Monday 13 March 2017, Bushview, on the edge of Lusaka
I realise that I have been so bad…no posts for month after month! Why? It’s hard to say but my passion for blogging seemed to evaporate. Perhaps it was to do with the fact that I had to write so much for my job. Perhaps it was because I went through a bad patch at work and didn’t really want to let on about my frustrations. Whatever, I am over it!
I realise that I have never really spoken about what it is that I have been doing here in Zambia. So here goes.
I was brought in as a VSO volunteer on a project called the Private Enterprise Programme Zambia (PEPZ) whose remit is to help encourage a buoyant private sector – which is where jobs and therefore incomes will come from. How much better it is to have people with enough money coming in so that they don’t need hand-outs and can make their own choices! Specifically, my role has been to look after the marketing and communication for a thing called the Nyamuka Zambia business plan competition. The idea behind Nyamuka is to encourage people who have a business idea, especially young adults and women who are notoriously underrepresented in the business world here, to seize the opportunity and turn their dream into reality. There are lots of cash prizes on offer and a great deal of education, mentorship and support to be had along the way.
I joined just as the first season came to a conclusion, in time to get stuck into the preparations for season 2 and the idea was for me to stay through until the end of that round – a 1 year posting. However, at the end of that year I ended up staying on, though I am now consultant, no longer a volunteer.
A big part of my job has been to organise events which can range from launch ceremonies with government ministers in attendance to national conferences attended by nearly 300 people. We have made a TV series of the final judging stages of the competition – a bit along the lines of Dragons Den – which was aired on national TV and I set up a big gala awards dinner for announcement of the winners. On top of that I have written case studies, briefings and speeches galore.
The Nyamuka team is ludicrously small so it has been incredibly hard work but it is great to be involved in a project that is really generating great results. In Y1, 554 people applied, 60 semi-finalists got to work with their own personal mentor to develop their business plans and of those, 20 were selected as prize winners. Their prizes, cash injections for their fledgling businesses, ranged from 75,000 kwacha ($7.500) to 250,000 kwacha ($25,000). In a country like Zambia where affordable bank loans are unheard of, these prizes are game changers.
In 2016, 658 people applied which is a fabulous 20% increase. We have just launched the 3rd season of Nyamuka Zambia and we have great hopes for a further uplift in applications. We are having an office sweep-stake on how many people will register this year. My money is on 860. Let’s see if we get close to that!
At a personal level though, the great thing for me has been that I can actually see the impact of what the project is doing. I love meeting the participants and winners and seeing the effect that the competition has had. And I don’t just mean in terms of money. Indeed, virtually all the participants agree that, even if the cash was initially a major motivator for entering, actually the big wins come from the learning, networking, confidence and support that they have absorbed along the way. These are the factors that make a successful long term enterprise so much more likely to be achieved.
My next blog will be an abbreviated version of my favourite case study. Alan Chanda (above) won 2nd prize in the 2015 season for his honey project and I have followed his progress closely ever since. Do read it to see what this great project is all about and just how impactful our work can be.
Another great story is that of Towani Clarke, again a 2015 winner, who is the owner of Kutowa, an Afro-Chic fashion label. Since scooping 3rd prize, her clothes have graced the catwalks of South Africa and London Africa Fashion Week…and the Grand Finale of the 2016 season as worn by yours truly…see below! She has also been the subject of a CNN programme in their African Voices season and now employs a whole workshop of people making her stunning creations. You can see her in action in this short clip that we made to celebrate International Women’s Day 2017. Towani Clarke: Women Mean Business