THE famous adage, ‘Don’t despise humble beginnings’ best describes Milka Mungunda’s professional journey from teacher, taxi driver, General Manager Operations at the Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF) to Social Security Commission (SSC) CEO.
Mungunda, who describes herself as a friendly yet private person, recently said that the best part of working at SSC is being able to ensure that every Namibian has access to a safety net and that her contribution to the organisation is through her caring personality as a woman and mother.
In an interview with Confidente this week, Mungunda talks about her humble beginnings, leading the SSC with grace and spending quality time with family.
Give us a snapshot of who you are?
I am a very private person. I am friendly, but very protective of my personal space. I am a first born of 10 children. Being a first born, meant I had to take up responsibility of taking care of my siblings at an early age.
Briefly tell us about your upbringing?
As a firstborn among 10 children, it was not easy. There was always a shortage of resources and we had to share whatever little there was. I remember having to share four of us a single bed, and sometimes sleep on the floor without any coverage. But it was fun and we never saw anything wrong in it. There was a lot of fighting as children, but that made us strong and today there is a very strong bond among us. My parents were very strict, and after fighting as siblings, we would be called to hug and forgive each other. That, I think, helped us to be tolerant and forgiving of each other till today. Even if we disagree as adults, we will always forget about the disagreement and rather reconcile in no time and make a joke about the disagreement. Irrespective of who was wrong or right, we will be called and everybody will be spanked. That, I think, taught us to always say “I am sorry”. The genuine meaning of sorry, thank you and please was an integral of our family and upbringing.
Tell us about your journey so far as SSC CEO?
In life, people do not see your journey, story and pain. They only see your success. I started off with my primary school in Keetmanshoop at Minna Saches (then called the Nama Inboorling School). I went to the Rhenish Primary School, still in Keetmanshoop and when it was closed we were all transferred to the Krohnlein Primary school. My parents then moved to Okakarara and I then went to Okakarara High School where I completed my high school. I proceeded to the University of the North (Turfloop) and then to the University of Natal (Durban) where I completed my undergraduate degree, Teachers Diploma and my post– graduate studies. While working, I did other post-grad qualifications.
While being a teacher at Otjikoto, I was a driving-school trainer and a taxi driver after school and during weekends. Not many know this, but I had to do that to augment my income because I had to earn extra to assist my siblings.
My working career at Unam as Student Counsellor, Dean of Students, Deputy Registrar, Acting Registrar and later at GIPF as General Manager, I think we’re all towards grooming and preparing me for the role I occupy today. Although there were opportunities to take on CEO roles, I believe God had his own way of preparing me for this role. It is a position that enables me to bring out my personality and my commitment to be of value to humanity.
What are challenges you face in managing the SSC and how best do you tackle them?
I really do not see them as challenges. I think we are all from different backgrounds and it is a matter of understanding and accepting each other. I am a team person and I think that is me. Because of that, I always want to be inclusive in whatever I do. I think having grown up in a big family has taught me to be tolerant of other people and respect everybody, irrespective of their social status. Coming from a humble background myself with some siblings who are successful and others who couldn’t make it life, you have nothing but to be grateful to God for where and who you are. I must say, the team at SSC is a wonderful, hardworking and a committed bunch of people, and that makes you to feel good when you wake up in the morning. Of course, like anywhere else, you will always find outliers, but that is part of life. I have a wonderful working relationship with my shop stewards, Board and my line Ministers and that makes it easier to run the institution.
What key areas have you been concentrating on and how far have you gone?
Our objective is to improve our customer service. The SSC serves everybody in the country, and we must be geared towards that. That is our first priority. The Act of SSC, is very specific about our role, and that makes us a very important role player in eradicating poverty and provide safety nets to everybody in Namibia. Whatever we do, we should never lose our focus.
Working at GIPF for 17 years – did it prepare you for being CEO in any way?
I believe the exposure I got at GIPF and my previous positions, were all towards preparing me for this role. I have a strong believe that in life, nothing happens by accident. There is a reason for that and one should always embrace the experience and make of the best of it. If it is misery, you will come out strong having learnt a lesson.
What misconceptions do people have about SSC that you would like to address?
I think many people do not actually fully understand the role of SSC and that is my objective. Before I joined SSC, I thought it stands for contributing towards maternity benefits and that’s it, and because I knew I would fall pregnant again, I had very little interest in SSC. Now that I am here, I realised that our role is so intertwined with the social development and the wellbeing of each and every person.
What are you doing to ensure women especially the previous disadvantaged flourish at SSC?
I am passionate about developing those under me. I believe in an educated workforce because that makes it easier for me to concentrate on other matters of importance. Fortunately, SSC has training programmes for staff and previously disadvantaged in place, and all I need to do is to enhance the implementation thereof.
What don’t people know about you?
That I am shy, like pranking my friends and can be mischievous when I am with those very close to me.
Just what do you do for a little fun?
I am very strong family person. I do charity work during my free time, but will prefer not to talk about it cos I do out of joy and don’t want too much media coverage for it. I also do farming and I like karakul farming, although I don’t have karakul now. Occasionally I participate in sports and do a lot of reading. I like spending a lot of time with my children and grandchildren.
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