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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 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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IMF to resume Malawi loan programme

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

LILONGWE (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund will resume Malawi’s $150 million extended facility programme which was suspended last year after a scandal involving abuse of state money, the country’s finance minister said on Thursday.

“The IMF has given us a green-light to the resumption of the programme which allows them to disburse about $30 million of the remainder of the total $150 million,” Goodall Gondwe told Reuters.

“The advice we get from the IMF is very important because they provide a very valuable yardstick of how we can manage our economy and we will continue doing well especially on public finance management so that we are not off track again.”

The IMF had suspended the programme following a scandal in which senior government officials siphoned millions of dollars from state coffers. Other international donors, led by Malawi’s former colonial ruler, Britain, also halted direct aid to the southern African nation over the scandal.

IMF Mission Chief Oral Williams said in a statement on Wednesday that Malawi had demonstrated a concerted effort to put the programme back on track, including improvements in public financial management.

Malawi has struggled to grow its economy due to declining export earnings from tobacco and in the absence of aid, which had previously accounted for 40 percent of its budget.

The IMF said it expects Malawi’s economy to grow by 3 to 4 percent this year after expanding by 3 percent in 2015.

But growth may be weather-dependent the Fund said, after an El Nino weather pattern triggered drought and heatwaves, threatening the staple maize and other crops.


(Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Malawi to revise national budget after IMF suspends credit facility

Comments (0) Africa, Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

LILONGWE (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund has suspended loans to Malawi for failing to cut its wage bill and improve revenue collection, making it less likely Western donors will resume budgetary aid, the finance minister said on Thursday.

This is the second time the Fund has suspended the program within a period of three years. It was halted in 2012 when the Malawi government failed to devalue its currency, the kwacha, and reform public financial management.

“Things are now out of hand because this completely jeopardises our chances of getting back budget support suspended under the Joyce Banda administration,” Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe told Reuters.

Gondwe said the Treasury was already working on revising the $1.5 billion budget, which was passed in July this year.

“We welcome the observations from the IMF and we already planned to reduce the budget by cutting down on total expenditure during the mid-term budget review meeting of parliament in February next year,” he said.

Budget assistance from Western donors worth millions of dollars has been withheld for two years now after revelations of corruption under ex-President Banda. Such aid has historically accounted for about 40 percent of the national budget.

The IMF said the loan facility would remain suspended until Malawi’s government met certain targets.

“The extended credit facility is off-track because Malawi failed to meet set targets by end-June 2015 and we have discussed a number of measures to bring it back on track starting with a revised budget,” said Oral Williams, the IMF mission head to Malawi.

“Fiscal slippages equivalent to about 2 percent of GDP emerged during the second half of the 2014/15 fiscal year, in part because of overspending on the wage bill, and these were exacerbated by revenue and external finance shortfalls.”

Williams said the mission reached an understanding on measures to bring programme back on track, including “a revised fiscal framework sufficient to meet the end December 2015 program target on net domestic financing and a tight monetary stance to maintain positive real interest rates.”

The IMF said Malawi had met targets on net international reserves and net domestic assets.

The IMF said on Wednesday that Malawi’s economic growth would slow to 3 percent this year from 5 percent in 2014, reflecting a decline in the maize harvest and weak private- sector investment and consumption.

Floods in January destroyed more than 60,000 hectares of crop fields cutting output for the staple maize by 27 percent.

(By Mabvuto Banda, Reuters)

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