I believe businesses are the key to the economic growth of Malawi. However, SMEs are faced with unique challenges which threaten their contribution to their country’s economy – for example, inadequate technical and managerial skills, low standards for local products, lack of information for business start-ups and lack of vision and experience.
I have had the opportunity to have 2 mentors – the first is Sonia Hummer who is the Product Manager for DEDON (www.dedon.de) – for someone who works in the weaving furniture industry this was a very big deal for me as DEDON is HUGE! She was my mentor for a year and was always open to answering any questions I might have and giving insights to the European Market.
My second mentor John Hagie (www.red-wave-marketdev.com) I found via LinkedIn. A non profit called Grow Consult Africa were looking to link professionals with entrepreneurs and they matched me with John. And together we strategised on how i can get my products into a Fairtrade store in the US – and we were successful.
I really do not think my business would have not make the strides it has made up to this point if it wasnt for the guidance these 2 people contributed.
I therefore decided as a follow on project after my fellowship in the US, I will also run a mentoring program to help women & youth operated enterprises.
Working together collaboratively I want to link consultants and business owners to find ways to combat some of these challenges. In combining the broader experience of the consultants with the local understanding of the business contacts, logical, pragmatic solutions can be reached.
The community issue: women and youth that run businesses are not taking advantage of or do not know of new services and markets, thereby limiting their business growth and opportunities for economic empowerment.
The solution: 10 youth and women operated businesses in Lilongwe and linked with marketing and business planning professionals. These professionals will assist in strengthening and improving the businesses bottom line through social media, market retention, market growth, value added products and services and help those businesses to develop business plans
How: Leveraging mobile and internet allows us to speed up this process – to establish the opportunity for business professionals across the globe to collaborate and learn from each other, without the burden of heavy time commitments or cost. Just 1 hour weekly Skype or phone calls or an email to each other once a week.
Another mentor I had was Ron Berning, who is the Program Director at META (www.metaidaho.org) and was my supervisor during my Community Solutions fellowship at META. We worked together on my follow on project and when a grant became available for hosts to visit their mentees Ron and I applied and we were successful.
Ron & his wife Dianne are therefore coming to Malawi in May to have a look at how my mentorship project is goung but also to see JARDS and its beneficiaries. I am so excited to show them what my business, community and country is all about.
Its great how I still have strong relationships with the organisations and people I have had the privilage and honor to work with and I believe they will help me in growing my business, my family, my community and my country…