Alumni interview: Jonathan Gandari of Zimbabwe says GBJ "put me on a strong footing" for career
By AURORA LI ZHUO
Global Business Journalism reporter
A 2010 graduate of the Global Business Journalism program, Jonathan Gandari is one of the early success stories of the cross-cultural master's program based at Tsinghua University. He has pursued high-level jobs in journalism education, medical education and government service. He is now Chief Director of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Information, Publicity & Broadcasting Services in Harare. Here are extended excerpts of his conversation with Global Business Journalism reporter Aurora Li Zhuo.
Q: When did you join the GBJ program?
A: I enrolled on the GBJ program in September 2008. I think we were the second group. Our group was very special in that it was made up of people from all over the globe including Australia, the U.S., Hong Kong, Mongolia, China, Thailand, South Korea, India and Africa. It was a melting pot, so to speak. That made our engagements and debates during and after class enriching. The intercultural mix broadened our worldview to a very large extent.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your career path?
A: Thanks to the good academic and professional grounding that the GBJ program gave me, I have worked for three organizations, two universities in Zimbabwe and one quality assurance agency. In one university I was on the teaching staff and rose to be the head of the Journalism and Media Studies department. I was in charge of designing the Journalism curriculum and the teaching of it by my colleagues. When I joined the second university I was employed as the coordinator of a medical education partnership program (MEPI) This medical education partnership program was funded through PEPFAR. I am now on my third job where I am the manager of communications, including managing the content on the websites, social media and writing news published in the newsletters.
Q: How do you think your experience in GBJ helped you in your career life?
A: The GBJ program put me on a strong footing in many ways. First, I must point out that I couldn't have asked for a more suitable learning environment than China, and Tsinghua in particular. The university and its professors are experienced and very helpful Second, the GBJ course structure and the program content mix were both practical and professional. I sharpened my skills in basic business, accounting, public relations, corporate communication and finance. We used to say the lessons were about understanding “how money is made and how money is lost.”
Q: Can you describe your experience at Tsinghua University and in the Global Business Journalism program?
A: I have been fortunate in that I have received both Western and Chinese-centered education. I could say I use both hands; I am ambidextrous when it comes to the world, and I can critique and comment from a position of knowledge rather than speculation. I can disclose to you without fear or favor that I learned the most in China. I am a great admirer of the way GBJ professors mentor foreign students.
To anyone thinking of studying journalism, GBJ will be a good investment. The yields will be magnificent!
– Jonathan Gandari
Q: You arrived in China at a turning point in global economics.
A: So, this is my story. I arrived in China during the 2008 global financial crisis, which happened shortly after China had hoisted the famous Beijing Olympics at the majestic Bird’s Nest. I was in in the enviable position to observe from close range the practical interventions that China put in place to mitigate the effects of the financial crisis. The Chinese government “built the great wall” to firewall her citizens against the impact of the global financial crisis. The financial crisis was a practical economic and social problem case study we analyzed and applied our minds to during our classes. We had practical case scenarios to work and learn from. The debates in class from different contexts will forever remain indelible in my mind. Those case studies lit a fire under our feet.
Q: What was your expectation for this program before you get involved in it? How did the program compare to your expectations?
A: Most journalism courses in the world investigate the relationship between media and society. The GBJ program pushes the boundaries beyond being a critique of the role of the media and the society and holding power to account. The GBJ explores the relationship between the shrewd deployment of resources, including money, and how in that process we either grow the cake (GDP) or shrink it. All these economic decisions have an impact on the welfare of the citizens.
Q: Which course was your favorite?
A: I found all the courses I took useful. I found the corporate communication classes that were offered by Professor Fan Hong memorable. This was mostly because of her humane style of teaching and the real-life case studies we explored.
Q: What did you think of the cross-cultural experience at Tsinghua?
A: We used to call our class the “United Nations” of Tsinghua because it drew nationalities from so many continents. We loved the richness of our cultures and how we drew insight from the intercultural experiences we brought into play.
Q: Did Global Business Journalism give you the opportunity to experience life in China?
Professor Fan Hong, my mentor, immersed me in the Chinese culture. I had meals at her house and my Chinese classmates and friends introduced me to many famous restaurants near Tsinghua. I loved Chinese dishes. I enjoyed the Beijing Duck, Chinese and dumplings. I tried using chop sticks for eating. I had trips to the Great Wall, Bird’s Nest, Forbidden City and watched Kung Fu Panda many times. I found my Chinese friends to be very warm and helpful. I learned the language from them and they learned English from me.
Q: Do you think you have a better understanding of China as a result of the experience?
A: To a very large extent yes. But as I wrote in one piece while doing my GBJ courses, if you spent one day in Beijing you can write a book about China, if you spent one month you can write a chapter. If you live longer than one year you may not be able to write even a page. China is complex.
Q: Every GBJ students is required to complete an internship. What was yours?
A: I did my internship at the Global Times newspaper in Beijing. It was amazing. I wrote stories on Africa and the editorial team accepted them.
Q: What’s your most unforgettable experience during your time at Tsinghua?
A: The generosity of the people I came in contact with. I had no personal laptop and someone donated one to me. I did not have a bicycle and someone gave me an electric bike. These and many other gestures helped me to achieve my education.
Q: Have you had any contacts with other classmates after graduation?
A: Yes, lots of contacts. Just to illustrate this, in 2014 while visiting Washington D.C., I wrote on my Facebook timeline that I was in D.C. Within an hour after writing that, one of my former classmates, Martia, who was in D.C. at the same time, inquired where I was, and the following day we reunited and had lunch together. In a more recent case, when cases of COVID 19 surfaced this year, I had a long chat with one of my classmates from Russia who is now living and working in Malaysia.
Q: Do you have any advice for current or prospective students?
A: For prospective students I would encourage them to venture on the GBJ program. To anyone thinking of studying journalism, GBJ will be a good investment. The yields will be magnificent!
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share with the GBJ community?
In 2014, I took a small bank loan and used it to acquire a 10-acre piece of land to farm. I am investing on this property so that I become an entrepreneur. My dream is to turn the farm into an industrial hub. I have some crazy ideas about my future on the farm. I have sunk a borehole and I about to complete the roofing of my house on it. I will learn by doing at the farm. So, there you have it! If we talk again in about three years, I hope to be telling you about running a farming business.
Q: Thanks for talking to us.
A: Thank you for choosing me for this interview. I am grateful that the interview rekindles my memories of the time well spent at the top-notch university located at the heartbeat of Beijing. After going through these questions I feel nostalgic about Tsinghua University, Beijing, China and all the friends I made during my tour of study.