“I knew from childhood that I wanted to study law and was constantly intrigued and fascinated by lawyers in our community and on TV who always seemed so confident,” Thaker-Desai says.
Armed with ambition and resilience, she worked in IT for five years to help pay for her LLB course through Unisa which was “barely functional” in Zimbabwe at that time.
She then headed south and completed her degree at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth.
After doing her articles at a family law firm in South Africa she returned home.
So, in 2014 Thaker-Desai did her conversion exams while running two informal sales businesses to generate income.
A year later, she began working at Manokore Attorneys as a corporate lawyer- and it became evident that those years in business paid off.
“It was a huge change from family law, but it has been the best decision I have made. It has enabled me to combine my talent for business with my passion for the law.”
Thaker-Desai is currently an associate in the firm’s corporate merger and acquisitions practice and heads up the “French Focus” - which focuses on creating a direct line between France and Southern Africa for investment and business transactions.
Yes, she does “Parlez Francais”.
It was one of her favourite subjects at school, she says.
“When I joined the firm I was given an opportunity to re-ignite my passion for this beautiful language. Apart from studying further, I immersed myself in French. I was appointed to the board of Alliance Francaise. I am conversant in the language and am working to become more fluent, particularly in French business language, which is incredibly different to the French you learn in school.”
The “French Focus”, Thaker-Desai says, is exactly that. It opens up business opportunities between the French and Southern Africa, and her relationship with the local French embassy and community has been a gateway to potential investor interaction on opportunities, risk and risk mitigation.
Asked what case has made her most proud, Thaker-Desai cites her role in the acquisition by an Australian-listed entity of a controlling interest in a local hydrocarbon company.
“It was my first opportunity to see an acquisition through from inception to completion. It was a milestone for Zimbabwe in the oil and gas sector because it resulted in the first hydrocarbon exploration in history.”
Investment opportunities on the continent are limitless.
For lawyers, Thaker-Desai says, this means providing not just legal advice but extending on that with added knowledge such as a language, tax, or knowledge of the mining sector for example, thereby allowing clients to obtain added value from their lawyers. It’s about being savvier in businesses and in law.
“It’s important to advise potential investors to be open minded and accepting of the local investment environment because Africa is unique and special. One cannot play in Africa the same way one would in Europe of Asia.”
Thaker-Desai’s resilience has also seen her push back against professional and personal discrimination against women.
It’s something she has experienced, particularly being a woman of Asian descent, from both men and women, including family.
But it has made her stronger and resulted in the birth of her women empowerment blog to “celebrate the strength and power of women, inspired by the stories of women in my circle”.
“The issue can only be addressed with awareness and changing mind-sets and through women supporting women initiatives, women leadership development and promoting upliftment. Had I not endured a version of discrimination I probably would not have discovered this passion, so I don’t regret the experiences. They have led me to where I am and who I am now.”
As with all women, balancing work and family is a juggling act. Thaker-Desai says she takes it each day as it comes.
“Family is always important and will always take first priority in my life, but I understand that my work is what pays the bills and is important for stimulation of my brain, self confidence and my motivation.
“If today my work needs my attention more, then I prioritise it. If my family needs my undivided attention, then work has to take a stand down. Some days your family needs you more than your work, and vice versa.”
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