Pictured: Taciana Peão Lopes
Raised by a family of strong women, from a young age Taciana Peão Lopes felt the privilege of being raised in a humble but value-driven and supportive environment, which allowed her to fulfil her professional and private aspirations. Her upbringing gave her a sense of purpose to contribute to the development of a better reality for her home country, Mozambique. As a successful oil and gas lawyer, she is now a sponsor and co-founder of an independent not-for-profit “think and do” tank that works in support of the public interest of the southern African nation, the welfare of its citizens, and development of the business community.
“We have a special concept in Mozambique called ‘xitique’, which refers to a practice among the less privileged who don’t have access to finance. Groups of women and men pool together individual sums of money, and the total amount is granted to each member on a rotative basis or depending on the projects and requests of a member. WAZA is based on the same concept, adapted to expertise and experience. In place of money, our members practice an open and continuous ‘xitique’ of ideas and projects, as a means to nurture awareness, development, and implementation of inclusive policies and sustainable projects in Mozambique.
Mozambique has been home to Taciana and her family as long as she can remember although she did spend much of her youth outside the country. Born in Beira, she fled with her family to Portugal to escape the civil war. Her father died when she was 13. Together with her younger sister, she was raised by her mother, aunt, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, all of whom were role models for the youngest members of the family who were encouraged to never forgot their roots. After graduating from the Faculty of Law at the University of Coimbra in central Portugal, Taciana began to plan her return to Mozambique.
“I always dreamed to go back and contribute in any way I could to its development. As soon as the opportunity arose, I grabbed it with all my strength. As a researcher at the university’s Centre for Social Studies, I applied for a position in Mozambique to study the mechanisms of conflict resolution. It was the most challenging adventure of my life. I lived for several months in the north of the country, with one of WAZA’s co-founding members, which gave me the opportunity to understand the cultural, social, economic, and political diversity of our people in Mozambique. I rapidly felt that Mozambique would be the place where I could simultaneously keep learning and contribute the most,” Taciana explains.
For most of her career, the 41-year-old mother of four has never been a traditional lawyer. Her approach has been to be part of projects having a transformational impact in Mozambique. Taciana’s work involved legal-regulatory research and drafting of policies and legislation in justice-, land- and energy-related matters. The decision to launch her own law firm culminated over time, after the realisation that, despite the increasing number of women practising law in the country, female lawyers were never at the forefront of large projects or managing valuable clients − a role always given to foreign international firms and men.
“My ‘ah-ha’ was probably in the context of the negotiations of the LNG (liquified natural gas) project. I was the only Mozambican woman lawyer on the investor’s team at the negotiation table where critical decisions were being made on our country’s national interest. On top of that, although I was representing one of the largest investors in the project, I strongly felt for my colleagues from the government. They had to engage with large teams of international knowledgeable lawyers, who could not fully grasp the importance of such a project for a country like ours.”
Shortly after that experience, Taciana launched TPLA (Taciana Peão Lopes e Advogados Associados), a law firm focusing on oil and gas, mining, energy, and infrastructure projects. Today the company has six employees, three of whom are women. Unlike the majority of international law firms that are focused on billable hours, TPLA focuses on the successful implementation of projects and the social and economic impacts that such projects can bring to the Mozambican society.
In the same period, Taciana co-founded WAZA with a multi-disciplinary team of engineers, lawyers, anthropologists and media experts. An independent Mozambican ‘think-and-do’ tank, WAZA is a non-profit that focuses on infrastructure, namely transport and logistics, power and land management, and also in cultural and social issues. The organization currently has ten members all of whom dedicate their time and expertise. WAZA recently hired their first permanent staff member, as a key pillar of the team, with expertise in gender matters.
“WAZA aspires to build and streamline a world of knowledge, wisdom, and vision towards the adoption of realistic and impactful measures by public policymakers, and the promotion of appropriate long-term development strategies for the country. We are committed to the process of change and the creation of new inclusive social values. This is also why we use photos and videos anchored in the Mozambican society as a way to reach the hearts and minds of the large majority of people,” Taciana says.
About 20% of TPLA’s profits are directed to the development and operations of WAZA, which operates on the basis of revenues from public-interest driven assignments and a membership financing mechanism. TPLA also provides legal support to WAZA.
In simple terms, WAZA connects those with the desire to set Mozambique on the path to sustainable growth and prosperity together with those with the know-how, resources, and vision to make it happen. WAZA members contribute to a variety of publications such as a 250-page handbook on natural gas to foster a common understanding on the factors influencing successful projects in Africa and a book on transport and logistics in Mozambique. The non-profit also acts as a platform for the exchange of ideas around a handful of social impact-driven projects such as Casa Minha Nosso Bairro, which aims to offer the current population of barrios, young Mozambicans and small investors the opportunity to access quality and affordable housing in a consolidated urban area without forced displacement or relocation.or the Off- Grid Solar Project in the village of Titimane that is bringing energy to a remote village. On a regular basis, the WAZA team invites different counterparts of Mozambican society to engage on the publications, debate over recent public policy change, or brainstorm on the options for the sustainable implementation of projects throughout the country. These cooperative experiences are derived from the widespread practice of ‘xitique’ and take the form of breakfasts discussions, roundtables, or conferences.
Currently doing a Master’s in energy law, Taciana is working to build TPLA into Mozambique’s most knowledgeable and experienced law firm in the field of energy, natural resources, and infrastructure projects. Including her in its renowned global law directory, Chambers recognised for the first time a Mozambican woman as a knowledgeable lawyer in the oil, gas and energy field. As TPLA grows in stature and is recognized for quality work, dedication to the task at hand and the promotion of Mozambique’s interests, so too will WAZA’s legacy be assured.
“I hope in future years both these organisations will be recognized for their contributions and impact. My goal is to invest in younger Mozambican women and men so that the inspiration can pass to the next generation and this extensive ideas and experiences around infrastructure power, water and land can continue to transform the development of Mozambique.”
Taciana is proud of establishing her own law firm but WAZA is the gem in her crown. “This entrepreneurial adventure has offered me the opportunity to develop ideas and visions with colleagues, friends and clients and become involved in the implementation of projects based on socially conscious ideals. This is my small contribution to the aspirational development of our country and the African continent at large.”
Never give up! Do things you truly
believe in, even with limited resources. Think, do, and share!
FIND YOUR TRIBE
Being a founder of a business is lonely most of the time, especially if you are a woman. Find like-minded allies who understand and support you.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Accept feedback from others and
take it seriously.