Tanele Magongo, an energy policy analyst at the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC), has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to further her studies.

She has enrolled for a Master of Science in Policy Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At SEPARC, Tanele’s research focus is on energy policy and energy poverty issues. She joined SEPARC last year as a graduate intern and now holds the position of Associate Researcher.

Since joining the Centre, she has worked on three research papers: ‘Quantifying the Economic Costs of Power Outages in Swaziland’, ‘Energy Consumption in Swaziland: An Analysis of the Determinants of Households’ Primary Choice for Cooking (yet to be published), and ‘What Does the Demographic Dividend Mean for the Future of Energy in COMESA?’ which is to be presented at the fourth Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Research Forum in August in Kigali, Rwanda.

Speaking of her Fulbright award, Tanele says when she received the news “I was ecstatic! I was actually at work when I got the news, I stood up and did a little dance! The Fulbright scholarship is a prestigious award, so of course I was stunned. It is only now that it is starting to sink in”. She adds that anything is possible if one puts their mind to it and she advises young people to dream big.

“Before anything else, first remember that you do not have to have it all figured out. One of the mistakes we make as young people is thinking that we should always have things figured out. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, highlights that it is okay to have a long-term, abstract dream towards your aspirations. So it is okay to dream big even if it is not so clear how you will do certain things, no matter how scary it may seem,” she advises.

“The first step is to dream, then you need to start doing! That is, create precise short-term plans that will force you to push yourself and think about how you want to get better over the next couple of months or so which will eventually lead to the bigger dream. Lastly, learn, learn, and learn! Read, observe others, and ask! Also, avoid negative crowds!”

Tanele says one of the advantages of working at SEPARC is that it has the most energetic, intelligent, and creative people. She says she has had a really remarkable time working with people who are committed to efficiency, particularly as the Centre comprises mostly of young professionals. “One of the key advantages of working with young people is the energy and drive that they have when it comes to work. Young people just get things done!” she adds.

“SEPARC has made me. I have learnt a lot but two key lessons which are really valuable to me are the importance of teamwork (it really does make the dream work) and that hard work pays off. Teamwork maximises shared knowledge in the workplace and it has helped me learn new skills and information that will be important in my career going forward. Additionally, it is important because you are able to combine many unique perspectives from each team member, which creates more effective ideas and/or solutions. I am recalling the many brainstorming sessions we have had with the SEPARC team, which really helped towards producing many successful projects,” she says.

The researcher also explains that to her, the statement that ‘hard work pays off’ is not just an expression because it has so much truth to it. She says it is really important to have a strong work ethic. “I put in extra time (at work and on weekends) and effort towards writing my first paper when I got to SEPARC and it actually paid off as I got first runner up prize (worth E7,500) for my paper during the Swaziland Economic Conference 2017.”

Tanele’s study on power outages earned her the second best paper prize at the inaugural Swaziland Economic Conference in 2017. She has proven to be a valuable asset at SEPARC and has produced a number of research outputs in the short time she has been with the Centre. In addition to three research papers, Tanele has worked on a Public Sector Customer Satisfaction Report and The Potential Economic Wide Impacts of Introducing Value Added Tax on Electricity in the Kingdom of Eswatini. She has also authored three opinion editorials that have been published in the Nation Magazine and the Swazi Observer.

As a parting shot, she emphasises that the country needs to invest in the youth so as to realise rewarding dividends, particularly because they are one of the kingdom’s greatest resources. She recommends work-based learning as one of the solutions to curb youth unemployment. “Government should roll out apprenticeship/traineeship programmes by targeting unemployed school drop outs and school leavers so they get opportunities to acquire hands on skills and become competitive in the labour market,” she suggests.

Also, Tanele believes the government should increase funding towards technical and vocational education and training (TVET) as it is an undeniable fact that the youth or public in general tend to perceive TVET as a “last resort” or “failures’ programme”, therefore it is important that the government invests in mind-altering programmes that will help the public realise the possibilities for progression, employment, and self-fulfilment that TVET can offer to emaSwati. “Simple skills such as fixing phones, embroidery, fixing shoes, are done by foreigners in Eswatini? Why? Is it because of ill-informed mind-sets that need to be corrected and changed?” she wonders.

Tanele feels there is potential for the country to turn around the economy. For instance, she says she is in full support of SEPARC’s ‘Made in Eswatini’ campaign. “I am 1500% for it. So many countries have done it, so why haven’t we? Recall the famous ‘Proudly South African’ campaign which began in 2001 and all the logos that are associated with it.  By supporting products from other countries, we are virtually exporting jobs to other economies and making our country worse-off. Buying Eswatini made products will help us stimulate an increased demand for our own products. In turn, we will be able to create more employment opportunities for Emaswati, thus reducing unemployment rates and stimulating economic growth.”

Furthermore, Tanele believes that the solutions to most of the challenges Eswatini faces as an economy (food insecurity, health issues, low rates of employment, etc) all lie in science and technology as well as research and development. She says the country needs to first invest in science, technology, and innovation (STI) if it is to solve these problems.

“STI has to be at the centre stage in our decision-making processes as a country. As such, we need to increase funding for research and development and in that way we will be able to obtain the answers to our challenges and ultimately solve them,” adds the researcher.

Also, she feels government should deliberately target women in its development programmes as evidence indicates that women face gender biases in many aspects, be it poor legal frameworks ‘supporting’ them or just limited human, social, and financial assets compared to men. “Yet statistics indicate that women’s economic activity rate, which measures the percentage of people who furnish the supply of labour for the production of economic goods, is higher than that of men but they just lack opportunities. So, imagine if women were given these opportunities. We would definitely see improvement in many aspects of development.”

Speaking of her aspirations upon return from the USA, Tanele says the programme she will be enrolled in will adequately prepare her to be able to research, assess, and solve economic policy issues. She plans to use this knowledge and continue contributing to economic research and policy analysis in order to improve the effectiveness of policies in the Kingdom of Eswatini.

Tanele has continuously excelled in whatever she does and has received several honours for her work. In 2016, she was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Prize for most outstanding academic performance at the University of Swaziland where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Geography, Environmental Science, and Planning. She also received the Dean’s Prize for best overall academic performance in the Faculty of Social Sciences. At the inaugural Swaziland Economic Conference in 2017 she received second prize for her research paper and now she has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship.