Victoria Elangwa fell into human resources by accident, but now she’s helping to lift the field to new heights. And she’s doing so in a country—Tanzania—that lacks a strong tradition of professionalism in HR.
Elangwa, 36, serves as director of corporate affairs at Tanzania’s Medical Stores Department, a 510-employee public agency in charge of distributing medicine and medical equipment throughout the East African country. Under Elangwa’s guidance, the Medical Stores Department won a Tanzania Employer of the Year Award in 2012 in the employee relations category.
She has undertaken a number of strategic initiatives that boosted business results. She also is making her mark as a people management thought leader in Africa—speaking regularly at HR conferences and forums. In 2012 her talks on a balanced-score approach to employee performance management were the highest rated by participants at the annual East Africa HR Symposium event.
Her leadership in the field is needed. Even more so than in the more-developed world, human resources in Tanzania tends to be viewed as a purely administrative function, Elangwa says, “HR is still seen as a paper-pusher.”
Elangwa herself was “pushing paper” just before she took a job in people management. She was working as an administrative assistant in the processing plant of a mining company when an HR official resigned and she assumed the post. “This was by chance, only to cover the gap,” she says. “But I enjoyed working for HR and slowly climbed up the ladder.”
Accelerating the climb was Elangwa’s MBA with a concentration in finance from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Elangwa’s career ascent includes HR jobs in the mining sector, a senior HR role at Tanesco Electric Supply Co., the country’s sole electricity provider, and a consulting stint with Tanzania Mortgage Refinance Co., where she helped create a training plan for nine banks and recruited officials for the financial services organization. In her current position, she has responsibility not just for human resources issues but also public relations and capital expansion projects.
Among her achievements are a revised performance management system at Tanesco that “enabled the employees to be properly appraised,” Elangwa says. The change corresponded to increased revenue—in the Ilala region, for example, monthly revenue jumped from roughly $3 million to nearly $5 million.
But Elangwa isn’t only about cutting costs and raising the bar on employee evaluations. She also has learned that HR professionals have to listen to the workforce. This is especially true in unionized settings, she says. “I have learned to never ignore staff complaints, even when they are obviously against the rules,” she says.
Elangwa aims one day to become an executive in charge of information technology, HR, legal and finance at a public agency. In a country where her chosen profession hasn’t gotten much respect, she may end up changing the game plenty.
Ed Frauenheim is associate editorial director of Human Capital Media, the parent organization of Workforce. Comment below or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Frauenheim on Twitter at @edfrauenheim.