Martha Chalera: Creating a network of knowledge

Malawi Knowledge Network’s first programme officer Martha Chalera lets Paida Mpaso in on leading an organisation with the relatively new concept of gathering and sharing development information, enhancing her career, looking at the positive side of every situation and her fascination with airplanes!

Tell me a bit about yourself…

My name is Martha Chalera, I was born on 23rd October 1978 in Kankao, Balaka. I am from Chanthunya Village, Sub TA Chanthunya in the district. There are five children in our family and I am the second born; I have a twin sister who was born a few moments after me.

My father was a civil servant  so we moved a lot when we were young.  I enrolled for Standard One at Chisawani Primary  School in Bvumbwe but spent the rest of my primary school at Police Primary in Zomba where we stayed at Ndola lines.

I then got selected to St Michael’s Girls Secondary School in Mangochi and in 1999, I was selected to study for a bachelor of social science degree majoring in economics at Chancellor College. I obtained a master of arts degree in Economic and Management at the United Nations Institute for Planning and Economic Development in Dakar, Senegal in 2007.

What do you remember most about growing up?

Waking up at 4am every weekday to do the household chores and get ready for school when I was still in primary school. I also remember having a strong passion for nursing and wanting to become one when I grew up. I ended up being an economist though and I love my job!

Tell me about Maknet?

Maknet is an acronym for Malawi Knowledge Network. It is a network aimed at providing a platform for policy makers, development practitioners, policy analysts and other stakeholders to share, harvest knowledge and information on development management in Malawi.  Maknet intends to be a One Stop Shop for development information on Malawi. Its vision is to become a Development Information Gateway to Malawi through provision of a data and knowledge base.

When was it formed?

It was established in 2009 and I am its first programme officer. They advertised the post in the local papers, I applied and got the job! Maknet is a place where members discuss and debate on issues affecting the development of the country. All the discussions have policy implications and it is envisaged that if the proposals are taken into consideration, they will uplift the lives of ordinary Malawians. It was founded by the Africa Capacity Building Foundation and is hosted by the Malawi Polytechnic.

What challenges do you  encounter?

Our main challenge is the erratic internet connectivity. Our core activities are done online and this requires constant internet connection so that our online forum is available 24 hours. However, we experience a lot of internet breakdown. Further, internet in Malawi is expensive so it also poses a challenge on effective networking among members on the forum.

What did you do before joining Maknet?

I was an economist in the then Ministry of Economic Planning and Development where I rose to the post of Principal Economist in 2007.

How many people are you in charge of?

I am in charge of five people but we also recruit specialists on a monthly basis who moderate the discussions on Maknet online forums.

What exactly does your job entail?

Managing the day to day activities of the project such as planning and designing a work plan, budgeting, writing progress reports, monitoring, identifying topics for discussion, synthesising the discussion, proposal writing, networking with key stakeholders, and increasing visibility of Maknet, among many other things.

You started a new project from scratch, how did you deal with it?

I believe in working hard not just to please my supervisors but I realise that I have been entrusted with responsibilities that I cannot ignore or downplay. At first the thought of running this new project scared me but I managed to steer the project to where it is right now through the encouragement I got from my close friends; Susan Kommwa, Fiskani Nkana and Agnes Nyirenda Patemba.

You have an economic background, how do you apply this to the running of Maknet?

I have acquired skills in policy analysis, proposal writing and research methods. These are helping me to conduct research at Maknet as well as analysis of policies, general planning and monitoring of project activities.

Are you working to enhance your career?

Yes! I intend to go for a postgraduate course in South Africa on knowledge management.

Who is Martha Chalera?

I am an open person who loves to interact with everybody. I also like helping people; I believe in being there for people. Being a Christian, I believe I am what I am today for a reason and one of those reasons is to help other people.  I draw my inspiration from fear of failure.

In 15 to 20 years time, I want to be a very successful person and my dreams are to become a well known and respected knowledge management specialist. What are my strengths? I am a flexible person and I learn very fast.

What puts you off?

I hate failing at anything and try to do my best in everything I am entrusted with. In 10 years time, I would like to be a knowledge management specialist. This is an emerging subject area which is very important. Maknet has made me realise that our country needs to do a lot in knowledge management.

In Malawi, we have a lot of information and knowledge but we cannot access it easily. I would, therefore, like to pursue knowledge harvesting and management to the greater extent, so that I can help my country through my expertise.

How does holding this post make you feel?

It feels great  that I have been entrusted to lead this new project. I feel good when I see Maknet achieving its objectives.

What Is your greatest ambition right now?

My greatest ambition is to fly a plane. I am fascinated by planes.

Are you married? How many children do you have?

I am a mother of two kids, Beatrice and Atuweni. I also raise my nieces, Chikumbutso, Pilirani and Scolastica. We are a close family. Though I am usually busy working, I always make time for them. I believe family should come first. We watch movies together, especially on Saturday evenings. They like eating out, so most of our weekends are time for ice cream.

My daughter always asks me about her girl issues and we have a very open relationship. I try to listen to them, be there for them and spoil them whenever I can but discipline them when they misbehave.

What lessons did you draw from your parents that made you the person you are today?

My parents were disciplinarians and always encouraged me to work hard. I always remember what my mother taught me and I owe her for the spirit of hard work she instilled in me. She used to say ‘ana anga zilimbikirani sukulu, zopempha mchere ndi ndalama yandiwo tsiku lililonse ndi zowawa. Ukakhala nayo yako umangotsanzika kuti ndikukagula ndiwo’. This pushed me to work hard.

What is your greatest joy?

My greatest joy was when I got selected to a secondary school in 1993.  I could see the smile on my parents’ faces. I was the only girl that made it to a national secondary school from my area, so it was a beautiful feeling.

Do you have any regrets?

I am a Christian so I take disappointments positively. If things don’t turn out the way I expected, I try to look at the positive side of the experience.

What would you advise women reading this right now?

Women should aim to raise the bar and be role models to their daughters.

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