NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
HER first job in Zambia was with the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) where she led their debt aid and trade programme.
She moved on to ActionAid Denmark which was based in Lusaka, working on a number of governance issues like those relating to land policy, strengthening the capacity of local governments to execute their duties, including work on natural resource governance.
Nachilala Nkombo is a tried and tested policy analyst whose latest role as country director of World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Zambia offers her the opportunity to lend her years of expertise to influence environmental policy in Zambia.
“I had been doing a lot of work outside my own country and just felt duty-bound to come back and give a contribution. I think as Zambia, we have huge potential. We’ve been at potential level for a long time that is not fully exploited,” she says.
The natural resource sector in Zambia is one that is poorly governed with a lot of threats to the country’s natural capital.
This includes the big challenge of climate change, considered a hindrance to food security and one of the reasons the WWF has been calling for a shift to conservation agriculture to enable farmers to remain productive even when there are unpredictable rain patterns.
The other area the WWF is working on is forestry and wildlife because forest-related sectors contribute over a billion dollars a year to Zambia’s GDP.
Nachilala points out that for Zambia to earn more from tourism, it needs to make sure its flagship wildlife resources and its endangered species are protected.
Zambia still lacks adequate investment in game management or forest areas. It also loses a lot of trees because of the need for charcoal which contributes to the energy problem.
Under the WWF, Nachilala is leading advocacy for good governance in the forest sector to ensure effective coordination among stakeholders whose activities rely on forests.
Through WWF, Nachilala is also saying that environmental benefiting local communities and the generations to come.
“We as WWF feel the environment in Zambia in general is taken for granted. If we don’t take care of it now, in future we will be handling the consequences of not taking care of it,” she warns, adding that the recent cholera outbreak is a case in point.
Part of her vision is to ensure Zambia does not have isolated activities and interventions, and in line with this, the WWF wants to work with stakeholders in different landscapes.
Nachilala says there are community-focused strategies that could make local communities the champions and stewards of protecting natural resources.
“Our vision as WWF is that by 2030, we’ll have Zambian citizens that are fully empowered and are ensuring the natural resources this country is blessed with which other countries don’t have are protected and used sustainably for people to thrive and for the environment to self-replenish and provide for future generations,” she shares.
The WWF is advocating for sustainable and transparent structures to manage Zambia’s natural resources and empower communities, emphasising that conservation is tied to development.
People are part of nature, Nachilala adds, and if the people are not taking care of it, they will have nothing to live on.
Before the opportunity to head WWF in Zambia arrived, she was based in South Africa and worked for five years at the campaigning and advocacy organisation called ONE Campaign as the deputy director for Africa.
Her responsibilities there included leading the organisation’s research and policy engagement efforts around economic and social development.
In general, she was involved in changing policy formulation to support development and also working with communities to try and hold governments accountable, engaging the private sector to play their part in investing and supporting government efforts that are pro-people.
She engaged policy makers to influence programmes which were being deliberated at the level of the African Union (AU) and worked on agriculture policy to promote more investments into agriculture and nutrition mainly because the bulk of Africans, particularly those in rural areas, depend on agriculture for employment but also as a food security imperative.
Part of her advocacy work involved encouraging investment in African farmers and their support services so that Africa can be food self-sufficient.
She has also worked with institutions like the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Gates Foundation and the Aliko Dangote Foundation in the area of nutrition and was part of the initiative called the African Leaders for Nutrition launched under the auspices of the AfDB and the African Union Commission (AUC) on the margins of the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU in January 2018.
The initiative is a platform for Africa’s political leaders to overcome malnutrition and contribute to Africa’s vision of a continent free from hunger and malnutrition.
In the last two years, Nachilala has worked a lot in West Africa, particularly in Mali, Senegal and Nigeria.
“My work in Mali was to support civil society organisations that were trying to change land tenure laws to give women rights to own land. Traditionally, women in Mali were not entitled to have title deeds or rights to land,” she explains.
Nachilala was part of a team influencing a new law where the Malian government committed to allocating a portion of titled land to women.
As a woman and as a leader, she has benefited from the mentorship of other women leaders and from the impact of their various leadership styles.
She says the women had very clear visions and had to work three to four times as hard as the men to get their leadership accepted. Her mother, Beatrice Muyaba, also gets special mention for being instrumental in moulding her.
“Watching them in their journeys and some of the struggles they faced sort of prepared me for some of the issues and challenges I have faced in my journey,” Nachilala says.
At just 42, she considers it a good development that things are opening up for women to become CEOs but insists there are still not enough women.
There have been men that have impacted her journey as well and shared their skills and experiences with her; in particular her late father, Bernard Nkombo, and her brothers.
She says her father did not discriminate while raising them but gave both his male and female children the same opportunities to guide their success in life.
Nachilala is also a mother of one and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Zambia (UNZA) and a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Postdam in Germany.
In every woman’s journey, she says, there are those who want to see her rise and those who want to block her progress even though she is producing results, but with the right support structures, a woman can rise above any opposition.