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Nuns, through ADN, create social enterprise startups to help African communities

By Tope Templer Olaiya, California, USA |   27 March 2023   |   7:48 am  

Sister Juunza Christabel Mwangani PHOTO:Tope Templer Olaiya

Sister Juunza Christabel Mwangani of Emerging Farmers Initiative is one of the Religious Sisters of the Holy Spirit, a congregation of women based in Zambia and one of three Catholic sisters among 11 entrepreneurs recognised with a Builders of Africa’s Future (BAF) award in 2022 by the African Diaspora Network (ADN).

Each 2022 awardee presented their programs and received a $25,000 grant from the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) after completing the Start Your Social Enterprise training. This came after she participated in a Silicon Valley social enterprise ‘accelerator’ which in 2019 linked with a network of African nuns to help low-income families help themselves.

Armed with previous experience in business as well as a business degree, Mwangani is today blending her charity work with business.

Based in the southern province of Zambia, Mwangani has being a sister for the past 20 years, working as a hospital administrator and on the social enterprise sector in the country.

At the African Diaspora Investment Symposium (ADIS23), just concluded by the ADN in Silicon Valley, California, United States of America, Mwangani set the ball rolling on the opening day of ADIS23 with a fireside chat on Changemakers: Catholic Sisters on the continent.

Speaking on the significance of ADIS23, Mwangani said it was an essential follow-up to the selected entrepreneurs on the Builders of Africa’s Future project, an elite list of entrepreneurs within Africa that have shown concepts and solutions that can build the future of Africa in the sense that they have come up with innovations that are likely to change the narrative and bring out what Africa needs to grow to its potential.

She said: “We are into education for eco-friendly agriculture and entrepreneurship skills. What we are really doing is to combine agriculture skills and entrepreneurship into education because we know that when education is solely on academics only, we are likely to have more people who are looking for white collar jobs after finishing school. We are equipping them with skills so that when they walk out of class, they are not waiting for somebody to create wealth and employment for them.”

On her takeaway from ADIS23, she said: “What I take away from the conference is that the future of Africa is in the hands of Africans. It is for us to devise our own future and I am going back home as an African to chart African solutions for Africa.”

As Religious Sisters of the Holy Spirit, the nuns embraced the message behind the Sisters Blended Value Project to revive their ministries as well as improve the financial status of the institute to sustain the sisters’ life in the congregation. This entails that the ministries have a positive impact on the community by offering a solution to a problem they are facing, sustain the sisters financially and protect Mother Earth. There are currently 40 sisters in the congregation.

“In order to achieve this, we were called to turn our ministries from charities to social enterprises. However, sisters did not have enough skills to run the ministries as social enterprises, so they needed some training in business strategies,” she explained.

“With this realization, a team of three sisters (Sr. Edna Himoonde, Sr. Purity Siloka, and myself) enrolled with the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, for an orientation program in March 2019 in Nairobi, and in an accelerator program to prepare us and our projects for investment readiness from May to December 2020. At this time, a fourth sister was added to the team, Sr. Christerbel Mwaaba. This training helped me change the mindset from thinking that a “faith-based” organization should never charge its clients and give services for free, to realizing that every organization needs to be sustainable, so it is not wrong to attach a charge to a service rendered in order to spread the service to the underserved populations of a particular community.

“Having clarified this, the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship helped us write our business plan with enough detail, while setting up our pilot projects in order to put into practice what we learned in the accelerator program. I looked forward to the weekly sessions with the mentors assigned to us by the Miller Center. By the end of the eight-month program, I was very
clear with our business plan and was ready to pitch to any investor who was ready to listen.

“While undergoing training with the Miller Center, my team and I founded the Emerging Farmers Initiative, in 2019, with the permission of the congregational leadership. Our congregation has 40 sisters and is based in the Diocese of Monze, in the southern province of Zambia. The Emerging Farmers Initiative is in Mulando village in the Nziba, Magoye area, in the same district as the motherhouse of the congregation. Nziba is in the rural part of Mazabuka District about 151 kilometers (about 94 miles) from Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia in the southern province.

“There are about 73 households in Mulando village with an average of eight members in each. The main trade is subsistence farming, cattle rearing and crop production. Due to frequent droughts and total dependence on farming, the levels of poverty are still high. The illiteracy level is also still high, estimated at 25 per cent. Half of the population in the area is under 20 years of age.

“The Emerging Farmers Initiative is meant to run in the context of a secondary school, as a production unit. Most schools focus only on academic learning. Through the Emerging Farmers Initiative — which houses our poultry, swine and egg production units; vegetable garden; fruit tree orchard; maize field and fishponds — we will offer hands-on training to our pupils and life-transforming skills to young school dropouts and young families at risk. We have had two beneficiaries of the program undergo training who are now employed by the Emerging Farmers Initiative, and we also have hired a general agriculturalist to manage the EFI and help with training. In the EFI, we prepare our students to face the real world and succeed in life while raising consciousness on preserving and replenishing Mother Earth.

“Winning the Builders of Africa’s Future Award for 2022 was the best experience ever! I felt so happy to be a participant in the fight against poverty in Africa, and in being a beacon of hope for the future of my continent. During my training as a Builder of Africa’s Future, I was paired with a mentor, who helped me know how to approach various investors. This was very helpful because the mentor spoke from his experience of being an entrepreneur. I experienced a sense of fulfillment as a person, in that, while I was acting locally, the impact will eventually spread to the whole continent, and that remains my aim. I will continue working with the younger generation in order to influence the future more positively.

“With the $25,000 that came with the BAF 2022 award, we have decided to expand the poultry project of the Emerging Farmers Initiative. This expansion will increase the production of chickens and eggs to meet the demand and to increase the revenue base of the enterprise. We intend to use it to construct a chicken run that will be used to house the chickens for meat production. This in turn will increase the production of eggs because we shall keep an increased number of layers from 500 to 1,000 at every given time.”

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