Women's Month 2023: Dr Hope Muronga

Women’s Month 2023: Dr Hope Muronga

August is Women’s Month, and this year the National Research Foundation (NRF) is celebrating the remarkable contributions that have been made by women researchers for the betterment of humanity. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Dr Hope Muronga recently graduated with a PhD in Economics from Southern Illinois University. She received a Fulbright Scholarship (in collaboration with the NRF) for her PhD and was also funded by the NRF for her Honours studies.

What impact did the NRF have on your studies/career?

During my Honours degree at the University of Pretoria, I was honoured to receive funding from the NRF which provided invaluable financial support for my studies and allowed me to focus on my academic pursuits without the burden of financial constraints, enabling me to excel in my coursework and research.

Furthermore, the collaboration between the NRF and the Fulbright program during my PhD at Southern Illinois University was a pivotal step in my career. The NRF funding opened doors to exceptional research and international opportunities that would otherwise have been difficult for me to access, especially after losing a parent during the course of my studies.

The impact of this funding on my studies and career has been profound, empowering me to engage in impactful projects and collaborate with global experts in the field of Economics, even during the most challenging times.

What has been your study/career journey?

Growing up in Venda (Limpopo), I quickly noticed stark differences between my village and the nearby town which had better roads, reliable electricity, competent schools, and adequate housing. “Why are some people poorer than others, and what can I do to make a positive change in my community?” It was this observation that initially sparked my interest in development economics.

I studied economics to link my academics with my desire to contribute to the upliftment of the marginalised. In 2013, I started my higher education journey at the University of Pretoria where I successfully obtained my Bachelors, Honours, and Master’s degrees in Economics with distinction. These academic achievements laid a strong foundation for my passion to address socioeconomic disparities and working towards sustainable development in underprivileged areas. After completing my Master’s degree, I was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to pursue my PhD in Economics at Southern Illinois University, which I successfully completed in May 2023.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My area of expertise is Development Economics. My research focuses on structural policies aimed at addressing challenges related to education, safety, poverty, and inequality.

Why is your research/work important?

My work is built on understanding and addressing economic and social factors that foster inclusion and maximise well-being. South Africa is faced with complex socio-economic issues that hinder inclusive development and equitable opportunities for its citizens, especially women and people in rural areas. By focusing on structural policies that promote quality education, address safety concerns, and reduce poverty, I hope to play a role in building a society where every individual has the chance to thrive, regardless of their demographic characteristics, background, or location. Through my work, I seek to shed light on factors that foster inclusion and create positive changes in these areas. Ultimately, my goal is to contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and equitable South Africa.

There is still a long way to go to truly achieve equity and a sense of belonging for women, be it within the research community or society in general. How do you envision yourself contributing to this space?

Through my research, I highlight the specific challenges and barriers faced by women in accessing quality education, safety, and economic opportunities. In South Africa, like in many other countries, women have been subject to unequal opportunities and economic limitations for a number of years. By shedding light on these pressing issues, I aim to raise awareness and advocate for targeted policies and interventions that address gender disparities and foster inclusion. However, women’s empowerment extends beyond the confines of my workspace. I am involved in organisations that promote women’s empowerment in Africa and provide valuable mentorship opportunities for women in diverse spaces.

What advice do you have for girls who are interested in STEM-related careers?

You have the potential! Your background does not define your capabilities. If you believe in yourself, maintain resilience, and persevere, you will make substantial contributions to the field. Trust in your abilities, seek guidance, and make the most of all the resources at your disposal.

I wish I had known that it does not matter where I start. With determination, I have the remarkable ability to rise from adversity, rapidly catch up, and ultimately exceed expectations.

This work is licenced under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ZA) license. Please view the terms for republishing here.

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