Ayanda Mhlongo is a PhD student at Churchill College, and one of 24 candidates accepted by Futurelect Southern Africa Public Leadership Programme for their 2023 cohort.

This intensive programme aims to support the development of diverse, strong networks of public leaders who can contribute to the development of open, creative and vitally democratic societies in Africa. The programme provides exposure to and experience of government, and the intersection of research and practice around ethical transformational leadership on which its education element focuses was particularly attractive to Ayanda.

Ayanda first applied in 2019 when the programme first began. Prospective candidates must complete an assessment weekend, and this process sharpened her focus on areas that she wanted to further develop. In part this was due to a sense of imposter syndrome, but she also felt that she had more learning to do, in order to meet her long term goals of an influential role in public service and get the most out of the programme. Ayanda chose to pursue her PhD at Churchill College before re-applying.

It’s notable that Ayanda felt imposter syndrome despite an impressive wealth of experience and expertise. For instance, Ayanda’s commitment to ethical and public service leadership has enabled her to represent the youth of South Africa at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York and at UFMG in Brazil. She has also occupied various positions in organizations including the South African Equity Worker’s Association, the Development Action Group, Mastercard Foundation, Parliamentary Monitoring Group, Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, Cambridge Development Initiative, University of Cape Town, Enel Foundation and the Oxford-Cambridge Arc to bring about sustainable development.

She holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree (majoring in Gender Studies, Social Development and Organizational Psychology) and a Bachelor of Social Sciences Honor’s degree in Social Development and a Master’s degree (Cum Laude) from the University of Cape Town (UCT).  

In addition to being a Future Africa Fellow, she is a recipient of the Mail and Guardian 200 Young South Africans award.

Ayanda believes that education in leadership makes for better leaders, and continuing her education at Churchill College had helped prepare her for the next step in her career. Ayanda studied her MPhil in Multi-Disciplinary Gender Studies at Churchill College, where she has remained for her PhD studies. Her PhD thesis is “Historical Inter-generational Trauma – the Experience of Black Female Freedom Fighters in South Africa”.

Ayanda attributes the support which Churchill College has provided in helping create the environment and opportunity for her to thrive and grow.

Ayanda said, “As a person of colour, it is easy to feel like an outsider, but my experience of Churchill College has been a safe haven, and home away from home.” She attributes much of that support to her Senior Postgraduate Tutor (Dr Liz Marrais) and Postgraduate Student Administrator, Rebecca Sawalmeh.

This support and her experiences at Cambridge have helped Ayanda’s personal growth and development. The Public Leadership programme moves Ayanda closer to her goal of a future in which she takes a proactive leadership role in positively impacting people and society, and we wish her every success on the scheme.