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Common Purpose / 25 October 2023
Jessica Chivinge worked across industries and geographies, but her purpose never changed. Now, she’s living it.
"As a kid, I always wanted to do something about this."
Two words come to Jessica Chivinge’s mind when it comes to moving through transition and great change: patience and time.
As Vitality Health International’s Chief Strategy and Commercial Officer and a Common Purpose Africa Venture alumni, Jessica has had to remind herself of these two words throughout her professional career, and it’s not always been easy. Despite growing up in the UK, Jessica always identified with her Zimbabwean heritage culturally, and as a child she was deeply passionate about wanting to contribute to having a positive impact to the growth and development of African countries.
“As a kid, I always wanted to do something about this. I wanted to help people living in Africa, I didn’t want anyone to be left behind,” she tells us. It was this desire that signalled the formation of her purpose – one that has informed every move she’s since made throughout her career.
Jessica studied and qualified in law before moving to Brussels where she worked for a civil society organization promoting the development of policies for the advancement of human rights.
“When I returned to the UK I had a crisis of conscience,” she explains. “I had found myself in the commercial side of things which comes with human rights law, and I had to be realistic with myself. am I really having an impact on Africa sitting here in London drafting contracts??”
Fate stepped in when the credit crunch hit. Jessica was made redundant, so she was forced to re-evaluate which direction she wanted to take. She decided to take the plunge and pivot by moving back to the African continent, South Africa to be exact. There, she completed a mini-MBA at a business school.
“This felt more like me,” she explains. “I could problem solve here, and I could innovate, I could have a positive impact on African societies in a meaningful way.”
But the path wasn’t all straightforward. Jessica had started working for Vitality, a global health insurance organisation which operates out of multiple continents working to enhance and protect civilians lives by incentivising healthy behaviours. All seemed well, but there was one thing missing: At the time, Vitality did not have a large presence in the African continent beyond South Africa, and Jessica’s role was mostly focussed on the market in China.
“By all means I was focussed on my purpose at this point, I was making a difference in Africa by working for a South African company. But was I really doing what I want to do? I felt I wasn’t quite solidifying my purpose.”
She pitched the idea of expanding Vitality to other African countries several times to senior leadership, always receiving the same response: “Not yet.”
Then finally, fate stepped in once again. Vitality bought out another business operating across the African continent, and her boss needed someone who was passionate about jumping into this new side of the business.
“So I got the opportunity to lead,” she explains. “That was when I started to feel like my purpose was aligning. I was taking something that was very needed into the African continent - safeguarding their health - and I was getting to work with Africans, and I was doing something that’s purposeful and impactful.”
Three years later, Jessica is feeling more aligned, and more driven by her purpose than ever, but she makes an incredibly important point: “I’m still learning. I’m still seeing it come together for myself. I’m still working to make a difference, to grow the economy and to create jobs. I’m doing that, and I’ll continue doing that.”
Jessica’s journey of following her purpose and moving through transitions with this in mind is nothing short of inspiring and motivating. So, what’s her biggest piece of advice for anyone else setting out on their own journey of purpose?
“Patience and time.” She repeats.
“You have to do the research, and you have to understand your market. You have to build the networks, and you have to take time to lay the foundations. Talk to the people, and understand the lay of the land. When the time comes, believe in yourself. This is what has kept me going. Just believe in yourself, believe in your organisation and believe in its ability to do good and make an impact.”