L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs



Wilder Student Helps Chart New Interest Area at ASPA

Sombo Chunda is a doctoral student at the VCU Wilder School.
Sombo Chunda is a doctoral student at the VCU Wilder School.

By Tiffany Murray-Robertson

In her second year at the Wilder School, Sombo Chunda, a doctoral student in public policy and public administration, is charting new territory at the nation’s foremost association of public management professionals.

For the past seven months, Chunda has been working with a small council of scholars to establish the Section on African Public Administration (SAPA) at the American Society for Public Administration.  

Last month, those efforts paid off:  SAPA became the newest subsidiary of the longest continuously operating association of its kind in the U.S., and Chunda, a native Zambian with more than 15 years of international development experience, was appointed interim secretary.

Chunda was principally assisted by SAPA chair Gedeon Mudacumura, Ph.D., an associate professor of public administration at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. Both will serve on the board of SAPA’s governing body until formal elections can be conducted at ASPA’s annual conference in Denver next month.

A focal point for intellectual and professional interaction, ASPA serves as an important catalyst for linking theory and practice within the field of public management.  Its members consist of 7,500 practitioners, academics and students who participate in the association’s 28 sections, providing opportunities for research and collaboration among various topical areas.

“To appropriate an American...never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change Africa.” –Sombo Chunda

Its newest section will advance human welfare by diversifying representation at all levels of government, advancing systematic public policy analysis and promoting excellence in the practice and instruction of public service education in continental Africa.

All ASPA members in good standing are eligible for membership in the section. In addition to their association fees, SAPA members are required to pay annual section dues of $30 which supports section activities and programs.

Coffee, Conversation and a Call to Action

Chunda, who traced the origins of SAPA to a serendipitous encounter at ASPA’s 2017 conference involving a bookseller, Mudacumura and passerby scholars, said that sometimes what you agree to over idle coffee conversation comes back to haunt you.

Six weeks after their meeting, Mudacumura phoned Chunda. He said he had been mulling over her thoughts about the distinct needs of public administration in Africa and had a question: Would she be willing to serve as one of the coordinators for the creation of a long-anticipated section on the topic?

“I had no idea what that phone call would lead to but I was in. Call it pro-bono service to the continent,” she said. 

“What it turned into was 30 weeks of bringing a dedicated group of people together—many of whom have vast experience as professors across the country—and are passionate about making government on the continent more responsive to the needs of its citizens.”

Chunda has high hopes for the SAPA’s ability to address the diverse needs of its 54 member constituent nations. She is confident that the section will provide a platform for impactful research and resource sharing between African scholars and their international counterparts.

A Civil Servant without Borders

Chunda’s own research at the Wilder School focuses on public sector financial management, transparency and accountability. It is a deeply personal course of study based on nearly two decades of professional experience. 

A wife and mother of two, Chunda came to the Wilder School as an M.P.A. student after a prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship brought her to VCU in 2016. Before then, she was an accountant turned country director of Diakonia, a Swedish international nonprofit organization based in Zambia.

While at Diakonia, Chunda engineered the first-of-its kind partnership among the national government, the mining sector and 16 civil society organizations. It was an achievement that garnered Chunda the 2016 Young Public Service Leader Award, Zambia’s highest prize for civil service.

A 2017 ASPA Founder’s Fellow, Chunda has taught public financial management and oversight to senior government and corporate executives.

She holds an MBA in Strategic Planning from the Edinburgh Business School in Scotland, is a fellow of the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants and a certified anti-money laundering specialist.

“To appropriate an American,” said Chunda, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change Africa.”

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