast of what is going on so that we don’t get lost or left behind!  Literacy is the key to shining! It helps us make that valuable contribution that our followers are looking for, to become more engaged with people or a subject – it gives a wonderful injection of confidence and people do actually have more confidence in you because you know what you are talking about.

Vera: What critical things must young women be aware of as they start their career?

Sam: Several things! There will be crying days.  It’s ok.  Pick yourself up and carry on with head up!  Not everyone will like you. It’s ok. Your priority is to be effective, objective and be fair all the time – not to be liked. Be conscious of your values and stick with them. Not everyone is to be trusted.  Trust has to be earned. Watch out for yourself first and others next.  Find one or two trusted friends and mentors; people who love you or people who want to see you do well.  You will make mistakes- admit them with humility and strength, make good if you can and continue.

Vera: What are you doing to continue to grow and enjoy continued success in your career?  

Sam: I keep following my heart and what gives me energy.  I keep connecting with others who are action oriented – who look for solutions and who don’t mind making the odd mistake and sharing it – for progress. I keep reflecting…”What next Lord, what next – show me who, what where and how?” Then listen and watch.

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here

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