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Shaping Futures: The Journey of a Philanthropist and Pharmacologist

In a world filled with challenges, there are individuals like Iris Zemza Nozizwe Mhlanga who shine as beacons of hope and catalysts for change. As a philanthropist and pharmacologist, Iris has dedicated her life to making a difference in the lives of the underprivileged, marginalized, and vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe. Her unwavering commitment to humanitarian efforts has not only transformed countless lives but has also earned her nominations for prestigious awards, including the 2024 Women Changing the World Global Awards and the Women Icon 2024 Awards.


Can you tell us about the journey that led you to establish the Nozizwe Mother of Nations Trust and your motivations behind it?

I come from a family of helpers, my Father was a founding member and then President of Highlanders Football Club in Zimbabwe always looked after vulnerable communities, orphans in particular, by paying school fees for them including extended family, he named me Nozizwe which translates to (mother of nations) when I was growing up, I always had a heart for caring for the less fortunate and when my father died in respect of his wishes I continued starting by helping one destitute disabled man. When I assisted him by feeding him and clothing him and eventually getting him a wheelchair, he, in turn, told other destitute people he knew about me and they came forward to seek help, as time went on I took to social media and told my story, the community responded and turned out to help me to take care for the most vulnerable in society, we now feed 1200 orphans per day and pay school fees for 1000 more, we now have over 5000 beneficiaries around the country. 

What are some of the major challenges you’ve encountered in your philanthropic work, particularly in Zimbabwe, and how have you addressed them?

In Zimbabwe lack of resources is a major challenge, our trust relies on donations and fundraising, to care for the most vulnerable, another challenge is logistics and transportation, most of our beneficiaries live in rural communities which are difficult to reach, and access to clean safe drinking water and medication is also a challenge, to address these issues we partner with like-minded organizations who are willing to assist by providing transportation, medical kits, food aide and drilling of boreholes,  we also use social media to raise awareness and the well-wishers come forward to assist. In cash or kind.

Being nominated for the Women Changing the World global awards and Women Icon 2024 awards is a significant achievement. How does it feel to be recognized for your contributions on such a large scale?

It is such an honor for me to be recognised internationally, I never pay attention to who is watching me when I help people so being recognized shocked me, as I had no idea who nominated me for these awards, it also allows me to learn from other inspiring women in various spheres, helping me and motivating me to be better and do better for my community.

As the first African to contribute to “Women Making a Difference,” could you share with us the significance of this milestone for you and its broader implications?

It’s very exciting for me to contribute to this anthology, again collaborating with amazing people i have never met before this is mind blowing, the 24 other women involved are from different cultures and backgrounds and there’s a lot to learn from their life stories too. I am also looking forward to meeting Sarah Duchess Of York at our book launch soon, it’s an amazing feeling to be involved in something she is organizing, I’ve always been a fan of hers.

How do you measure the impact of your organization’s efforts in assisting the underprivileged, people with disabilities, widows, orphans, and the homeless in Zimbabwe?

We’ve come a long way in 6 years and more well-wishers, have joined us to care for the most vulnerable, our story has spread far and wide, and what started as just being the neighborly thing to do has become a movement, nationally and beyond our borders, we have volunteers in other countries who tell our story and in turn others join in, many Zimbabweans who have left Zimbabwe continue to touch base with us an assist those of us left behind to continue caring for the most vulnerable.

In what ways do you believe your background as a pharmacologist influences your approach to philanthropy and humanitarian work?

I believe my background in the medical field comes in handy when we have medical outreaches, we have a few people who help us with their skills, doctors nurses, and dentists, it helps to provide health care to those that need it. Being in the field makes it easier for me to handle certain cases personally.

Can you highlight some of the key initiatives or projects undertaken by the Nozizwe Mother of Nations Trust that you are particularly proud of?

I am proud of our medical outreaches and soup kitchens feeding 1200 vulnerable children per day, we are the largest soup kitchens in our city it’s amazing what one can do with the help of a community of well-wishers, I am also excited about providing clean safe drinking water to various vulnerable communities, our greatest challenge being a community living in a rubbish dump, it is a joy for me to see 250 destitute families there having access to water and health care and food aid, despite the living conditions, to see the smile on the kids faces is heartwarming and inspiring when i hear their stories about their plans and wishes for the future, knowing that my organization had made a difference in a small way is inspirational for me.

What advice would you give to individuals or organizations looking to make a meaningful difference in their communities, especially in regions facing socio-economic challenges like Zimbabwe?

All I can say is that “it does not take much to make a difference” When we are many the impact is bigger, and in the grand scheme of things, nobody gets left behind or forgotten. Teamwork is very important when you want to make an impact and empower those who need help most.

With your expertise in healthcare and pharmacology, do you see opportunities to integrate medical interventions or health education into your humanitarian efforts?

Yes, I do as medicines are hard to come by and vulnerable communities cannot afford even basic over-the-counter medications such as painkillers, unfortunately sometimes importing certain medications is prohibitive in Zimbabwe due to the costs and admin involved with licensing and permits. If such issues were addressed realistically we could do more with more helpers.

The awards celebrate women’s success across various domains. How do you envision your work contributing to the empowerment of women and girls in Zimbabwe and beyond? 

Our long-term goal is to build a halfway house that will also be a haven for young girls and women, we aim to train them in self-help skills and provide counseling where needed, to help them live sustainably on their own without relying on help from others and in turn reach out to other girls and women and form a movement of change like ours, helping the most vulnerable.

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