A Moment With… Dalumuzi Mhlanga (Social Innovator Award Winner)

Dalumuzi Mhlanga is the Founder of Lead Us Today (www.leadustoday.org), a Zimbabwean non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire, mobilise and empower Zimbabwean young people to work together beyond socio-economic barriers and lead community development efforts.

He is a third year student at Harvard University and is currently studying Politics, Psychology and Sociology on an exchange program at the University of Cambridge, UK. Dalumuzi was born and bred in Bulawayo and attended high school at Mzingwane. He is passionate about youth development and is insanely patriotic!

He recently was a recipient of the College Social Innovator award hosted by Havard in conjunction with Forbes.

Dalumuzi Mhlanga

We had a chat with him and these are his words.

What is your government name?

Dalumuzi Happy Mhlanga

What do you like to call yourself?

Dee, Dal-Dal, Mhladlum

What is the most ridiculous nickname you have ever had?

Paraffin! Yes, from the legendary Zim drama. That’s how funny I try to be 🙂

Which side of the bed do you sleep on?

Right, if I’m in a big enough bed. Otherwise, right in the middle.

Are you left-handed or right-handed?

Right

What is your favourite instrument?

Drum. Percussion music is just EPIC!

What is the first song you fell in love with?

“We are soldiers”. It’s a song I used to sing in church and school when I was a little boy.

Best concert you have ever been to?

I haven’t been to too many. And the one that I remember most wasn’t quite a concert. I attended a show in which John Pfumojena, an up and coming artist from Harare, performed at the Book Cafe some time in 2009. I think I liked it a lot because I knew him personally and it was in an intimate environment.

Of the experiences which you have had in humanitarian work, which one is your most lasting?

I have loved each of them. There are two that stand out. Lead Us Today will always be dear to my heart. One moment that I cherish was at an event when the students in our program presented the work that they had been doing in their communities. They were all wonderful and thoroughly impressed their parents with the impact they had made. At the end of the event, my dad gave me the tightest hug ever. And my mum keeps sharing ideas at every opportunity. There are actually so many wonderful moments from my work with LUT! The second experience is when I travelled to the Kingdom of Bhutan (I’m sure tonnes of people will have to look that up! I did when I heard about it for the first time!) to deliver a leadership training program to young people there. I can never forget my experience there, learning about the Buddhist religion and the Bhutanese culture. The young people there were amazing and it’s been great maintaining contact with them.

How do you deal with groupies?

LOL! I don’t think I have groupies. Although there are people who believe in our mission and are not ashamed to say so at every opportunity; I’m always deeply grateful for their support because it keeps us going. And whenever people need help with whatever, I’m always happy to assist. I mean, I have only achieved what I have (whatever its “significance”) because of the countless people who have helped me along — even when I may have been considered their “groupie” at times.

How excited were you when the first time someone thanked you for helping them?

I actually can’t remember that moment. But I remember the first time I was overwhelmed with fulfilment because of my work with others. Over 2,000 students had shown up for the first ever national careers’ fair in Swaziland, which I had organized with a dedicated team of high school peers. I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t. Because 500 of those students were in clear view.

Where is Zimbabwe’s volunteer culture going?

I really can’t say for sure. What I can say, though, from my experiences is that many young people are volunteering especially in non-profit organizations that are providing those opportunities. I must say though that I think Zimbabwe needs more than a volunteer culture. We need more of a “social enterprise” culture in which young people take the initiative to come up with innovative solutions to the challenges that they face. Unlike voluntarism where young people give of their time contributing to projects that usually provide momentary relief to “beneficiaries”, I think young people need to be thinking more long-term in terms of how they can grow from experiences that add real, sustained value to stakeholders — not beneficiaries — whom they mobilize to build capacity for everyone involved. And I think a “social enterprise” culture feeds that sense of “progress” better than a volunteer culture.

Where is your own work going? Lead Us Today is built firmly on the belief that continual, active learning within an organization is key to its growth and the impact it makes. As such, we are learning everyday how we can be an organization that is more efficient and effective in building the capacity of young people and their communities. Based on this learning, our work is going mainly in two directions: we are broadening and deepening the scope of our work. First, we recently made a move to deepen the scope of our work by revamping our leadership curriculum so that it incorporates cutting edge leadership concepts from world-renowned leadership experts. More important, our work is grounded on an understanding of our specific experience as Zimbabweans. Even more specifically, when we deliver our program, we tailor it to the community’s needs. Second, we are increasing the breadth of our work locally and nationally. Locally, we are not only engaging high school students; we are also mobilizing whole communities to take part in developing themselves through our programs. Nationally, we are certainly expanding from Bulawayo to other areas. We are only testing and refining our model in Bulawayo and it’s only a matter of months before we make inroads into other communities all over the country.

What do you want to be remembered for?

That’s a tough question. I wish I could predict what I will do in the next years. Ultimately, I want to be remembered for contributing to Zimbabwe and Africa the best that I could. And equally important, I want to be remembered for being an incredibly loving and caring husband and father.