A Human Development Activist
Driven To Touch Lives
Bernadette is the Executive Director of Zambia’s Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC). The centre works to complement and supplement the government’s work in public policy issues. When one first meets Bernadette, one sees the passion which she brings to the task of building people’s lives and making a difference. Ask her about what drives her work and everything she does. Her answer is sharp, quick and profound-to see Zambia, her home country, rise to its ‘highest glory’. For this University of Zambia and University of South Africa alum, this means several things which include uplifting livelihoods, implementing best governance practices, providing quality leadership, and educating the nation. Distilled to its basics, she sees and describes her calling as working for human development. In her estimation, human development is what will get Zambia to where it is supposed to go.
The seeds for Bernadette’s activist life were sworn by a slogan. During her primary school years young Bernadette was inspired by a welfare initiative by Zambia’s Ministry of Community Development. Dubbed as ‘Child to Child’ the initiative was designed to help children build bright futures by encouraging them to adopt positive social values and norms. Bernadette nostalgically recalls how she would incessantly recite the initiative’s slogan as a young girl. The slogan which, had a profound impact on young Bernadette was a call to action which stated that, ‘Child to Child for Survival, development and a healthy nation’. The slogan shaped her future career trajectory as she would eventually interrogate what ‘survival’ or ‘development’ really meant. Later on in her professional life ‘survival’ would mean providing an escape for people from issues such as hunger, lack of shelter, or poor sanitation. ‘Development’ for her came to mean placing human beings at the centre of progress. It meant people having access to clean water, human rights, and equal opportunities
Unsurprisingly, Bernadette’s youthful days were spent in activism. For instance, while in high school, participated in the Zambia Model United Nations where she represented her school. She would also later get a stint with one of Zambia’s leading tabloids as a youth columnist where she provided commentary on youth and civil society issues. She also worked for an initiative called Operation Young Vote which worked to encourage young people to be civically engaged and to vote. Bernadette also participated in Zambia’s National Youth Constituency Assembly where she actively engaged in a range of issues such as education with a focus on the most vulnerable people. These early experiences laid the foundation for her passion for development and policy issues. Later as a policy practitioner, for example, Bernadette would find resonance with Zambia’s development aspiration to leave no one behind and to pursue the objective of becoming a middle income nation. For Bernadette this national objective means being able to lift the country’s poorest people out of abject poverty.
Bernadette acknowledges that Zambia has made several gains over the last decades. Notwithstanding, she also notes that many challenges remain to be resolved. A key challenge which notes is the nation’s social and economic disparities. She firmly believes the disparities can be addressed via sound policies which will guide all the country’s development actors towards the goal of building a prosperous country. Bernadette contends that a good policy that is passed and pushed by everyone will speak for all Zambians. She also believes that the country needs to harness its youthful population in order to drive its industrialisation.
Bernadette believes that there has been progress on gender and women issues with growing opportunities being provided to women. As a result Bernadette believes that the Zambian woman is emerging from the side lines and that women are the future. However, she sees that the progress on women’s progress is also mixed. She believes that the plight of rural women for example has yet to be improved even in light of recent progress.
As she reflects on her work, she sees her role as that of pushing the agenda of the PMRC and to position it as the leading think tank which will help to shape policies which will drive development in Zambia. Outside her professional life she is involved in several initiatives. One of the initiatives is Shaping Futures, a young women’s initiative targeted at empowering young women. She also supports football academies through which she hopes to use sports development as a vehicle for behavior change, mentorship, and career development for young people. By her own admission Bernadette does all that she does for one grand purpose: to contribute to human development in all its spheres