AECF has been developing programmes that help bridge the financing gap faced by women entrepreneurs in Africa. Zimbabwe-based Zvikomborero Farms and MoneyMart Finance are two of the successful women-led enterprises that have benefited from AECF funding.
Dr Divine Ndhlukula acquired Zvikomborero Farms in 1992 and has transformed it to Zimbabwe’s biggest goat breeder. Founded by Ethel Mupambwa, MoneyMart Finance offers micro-loans to micro-entrepreneurs and individuals operating in the informal sector for the purchase of solar home systems.
With both businesswomen recently winning awards, we spoke to them about what it takes to succeed in the agribusiness and renewable energy sectors, and how they are coping with the impacts of COVID-19.
AECF investee - Zvikomborero Farms
Located in Featherstone, 120km outside the country’s capital Harare, Zvikomborero Farms, started as a beef and grain production, but later diversified to cattle rearing (including goats), tobacco farming, poultry, horticulture, and selling eggs when Dr Divine bought it.
She attributes the company’s success to her hard work, resilience and support from AECF, who recognised that the business was positively impacting the livestock value chain and supported the business in scaling operations, introducing the pure breed drought-resistant cattle and the pure breeds of the Tuli, Mashona cattle, Boer and Matabele goats.
“AECF funding was a game-changer, we would not have been able to breed at the level we are at now. We needed foreign currency to secure imported goats from South Africa and Namibia because in Zimbabwe there weren’t any of those breeds,” she said.
In Zimbabwe, goats have become a valuable asset for women to own. Zvikomborero currently employs 29 people with the goat section headed by a woman and with all women support staff. The agribusiness enterprise has become a centre of farming excellence importing skills and knowledge to many aspiring goat farmers in Zimbabwe, also using WhatsApp to train women farmers on effective livestock production methods for a wider reach.
One of the biggest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the disruptions of the supply chain, which has led to a rise in distribution costs, scarcity of animal feeds and drugs that they import from South Africa. To mitigate these unprecedented challenges, Zvikomborero has resorted to producing their feeds through a mixer they purchased and buying products in bulk, among other measures.
Dr Divine, holds an Executive Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Midlands State University, an MBA from Women’s University in Africa, and a PhD in Business Leadership from the Women’s University in Africa, which was conferred in recognition of her business leadership and gender equality initiatives. She also established leading security services firm SECURICO and has also won the Forbes Woman Africa Businesswoman of the Year Award (2019), thanks to her passion for female economic and social empowerment.
She has participated in the AGRA 2016 Annual conference as a panellist issue on “The niche opportunity: Investment in women-led businesses in Africa.”
And at an AECF event (Investees Learning and Exchange Forum) in 2019 in Nairobi about how to help women access loans, and is keenly following other female investees.
Dr Divine says access to resources mainly land remains a major impediment towards the prosperity of women in agriculture.
“There are so many women farmers in Africa who want land, but they can’t scale because they don't have the opportunities to access the necessary tools or resources to do it,” she said.
The company applied for funding through AECF's Agribusiness Africa Window which invests in innovative business ideas in the agriculture sector with the potential to increase productivity, create employment opportunities, improve livelihoods and increase income amongst the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa.
AECF investee - MoneyMart Finance
Ethel Mupambwa grew up in the rural area of Nembudziya, Gokwe in Zimbabwe’s Midlands province, before completing a finance degree and setting up MoneyMart in 2014. She is passionate about helping women gain access to funding and achieve financial independence.
MoneyMart Finance's goal is to reach 43,919 off-the-grid households and 1,676 micro-enterprises with more affordable solar options by 2023, through AECF’s support. The enterprise has seven branches, with the management team mostly comprised of women. Women also account for 70 per cent of its clients.
“The women who we serve and the stories that they share, especially about the independence that they now have as a result of financial literacy, are my source of inspiration,” she said.
Through MoneyMart, clients can apply for loans that have a tenure of up to 12 months, and repayments can be made in daily or weekly or monthly.
With most people spending more time at home during COVID-19 lockdowns in Zimbabwe, there has been an increased demand for solar products.
“People are at home so they want to be checking their phones and even those who used to come home late or the breadwinners are now seeing the benefits of having a light on when you are home,” says Ethel.
MoneyMart has assured all clients that they will continue to work with them to restructure their loans, a move that has been well received by the beneficiaries.
The microfinance enterprise recently attended a meeting organised by Renewable Energy Association of Zimbabwe (REAZ), in which it is a member, where discussions for the sector to be listed as an essential service in the country were being held as load shedding is still happening.
In June 2020, Ethel Mupambwa was announced as one of the laureates from Zimbabwe by WIA54-2020, Women In Africa Initiative.
In July 2020, Ethel was also listed among the top 50 finalists of the Jack Ma Foundation’s “Africa Business Heroes” competition.
Her biggest challenge as a female entrepreneur in Zimbabwe has been the economic downturn.
“My advice is that the fastest way to build a successful business from scratch is to fail fast,” she says.
There are more than 70 AECF investee companies including MoneyMart, all offering low-cost renewable energy from solar home systems, mini-grids, and clean cooking solutions to accelerate access to clean energy for millions of people living without access to clean energy in Africa.