[Version française] Interview with the social entrepreneur from Zimbabwe about his journey, his vision for the future and on why development programs need to change
Meeting with Respect Musiyiwa you quickly realize how hard and long one’s journey can be. Currently enrolled in second year at EARTH University as a MasterCard Scholar, Respect is an active social entrepreneur, with multiple projects back in his home country Zimbabwe.
But it was not always so. Born and bred in the rural area of Chiweshe, the thirty-two years old has faced many challenges to become the successful entrepreneur he is today. I had the opportunity to sit with him at EARTH university and learn about his journey.
It started in sad circumstances. After losing his mother to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and unable to pay schooling fees, he dropped from university and wentback to Chiweshe. His commitment to his social entrepreneurship journey started from these hard times, as he explains honestly:
R: “Coming from a rural background, a lot of people do not understand you and do not want to pay attention to you. There is a lot of stigma. Also, losing my two parents to HIV/AIDS and the stigma from it was very difficult. Another thing that complicated my life was that I was born out of wedlock, and my father denied his parental responsibility. My mom was just a poor young peasant farmer and it was quite difficult.
For me being a social entrepreneur has to do with where I come from. I had to face a lot of problems and challenges. I had to be a social entrepreneur to help myself and my community.
I always reflect on where I am from and why I am and where I am going. I’ve channeled my passion into my profession. For me, being attached to where I am from keeps me moving forward”
Realizing opportunities in his rural community were limited and unemployment high, he decided to change things for himself and his community.
It all started with two youth clubs called Youth Network Club and Youth Initiative against marginalization, to unite youth in the same situation likehim Eventually they were destroyed by problems with local politicians and general political chaos in Zimbabwe in 2011.
Nevertheless, Respect kept educating himself, finding fellowships and training programs, and maintained his engagement in youth issues, working in farms to support himself.
After years of dedication and focus, his first breakthrough came in 2012 with $5000 from YET Trust through Global Entrepreneurship Week Programme. In 2014 he received a 50,000$ grant from Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme-UNDP to establish The Center for Agro-entrepreneurship and Sustainable Livelihood (CASL) a community-based youth empowerment organization focused on sustainable agribusiness, market linkage, financial literacy and training.
From there on, Respect and his team have kept developing more projects in capacitation, agriculture and technology.
A: “How many projects do you have currently?”
I want to talk first about, ECO CONNECT is a social business into food processing. What drives the idea is that 40% of the food being produced globally is either lost or wasted before being consumed.
We tried to come up with ways to find sustainable food processing techniques that you can establish in rural areas so that farmers can sell their produces and do not need to go to the town.
We designed a solar dryer, based on the solar dryer of the organic farm at the university. I tried to find innovative ways to have the same thing in my community using our local available resources.”
Respect has been incredibly proactive in finding funds for his projects. His social ventures have won as much as fifteen competitions and awards so far. ECO CONNECT has secured 15,000$ from two awards so far in 2018.
The project won the Green Innovators award, funded by SNV and UNICEF, and the
tTony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) and GIZ Entrepreneurship Programme. Winning the extremely competitive TEF-GIF was his “greatest achievement in my social entrepreneurship journey”.
A: “What is your vision with the money you receive? Where do you want to bring ECO CONNECT ?”
R: “We are working very much on establishing our brand. We have set up an online shop. What we want to do is make sure we produce quality products with good branding and marketing materials. I am always on social medias, posting, engaging other potential collaborators. Innovating and creating ideas that can solve my community’s problems. But these ideas must be from a business perspective.
Respect knows the success of his social venture depends on its ability to achieve financial sustainability. He plans to invest in new solar dryers, and eventually want to purchase a gas-powered system to increase production and export the products.
As a social entrepreneur, his engagement and linkage with his team and community are key to his success. He networks locally and abroad and make connections that will foster growth for the projects and the community. CASL and ECO-CONNECT are managed locally, by a team of very passionate and dedicated people implementing their vision while Respect finishes his education.
R: ““My biggest advantage is that I manage to create a strong social capital. Community leaders and young people support me. I was a youth representative in a lot of community projects. Whenever I come back to my community, I represent the youth in my community at a local and regional level. They appreciate and recognize what I am doing. That is why I am always on social medias. I always try to maintain links to the community. I talk to my peers and they know I am still the same, despite the success.”
Through CASL and partnerships, his team has trained hundreds of youth and women, focusing on small business management skills and agriculture. They work closely with the local farmers and are in the process of making twenty smaller dryers to donate. They also employ local youth and women.
Respect believes that social businesses are the answer to challenges such as food insecurity and economic exclusion. At the end of the interview, he reflects on the failures he perceives in foreign development programs.
R: “Growing up, I saw a lot of donors and foundations come and pour a lot of dollars in my community, but there aren’t any significant changes. It fails because these organizations see us as charity cases. They see us as incapacitated people that cannot think for themselves, yet they forget that we have our own social organization, our own system that must be appreciated and our own capacity to develop ourselves given the right platform and support.
I think social business is the answer to the social and global challenges that we face.
The most important is to have honest engagement with the communities before you can design any solutions. You must come and sit down with us, with active contribution and participation. So when you come back with the project or the product or solution, you can be part of the system. It is a matter of social inclusion
I am very much grateful to be invested in the Master Card foundation that grant us a platform to share our stories be heard and develop our ideas.”
In any case, this is just the beginning of Respect’s journey. His latest venture is to develop an online platform to link farmers with buyers to increase market linkages and their revenue.
Center for and Sustainable Livelihoods (CASL) TODAY:
- Training and conference facilities to accommodate up to 300
- Agricultural library with internet facility
- 20 Greenhouses (measuring 30m X 14m)
- 26 Fish ponds
- Piggery, Poultry, and Apiary facilities
- Tree nursery, Vermiculture, Liquid manure tanks, Organic agriculture, Bio digester, Mushroom Growing Houses, Farm fresh produce kiosk, Drip irrigation, 3 solar powered boreholes, Solar driers, Grading sheds and 600m irrigation canal.
- 9 months practical training in Sustainable Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Agro-ecology and Natural Resources Management
ECO CONNECT TODAY
ECO-CONNECT (Ecological Connect) we are a social food processing company offering a well packaged product portfolio of dehydrated, nutritious, natural and affordable food. We are glad to be a recipient of the Green Innovators Award Zimbabwe 2018. Our product portfolio consists of;
1. Natural food powders produced from dried fruits, vegetables and trees.
2. Dried natural fruits and vegetables.
3. Natural and herbal teas.
Work with smallholder farmers, youth, women and people living with HIV/AIDS