We are at Barclays Africa’s steel-and-glass offices in Africa’s richest square mile, Sandton, talking about a world far, far away – in rural Africa.

A world where Zimbabwe-born Sazini Mojapelo, Group Head of Corporate Citizenship at Barclays, raised by a single mother, first started, in the remote communities of her home country where subsistence farming, women-headed households and rural to urban migration were the norm.

Her work with an NGO led her to a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the University of Cape Town and subsequently, a job with the government.

“It became quite important for me to get into policy and understanding the way public-private partnership works, how policy frameworks are developed and governments function,” says Mojapelo.

She soon founded Hand in Hand, and grew the organization beyond South Africa to countries including Swaziland, Lesotho and Zimbabwe helping women grow their small businesses and supporting them with micro-financing.

A corporate career was on the cards.

“For me, it was important to have experience from government, civil society and the private sector. I wanted to get into all three areas of private-public partnership; the tri-sector conversation. To make a sustainable and meaningful contribution in the areas we operate in, it does not take one player alone.”

For Mojapelo, it had to involve the communities as well – the voices of the people.

“When I worked in government I did really feel the responsibility of caring for the people and their livelihoods. The sense of purpose is very strong, but the inefficiencies that come within that space are very crippling, where things don’t move forward, and the political element does not help as well,” says Mojapelo.

When she got the opportunity to join Barclays in 2015, she wasted no time.

“At Barclays, we look at how we can be good corporate citizens in the communities we operate in… We have introduced a strategy founded on the principles of creating shared value. Basically what that means is how we are able to have a commercial competitive advantage while driving the social agenda and creating impact.”

The bank’s Shared Growth strategy was launched in 2016, looking at education, enterprise development and financial inclusion across Africa.

For education, Mojapelo categorizes the youth as employed, under-employed and unemployed.

“If you look at the employed, most young people do get employed but you find they are under-employed – where a doctor is working at a call center; they have a job but they are not doing the job they studied for. And then you got those who are Not in Education Employment or Training who fall in what we call the NEET category; who are unemployable, because either they have dropped out of school, they do not have a skill that can enable them to move into the next phase of their life and that category of young people is where the most focus should be, and the ability to start looking at how we use technology to create and open opportunities for those young people,” says Mojapelo.

The Waste Of Doctors Waiting on Tables And Answering Phones

She also admits to several anxious moments when she moved to the corporate world.

“I had some anxiety on my side in terms of my ability to land effectively and be able to achieve the agenda that I really want to drive from a corporate perspective. The biggest part for me was literally looking at the agenda, that I have a personal agenda of creating a meaningful change in people’s lives and creating that kind of social impact. So it was key to change the strategy and introduce a way of working that made business realize that the social agenda is a business agenda.

“So in Barclays, you find that big corporate clients will work with us based on how you treat the ESG (environmental, social and governance) element. It has become very important within the business.”

A Winter’s Tale Of Two Sleepouts

One of Mojapelo’s passions is financial inclusion – especially of women.

“For Barclays, I think it’s a space we dream about disrupting and in its entirety that is integrated banking but it’s really from a shift in the mind-set of asking what the customer wants and how do we service them better.”

Far from the farms and fields of Zimbabwe, to the smart Sandton boardroom we are in, this Harvard Business School graduate has her sights set on one dream – a better Africa.