Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For helping bridge Zambia’s digital divide

Most project managers don’t have a job description that includes traveling for 12 hours on a tiny motorboat, eluding watersnake bites and almost getting stranded on a remote dirt road in the middle of a national park. But for Abigail Sandala, distant project sites are all just part of the gig.

Working at the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority, Sandala leads universal access projects aimed at closing the digital divide between the many underserved, rural areas of Zambia and its urban centers. Sometimes that means mapping out the specific locations for new cell towers in previously unconnected corners of her country. Other times that means traveling to remote locales for weeks at a time, delivering dozens of desktop computers to primary- and secondary-school students—most of whom have never seen a computer before.  

“What makes all this worth it is the excitement in the eyes of the pupils and teachers at the sight of a computer,” she says. “For me, that is real impact: touching the lives of those pupils and giving them equal opportunities as the children in cities and ensuring they’re not left behind.” 

So far, 500 schools and 3 million students have benefited from the organization’s Connecting Learning Institutions Project. And, as far as Sandala is concerned, they’re just getting started. “Knowing we’re making a difference supersedes any hardships we have to go through.”

Q&A: Abigail Sandala on the recipe for innovation, social good and avoiding toxic environments

What project most influenced you personally? 

When my son, Lubuto, was 7 months old, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a prognosis that broke me into pieces. But I had to quickly pick myself up and be strong for him. My husband and I embarked on an intensive brain plasticity research journey, during which we learned that my son’s damaged brain cells could be circumvented by stimulating the firing of new neuropaths which would enable him to learn new skills between ages 0 and 5. We executed this support project with optimism and saw tremendous results. This project taught me the importance of teamwork. It also taught me to trust the process, because some deliverables were excruciatingly slow to attain. 

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I ran a project that empowered over 10,000 vulnerable beneficiaries across the country with community payphones to be used for economic purposes. This project enabled me to get to the grassroots and understand people’s troubles at the household level. I could see up close how the project was benefiting them, and that made me proud.

How are young people changing the world of projects now?

Young people are not afraid to try out new things, and this fearless attitude is a recipe for innovation and creativity. They are early adopters, positioned for global collaboration beyond physical borders.

What’s the biggest challenge facing young project leaders right now? 

Most young project leaders go for performance more than trust, and that can create toxic environments. Project teams need a great balance between performance and trust. 

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We asked the Future 50: What are you reading—and recommending—right now?

The 360-Degree Leader by John Maxwell. This book showed me a whole new dimension to leadership, and I believe everyone who is intentional about being a great leader should read it. —Abigail Sandala, PMP

Youth Movement

Perspectives on how young people are changing the world of projects.

We are not afraid to try out new things, and this fearless attitude is a recipe for innovation and creativity. —Abigail Sandala, PMP