EIT Spotlight: Heather “Tino” Mavunga

Abu Okari | Thursday, October 26th, 2017

This week, we had a chat with Tinotenda Heather Mavunga, a member of the 2018 class and our very first Zimbabwean EIT! Her friends call her Tina Turner, Tender or Hithi (her closest friends). Tino has a beautiful story on how she joined MEST. She hails from Marondera in the province of Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe, but joined MEST via Johannesburg, South Africa.

What motivated you to join MEST?

This year in January, I gave myself  a personal target that by September 2017 I should either be undertaking an MBA programme abroad, or I should be working in a different industry or working in a different country. When I came across MEST’s advert calling for applications, I got curious. I spent the next two days reading everything I could find on MEST.

I also  checked out MEST alumni on LinkedIn, where I discovered people such such as Eyram Tawia of LetiArts, Nana, Savior and Patrick at Asoriba, the team from KudoBuzz, and Priscilla Anowa-Hazel of Tress App. After reading Tress App’s journey to Y Combinator, I went and downloaded their App.

Going through the LinkedIn profiles of past EITs motivated me. These were people like me who had a dream, they went for it and now they were defining tech in their communities, getting featured in BBC Tech, TechCrunch. I thought of all the times I had had a business idea and all this felt serendipitous. From that moment on I made getting into MEST my top priority. I started imagining a new reality. I had to consider the value trade-off pretty carefully. I could go for this MBA that was going to cripple me with loans for the next 7 years, or I could aim for MEST, give it my best shot and work like hell to make traction during that year of learning so that when I left, I would have crystallised into a competent tech professional. In the end I knew that I would go for the latter.

Going through the LinkedIn profiles of past EITs motivated me. These were people like me who had a dream, they went for it and now they were defining tech in their communities, getting featured in BBC Tech, TechCrunch.

What were you doing before joining MEST?

I was working in Johannesburg at a UX and Development Agency as a Digital Account Manager. I worked with brands such as Disney, Marvel, Nivea, and top South African brands like Rochester Furniture and AA Insurance. I also did a lot of content creation for individual projects, particularly for entrepreneurs who were still starting out.

Why do I consider myself an entrepreneur?

I believe in meaningful work. That definition changes according to context as well. Sometimes, to me, meaningful work is being socially responsible, giving back to the community. Sometimes, it is responsible UX design. Since, in my case, that definition changes according to context, employment is surely not for me: I need a certain amount of autonomy and independence to bring my artistic vision to life. I cannot do that in the corporate world. I have to strike out on my own, and make some money along the way. If I get to change a few lives while at it, those are double points.

Tino with her Zimbabwean flag.

Have you ever set up and, or, run a business? If yes, how many and what was(were) it(they) about?

I have set up a digital consulting business before. In Johannesburg I worked mostly in the content creation department. I offered services such as digital audits, account management, mostly AdWords management which is one of my favourite things to do. I was working at the same time, so I took on work when I could manage as my 9 to 5 job was extremely demanding.

What do you think of MEST, and have your expectations been met so far?

MEST is a great program. The access to industry professionals, dedicated business fellows with a keen eye on the start up sector in West Africa, and networking opportunities is tremendous and one of the strongest aspects that the program offers. The curriculum is extremely gruelling but it’s well worth it.

The cherry on top though, is the colleagues. I have been equally impressed and intimidated by the quality of my colleagues’ thinking process. I think it’s only at MEST that I would ever hope to share space with a Masters in Artificial Intelligence holder from Nigeria, a top Statistician from Nairobi, a top developer from Ivory Coast, a Masters in Engineering graduate from America, a Geography Honours student from Nigeria. This is the most amazing part – having such a strong and diverse pool of people to draw insights from every single day.

What has been your best moment at MEST so far?

My best moment so far was the Karaoke night that we recently had as part of  EIT team building. Everyone decided to sing the national anthem from their home countries. The Nigerians, Kenyans, Ghanaians, South Africans and Ivorians all came together as a delegation.

When the Zimbabwean national anthem came on, as the only Zimbabwean EIT, it fell upon me to sing the anthem and represent my country. I have always been, and remain, extremely proud to represent Zimbabwe. What I did not foresee, though, were the tears that escaped my eyes. This moment, when I missed home coupled with appreciating the enormous responsibility on my shoulders to do well for my country, turned into an emotional moment for me.

As I bravely sang on, I started to notice my fellow EIT’s lining up beside me, trying to sing along. It was not even in English, it was all Shona, my home language, but they sang along anyway. At the end of the anthem, I was enveloped in a sea of hugs. It was a really beautiful moment – one that I will cherish forever. Without me saying anything, they intrinsically and naturally understood how I was feeling. When the anthem ended everyone laughed at how horrible we all sounded. It just crystallized into the most beautiful moment of my stay so far. I will not be forgetting it anytime soon.