Meet the Leaders: In Conversation with Amanda Mukwashi

Amanda Khozi Mukwashi has worked at the forefront of the charity and development sector for more than 25 years. After a recruitment process led by Perrett Laver, she was appointed as CEO of Christian Aid in 2018.

In her current role, Ms. Mukwashi heads development and humanitarian interventions across Africa, Asia & the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean. She brings vast experience in alleviating poverty and tackling injustices around the world. Prior to this, Ms. Mukwashi served as Chief, Volunteer Knowledge and Innovation and Chief of Advisory Services at the United Nations Volunteer programme. More recently, she published her first book “But Where Are You Really From?” addressing issues of race and discrimination.

We sat down with her to discuss her work with Christian Aid, challenges posed by the pandemic, actions to fight injustice, and hope for the future.

Could you please tell me about Christian Aid’s mission?

Christian Aid was set up 75 years ago by British and Irish churches to respond to humanitarian disasters. Over time, it evolved into a development and humanitarian organisation with a mission to reach those most in need.

Our essential purpose is to expose the scandal of poverty, We seek to eradicate extreme poverty by tackling its root causes. Together with people living in poverty, we amplify our voices to speak truth to power and create lasting change. We are part of a network of churches, individuals and organisations whose vision is to bring about the transformational change we seek.

How did the organisation tackle issues posed by COVID19?

The COVID-19 pandemic came as a surprise to us, as it did the rest of the world. Like many organisations, we weren’t ready for it. Limitations on mobility meant we couldn’t carry on business as usual. We had to figure out how to travel to places requiring humanitarian assistance, as well as guaranteeing the wellbeing of our staff. Getting out to deliver essentials like water, soap hand sanitisers during the crisis became an even bigger priority for us.

In terms of our overall response, it was important to understand that each context was different around the world. The effects of COVID-19 in South Sudan were very different to in Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, or Myanmar. In many countries where Christian Aid works, the pandemic exacerbated existing issues. We saw poverty widening and deepening. Even in the UK, for example, it exposed situations such as Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people being more at risk of catching the virus. The pandemic pushed these inequalities to the fore.

The initial lockdowns during COVID-19 also transformed how we meet up. Christian Aid is a faith-based organisation connected to congregations through events like fundraising, campaigning and public witness for example Christian Aid week brings all these things together. But despite the inability to go out, we noticed an increase in people praying together. I was pleasantly surprised by how the elderly took to technology to speak to their families and with us. It made me realise the work we do is not transactional. Our greatest achievements are building strong relationships in every part of the world.

What more must be done to help end injustice and suffering?

Christian Aid’s approach is centred around three pillars – poverty, power and prophetic voice. In terms of poverty, we try to reach those in extreme situations. How we see and ultimately eradicate poverty comes through power. Power is an acknowledgement that poverty is not an accident but comes from a system of control hardwired to keep people in vulnerable situations. As a faith-based organisation, prophetic voice guides our actions to end poverty and empower people.

Christian Aid encourages people to speak out against systems which perpetuate inequalities. The three p’s is not just a mantra but an analytical framework which guides our approach. It zeroes in on justice, equality and dignity for all humans. And right at the centre of that we unashamedly talk about love in a way that shapes our identity and imagination to tackle the big issues in the world.

Are you hopeful that we will achieve the progress needed?

To achieve progress, it requires all of us to speak out. At Christian Aid, we introduced a concept called localisation. At the heart of everything we do, we ensure local actors are the ones who hold the power. They are the ones who come up with the ideas and solutions to reclaim power in their own community.

We know there is a mountain to climb. But I see examples of our organisation’s impact. Take Malawi for example. Christian Aid had developed a presence in the country, and so when Cyclone Idai hit, the community was able to recover perhaps more quickly than they could have done previously.

People are resilient. They try their best to overcome. That makes me hopeful we can turn it around.

As a successful black woman, why is it so important that we have diverse stories and leadership?

Racism is rooted in power hierarchies that often do not operate alone but intersect with gender, religion, socio-economic status, geography and numerous other social markers, creating layers of oppression that are inextricably intertwined yet In many parts of the world, being a black or brown person is not being in the minority, but in fact the majority. So often we see a small minority holding all the power. Women make up a bigger percent of the global population, but men take up the most powerful positions in the world.

We see the same with diversity. I hope that one day black women will not have to justify our presence in leadership, but of course, diverse leadership is crucial because different identities bring different things to the table.

The best advice I can give is don’t wish for the system to do you a favour. Take the room, take the space. Don’t be afraid of difference. It is a self-inflicted fear of the other. When you cast that fear aside, you realise difference is what makes the most beautiful gardens for us all.