Mwanyengwa Ndapewoshali Shapwanale is the Director: Communications and Stakeholders Relations at ReconEnergy in Namibia.
Following five major oil and gas discoveries made between 2022 and 2023, Namibia’s upstream market has seen a strong wave of interest by global E&P players. Companies such as ReconAfrica, a Canadian-based explorer, have amplified their exploration efforts. The company’s Director of Communication and Stakeholder Relations Mwanyengwa Ndapewoshali Shapwanale plays an integral part in driving both ReconAfrica and Namibia’s energy narrative, serving as an inspiration for those in the field. Shapwanale is featured on the African Energy Chamber’s (AEC) list of 25 Under 40 Energy Women Rising Stars.
Please share a brief overview of your journey in the energy industry that led to your current role? What are some key achievements or milestones that you are particularly proud of?
My journey in the energy sector started in April 2021 when I was approached to provide multimedia consulting, specifically social media services to my current employer ReconAfrica. I immediately realized I could provide much more to the company and engaged the company representative at the time to propose my additional skills and how I could assist the company. This included media relations, corporate communication, government relations, community relations, and brand crisis management. Fast forward a few months, I was appointed as the Director of Communication and Stakeholder Relations. A major part of my role is ensuring and maintaining social license.
I am particularly proud of the work our team has done in community relations. While maintaining a social license is an ongoing and continuous exercise, I am pleased with the work we have put in as a team, and I will continue to work towards progressing this responsibility.
Another proud achievement must be our work towards providing safe and secure access to potable water to the communities in our area of operations through the drilling, installing, and handing over of community water wells in our three years of operation. Apart from the communities, especially women and children, having to walk long distances to fetch water, this is an area where human-wildlife conflict is rampant because of the communities’ dependency on the Kavango River for water. Being able to provide an alternative water source, I believe, contributes to saving lives and meeting the government halfway in their aims to alleviate and even totally eradicate the human-wildlife conflict.
Further, the Namibian nation is quite new to the oil and gas industry, as the past few years have been the most visible action we have seen in the country. For the nation and the average Joe on the street to understand, welcome, and meaningfully participate in oil and gas activities, there must be efforts to educate and inform about the industry and the energy sector at large. As part of my communication role, we have done training with the media so that they can report from an educated, understanding, and informed position.
We have also collaborated with the University of Science and Technology to host bi-monthly public lectures on oil and gas activities in the country. These sessions have been extremely successful, with an audience of over 600 in person and a maximum of 900+ online. The audience included students, professionals from all fraternities, diplomats, academics, and government officials. The speakers included the Minister of Mines and Energy in Namibia, the Petroleum Commissioner, lawmakers, geologists, and educators, to name a few. Lastly, I am pleased to have teamed up with exceptional fellow women in the industry to establish the first ever Women in Oil, Gas, and Energy Association in Namibia, a body aimed at achieving the advancement of women in the energy sector.
Energy poverty is an African reality, and Namibia is not singled out from this reality. Further to that, my area of operation is one of the most socially challenged in our country, and I have started and will continue to use my role to innovatively tackle these challenges to ensure that my country and our continent as a whole benefit from its resources.
The energy industry is known for its complexities. What were some significant challenges you faced along the way, and how did you navigate through them to achieve your goals?
It definitely has to be the onslaught that accompanies the frowning upon of oil and gas exploration and development of this resource by African countries and the public’s perception of oil and gas exploration and development. I was very lucky to, very early in my career, listen to the AEC chairperson speak on the just transition as well as really grasp the concept of African solutions for African challenges. This helped me focus on the matter at hand, which is to ensure that I carry out my role without listening to the unwarranted attacks.
Adopting the just transition and African solutions for African challenges has also helped me stay focused on the bigger responsibility, which is to ensure meaningful, impactful, and tangible contributions to eradicating energy poverty in Namibia and the continent, meaningful participation in the sector, and meaningful benefit from the energy sector.
What advice would you give to young females aspiring to excel in the energy sector? Are there any specific strategies or mindsets that helped you overcome obstacles and reach your current position?
Humility, listening to those who have been in the sector, put in the work, collaboration and willingness to learn learn learn!
I was very privileged to have been welcomed into the sector with open arms by so many, including the leadership in our oil and gas sector in the country. I specifically want to highlight the women including Maggy Shino, Victoria Sibeya, MME Dep Minister Kornelia Shilunga, and Taimi Itembu, to name a few. Leadership in my company is the true definition of meaningfully giving a young black woman a seat at the table and supporting her in the role.
It is important to note that it is not enough to be given a seat at the table; the work has to continue to maintain that seat at the table. To be considered at the table should not be to satisfy a quota but because one is capable of excelling, achieving, and delivering.
A career in energy can be demanding. Could you describe a typical day in your life?
Demanding indeed! I am typically up by 05:30 and start my day with reflection, praise, worship, or prayer—not every day as I would like to. Because our team works in different time zones, I use my mornings to attend to emails that may have come through in the night. Having planned my to-do list the night before, I start executing my items for the day.
My role involves a lot of writing; therefore, I am constantly writing or preparing messages. Our meetings normally take place in the late afternoon or early evening. I work well at night and therefore choose to action some of the deliverables right after our meetings, in the evening.
With stakeholder relations, I am also constantly working on monitoring our relations and finding ways to maintain or improve them. One must be innovative. A lot of moving pieces, all the time. The last two hours of my work day are dedicated to upskilling. I try as much as possible to take short courses to assist me in carrying out my role.
Looking ahead, what changes or advancements do you hope to see in the energy sector, and how do you envision your role in shaping that future?
Meaningful participation in the energy sector, advancement of women in the energy sector, community understanding, being informed and educated about the energy sector, meaningfully benefiting from the sector, and overall. I truly believe that local content and meaningful participation in the energy sector needs to start with an understanding and education of the sector. An example is understanding that there are certain skills and capital capabilities we do not have and how we are going to work with operators to achieve our goals in combating energy poverty and social challenges throughout the energy sector. I believe that I can use my role as a vehicle to educate the Namibian nation on the energy sector for the purpose of meaningful participation.
Additionally, being on the ground and understanding the social challenges means using my role as a vehicle to be innovative in tackling these challenges and ensuring meaningful impact. As a female executive in the energy sector, it is my duty to show other women that it is possible to be in the energy sector meaningfully. At the same time, I have the very important duty to show and prove that women in the sector are capable, deliver, and have the skills to contribute to the sector. Moreover, women should not, are not, and don’t just want to be considered because we are women and that we can fill a quota, but that we have capacity, put in the work, have the skills, are capable, and deliver.