Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Dr. Alfred Chidembo?
My day starts with me preparing for work and dropping the kids off at school. I get into the office around 9am and knock off at 5pm. If there is no swimming practice for the kids, after dinner I play soccer and come back home around 8.30 pm. After the kids have gone off to bed, I relax with my wife for an hour or two before I start working on Aussie Books for Zim till 1 am or 2am.
How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?
It is an integral part of my day job where I work with several people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Because I work in an environment that encourages teamwork, it is crucial to ensure that everyone feels valued and equally supported as part of the team. The same applies in the charity space. For example, in setting up our board, we have had to create a board matrix that ensures we have a diverse group of board members enabling us to tap into their different skills and experience.
Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?
I have experienced challenges in almost every role I have undertaken and that has caused a lot of angst over the years. For example, I would contribute to a discussion in a meeting and everyone would brush off my ideas as if I hadn’t spoken. A few minutes later, someone else would simply reword the idea and get credit for it. I strongly believe that this is linked to my identity.
Most times I would talk to my African friends and family about it because they can relate. In most cases, almost all of them would have had a similar experience, so sometimes we end laughing about such things. Other times, I dig deep for strength by simply looking back at my journey, reminding myself of all the obstacles I have managed to overcome for me to be here.
ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH
Remember that you being here is not by accident. You are here because you chose to leave home, family and friends behind. That alone shows that you have a certain level of resilience within you that most people do not possess. The challenges you face can only strengthen you, so embrace them and use them as stepping stones to reach your goals. As you work towards your goals, give your all, immerse yourself in the journey and give it a good go and have fun.
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About the diversity champion:
The youngest of seven children, Alfred was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and grew up in the remote rural village of Mudzi. At the age of six he started school, happily walking the 5 km barefoot with his brothers. Alfred was desperate to learn about the world, but his school had no books to read or write in, so Alfred learnt to write in the sand. When Alfred finally achieved his dream of obtaining a PhD (he is a sought-after specialist in electrochemistry and energy storage), he paused to contemplate on his journey from his village in Zimbabwe to the beautiful coastal city of Wollongong, and asked himself, “How can I give back to my community?” Within a few months, Alfred had set up Aussie Books for Zim, a charity on a mission to improve the education and prospects of children in Zimbabwe by raising literacy rates. Alfred and his team have now sent more than 100,000 books to Zimbabwe, set up nine libraries, and have plans to expand their program across Africa to reach many more children.
Image description: Alfred is wearing a dark navy suit and looking at the camera with a white shirt underneath