What young Zimbabwean entrepreneurs need to succeed

Operating within a hostile and volatile economy, young Zimbabwean entrepreneurs are determined to forge their own pathways to success, but to what end? This article is not aimed at painting a picture of a dire situation but on reflecting the realities of what it takes to be young, hopeful and stubborn in a country with its fair share of troubles. 

In April, I travelled to the capital Harare with the Anzisha Prize film crew to meet the entrepreneurs in our 2022 fellowship programme: Tafadzwa Chikwereti, Munyaradzi Makosa and Marvellous Nyongoro.

During my 10-day visit, these three young men showed me that stubbornness is not a choice but a necessary trait to succeed as a young entrepreneur in Zimbabwe. At just 23, 22 and 25 years old, respectively, they demonstrated why their age was their greatest asset and weapon.

Entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe is highly informal, according to a study conducted by the Zimbabwean scholar Simon Bere titled The Metaeconomics of Economic Performance and Results – Zimbabwe’s Economic Recovery: The Entrepreneurship Factor. It attributes this phenomenon to system collapse, the currency crisis and corruption making it difficult for businesses to operate effectively. I witnessed this first-hand during my visit.

Even when young entrepreneurs offer great services and products, without sufficient resources and support, it becomes tough to scale, let alone operate. Take 22-year-old Chikwereti. At the age of 19, he started a small company called Musika which linked farmers to buyers through WhatsApp. Through this startup, he learnt that farmers had deep-rooted problems related to their financial stability and their insurance, so he pivoted to his current startup, eAgro.

eAgro fosters the resilience and profitability of smallholder farmers by using data analytics and machine learning. Farmers in emerging markets face the challenges of low productivity and growth traps because of the threats they face from climate change, pests, economic turmoil, etc. 

Tafadzwa’s solutions-oriented innovations have the potential to put the Zimbabwean economy on a growth trajectory. But they might not achieve success if the system is not improved.

Entrepreneurship is known for its catalytic role in fostering economic development the world over. Among young entrepreneurs this is even more true. Young entrepreneurs are 10 times more likely to create employment opportunities for their peers. Although entrepreneurial activity has increased in many developing countries, many struggle to withstand the challenges and risks of operating in environments unsuitable for supporting entrepreneurship at a career level.

What do I mean by that? Governments, quite frankly, need to do more. And better. “Trying” is no longer an option; definitive action is needed in order for “the future is young” to be believable. Among what is needed are implementing policies that allow young people to easily start a business and register it; a  banking system that favours entrepreneurship and investors who “think younger” when it comes to their money. 

If the future is young, then shouldn’t we start investing in the youth’s success? If we don’t, we are failing them. And that should be a hard pill to swallow.

Entrepreneurship is like rugby, not tennis. The quiet that moves a tennis match forward is the direct opposite of what a rugby match needs to be entertaining and successful. Entrepreneurship is a difficult career choice. We cannot sugar-coat it and we shouldn’t. Whether operating in an environment that has systems in place for young people to succeed or in an economy that has more red tape, entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. 

Nyongoro started The Housing Hub as a solution to improving the housing system for young people entering universities in Harare. It enables students to book and make payments for off-campus accommodation online. The company employs students as agents, allowing them to earn commission. However, operating the company has not been without its challenges. When Covid-19 hit, The Housing Hub had to close for a while. However, Nyongoro persevered and was able to continue other entrepreneurial projects.

“There is really nothing else I’d like to do. Running a business is difficult but the idea of having a 9 to 5 is unappealing to me,” he says. “It is no secret that the Zimbabwean economy is in a tough state and we need more government interventions for people like me to thrive in such a chaotic environment.”

Behind the buildings and busy intersections in Harare, I began to understand that another story propels Zimbabwe to a better future – young minds at work, willing to go the extra mile for their communities. But they cannot and should not do it alone. They can’t. They need to live, rest and enjoy their youth to the fullest. So, again and in closing, governments need to play their part.

To follow the stories of the young entrepreneurs in the Anzisha Venture Building Programme, visit anzishprize.org and subscribe to the YouTube channel.

Didi Onwu is the managing editor of the Anzisha Prize, which celebrates and supports Africa’s youngest, most innovative entrepreneurs who have created successful business ventures or social projects across the continent.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Didi Onwu
Didi Onwu is the managing editor of the Anzisha Prize, which celebrates and supports Africa’s youngest, most innovative entrepreneurs who have created successful business ventures or social projects across the continent.

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