The UNIMA Kumilonje Dzabala-Gernhardt product praised by its employer, the German neobank N26, as a source of inspiration
Very few Malawians know about Kumilonje Gernhardt – née Dzabala – who is currently the junior technical manager of the German neobank named N26, known as number 26 until July 2016.
Founded in Munich in 2013, N26 is headquartered in Berlin, Germany, and operates in various member states of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) – providing a free basic current account and debit card.
In the article, Kumi talks about her childhood in Malawi, her time at Chancellor College, University of Malawi (UNIMA) and her studies in Russia and Berlin, and her love for her current role at N26.
— N26’s digital PR specialist, Vanessa Guerriero, said she “believes that Kumi’s story can serve as an inspiration to current students and citizens of Malawi”.
“It is because your country has actively shaped the life and career of Kumi and so many others and we would like to invite you to share this exciting story by publishing this article.”
The preamble to the interview with Kumi points out that his career has seen many twists and turns – from a career in journalism to being a technical delivery manager at N26.
“If you spend time with Kumi Gernhart, you’ll quickly realize how much she values relationships. Connecting and thinking deeply about others – not just their needs, but how to understand and communicate with them – is her raison d’être. .
“Because then you really know what interests them and how to talk to different people in different circumstances.”
Kumi studied English, Literature and Philosophy at Chancellor College before completing her Masters in International Journalism and Communication at Freie Universität (FU) in Berlin, Germany.
She joined N26 starting with customer support, but is now her junior technical delivery manager at N26.
Kumi explains that she was brought up in Blantyre in a family that was and is quite academic, saying “growing up in Malawi, if you really want to get there, education is the way”.
“My mother is a pharmacist, my father is an engineer and I was also brought up by my grandmother who worked in women’s rights. But while most of my family members are very scientific, I’ve always loved stories and helping people, so it seemed like my path in life was towards the humanities rather than the sciences.
She said that as “someone who loves to absorb information” she chose to study English, Literature and Philosophy at Chanco and after graduation she was hired as a as a journalist, editor and producer Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
“I have mainly worked on radio, but also on television and a little online. Then I took journalism courses with Deutsche Welle to understand what I wanted to do. At this point, I felt I understood journalism and wanted to do something more.
“So I started to apply for some masters programs and I was accepted to the masters program in International Journalism and Global Communications – a dual masters at Freie University which took place in Saint Petersburg [Russia] and Berlin.
Of the stories that impacted her studies abroad, Kumi said it was the friendships that she stayed with the most, saying “outside of that, I took a course in logic and errors. We had discussions about Malawi history, Malawi politics and much more.
“My undergrad taught me to think, to argue, to ask the right questions, to provide a well-reasoned argument. It really taught me a kind of critical thinking that I needed throughout my life.
“Today, if someone asks me a question about why I say what I say, I am able to see it not as a threat but as a challenge to do more.”
When asked if the idea of rational thinking and developing coherent arguments was what drew her to journalism, Kumi answered in the affirmative, saying, “Honestly, I thought that if news and media reports were provided in this way and tried to be as balanced as possible, so that would make a difference.
“Lawyers have to pass a bar, doctors have to pass their medical exams, but you don’t really get that with journalism, and I think that’s a shame. It’s so important, because the dissemination of information, the information people get and the decisions they make based on that information, changes the world.
“There is a lack of real ethics in journalism. And I really believe that to change something, you have to understand what is happening. So I went to journalism school to do that, with the goal of giving people two-way, ethical, and fair information. Those were my childhood dreams, anyway!
She then explained her experiences at the Freie Universität, saying that since the program takes place in two countries, she first arrived in Saint Petersburg and spent the winter there.
“It was the coldest place I’ve been to, and the first time I’ve seen snow! I tried not to have too many preconceived ideas, which was good, because it helped me to be more open.
“One thing I remember thinking was that there was no conversation about anything going on in the southern hemisphere. It was all western journalism – not just no African journalism, but also no Asian journalism, no South American journalism, etc.
“When I told my teacher about it, he encouraged me to gather information on this topic and present it to our class. I feel like it’s not enough to say “you don’t do that” — it’s better to say “this is what I’m missing, and here’s what I want to do about it” — because then you progress, rather than just criticizing.
In Russia, although she had “a different language, the food was different, even the alphabet was different”, she “still made very good friends there”.
“My Russian colleagues were so generous, took me everywhere I needed to go and really took care of me. When I arrived in Berlin for my second semester, I found the Germans to be much more self-sufficient and individualistic .
“Having said that, I had an easier time at FU. My curriculum was very diverse—we had people from all walks of life and cultures. Plus, the school has such a rich history—I’m so honored and proud to have gone there.
“I also did my thesis there: a comparison of British media coverage of the migrant crisis in Europe and the migrant crisis in South Africa at the time that no one was talking about.
What led her to her first job at N26 was that when she finished university, she had no intention of staying in Germany, “but when you graduate from a German university , you can stay here for a year and a half and look for a job”.
“So I decided to stay here for six months, find a random job to pay my bills, and then go home. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll get a job in customer service. , that’s okay.’ Well, that’s a big deal – they work really hard!
“But I really wanted to know more about people, and customer support was the best way to do that. Then my plans changed – I met a guy and we got married! So I decided to stay in Berlin and finally got the job at N26.
“I was in customer support for three months, after which I joined a special task force for account takeovers. It was my first step into technology, because it was about understanding what fraudsters are doing to manipulate our technology to create accounts. I really liked it, but in the end I wanted a new challenge.
The new challenge she chose was to do a bootcamp and become a web developer. “I used my development budget and got my certification. I love to code and I have so many ideas for personal projects.
“But I also love people and I feel like I’ve gained a lot of experience helping them. I was afraid that by becoming a developer I was wasting years of experience.
“Then, by a stroke of luck, the position of junior technical delivery manager opened up. I got the job, and here I am! Every day I learn more about technology, but also about working with different stakeholders. It’s both the technical side and the communication side — I really like that balance.
Her role at N26 is primarily focused on IT solutions that meet corporate regulatory and compliance requirements and Kumi said: “Right now we are looking at identity and access management, making sure we have all the the technology we need, that the processes are aligned with our regulatory obligations, our compliance obligations, etc.
“I have a great team leader who supports me and always challenges me to do more. You see, I’m not afraid of a challenge and I’m not afraid of problems, as long as we are moving towards a solution.
“I’m someone who wants to hear the bad news and then I want to figure out how to get out of it. Also, as a technical delivery manager, your stakeholders are quite diverse – you have legal, compliance, and web developers, all of whom have different things that interest them.
“It’s a bit like being on a tightrope but mentally I think it’s very healthy — and I never get bored!”
She told N26.com that the lessons she applies to her job that she learned in college are “first, respect for a diverse team,” saying, “University learned to communicate with different people – I don’t get offended easily, and I apologize quickly if I offend someone.
“I am also able to explain my point of view and hear the point of view of others in a way that feels safe to me. I tell my colleagues, “I’m happier communicating that way. Can you tell me how best to communicate with you so we can get the job done? »
“I believe in creating a very positive work environment and I really try to understand the people I work with — ask them questions about themselves, get to know them, and understand how to help them do the work.
“I guess I’m really still on this mission to help people and make them feel heard,” said Titilayo Kumilonje Dzabala-Gernhardt, the proud product of Chancellor College.
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