Meet ISS Changemaker Adraida Banda

The greatest potential lies where you are standing.

Adraida Banda, Zambia


Name: Adraida Banda
From: Zambia
Majored in: Governance and Development Policy (GDP)
Background: Experienced development professional in the public sector

Before studying at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in 2021, Adraida Banda was an experienced district policy officer working in the public sector in Zambia, her home country. From Chililabombwe and Solwezi to Kasempa municipalities, she is devoted to bringing key stakeholders together to serve local communities. After 11 years, she was inspired to make a change. In 2020, she was admitted to the Governance and Development Policy (GDP) major and awarded the coveted Orange Knowledge Programme (OKP) scholarship. We sat down with the latest ISS Changemaker to hear more about how she credits her MA in fusing her experience with critical knowledge to take her career to the next level.

In 2009, Banda began her path as a District Planning Officer in in the Solwezi and Kasempa Town Council in Zambia. Her role was primarily focused on bringing public institutions and civil society organizations together to implement the expansion of urban planning. Zambia is unique in its abundance of copper. The country's northern and southern regions are coined the 'Copperbelt' of Central Africa, with the resource reaching far into the Democratic Republic of Congo. The municipal council of Solwezi implemented a strategy to pave the way for mining investments in this resource, a plan that meant resettling communities elsewhere.

Banda spearheaded a programme to help relocate communities. She worked with key stakeholders to carry out needs assessments for programmes and benefits tailored to needs in the region. 'My role [as District Planning Officer] was to document and invite the municipality and civil society organizations to review challenges and best practices on a quarterly basis. Together, we hoped to learn lessons from this to see how best we could serve the communities.' Another aspect of her role was to do outreach. She spread the word about existing regional organizations, informing community members about how they could take advantage of services and subsidies.

Governance is the issue

However, as Banda later found out, the expansion meant things changed rapidly in Solwezi. Despite their best intentions, public institutions and civil society organizations sometimes failed to engage with communities. As a result, crucial information was simply getting lost. Banda couldn't help but notice a massive disconnect between key stakeholders. 'I discovered that people had no documents to protect their parcels of land, despite the municipality being there. I learned that people didn't even know that they could secure their pieces of land so that, in the event of anything happening, they would have a better negotiating position.'

Time and time again she witnessed this cruel cycle in her work. 'Many public institutions and civil society organizations in my region had initial visions on how best to serve the local communities, but there was a gap in terms of what people understand they could benefit from.' And then suddenly everything clicked into place for her. She laughs, 'I began to think…we have a governance problem here! I thought, how can we best organize ourselves and try to improve people’s livelihoods? Everything we do should be for the greater good. Development still comes at the expense of safety and people. We should try as much as possible to minimize these effects so that we end up with a win-win situation for everybody.' It's this cycle that stimulated her to further her studies.

On the ISS experience

Banda spoke to a colleague about her dream of pursuing a Master's. They recommended the Master of Arts in Development Studies programme at ISS. She applied and was admitted to the Governance and Development Policy (GDP) major — an ideal combination given her experience — for the 2020-2021 academic year. In addition, she was awarded the Orange Knowledge Programme scholarship, a grant for mid-career professionals.

Once at ISS she specialized in local economic development with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. For her master’s thesis she spoke with 21 agro-dealers to assess whether the implementation of an electronic voucher, the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), influenced their participation in the supply chain and whether the programme ultimately sparked job creation in Zambia's Katete district. Her work experience tangibly helped to inform her topic. 'Where I come from, people tend to think that improving their livelihood should come from somewhere else instead of looking within themselves. What matters is where you are standing and what you can do. It's necessary to network, but the greatest potential lies where you are standing.'

Aside from her studies, she found a real community at ISS. She shares that within her batch a few African students formed a support group to stay on top of their studies during the lockdown. If a fellow student fell behind, the group was there to pick them up: 'We came at a time when we had so many challenges. It was difficult for certain people to attend online classes. I have this strength of bringing people together because I could see who was ahead and who was behind. We were able to overcome the challenges because we started this academic journey at a very difficult time.'

Where I am coming from, people have this notion to think that improving their livelihood should come from somewhere else instead of looking within themselves. What matters is where you are standing and what you can do.

Continuing what she started

Banda is infectious in her positivity. When speaking with her, you can't help but feel motivated. She is now happily back in Zambia, working in the public sector as a Chief Settlement Officer for Chililabombwe Municipal Council, this time with a Master’s degree in her pocket and seasoned expertise in governance and development policy. But, despite calls from loved ones to climb the career ladder into upper management, she doesn't want to miss out on working with communities. 'I'm still determined to go and sit with the same communities and organizations and see how we can do things differently at a local level.'

Are you interested in ISS after reading Adraida's story? Learn more about our MA in Development Studies programme.

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