Stacey Susa-Pinto is a best-selling author and sought after International Trade professional. She has spent over 10 years working in various trade related capacities with a major focus on inter-governmental economic diplomacy, trade programming as well as market access and trade facilitation issues. Having transitioned from private to public sector, Ms Pinto has helped shift perceptions regarding the effectiveness of the public sector as she currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Namibia Trade Forum – an agency of the Namibian Ministry of Industrialisation and Trade.
Can you kindly tell us about your background?
I grew up in Zambia. I was raised by my Mother and siblings. I was very loved. I remember walking to school, at some stage trying to hang out with my big brother, much to his displeasure because who wants a little girl following you around right?! (I think I feel empathy for my son now who is constantly tailed by his little sister ). Much as my brother acted cool with his friends, I knew he loved me. I remember getting my first bike at age ten on my birthday. It was a red four- wheeler, and it was too pretty. It arrived late after 5 and my brother vowed, I’d know how to ride that bike that night! He did it! He taught me how to turn corners by putting stones a few steps from each other and told me to ride around them! The torture but oh the love. When I was older, he used to take me to play snooker (I believe it is called pool these days?!) with him and swim at a public pool. Turns out he didn’t mind taking me along .
I have many memories growing up but one I remember so vividly and tap into every now again is the ways in which my mother believed in me and asserted me. She signed me up to do things that were beyond me in years and I remember just doing them because my mom thought I could. And I did. It is the reason I finished high school quite early (when I was 15 turning 16). My mother decided I could attempt writing Junior Primary School to get into High School, a year before my time!!? I did and it worked. My Mother is not alive anymore but her belief in me from young age has marked my life indelibly and gives me the gusto to always try things that seem insurmountable. I hope to give our own children this gift as we raise them.
How did you end up in Namibia?
I came to Namibia by chance! I had been applying to go to University and had done a few tours in South Africa. I was not under any pressure to go to University immediately because I had been working in the tourism industry from age 16. I was about 20 at the time and had just been promoted to head the Wilderness Zambia Office and in my head, had made it in life. One day, while waiting on some papers from South Africa, my Uncle called me and asked to turn the TV to channel 320 – Channel O! There on Channel O was KB (Kabelo), the presenter in Windhoek Namibia at UNAM doing interviews etc. My uncle said I think this is the school for you! I started the process and found myself here in 2007! Namibia has had my heart since and continues to grow on me.
How about your educational background?
Interesting. I mentioned how I finished High School pretty early, yet for the first time my Mother didn’t think I could survive at University! The irony (laughs). So, I refused to stay home and looked for a job. I interviewed for the job, and they told me I was too young and so did not get the job! I was so sad; I think this was my first rodeo at rejection! They called me back the following week and said no one had interviewed as good as I did, and they were willing to take a chance on me! A couple of months in and I was employee of the year and promoted. I was the youngest in many rooms for a long, until lately (laughs). I left this company and joined another where I ended up managing the company at age 19/20 before came to UNAM at age 21.
UNAM shook me. I started off studying Economics and Industrial Psychology. Not really sure why because I don’t like numbers. I was probably feeling pressure to do something meaningful, I guess. I hated it, well the economics part of it. So, my transcript had terrible marks on Economics subjects (Business Math!!) and distinctions in Psychology. A literal depiction of night and day! I did not enjoy my first year at UNAM because this is a girl who grew never knowing failure and was asserted to believe she could it all. And now, all alone in another Country – no mother in sight, still figuring out which taxi took her where and now FAILING! It was too much for me and it really shook me. I spoke to my family about it and my one sister said she always believed I should do law. So, the following year I applied for Law. Tiny problem. I had arrears in some of Economics modules and was quickly and sternly told there is no way you will be admitted into Law with this transcript! I begged and pleaded and was dismissed with a “there’s nothing I can do and if you want go to the Dean!!” Big Mistake. The asserted and can do anything attitude kicked in right away because everything in me knew I HAD to get into Law School. I walked around to find this Office and eventually I did. There sat Prof Horn – who looked extremely intimidating to me. I stated my case and asked for his approval. He looked at me intently and said, “you speak well and have stated your case very well”, I believe you will make a great lawyer one day!” That was it. I got admitted! The rest was the best most purposeful time of my life at UNAM. I belonged.
I started off with a Bachelor of Jurisprudence and proceeded to do my Bachelor of Laws (LLB). I immediately after this went on to South Africa for my Masters in International Trade Law. I have done many other courses just to add value to my skills set and currently looking into another Masters or continuing picking up my PhD perhaps. Will see.
You have 3 law degrees. What drives Ms. Pinto to such levels of academic excellence?
Grace. God’s grace. I didn’t start off knowing that this was what I wanted but I know that God put me in the right places at the right time and it all just sort of kept rolling. All I knew was I wanted to be the best I could be at whatever I do and at the time, it was knowledge that give me this privilege. I was blessed with the opportunity to do my Masters sponsored by the University and so I took it. I wouldn’t call myself an academic though, far from it. Education did however open some doors for me. The rest is sheer determination and an unrelenting can-do attitude.
Why did you choose a career in international trade?
Again. Not by my design. God started engineering my life long before I knew it but looking back now – I see my life as His Grandeurs Divine Design. Some friends of my then boyfriend (Husband now), had gone to South Africa for their masters and had talked us through what they were studying. I was drawn in International Trade Law because I was exceptional at Commercial Law related modules and my Husband drawn to Environmental Law. That’s how it happened. I am so glad I took this route because this is without a doubt one of the spaces I am called to influence.
International trade is quiet an intensive field these days isn’t?
Most definitely. We cannot eat, dress, work etc without trade. At some point we need goods or services from elsewhere because we either don’t produce that commodity or can produce but not competitively. Trade makes sure we can get what we need. As you can imagine, this involves a whole host of things from trade laws, customs, logistics, standards, tariffs, geopolitics, human rights, resource mobilization, the environment, technology etc and all these things and more all require attention from diverse role players.
At the core, Countries are seeking to expand markets and grow their presence across the globe. There has been vast technological advancements and trade agreements put in place to regulate the trade space making international trade competitive, progressive, and as you say intensive. But I absolutely love this space and the positive direct impact on livelihoods we could facilitate because of trade.
Interesting that you made a move from the private sector to the public sector. Usually, it’s the other way around.
I guess so. I didn’t quite think of it this way. For me it was about service and where I knew my set of skills would serve better and wider. So, when the opportunity came, I knew my experience had prepared me to serve at this level and there was no other question after that. My mind set was to strengthen the evidence that public sector can work and does deliver. Because of this, the team and I go above and beyond to serve. I can’t properly say how completely gratifying it is to see impact from the work we do at this level. It is an honor.
Can you share your experience working in the UK?
I did not spend a stretch of time working in the UK. I went there as and when was necessary but was based in Windhoek working for the UK Government. This was probably the game changer in my career because I truly began to learn who I was and could be as a professional. I was blessed with great Bosses who saw my capabilities and gave me every opportunity to grow. From a personal development side, it is where I learned to become self-aware. I learned about myself and the impact I had on others – good and bad.
Overall, I found my voice as a professional while working here and I am so grateful for this. Learning how to work internationally was also an added bonus because I learned how to navigate working in different markets, countries yet still get the job done. I also harnessed my skill of delivery – to articulate myself properly and deliver a message or even have difficult conversations. I learned how to get organisations to care about the work I did and support in developmental funding and so many other things. I was able to glean from all of this experience which prepared me for the transition.
You’ve also worked as a law lecturer. Can you tell us about that?
My contribution to the University of Namibia as a Law Lecturer was one of the highlights of career. I delivered engaging lectures on various subjects particularly Criminal Law and Administrative Law. Nurturing future legal minds who I often bump into today doing amazing work brings me soo much Joy! I totally enjoyed lecturing (not marking haha)! I think what made me so relatable and successful was the fact that I knew what I struggled with when I was a student, so I made it my mission to make sure I was as relatable as possible.
I like to think I went beyond by trying to see each student’s potential and bring this out in them. I think subconsciously, I was doing what my mother did for me! I have many examples of students that started off so poorly and ending the year with distinctions! I remember marking some scripts and putting comments like: Yes! You get it!!! I would literally be talking to the student while marking and I’d be so proud to see the growth. Looking back, I am not surprised I enjoyed this because my purpose in life is to bring out the best in others and allow them to see themselves as the best. Once this is done, you become unstoppable!
You are a sought-after public speaker. Which themes do you speak on?
(Laughs) Anything. I am not prescriptive about this, yet I am drawn to topics around purpose and pulling people back into the best version of themselves. I talk about GOD, all THE time and who He is to me. Ultimately, my purpose is to draw people back to their Creator. The rest is just the how. I talk about trade and the different aspects of it. I talk about my life now and again because we are all in service to humanity and we connect with others by sharing and that’s important to me.
You are also an entrepreneur. Please tell us about how you got involved in business?
I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset, one that I have seen evolve over the years and now more than ever speaks to my purpose! Purpose birthed Zamar Boutique Spa as you see it today, came about as an affordable wellness idea that has today emerged into a great business serving both individuals and corporates. Our aim was to debunk the idea that affording a spa treatment is only for the upper class. So, we disrupted the market by making wellness extremely affordable. For me, business must be birthed in purpose and service. This way you pour your heart into it. My mother was in business for many years and that’s what I grew up seeing so by conditioning, it is what I ended up doing as well. But also, I actually enjoy the thrill that comes with birthing an idea and seeing it flourish – I can never get over it!
Over and above that you are also a best-selling author. How did that come about?
Grace. Right time, right place and really just saying Yes to what sets my soul on fire even though I had no clue how it would come together. As the writing began, it got clearer and became a compilation of great African women writers and a best seller. I have since also worked with an illustrator to craft an adult coloring book. It is a creative guide to self-re-discovery through meditative colour. Discovering my purpose stirred a fire within me to inspire and bring other women to a place of discovering and living in their purpose. The book that takes you back to young you – when everything you set your mind to was possible, helping you colour your way back to purpose. It is an arduous thing to do because not every childhood was pretty but in order to move forward, the past must be acknowledged. Even in pain, there is purpose.
You were named one of the Top 5 executives in Namibia and you were also recognized by the United Nations. Can you tell us more about that?
My focus is never really on recognition. My advice to anyone is to always – hunker down and do the work. Now and again, you look up and notice that the people around you see the impact. For me recognition means – you’re doing well, keep GOING! Recognition is that sweet tasting water to quench you after a hard, dry, and lonely walk doing what you do. It is an honor to be recognized but only for the purpose of giving you more fuel to keep going.