With a life and career that spans three continents, Alither Rutendo Mutsago-Makanya has a truly global perspective. Having spent her early life in Zimbabwe and later Cape Town, she has since lived and worked in London and is now based in Doha, Qatar. Today, she discusses her passion for learning, her early experiences in development and entrepreneurship, and why she decided to pursue the Executive MBA Dubai (EMBA) programme.
I was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe. I left Zimbabwe straight after high school to join my brother at one of the top ranked universities in Africa, University of Cape Town (UCT). It became my sanctuary for the next five-and a-half years while I was reading undergraduate and master's level economics, specialising in development and health economics.
The UK government economic services recruited me when I was finishing off my masters. I spent the next 12 years of my career working in different departments. I started as a graduate economist at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in London where I worked on UK pensions and international labour markets. Later, I was seconded to the Department for International Development, where I applied my passion for development and economics on various programmes, including Aid for Trade, private sector development, global funds and budget support in Africa. I then moved back to DWP where I worked on the Enabling Retirement Savings programme, Universal Credit welfare reform flagship policy and housing benefits, and later joined the Child Poverty Unit, where I co-authored the UK Child Poverty Strategy in 2014, before moving to Qatar with my husband and family.
When I got to Qatar, I took a brief hiatus from government policy and economic advisory services and joined academia, teaching first and second year economics at Georgetown University. I subsequently took a career break for my maternity leave, but I didn’t stop completely – I co-founded Yibuntu Growers, an agro-based export distribution start-up, with two friends. We imported and exported fruit and vegetables from various parts of Africa into Qatar, linking large and small-scale farmers to global supply chains and markets. It was at this point that I started my EMBA.
I was drawn to London Business School after extensive research of renowned and elite business schools. The depth and balance across areas like finance and strategy as well as entrepreneurship courses aligned with my future career aspirations, so I was sold. At that point in my life I was yearning for a career transition, from specialising in economics to strategy and entrepreneurship. I interacted with students, alumni and professors before making my decision.
Each course on the EMBA pushed me beyond my comfort zone and triggered a mindset shift along the journey. But to pick some in particular – I'd have to say Managerial Economics, which was taught by David Myatt, Professor of Economics. Obviously, I’m biased because of my background as an economist, but the way he taught economics was phenomenal. I've never experienced somebody bringing economics to life the way he did. People think it's about numbers, and that it’s dry, but Professor Myatt was just unparalleled in terms of how he delivered the course. Corporate Finance was a course that really stretched me to my limits. Initially it was like a different language, but I apply what I learned from that course every day in my career and personal life too. Lastly, I would say Strategy taught by Kathleen O'Connor, Clinical Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Decision, and Risk Analysis taught by Professor Nitish Jain, Assistant Professor of Management Science and Operations – their passion for their subject areas was incredibly infectious.
One of the main benefits of doing an EMBA at LBS is the diversity. It offers you the opportunity to get different insights and allows you to make connections across the different subjects and areas. I think that was quite life-changing in terms of my thinking and how I approach any challenges in life. I made the most of that diversity in terms of building my network and developing lifelong friendships – I'm still in touch with my whole class and we visit each other post-EMBA. I also look beyond my immediate cohort’s alumni events here in Doha. I appreciate the power of building a solid, social capital – both in terms of career growth, and also on a very personal level. I learnt a lot from my peers, the wide spectrum of the courses and the varied modes of teaching.
My experience of doing the EMBA also taught me to appreciate the power of a positive growth mindset without conscious intent; I have a ‘can do’ attitude and nothing fazes me. I think it has also had a profound impact on my performance, both socially and at work. In most of my performance reviews it’s been said that I have that sort of infectious and positive thinking that inspires confidence in others. Beyond that, I really value continuous learning. It helped me to reflect on Yibuntu, the import/export business I started before the EMBA.
When we started Yibuntu, I had no background in entrepreneurship. I was able to revisit it and apply some lessons, including how not to run a business – because we were three people, armed with excitement and willpower, passionate about giving back and doing something for Africa. We wanted to make sure that small-scale farmers were connected to the global market, but we had no experience. Having that opportunity to apply frameworks from various courses was phenomenal. Self-reflecting and learning about how not to do certain things has been really beneficial. Soon after I finished the EMBA, Yibuntu ran into some financial challenges, and we had to wind it down, but I don't see it as a failure; I think it was one of my greatest achievements.
The EMBA has impacted my current role at Qatar Development Bank in more ways than I could have imagined. There is never a dull day in my role, but I’ve learned to take a strategic approach to any challenges that I face. The bank is resourceful, with high calibre professionals, so we're all on the same wavelength in terms of respectfully tapping into each other’s knowledge. I also take the opportunity to learn and give back to the bank's community. As an LBS alumni, I have unlimited access to a multitude of resources including career coaches, exclusive conferences and executive education courses that enrich my lifelong learning. The LBS EMBA is a lifetime investment – it continues to give way after the programme has ended.
My EMBA cohort graduated in 2019, six months before the Covid-19 pandemic, so we couldn’t network in person initially. I have really tapped into the EMBA network here in Doha. We meet every month, and I got my first post-graduation job through a referral by someone from the network. I think that shows how rich the EMBA network is – and I would encourage LBS alumni to stay involved with it, because there is value to keeping in touch with fellow classmates.