Zenobia Ismail completed a doctorate in Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Before this she was a researcher at the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg. She also worked with the Afrobarometer research programme for three years based at Idasa where she was responsible for managing survey data collection in southern Africa and outreach co-ordination across all the countries in the study.
In addition she was a senior researcher at the Community Agency for Social Enquiry where she managed a number of research projects for government departments and donors. Before moving into social research she was a market researcher working in the private sector and later a lecturer at the School of Economic and Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand.