Women's Month 2023: Dr Colleta Gandidzanwa

August is Women's Month in South Africa. This year, we are shining a spotlight on the phenomenal women who are making strides in their areas of expertise for the betterment of humanity. Meet the inspiring Dr Colleta Gandidzanwa, Research and Project Manager for ARUA Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems (ARUA-SFS) hosted at Future Africa.

Can you share your educational and career journey, leading you to your current role?

My journey has been like an exciting adventure. I didn't plan on studying Agricultural Economics; originally, I wanted to study law. But my older brother, who was also studying law at the University of Fort Hare, said we couldn't both be lawyers in the family. I didn't like his decision when I switched from arts to sciences. But I worked hard, caught up, and did really well in my BSc Agriculture degree (Cum Laude), MSc in Agricultural Economics, and finally, I earned a PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Pretoria.

Applying economic principles to agriculture fascinated me - it's so practical! Looking back, I understand my brother's choice – I wouldn't have been a good lawyer. Moving from the University of Fort Hare, a previously disadvantaged university in the rural Eastern Cape, to the University of Pretoria was quite a challenging adjustment. The coursework was tougher, but I didn't give up. It felt like I was starting another MSc with lots of coursework to meet UP's high standards. I've never regretted it, though, because it gave me the right tools for my field.

I also had babies while I was studying, which made things even more complicated. It wasn't easy, but I managed to balance being a student, a wife, a mom, and all the other roles life threw at me. It's been amazing to see how I handled everything. I believe all the tough times and different experiences prepared me well for what I do now – managing projects. I still juggle tasks, handle tough situations, and work with people from different backgrounds. It's a challenge, but it's part of who I am now.

Could you elaborate on your studies and work? What's your research focus or area of expertise? How does your work align with Future Africa?

I'm a Research and Project Manager at ARUA-SFS,hosted at Future Africa, where I handle diverse projects for sustainable food systems. The urgent need to address food insecurity requires efficient execution, which is my strength. While managing multiple projects can be challenging, the learning opportunities are priceless.

My role goes beyond traditional research; I draw from my past experience as an investment analyst in mergers and acquisitions. This background has equipped me with valuable project management skills. While research is a smaller part of my current work, I leverage my network and collaborations to maximize my career.

One of my ongoing research projects evaluates how we measure and monitor resilience, particularly in food systems. This enables me to apply my expertise in Agricultural Economics to enhance our understanding of food systems' strength and functionality.

Why is your work important? What impact do you hope to achieve?

Project managers make things happen. In the food system, having a holistic systems approach to work is important for solving complex challenges. I hope to support scientists and other researchers by channelling my skills and enthusiastic energy into the projects I’m involved in.

I hope to see more women and girls being empowered enough to recognise that there is power in sisterhood.

Dr Colleta Gandidzanwa

Who are your most inspiring women role models, professionally or personally?

My mother is a true symbol of determination who against all odds has achieved so much.

What's your 'Superpower'—that special quality that sets you apart?

My infectious energy when I am in my element.

If you could advise your younger self, what would you say?

Balance your work with lots of wine and fun, you won’t have energy for it later in life.

What are your aspirations for the future?

I hope to see more women and girls being empowered enough to recognise that there is power in sisterhood. I hope for a future that has women working together, not as individuals, to achieve more than what they currently do.