RUDO NYANGULU MUNGOFA ON IMPACTING SOCIAL CHANGE, FEMALE ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND ADAPTING TO LIFE IN ZIMBABWE
As the promise of dusk began to emanate across the pavilion at Vanilla Moon in Avondale, Harare, Quintessential F took every opportunity to speak to a woman who is changing the face of social entrepreneurship with her joyous spirit and hunger to impact women and young entrepreneurs through empowerment initiatives, sustainable development and media entrepreneurship. We trust you will be as blessed to tap into her mind as we were to spend time with her.
Introducing Rudo Nyangulu-Mungofa.
In a few words, who is Rudo Nyangulu Mungofa?
I am an African woman with a world view, who doesn’t believe that anything is impossible. I was raised without limits, taught to express myself in wholesome yet genuine ways and effectively contribute to the change I want to see. My hope is that my life’s work will one day earn me the right to be described as an African Woman Leader.
Many things happened in your life in recent years. Can you share with us your highlights?
Since moving back to Zimbabwe at the end of 2010, I have had an adventure-filled life with so many wow moments in my various enterprises and in my personal life. But when I think of life defining moments to highlight, two stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first lies in the fact that I got married and discovered the cultural elements of the Shona people through the process of marriage. I wasn’t raised with a huge cultural influence in as far as understanding the Shona culture and traditions. My family is from Malawi. My in laws were incredibly supportive and wanted to be a part of the process whilst I wanted to understand the nuances behind every cultural act during the lobola process. The practical application of the cultural practice of Lobola for me was a huge learning curve. I remember as a child feeling that Lobola was a cattle market for humans where girls got sold off as if to slavery and I remember at age 9 or so saying to my father that I never wanted to be “sold into marriage”. When the day came that I met this beautiful soul that I wanted to spend my life with, those objections seemed to slip away. At the same time the whole process of Lobola as my people practice it, is still about the binding of two families together and ensuring that my husband and his people understood the ‘Love Value’ my parents placed on me. There was nothing commercial about it at all; it was simply a process to honor both families and bind them together. My father being a ‘God-Man’, a man of ‘Faith-In-Action’ deliberately ensured it would be so.
The second yet equally important event is that I became a mother to a beautiful daughter, Zoe Maita Towera. I am a big believer that names bring a depth of life to a person and so when it came to naming our daughter, in addition to the name we gave her we wanted her grandfathers on either side to give her a name from each culture so that she could carry her heritage in her name. We named her Zoe-Zoe being a Greek word that means Life, the God kind of life (John 10:10). Mac’s father named her Maita which is Shona meaning ‘Thank you’ (in this instance, thank you to God for our little treasure). My father named her Towera, a Ngoni name meaning, ‘The beautiful one that pleases my heart’, Ngoni is the old language used by my tribe who were originally of the Zulu tribe in South Africa who migrated to the northern part of Malawi. I didn’t realize how special it was for my parents to hold my child. For grandparents the birth of a grandchild equates to legacy –it brings vitality, a new lease of life – a quickening of the spirit. Through the process of partnering with God to carry this precious little one as he formed her in my womb gave me a deeper revelation of GOD’s love for us. It changes you and makes you realize how frail our humanity is and how lost we are without GOD.
Describe a day in your life.
I wear many hats so every day is very different but some things are constant. I wake up and pray over my little family, feed our baby and leave home after having ensured that our daughter is content. My days are largely about communicating with people; business coaching, tweeting, discussing photographic projects, identifying and working towards ascertaining ways in which to assist people in distress, reviewing basic business contracts and so on. The overarching aim of every day for me is to create a ‘butterfly effect’ through verbal, visual and written communication such that momentum is built to facilitate or enable positive change, sustainable development and change the way people see everyday things that may not seem important now but are essential for our growth, even our survival as a people. The mentorship and coaching skills I have picked up along the way have proven invaluable in achieving this and going beyond to inspire and enable others to have their own ‘butterfly effect’ in their lives. Whatever hat I wear, even in my new role as as“amaiguru” in my husband’s family, I remain open and willing to share the life lessons I have picked up along the way and this is how I am able to make an impact which I believe should be the goal of every person.
One of the things that QF finds so fascinating about you is your adaptive capacity. What made you decide to return to Zimbabwe and how has that decision shaped you thus far?
The question was never IF I would return to Zimbabwe but rather WHEN. I am very proudly Zimbabwean and very proudly African. My journey abroad was always meant to be for the purpose of educating and equipping myself to return an effective addition to this great continent – not to relocate permanently. I was also inspired by the notion or essence if you will, of becoming an African Woman Leader. I do not believe you can call yourself or be called an African Woman Leader if you are not walking, rooted in or living on the continent’s surface. Coming back took much longer than I had initially anticipated and this was largely due to the economic situation in Zimbabwe over the last decade but coming back home was a given for me. You can only be at home in one place and Africa is that place for me.
Returning to Zimbabwe felt very similar to leaving Zimbabwe in that I had lived in England for 11 years and had created a life there, made genuine connections with amazing people I call my surrogate family and so whilst it was exciting to be coming back home I did feel a similar sadness of ‘leaving’ home as I did when I went initially. It was daunting coming back to Zimbabwe as well given it had been so long since I had been a resident here and in so many ways I felt like a foreigner those first few months. Living in Zimbabwe in recent years has proven to be a challenge and I love a challenge – so here I am!
Overall the last three and half years of being back in Zimbabwe I have grown in many ways. I have learnt ‘how to do business in Zimbabwe, the good the bad and the ugly’ but I have also learnt how scared the country is post 2008. We are now a less trusting people, we don’t share the way I remember, we don’t look out for each other like we used to. Not because we are selfish but because we fear to lack again. This has shaped how we relate to each other, how we view ourselves and this has sadly had an effect even on me. I find over time I am less trusting, a little less optimistic and not as ready to jump into projects and collaborate as I used to be. I am however grateful that the charitable heart with which I was raised to nurture has allowed me to continue to desire to see the best in people and help people wherever I can, a quality that affords me the luxury of hope for my country which sadly so many no longer have.
Can you share with our readers the process you went through in getting situated in Zimbabwe?
I made my decision to move back over a weekend when my parents were with us on holiday in the UK. I remember the discouragement mostly due to worry that I would not cope with Zimbabwe having changed so much since I last lived here. I decided to look up a shipping company, called and booked a container within the week. The day I finally packed my life into a container to come home I had my last ‘moving house party’ in the UK. Being at university and following job offers in different cities I had moved almost every year of the 11years I had lived in the UK hence the moving parties where friends all come over and pack your life into a truck and eat food and hang out tell jokes and have fun in the process. This moving party was a more solemn affair as it was not house or city I was moving to but another continent…. I remember watching the moving truck that carried all my belongings within the container drive down the road and thinking “Wow, this is it, no turning back now!” I remember the final decent into Harare International Airport as my eyes welled up with tears and I thought to myself, “girl you’re finally home!”
My parents were my buffer for the first three months back while my container made its way to me which was such a blessing. I hadn’t been home for a few years which left me ill prepared for a very different Zimbabwe to the one I knew. There was also the fact that I didn’t know anyone or rather that pretty much everyone I had known living at home before had since relocated to another part of the world save one or two friends from school days. I was effectively a “foreigner” for the first 6 months and had to let go of the country I once knew and ‘re-learn’ Zimbabwe. I will say though, that I was overwhelmed and saddened by the level of poverty across all races in Zimbabwe. I didn’t expect that at all. I realized very early on that I needed to get out there and meet people because they wouldn’t be coming to my parents’ house to meet me! You have to put yourself out there, be willing to share your knowledge and experience without expecting anything in return and in the process you will make real human connection which is key when resettling in Zimbabwe where so much can be smoke and mirrors and have no substance.
I started networking from a creative perspective and it’s fair to say that photography got me settled into Zimbabwe life in that I met a lot of new people through sharing my work.
You are a lawyer, photographer and many describe you as a media entrepreneur. How do you describe the term “media entrepreneur” and where do you think its future lies in Zimbabwe.
I am indeed a lawyer by profession. I studied Law in the UK and I have an LLB (Hons) degree. We would need a whole other interview to discuss the legal climate in Zimbabwe but in my area of practice, property law and business law it works. I have a passion for communication as an effective tool to connect people and share the authentic Africa story which is how I became a media entrepreneur.
A media entrepreneur to me is essentially an entity or individual that uses new media, their skills and talent to take on the burden or responsibility of unapologetically telling authentic stories that are true. These include bloggers, photographers or documentary videographers who use their ‘voice’ or collective voices to document and share those important stories. I have a passion for telling the untold African story using all media avenues available to me. There is so much sensationalism in traditional media platforms today and I find that in recent times, more and more people are violated through the politicking of the media. It is fast becoming commonplace to read unverified and sometimes fabricated stories in some of today’s newspapers because controversy and certain untruths sell. In the long term as Zimbabwe becomes more digitally inclined and where access to the internet is cheaper and connections faster, the consumer will migrate to consuming content online more than in print which will create real opportunities for media entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
Can you tell us more about your photography journey?
I got ‘stung by the photography bug’ when I was 16 years old, fell in love with sharing the way I see life through my lens and never looked back! I enjoy capturing images of life happening around me, nature and architecture. My passion for telling the authentic African story through photographic imagery helped me push through some closed doors. The journey to date has been nothing short of amazing. An example is the photo study I did of Pattina Gappha, a Zimbabwean lawyer and author’s journey through her past education visiting schools she went to pre and post colonialism which was published by The Guardian Newspaper, London within those first six months back home. More recently a picture I took of Joina City was selected for the German Institute GIZ [Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH] 2014 calendar for the month of May.
So far the highlight of my photographic year and career lies in my representation for Zimbabwe as the only female photographer and one of two Zimbabwean female artists chosen to showcase artistic work at the Kampala Art Biennale 2014 in Uganda on the 1st of August 2014. The event is a launch of an Africa wide 100 piece Art Exhibition titled “Progressive Africa” http://kampalabiennale.org/selected-finalists/ In total there are 45 African artists from across the continent participating.
If you were to encourage more young Zimbabweans to come home and / or help build the future of Zimbabwe, what would your pitch be?
Firstly if your heart is here then do come home and as soon as you can. BUT if your heart has been courted and won by the country you are in stay there; you won’t have anything to offer Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe certainly won’t have anything to offer you. That said, there are a lot of opportunities in Zimbabwe notwithstanding the liquidity crunch. Living in Zimbabwe is challenging. You have to look for opportunities; fortune or opportunity doesn’t show up at your doorstep beautifully wrapped up for you. You have to be willing to go and get it, carve it out, dig it up, walk into it and you have to be prepared to be really patient while you are at it. Expecting that Zimbabwe will spoon feed you success on the ground I would describe as foolish at best. You should rather carry the mindset that you are coming back to make Zimbabwe work for you whilst giving back, a win-win. If you are liquid and you want to invest, seek to identify opportunities to invest in areas that will make you money whilst serving a public need. For example the transport (road and travel), education or healthcare industries. Somebody has to come back and fight for that seat in council or parliament in order to bring fresh ideas and thinking for Zimbabwe as we continue in our quest for a rehabilitated country.
If social entrepreneurship is not your cup of tea then come back and invest in industry, tourism and agriculture for example as this will create jobs and still have a positive impact on the country. If your plan is to return and live in Zimbabwe, it is critical to have a plan for what you will do when you hit the ground. Create a cushion or soft landing for yourself by investing in property now and ensuring you have your own home when you return. Invest in a business, take on a partner or buy shares in a company that will earn you an income even before you get here so you don’t land and start looking for employment or test out starting a project / business. Do not be afraid to network and solicit help from those who have been on the ground over the years particularly those who like you have lived abroad and now live here successfully. Above all don’t let others discourage you.
Do share with us the essence of Chocolate Princess.
Chocolate Princess is a media communications company on the one hand, which provides expertise, training, advice as well as services when it comes to marketing, PR, brand development and strategy for anyone or any entity that requires those services. On the other hand there is a more social application to it which is what you see more on social media. This is deliberate – we came up with the concept of a consumer engagement platform that we are building with the ultimate aim of being a thought leader brand platform, a friendly interface if you will between the consumer and the lifestyle products and services that crave their loyalty and custom. This platform enables the interaction between the personalities, businesses and consumers that affiliate themselves with Chocolate Princess.
Our long term goals include building more platforms that are useful for communicating messages, marketing businesses and engaging with the public. We are in the process of testing out ways of delivering a digital magazine. We are also very keen on becoming a publishing house wherein we are not just creating content for ourselves, but for other people as well, including publishing magazines, books and business reports for our clients. We are also moving into production of video content and shows that provide entertainment value, relevant information and programming concerning social responsibility and video presentation of opportunities to be socially responsible.
You are also involved in a myriad of charity based initiatives through your non-profit organization – The Art of Being Humane. What inspired you to pursue this endeavor?
I was raised as a Rotary child. For as long as I can remember my parents have been involved in Rotary. Before that they were very active in working with widows and the poor in church and in the community. I remember Boxing Day as a child my mom would cook a huge pot of sadza and get all the leftover meat and food from Christmas dinner and get us all to be willing to give away some articles of clothing and toys. We would go into town and feed street kids and give them our old clothes and toys as our way of giving them some sort of Christmas as well. So the heart for people definitely came from my parents. As I’ve grown this heart has become stronger in a sense and more my own driven by a personal desire to serve. It’s taken a life of its own where I’m also seeing a need for myself as opposed to following what my parents are involved in, and wanting to respond to that need.
The Art of Being Humane came out of Rudo the Photographer who had this GOD given gift to see things and see beyond what the naked eye would register. Having a GOD given gift or talent and not using it to glorify GOD by helping His people for me is crazy. So I started The Art of Being Humane firstly as a blog just to tell stories that matter through written text and photographs of people I would meet. When I moved back to Zimbabwe it grew into a registered charity and lots of other people – not just me – but others who shared the same mind of wanting to help. We keep it really simple in terms of the charity. No one is employed. Everyone is a volunteer and if we need money to do anything in relation to charity we hold fundraisers such as the Bachelor Auction for example. We find that lots of people are willing to give and invest in the needs of the underprivileged when they are presented with those needs visually. A lot of times its lack of knowing who or where there is a need that causes us to be self-centered and inactive in helping those in need. Therefore one of the main drivers for The Art of Being Humane is to tell the stories that are not being told by traditional media. Our aim is to give a greater voice to the stories that are told today and forgotten tomorrow; to make sure that people see and feel and are a part of something that matters and that’s making a difference. We can all make a difference where we are. We can all make Zimbabwe a better place to live in by thinking and seeing beyond our situation and reaching out to someone else.
In your view, describe the female entrepreneurial scene in Zimbabwe?
Sadly Zimbabwe is still very “cultural” when it comes to the role of women in society. I discovered this when I started Stimulus – the entrepreneurial networking group that I run. I found that a lot of my male peers and colleagues were skeptical about joining something that a woman started or participating in any serious way in an idea that a woman came up with. In the early days of Stimulus I feel that a number of men would come out of curiosity but not necessarily engage. But when they had attended a networking event or workshop and noted the level of professionalism by this “all-girl run company” it peaked their interest and engaged them and over time I earned their respect and the group thrived. During this time I also found with Stimulus, not a lot of women came to our events, perhaps because we met during the week in the evenings after work when the average Zimbabwean woman would need to be at home taking care of the business of family. Now that I am a wife and mother I understand the pressures of managing the home front and investing in yourself via training or networking.
Part of what Chocolate Princess aims to do is provide a solution for this challenge and the creation of a platform for female entrepreneurs to grow through training, to be heard, to be visible through promotion was created. I believe that it is a rough climate for women owned business to break through in Zimbabwe generally and particularly now. You find two types of female entrepreneur in need; those who are not particularly professional and those who are professional but not necessarily appreciate the value of investing in training or developing themselves or perhaps who lack the time. You also come across this cold unwelcoming environment where entrepreneurs struggle in general in Zimbabwe. Female entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe therefore struggle that much more because there isn’t really a place for us. You are having to carve your place in this terrain of business which is not an easy feat. The support of your male partners and counterparts is therefore necessary. You have to collaborate in order to get anywhere. This is not necessarily a bad thing for female entrepreneurs as it forces us to pull up our socks and work harder to earn our seat at the table, and once earned by sweat capital, no one can take it away from us.
The future to me would be seeing more professional entrepreneurial minded women staking their claim and willing to do the work to carve a space for themselves not just in the fashion and beauty industry (not that there is anything wrong with these) when alternatively they could want to sell solar products, go into sustainable construction, mining, agri-business, engineering firms for example. A lot more work needs to be done to inspire young girls and women to aim higher and be achievers. Also the mindsets of us women need to change such that we create a more woman to woman supportive environment for business transacting as well.
Do you think there are enough support structures in terms of funding, mentoring etc. for the female entrepreneur?
No. I do not think entrepreneur in Zimbabwe has a sufficient support whether male or female. There is so much work done in the informal sector yet so little legislation and general business support given to entrepreneurs. I’m not big on differentiating between women and men when it comes to business, and the reason for this is that I feel that a woman becomes disadvantaged when she starts from a position of entitlement as the marginalized gender rather from the position of ‘best person for the job’ by merit. It is therefore encouraging to see groups like the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) Women’s Desk which is starting a mentorship program that I am a part of as a mentor. This group has set up the mentorship program to try to address this issue of a lack of mentorship, training and support for upwardly mobile women who want to develop the ‘best person for the job’ in their chosen discipline. We hope to see more longstanding or widespread endeavors that assist young entrepreneurs with networking, training, business coaching, financial management training and support, investment into one’s own business and so on. Stimulus Networking Group is designed to address these very real challenges that entrepreneurs face. I look forward to sharing with you in a future conversation what our current work with our funding partners will enable us to do to assist entrepreneurs over the next five years in addressing these very real issues and enabling sustainable growth of entrepreneurial businesses.