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Vanessa Zommi: the entrepreneur fighting diabetes with Tea

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Vanessa Zommi

Vanessa Zommi’s business is flourishing in her native Cameroon. She has an established business with social entrepreneurship at its heart. Zommi got an early taste for entrepreneurship by watching her mother sell computers after school, “I started learning how to make money, how to market a product, and how to talk to customers. I learnt the basics.” These early experiences would shape her future immensely.

Family has always been incredibly important to Zommi, 21, who comes from a household of six children. She lost both grandparents to diabetes, so when her mother was diagnosed she decided to take action. Knowing from a young age that she wanted to become a social entrepreneur, this drive to find a treatment for her mother led her to the perfect business

Diabetes rates rising among lower-income classes in Cameroon

She researched diabetes and potential treatments for her mother. While looking for natural remedies, she discovered the Moringa Oliefera tree which reportedly has over 40 known antioxidants. Among its health benefits is a noticeable blood-sugar reduction, around two hours after consumption. These health benefits were the cornerstone of her product and she saw its potential as both a treatment and prevention of diabetes. She started processing the Moringa leaf into tea, before selling it as a convenient and enjoyable health supplement.

Diabetes is an increasing health problem in Cameroon, mainly due to poverty rates and a lack of education concerning diet and nutrition. Poverty is one of the leading causes of diabetes throughout Africa as much of the cheap food and snacks are sugary and highly processed. The cost of healthcare often prevents early detection, with many of the sufferers in Cameroon unaware of their condition. The medicine used to treat the condition is also out of reach for many of the country’s rural poor. According to Zommi’s research, up to 15% of Cameroonians suffer from diabetes, and as many as 80% are not aware of it.

A tea with health benefits

Zommi’s tea is marketed as “Afya Moringa Tea” and currently supplies consumers in Molyko, Cameroon. Tea drinkers currently make up 5% of the population in her native country. She has ambitious plans: Zommi’s vision is to see that number rise to 40% by 2025. She wants to see the product marketed across the country as an affordable health supplement, for people at risk of diabetes and as a treatment for those who already have the condition. Zommi explains: “So at first I was doing this just for my mom, but then I realized this could help other people like her in Cameroon, as well as Africa.”

Conventional medicine too expensive for most

Compared to the soaring costs of medicines such as insulin, her tea is affordable and accessible to the local population. It costs just $2 USD per 40 g, and she hopes to reduce the price further once mass production commences. Alongside her ambitious plans for herbal domination in Cameroon, she hopes her product can spread throughout low-income areas across the continent.

The recent success of her business earned her the prestigious Anzisha award for 2015. It recognizes innovative entrepreneurs throughout Africa, in many different industries. Her self-belief and determination has got her far. She said recently: “The day I knew this was going to work is when I discovered that there is more availability of Moringa in Cameroon than there are areas of abject poverty.”

Helping other people help themselves

Zommi is tenacious, driven and her passion is helping other people. Her tea company now trains farmers to grow Moringa, and she helps provide the seeds to start their own crops. She is also an advocate for women in business, and believes that you don’t have to be naturally talented at entrepreneurship; you just have to have the drive and work hard at it. She explained: “so to all the young entrepreneurs – don’t be afraid! It will be difficult, but if you don’t give up, it will be worth it.” Cameroon needs more entrepreneurs like Vanessa Zommi.

 

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Omar Samra: entrepreneur, adventurer and humanitarian

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Omar Samra may be one of the most interesting Africans alive today. The 38 year old Egyptian is a highly distinguished explorer, holding a string of adventuring firsts to his name. Samra has experienced great tragedy, and then gone on to conquer that adversity, becoming a renowned motivational speaker and notable writer. He started life as a severely asthmatic child, but is now scheduled to become Egypt’s first astronaut. What’s more, Samra is known as a conscientious, highly successful entrepreneur and philanthropist; he is most certainly a unique individual.

Early life and career

Heavily asthmatic, weak and unfit as a child Samra said he couldn’t even finish a lap of his local 400 metre track. In an early sign of his deep and unwavering resolve, he set out to conquer his condition, dedicating himself to a brutal six days a week running regime. He gradually built up his fitness and became less reliant on medications. Aged 16, he climbed his first mountain in Switzerland and a passion was born.

In 2000, Samra obtained a degree in Economics from the University of Cairo. He then worked in London and Hong Kong, climbing the corporate ladder with the banking giant HSBC. However, adventure’s call gnawed at him, prompting a yearlong odyssey which took him through 14 countries in Asia and South America and saw him scale numerous mountains. He returned to the corporate world before completing an MBA in entrepreneurship with the London Business School in 2007.

Mt Everest, Kilimanjaro and a special partnership

Later that year he fulfilled a lifelong dream of climbing Mount Everest, becoming the youngest Arab and first Egyptian to arrive at the peak of the world. After defeating Everest, he yearned for another challenge, deciding to pursue the “Seven Summits”, the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. On a 2008 trip to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, he met his future wife and business partner Marwa Fayed.

Together, Samra and Fayed built a challenging and daring business. Their company, Wild Guanabana focussed on providing carefully selected, life changing adventure trips to destinations around the globe. The idea spawned from their love of travel, and their passion to encourage people to challenge themselves and transform their lives.

Their business began to blossom. The firm became the Middle East and Africa’s first carbon-neutral travel company, dedicated to sustainability, eco-protection, awareness regarding environmental issues, as well as collaboration and partnerships with environmental projects around the globe.

Not content with their efforts, the couple wanted to find another way to give back and enhance lives. In 2010 Marwa Fayed founded Cairo’s Toy Run for Orphanages. She gathered used and unwanted toys from around the city, and gave them as gifts to underprivileged, orphaned children. She said: “every child has the right to a toy; a loving friend and companion to nourish their creative minds.”

The Seven Summits and a desolate nadir

Samra continued his effort to scale the Seven Summits. By 2012, he only had one peak left on his list, Mt Denali in Alaska. He failed in his first attempt, but he finally summited North America’s highest peak in May 2013.

Just after this momentous achievement, Samra flew back to Miami where his wife Marwa Fayed was due to give birth to their first child. On the 17th of June 2013 their daughter, Teela was born. Just five days later, Marwa Fayed tragically and unexpectedly passed away due to complications from the birth.

Obviously this unimaginable tragedy took an immense toll on Samra. He found an outlet for his grief when he remembered the Toy Run initiative his wife started. He renamed the charity Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run as a way of keeping her memory alive. With the help of her family and friends, the project grew quickly. Today the organization has delivered hundreds of thousands of toys to children across the world. In 2014 the project was recognized by the Middle East Broadcasting Centre as Humanitarian Project of the year.

As part of his healing process, Samra wanted to get back to something he loved, adventuring. In April 2015 he became one of just 40 people in history to complete the ‘’Explorers Grand Slam”; skiing to both poles in addition to climbing the Seven Summits.

Today, Wild Guanabana is thriving. The company has had a huge increase in bookings and believes its revenue will increase 70% compared to last year. If that wasn’t enough he hopes to soon become Egypt’s first man in space after winning a grueling competition. One thing is for certain Omar Samar is remarkable human being, a genuine inspiration, and a role model for Egypt and beyond.

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Nana Boateng Osei and his sustainable vision for Ghana

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bôhten

Nana Boateng Osei is the young man behind the stylish luxury eco-eyewear company: Bôhten. He hails from a Ghanaian family that is deeply proud of its heritage. He has travelled the world, conceived various outlandish business ideas and even appeared on the Canadian version of Dragon’s Den. Today his company Bôhten is going from strength to strength, while also giving back to his home country, Ghana.

Travel, the Big Apple, education and Lilo

Osei’s early life certainly wasn’t dull. Due to his father’s job as a diplomat for the Foreign Ministry of Ghana, Osei and his siblings spent long periods of time in countries such as the U.K, the U.S, Yugoslavia and South Africa. His family eventually settled to live permanently in New York City. However, they held on tightly to their Ghanaian roots; Osei has said that at home his family would always speak Twi and eat traditional Ghanaian dishes. They became closely involved in the Bronx’s large Ghanaian community and retained strong links with family in their home nation.

In 2007, Osei moved to Canada to study at Environmental Science at the University of Ottawa. It was while at University that he first began to create and pursue his own business ideas. In 2009, Osei opened a marketing firm Lilo Enterprises, which was designed to connect sustainable and environmental product manufacturers to consumers. Lilo foreshadowed the creation of Bôhten, highlighting the causes that Osei holds dear. He also flirted with other unorthodox businesses such as vertical gardens and limousine services during this time.

Ghanaian beginnings and the Dragons’ Den

Bôhten eyewear was born from the culmination of multiple ideas. Firstly, Osei was inspired by a trip back to Ghana where he was moved by the natural beauty of the area. Also, some of his family worked in the local wood business which interested him. These factors swirled with his love of fashion and passion for sustainability. He said “At some point, my interests began to play off of each other and during that trip, the seed of the idea for using reclaimed wood for glasses was planted.”

In 2012 he started initial work on Bôhten while still at University. He derived the company from his own name, Boateng, which means prosperity in Twi. Osei got the chance to pitch his business in the infamous Dragons’ Den during a student special episode. While he impressed with his pitch, he didn’t receive an offer from the Dragons, who felt the business was too young.

Osei wasn’t deterred by the Dragons’ decisions. He went on to bring family members into the business to help him grow the organization. Osei has said that with hindsight, investment partners may have stifled his creative freedom, and that the company has managed to move forward without them by knuckling down and getting things done.

The exposure from appearing on the show led to skyrocketing sales and growth. Some say the Dragons missed out.

A sustainable vision for Ghana

Sustainability is at the heart of the business; Bôhten uses reclaimed wood from items such as chairs and tables, all sourced in Western Africa. Additionally Osei wants to use Bôhten as means to better the economy in Ghana. The company currently manufactures its glasses in Canada. However, later this year the firm intends to open a full-scale manufacturing plant in Ghana. The plant going live will be the realization of a long term ambition for Bôhten. “Our ultimate mission is to create a zero-waste facility in Africa that will not only serve to create jobs but also educate people the importance of eye care, sustainable design and social entrepreneurship.”

Osei says that eye care is woefully inadequate in Africa. He explained that the high levels of UV radiation on the continent are responsible for some of the issues that African’s face. To combat such problems, Osei has partnered Bôhten with eyesight charity Sightsavers. For every sale Bôhten makes, the company will make a donation to Sightsavers programs, aimed at eradicating avoidable blindness in West Africa.

As Bôhten grows, so will the benefits that it brings to Ghana and other nations in the region. Nana Boateng Osei is tenacious, compassionate and conscientious individual; a great example for Ghana and Africa as a whole.

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Egypt’s supply minister resigns amid corruption probe

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CAIRO/ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Egyptian Minister of Supply Khaled Hanafi resigned from his post on Thursday, the highest level fallout from a corruption probe into whether millions of dollars intended to subsidise farmers were used to purchase wheat that did not exist.

“I announce leaving my post so that the state can choose who will bear and continue this path of giving,” Khaled Hanafi said on state television.

Egypt, the world’s largest importer of wheat, has been mired in controversy over whether much of the roughly 5 million tonnes of grain the government said it procured in this year’s harvest exists only on paper, the result of local suppliers falsifying receipts to boost government payments.

If Egypt’s local wheat procurement figures were misrepresented, it may have to spend more on foreign wheat purchases to meet local demand – even as it faces a dollar shortage that has sapped its ability to import.

Egypt’s supply ministry is in charge of a massive food subsidy programme and the main state grain buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC).

Parliamentarians who formed a fact-finding commission to investigate the fraud have said upwards of 2 million tonnes, or 40 percent of the locally procured crop, may be missing.

The general prosecutor has ordered arrests, travel bans, and asset freezes for several private silo owners and others allegedly involved in the scandal.

While Hanafi has not been accused of directly profiting from misallocated subsidies, parliamentarians, industry officials, and media commentators have in recent weeks pinned blame for the crisis squarely on his shoulders.

The prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars in squandered government subsidies comes as Egypt gears up for a raft of austerity measures, including various subsidy cuts agreed to as part of a $12 billion IMF programme that could bring pain for its poorest.

 

(Reporting by Eric Knecht and Maha El Dahan; additional reporting by Asma Alsharif; editing by William Hardy)

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Thato Kgatlhanye and her “upcycled” solar powered schoolbags

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Thato Kgatlhanye

Thato Kgatlhanye is a bright South African startup entrepreneur who is using innovation to benefit lives of local youths.

Thato Kgatlhanye is another shining tech star to come out of South Africa in recent years. Her passion for social change and empowerment is reflected in her landmark product: the solar powered school bag.

At age 18, Kgatlhanye founded Rethaka, literally meaning “we are fellows.” She set out with no concrete business plan in mind, just the idea that she wanted to do something that impacted young people and benefited underprivileged communities. Less than two years later, Repurpose was born.

Combining tech innovation and social motivation

Kgatlhanye had noticed that many children in South Africa walked to school carrying their books, or using plastic carrier bags. She was concerned that they frequently journeyed along busy roads, often late at night. Her vision was to create a practical book bag for disadvantaged students that could be low-cost and environmentally friendly.

Kgatlhanye and her business partner Rea Ngwane founded Repurpose with a $50,000 seed. The two childhood friends generated the startup capital by winning hard fought business competitions, and attracting corporate grants. They produced a prototype in partnership with an industrial product designer, before launching their brand of “upcycled” school bags. The bags are made from hundreds of reclaimed plastic carrier bags. They contain a solar powered battery element designed to charge on the student’s walk to school, and then emit light for up to 12 hours. Not only are these bags strong, durable and waterproof but they also come in many bright and unique designs and are made from high visibility materials.

Utilizing waste materials

The bags were designed with three core concepts in mind, forming the cornerstones of Repurpose’s success.

The first is its recycling element, which helps to alleviate Africa’s plastic crisis by upcycling collected carrier bags into a useful end product. Repurpose sets up “PurposeTextile” Banks for locals to deposit used plastic bags, taking them out of the environment ready to be made into repurposed bags.

The second is the bags’ durability and practical nature. They are long lasting, waterproof and available in bright colors. They are also made out of a highly reflective material in order to be more visible to vehicles. Three children are needlessly killed every day on dangerous South African roads, often walking to and from school along roads not built for pedestrian travel.

The final element is the solar powered light. The solar panel charges on the student’s walk to school and then can be used as a lantern for up to 12 hours of light. Many children cannot study once it gets dark as their families’ cannot afford candles or kerosene. Furthermore, around 3 million people are killed globally each year from accidents and illnesses involving kerosene and other temporary light sources.

Repurpose bags

Upcycling, generous donors and low-income families

Repurpose seeks out “Giving Partners,” who are matched with low-income schools that pay for a consignment of bags. Although Rethaka is a for-profit, women-owned business, they profess to do “what is right, not what is easy,” and their ethos is focused on generating profits, jobs and empowerment in otherwise struggling communities.

A recent graduate in Brand Management from Vega University, Kgatlhanye is enjoying her business success at a very young age. Her company has now dispensed over 10,000 backpacks, with plans to roll out further development and promotion of her bags. Repurpose has significant potential for the rest of Africa. Kgatlhanye has expressed a desire to extend her project across the continent, where it can save lives, benefit the environment and benefit children on a far grander scale. They intend set up more workshops in other African countries over the next 5 years, creating jobs and extending their reach. They also want to partner with large organizations like UNICEF to distribute the bags on a larger scale to identified African communities.

But Kgatlhanye is setting herself even wider targets. After identifying a new market, her next project is a range of luxury bags to be sold in the western world. This will be on a one-for-one model, donating one backpack for each bag sold. At just 23 years old, she is part of a new generation of change makers in South Africa. These individuals are utilizing their business acumen, entrepreneurial ideas and commitment to social progress for the greater good.

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Nana Boateng Osei and his sustainable vision for Ghana

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Nana Boateng Osei

Nana Boateng Osei and his company Bôhten have created an innovative and sustainable product that is benefiting his home country of Ghana.

Nana Boateng Osei is the young man behind the stylish luxury eco-eyewear company Bôhten. He hails from a Ghanaian family that is deeply proud of its heritage. He has travelled the world, conceived various outlandish business ideas and even appeared on the Canadian version of Dragon’s Den. Today his company Bôhten is going from strength to strength, while also giving back to his home country, Ghana.

Travel, the Big Apple, education and Lilo

Osei’s early life certainly wasn’t dull. Due to his father’s job as a diplomat for the Foreign Ministry of Ghana, Osei and his siblings spent long periods of time in countries such as the U.K, the U.S, Yugoslavia and South Africa. His family eventually settled to live permanently in New York City. However, they held on tightly to their Ghanaian roots; Osei has said that at home his family would always speak Twi and eat traditional Ghanaian dishes. They became closely involved in the Bronx’s large Ghanaian community and retained strong links with family in their home nation.

In 2007, Osei moved to Canada to study Environmental Science at the University of Ottawa. It was while at University that he first began to create and pursue his own business ideas. In 2009, Osei opened a marketing firm Lilo Enterprises, which was designed to connect sustainable and environmental product manufacturers to consumers. Lilo foreshadowed the creation of Bôhten, highlighting the causes that Osei holds dear. He also flirted with other unorthodox businesses such as vertical gardens and limousine services during this time.

Ghanaian beginnings and the Dragons’ Den

Nana Boateng Osei

Nana Boateng Osei

Bôhten eyewear was born from the culmination of multiple ideas. Firstly, Osei was inspired by a trip back to Ghana where he was moved by the natural beauty of the area. Also, some of his family worked in the local wood business, which interested him. These factors swirled with his love of fashion and passion for sustainability. He said, “At some point, my interests began to play off of each other and during that trip, the seed of the idea for using reclaimed wood for glasses was planted.”

In 2012 he started initial work on Bôhten while still at University. He derived the company from his own name, Boateng, which means prosperity in Twi. Osei got the chance to pitch his business in the infamous Dragons’ Den during a student special episode. While he impressed with his pitch, he didn’t receive an offer from the Dragons, who felt the business was too young.

Osei wasn’t deterred by the Dragons’ decisions. He went on to bring family members into the business to help him grow the organization. Osei has said that with hindsight, investment partners may have stifled his creative freedom, and that the company has managed to move forward without them by knuckling down and getting things done.

The exposure from appearing on the show led to skyrocketing sales and growth. Some say the Dragons missed out.

A sustainable vision for Ghana

Sustainability is at the heart of the business; Bôhten uses reclaimed wood from items such as chairs and tables, all sourced in Western Africa. Additionally Osei wants to use Bôhten as means to better the economy in Ghana. The company currently manufactures its glasses in Canada. However, later this year the firm intends to open a full-scale manufacturing plant in Ghana. The plant going live will be the realization of a long term ambition for Bôhten. “Our ultimate mission is to create a zero-waste facility in Africa that will not only serve to create jobs but also educate people the importance of eye care, sustainable design and social entrepreneurship.”

Osei says that eye care is woefully inadequate in Africa. He explained that the high levels of UV radiation on the continent are responsible for some of the issues that African’s face. To combat such problems, Osei has partnered Bôhten with eyesight charity Sightsavers. For every sale Bôhten makes, the company will make a donation to Sightsavers programs, aimed at eradicating avoidable blindness in West Africa.

As Bôhten grows, so will the benefits that it brings to Ghana and other nations in the region. Nana Boateng Osei is tenacious, compassionate and conscientious individual; a great example for Ghana and Africa as a whole.

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Simbarashe Mhuriro: Zimbabwe’s savy solar innovator

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solar power in africa

Simbarashe Mhuriro and his company OurSun Energy Limited are creating an ambitious solar powered future for Zimbabwe.

A surge of innovation is electrifying Africa. A new wave of savvy, ambitious entrepreneurs with big ideas are pushing the envelope, and invigorating nations. Simbarashe Mhuriro, is one such person. Simba, as he likes to be known, is the 31 year old Executive Director of OurSun Energy in Zimbabwe. His firm has set out ambitious goals to bring wide scale renewable solar energy to Zimbabwe

Business beginnings

Simbarashe Mhuriro

Simbarashe Mhuriro

Simba grew up in Marondera, Zimbabwe, just 30 kilometers from the capital Harare.  He attended a local school and by all accounts had a normal childhood. He didn’t start his career as a business high flyer. Simba recalled how his first jobs were rather ordinary, and not particularly indicative of the career he has gone on to pursue. His early jobs included working as a school teacher and even as a disk jockey before becoming a hotel reservations agent.

He built upon his hospitality career and moved to Dubai after landing himself a job with hotel giant Emaar Hospitality Group. As he climbed the ladder, Simba rubbed shoulders with established business people from a variety of industries while gaining a sound understanding of the corporate world. In 2010, he decided that given his business skills and knowledge of Zimbabwe, he wanted to create his own firm.

Partnership and major solar plans for Zimbabwe

Simba found two seasoned business partners in Andrew Connelly and Honour Mkushi. The trio swiftly formed Oxygen Africa Ltd, a firm specializing in identifying opportunities and creating partnerships between foreign investors and projects in Zimbabwe. Originally the group focused on energy, mining and agriculture. However in 2012, Simba was introduced to Jo Hanns Dieter Trutschler, the principal of Meeco Group, a Swiss firm that creates solar energy projects in developing nations. Simba and Trutschler started to build a strong business relationship, with Trutschler tutoring the Zimbabwean on the workings of the solar energy sector. Simba said that this “literally got me hooked into solar, so I zoned in and said you know what, I have to get these guys to Zimbabwe with me.”

With Simba’s unique blend of business skills and Zimbabwean connections, and Meeco Group’s expertise in solar energy, a partnership was imminent. In 2014 the two groups formed the official joint venture OurSun Energy Limited.

Intensely passionate about OurSun’s program, Simba believes it can play a huge part in solving Zimbabwe’s energy issues. He explained why this is the case: “The Zimbabwean geographical situation is ideal for the implementation of solar energy and related applications such as energy storage, lighting or water pumping due to its level of radiation, one of the highest worldwide,”

While such a program seems ideal for Zimbabwe, the country is not known for being an easy place to do business. Bringing the myriad facets of OurSun’s program together has been no easy feat. Simba has been an instrumental facilitator responsible for dealing with authorities and regulation, identifying prospects, bringing in additional partners, managing imports, sourcing suppliers and overseeing the implementation of the projects.

Solar Energy stands to benefit Zimbabweans and their economy

OurSun aims to deliver 230MW of solar applications throughout Zimbabwe in the next ten years. The benefits of the scheme should be significant. In Simba’s words: “The main thrust for us is developing clean energy solutions for the well-being of the population, especially in remote and rural areas. They are the ones in urgent need of stable and reliable power.”

OurSun is also committed to seeing its schemes benefit the local economy. They are looking to maximize the amount of manufacturing, research and development and hiring that happens locally. The firm estimates that over 2,000 jobs will be created throughout the life-cycle of the scheme. Furthermore Simba has commented that the program represents a great opportunity to drive growth in the industry via the the “knowledge transfer” that will occur between OurSun and indigenous Zimbabweans, many of whom will be women and the young.

Tenacious individuals like Simba are essential to usher in change. Zimbabwe will enjoy the benefits of his conscientious work, and can be sure to see further contributions from this home-grown pioneer in the future.

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Ellen Chilemba: The entrepreneur helping Malawi’s women

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Ellen Chilemba

Ellen Chilemba is one of Africa’s youngest social entrepreneurs, bringing about change and empowerment for the women left behind by society.

For Ellen Chilemba, being an entrepreneur is about affecting social change and helping others reach success. Her ground-breaking project Tiwale is making waves across the African non-profit sector. Making the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2015 and with a long way to go until she hits 30, she has a bright future ahead affecting change in Malawi’s development.

Born and raised in Malawi, at the age of 16 she was offered a scholarship to attend the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, where she studied leadership, entrepreneurship and African studies. This experience shaped her immensely and straight after graduating she launched her first major project: Tiwale. This is a social enterprise designed to train women in the apparel industry, and help them escape cycles of poverty in her native Malawi. This was a risk for Chilemba, and she doubted whether taking a year out of studying was good for her career. Fortunately, Tiwale has been extremely successful and she is now studying economics at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts while managing her business from abroad.

Believing in gender empowerment

Chilemba believes in women helping women, and that gender empowerment is the key to reducing poverty in her homeland. Gender disparity statistics in Malawi are alarming by global standards. Women have some of the lowest primary school completion rates, low socioeconomic markers and higher than average HIV and AIDS infection figures. Malawi also has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates and many young women are forced to leave school and marry at 12 or 13.

With little to no education to speak of, low access to medical care and few economic opportunities, women in Malawi are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized in Africa. These are the conditions that inspired Chilemba to create a project that would improve lives in a big way. She believes that is a key factor as incremental changes are easily undone, frequently resulting into a slide back into poverty.

tiwale

Tiwale finds success with a cyclic business model

It became apparent to Chilemba that although many women throughout Malawi wore bright, traditionally dyed clothing, most of these clothes were imported from neighboring countries. Having identified a potential business, she began training women to dye-print different fabrics that are then sold to designers as garment material or from their website as tapestries and tote bags. The women are allowed to keep 60% of the profit, while 40% goes back into the company to help to train more women and perpetuate the cycle.

Tiwale means “let’s glow” in the Malawian language, Chichewa. Tiwale’s purpose is to empower, guide and allow women to “lift” themselves out of poverty. Chilemba’s orignal model has grown considerably, and since its inception 3 years ago has branched into two avenues.

The first branch is the fabric design training for women in the community, where their goods are sold through the company and they are free to use their skills to start their own business, or continue working with the program in their facilities.

The other is much more ambitious, offering micro-finance schemes. These begin with leadership and entrepreneurship courses where the participants learn business skills such as inventory and accounting. After the training, the women present business proposals and the most viable ideas are given interest free loans that are repaid over 10 weeks. Tiwale has also introduced a scheme to send promising candidates back to school or college with grants paid for by the vocational courses and resulting profits. Each woman that they help then goes on to help others. Currently they have helped 40 women to become business owners and have taught entrepreneurial courses to 150 more.

What does Chilemba’s future entail?

Not one to be satisfied with her current success, planning is already underway to build an education and entrepreneur center for women. This will be used in a number of ways, giving the participants space to create their products, as well as for further workshops and additional activities. Chilemba sees a future for Tiwale where the company outgrows her involvement and flourishes on its own. She wants to focus next on the education system in Malawi and ways to attract tourism to her “beautiful country.” She says she is “excited by social entrepreneurship and has many more ideas to pursue.” Chilemba is a much needed role model for Malawi. Through her efforts perhaps she will inspire future leaders and entrepreneurs who can further drive change in their homeland.

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“Spinach king” turns healthy eating into a business

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Spinach King

A young South African entrepreneur sources local gardens to produce popular, nutritious baked goods.

A young South African entrepreneur has built a business in healthy baked goods that has earned him the nickname of “Spinach King.”

Lufefe Nomjana, 28, produces spinach-based products including bread, muffins and sandwiches for retail outlets around Cape Town. Nomjana also offers delivery service via bicycle to local offices and consumers who want healthy meals.

He launched the business in 2012 with only 40 Rand (less than $3) in his pocket. Fast forward to 2016 and he operates Espinaca Innovations, which includes a bakery in a renovated shipping container, a café and bakery, and plans for a large-scale bread factory to open in August.

Recognized by the South Africa Breweries Social Innovation Awards in 2014, Nomjana used about $6,000 in prize money to expand his business.

A lesson in entrepreneurship

But the young businessman insists that entrepreneurial thinking has been more important than money on his path to success.

“You’ve got brains and intellectual capital. That will actually open many doors for you,” he said.

Nomjana was just out of school and in his early 20s when he embarked on a business career. He was selling clothes door-to-door but realized he needed to learn more about business and finance if he was going to start a successful business.

“Although I had the ambition and discipline to be self-employed, things weren’t going well,” he said. “I didn’t know enough about stock control and cash flow.”

A five-month course in entrepreneurship taught him that he could build a business while helping people in his community, providing them with access to healthy food.

Spinach king in action

Spinach readily available

That is when he started thinking about spinach, which was growing in abundance at a community garden where he volunteered in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha Township, where he lives. “Spinach grows easily almost everywhere. It’s one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables with many healthy side effects.”

He looked up recipes on the internet, persuaded a neighbor to let him use her oven and his healthy, low-carb spinach bread was born.

He was unable to find investors for his idea. But he went ahead, using the neighbor’s oven at nighttime in exchange for paying for electricity and giving her a supply of bread.

Nomjana baked four loaves a night, then eight and then 16, the most he could produce in his neighbor’s oven.

Building a brand

Profits were small. But while he wasn’t making a lot of money at first, he was building a reputation. Soon, he found he could not keep up with demand.

In the beginning, “it was not about profits. I was building a brand, and educating people” about good nutrition, he said.

A breakthrough came in 2013, when he asked Spar, a local retail chain, if he could use their ovens in exchange for supplying their stores with his baked goods. His production increased dramatically to 200 loaves a day. In addition to Spar, he could supply oven-baked spinach products to local offices.

He soon hired a small sales staff and – eager to speed up deliveries – launched a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for five delivery bicycles.

By the end of 2013, Nomjana had saved nearly $3,000. With that money and his prize from the SAB Social Innovation competition, he bought his own baking equipment and renovated a shipping container as a bakery.

In 2016, Nomjana produces about 500 loaves daily of his popular low-carbohydrate “banting bread” along with other baked goods. He buys organic spinach from local farmers.

Plans to increase production four-fold

He believes he can increase production to 2,000 loaves once he opens a factory later this summer in nearby Stellenbosch.

At his new café, which also contains a bakery, customers can buy healthy, affordable meals such as gluten-free spinach bread and fresh butternut soup for about $1.

His experience has prompted Nomjana to advise other entrepreneurs to first identify resources they have – in his case locally grown spinach and a neighbor with an oven – before looking for investment.

It may make more sense to just get started with the resources available, the way he did.

“The first capital that you need, more than money, is intellectual capital.”

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Tanzanian entrepreneur aims to light up his country with green energy

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

sunsweet solar

George Mtemahanji’s Tanzanian startup, Sunsweet Solar, looks to bring clean energy to its nation’s poorest people.

For 70% of Tanzanians, the only way to light up their homes after sundown is with a small kerosene-powered lamp. This shortage of electricity does not only affect people in their homes, but businesses and schools too. It was something that 22 year old George Mtemahanji understood well, as he had grown up in the small, rural town of Ifakara where kerosene was the only option for light after dusk.

Mtemahanji left his home in 2003 at only 9 years of age, as his mother took him to Italy in search of new opportunities. However, 8 years later he returned home, and upon seeing that the same energy problems still afflicted his hometown, he decided to find a solution.

The spark that can change lives

Mtemahanji was not only struck by how little things had changed in his place of birth, but also by how significant a lack of electricity was to the prospects for development. Mtemahanji explained, “Electricity supply is really important for the development of a country. Without electricity, New York or Johannesburg would just be villages – they’d be like Ifakara.”

At the time of his return, Mtemahanji was studying to be a technician in renewable energy, and the power situation within his home town immediately struck him as a problem that his training could help to solve. Mtemahanji said, “We have a lot of sun and it was really very strange that no one was doing something with solar energy.” The inspiration for Sunsweet Solar had been created, so Mtemahanji returned to Italy to discuss his ideas with a fellow student, Manuel Rolando.

By 2013, extensive research into solar energy in Tanzania had revealed that many locals simply did not trust solar energy as a reliable source due to poor quality installations that had proved inconsistent. However, Mtemahanji was confident that Rolando and he were capable of designing efficient, cost effective solar powered systems. The duo began approaching companies for funding, and found a Swiss company planning to build a photovoltaic plant (solar power plant) right in Mtemhanji’s hometown of Ifakara. The two young entrepreneurs offered to design and construct all the technical components of the plant for free, and their pitch was accepted.

Sunsweet Solar rises in the east

Mtemahanji’s voluntary work on the Swiss photovoltaic plant was a huge success; the plant is the largest of its kind in the Kilombero district, and it powers 200 lights, dozens of computers and can store 3 days’ worth of power. Moreover, it now proved to any other investor that Mtemahanji and Rolando had the requisite skills to complete their grand plans.

Mtemahanji was committed to ensuring that his home in East Africa would begin to finally see a rise in solar power, which would drive forward development, and would save money for the poorest people of his country. Sunsweet Solar was registered within days of the completed project in Ifakara, and they quickly established a partnership with a German company, Fosera, to provide household kits to rural districts.

Sunsweet Solar aims to not only build energy solutions for much of Tanzania, but to do so in a way that is cheaper than the current alternative of using kerosene lamps.

Mtemahanji discussed the 70% of the country that have no reliable electricity, remarking, “We can give them electricity for 25 years for only $79… It costs less than $0.30 per month; today a liter of kerosene costs $1.10. That means the people in rural areas spent 73% more with kerosene per month than with our solar system.”

Access to electricity can bring greater productivity in the workplace, and the ability to improve education. Since Sunsweet Solar installed solar power to Benignis Girls Secondary School, the school has seen exam performances increase from 18% to 83% in just 1 year. Something as simple as being able to study during the evening is a part of life that many people will have never had to consider.

In 2015, George Mtemahanji won the Anzisha Price, an award for young African entrepreneurs, and despite his success he is still only 22 years of age. With plans to roll out a loan system, so that customers can buy installations in installments, the future for both his company and Tanzania looks increasingly bright.

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