Anyone can tell you that this year was terrible; but for the young African coming up in the world, it was depressing. With economies taking deeper dives all over Africa, and career moves rendered at a standstill, many have all but given up. Most of the lucky few to have been employed lost their jobs, as lock down measures were implemented.
It is inspiring to see some young Africans stand strong in the face of adversity, taking matters into their own hands and starting small businesses during these times. In particular, two young ladies are leading in the field of entrepreneurship. I managed to catch up with these ladies who are in business for themselves – Joyliz Njenga from Kenya, working hard in the food industry, and Rumbidzai Winini from Zimbabwe, selling the best women’s fashion.
First of all, kudos to anyone with the guts to even think of starting a small business in such economic turmoil. Joyliz Njenga was a semester away from becoming an IATA Certified Travel Consultant, Travel Agent, and Travel Business Manager, she says, before Covid-19 shut things down. She had her eyes set on making money off of Kenya’s tourism industry, which is one of the most affected industries in the world. I asked her how the idea of starting a business during such times came about.
“Staying at home for that elongated period of time, with the economy shattering and my country being one of the highest leaders in terms of corruption worldwide, I figured, why wait for a greedy system to land back on its feet just so it can steal from me and the others again? A small business was the right place to start. Make some small ‘bank’ while waiting for the education systems to get back to normal and hope that the degree that I get will further me in life; if not, at least, I will have gained some intel on how to run a business.”
Njenga’s fears are popular amongst many young Africans who can see that the system is rigged. This is why so many Africans are now looking overseas for a chance at a better future; like Rumbidzai Winini who left the continent to attend university in Ukraine. Luckily, Winini had been back home when the Covid-19 pandemic broke. She had been doing part-time work at her father’s company whilst looking for employment. Forced, like the rest of us, to put our plans aside whilst adjusting to life in the motherland again, it would have been easy to pack up and return to Europe, but she made a plan. Winini saw her salvation in selling women’s fashion. I asked how the idea came about and Winini responded:
“I just thought people still need to wear clothes even if we’re going through a pandemic.”
Both ladies had wanted to be in the business sector, but the timing and the type of businesses are unlike what they had desired – one has to adapt as of late. Njenga had always wanted to have a business, “But in a whole other industry… a story for another day though”, she states. Granted, the food business has been made complicated by Covid-19, so I asked Njenga how she manages her customers.
“It has honestly been a struggle, that’s for sure. With the economy not serving us as the citizens so well, people are saving up all the coins they can, meaning they omit even the smallest of luxuries from their budgets. The type of food we sell is grilled meats, and in my country, these are in the category of small luxuries. The only way to manage customers is to make sure that the products we are selling are delicious and worth the coins they are spending, and to just have faith that they will keep coming back.” Njenga states.
Winini says she had always wanted a business, though in the future. “l wanted to gain experience and learn more about business management.”
Staying true to the idea of women empowerment, Njenga went into this business with her cousin, another African woman set on making moves. Looking to the future, I asked the businesswomen where they see themselves in a year:
“Knock on wood, Covid 19 is kicked to the curb, we have big ideas for this business… In just 3 months of running the business, we have managed to open up two more branches. So in a year’s time, we could be doing bigger things,” Njenga says.
With such success and determination, I had to know if Njenga’s community was supportive? According to Njenga:
“Very much so. The culture for young girls in this generation is to find a ‘blesser’ or a ‘sponsor’, and feed off their money. People seeing two young educated girls taking a different approach has given us not only positive feedback, but also motivation to know that being independent should be the forefront of our goals and no alternative ways are acceptable.”
While facing challenges with pleasing all her customers, Winini stays positive, despite the imposition made by Covid-19 restrictions. She says, “When you’re in business, you learn every day and you get to understand what clients want, so that next time l do better.”
Hoping for all African youth to make it, Njenga advises:
“As cliché as it might sound, I have learned it is the absolute truth… Just believe in yourself. That’s all! The mind works wonders and miracles. That faith can light up a fire within yourself, and truly, you’ll find yourself in a blazing bonfire of thoughts, ideas, and passions you never knew you had. After you believe and conjure up the faith, do not forget the most important part… ACT on those ideas. Bring them to life. An idea is just intellectual property, so turn that into something tangible, and that’s the magic.”
Njenga’s positive attitude is what keeps her going and growing, which is why she urges other young people like her to, “sit back and have a positive perspective. As hard as it might sound, there is always a silver lining. We have only three months of 2020 to go; find your silver lining! Meditate on the good, and plan for the better.” Having returned recently to the continent I asked Winini how she has overcome readjusting to the environment. “I was lost and did not have confidence, but what l can tell you is that nothing is impossible. You can do anything! Do not wait to have a lot of capital – start small and you will grow day by day.”
My Mum Taught Me The Culture of Gifting: Fortue Ncube Of Adore Gifts SA
On weekends I would pack ‘amaFrozen’ in a 5l icecream container wrapped in newspapers, and go sit outside and wait for people to buy.
Growing up in Nkulumane, Bulawayo, Fortunate Ncube was always a budding entrepreneur. When asked if she had set her eyes on a career in sales and marketing from a young age, Fortue, as she is affectionately known, responded, “I actually I wanted to do accounting, mainly because of my sister who chose that, and it kind of felt like ‘a thing’. However, due to my involvement in public speaking clubs, I sort of started enjoying the idea of marketing.”
Fortue is living proof that if you set your mind on something, it will happen just the way you want it to. You might face some hurdles here and there, but if you persevere and keep your eyes on the prize, you will achieve your goals.
I had an inspiring conversation with the vibrant entrepreneur who filled me in on what it has taken to get Adore Gifts to become the reputable and fast-growing business which it is now. Read on!
You did a Diploma in Marketing at Bulawayo Polytechnic, and later on did a Marketing Degree with UNISA when you were now based in South Africa. What is it about marketing products and services that fascinates you, and why did you choose that particular career path?
I’m fascinated by people (learning more about the people you’re selling to), the processes, the interactions, sales presentations, and mostly the creative part of developing an awareness and seeing people fall in love with a product/concept.
After your first qualification, you moved to South Africa in 2011 to look for work and to further your studies. What gave you the bravery and strength to leave the comfort of home and start a new life in a foreign country? How did you manage to overcome the obstacles which come with starting afresh in a new land?
Firstly, I’m generally a huge risk-taker, I’m a bit daring, but mostly I pray and listen to that still small voice. When I feel at peace, it doesn’t matter how crazy it sounds, we do it. I knew I needed to build a strong career in Marketing and unfortunately, our Zimbabwean economy was not giving us that many options, especially for my career path. I needed a place that would build in me resilience in the face of competition; I wanted to feel that joy of accomplishment after closing a deal, I needed to learn more! So I moved to SA to work and further my studies.
Starting afresh comes with its own challanges, and three things have helped me overcome most of those challenges; prayer, staying on my lane, and living within my means.
You were blessed to quickly find employment, and over the years rose up the ranks in various small and then big companies. What or who do you attribute your good fortune to in terms of the growth and experience gained in your career?
Firstly, God for his faithfulness in guiding me to people that have only brought out the best version of me. Secondly, my first employer, Mr. Z. Nkomo, CEO of McGeralds Consulting. I walked into that company as a young scared girl and I was patiently groomed over the years, and I walked out as a Powerhouse, not only with marketing skills, but two years of business consulting & development skills. From then on, the rest is history.
After a few years working in the corporate industry, what or who inspired the birth of Adore Gifts?
My mum’s teachings from a young age, and the Business Fellowship Department at my church which I was invited to be a part of and later head.
What do you strive to achieve with every gift you send out to a client? How do you want your clients to feel after receiving a personalised gift from Adore Gifts?
Thoughtful and well-presented gifts are what we strive for on a daily. I believe every person has a right to a gift with a personal touch. We simply would like our clients and recipients to feel special and loved.
Was entrepreneurship always something that you considered, or wanted to do someday, and why?
Funny enough, looking at it now, I think I have been entrepreneurial from a very young age. My first business was selling ‘amaFrozen’ (in SA we call them ‘ice’). I was in grade 3 I think, I had a sign by the gate, and on weekends I would pack them in a 5l icecream container wrapped in newspapers and go sit outside and wait for people to buy. I later on started selling Lobels Biscuits (the pieces ones), but this business was pretty challenging as I would be tempted to eat the stock (laughs). I then implemented many other business ideas as I grew up. At some point I partnered with two other ladies for a clothing boutique. I simply enjoyed seeing money grow, and I must say it really came in handy after my mum passed on.
However, the entrepreneur in me was birthed when I became part of a team of business people called Business Fellowship, which I later on had the privilege to lead. From that team I learnt about the freedom of entrepreneurship and the challanges that come with it, I heard the real life wins and fails. I was challenged, and right then I knew my calling.
You mentioned that your mum always appreciated and celebrated people, thus she taught you the culture of gifting. Do you think she would be proud that you have taken her life lessons to good use and not only put them into practice, but actually turned them into a profitable venture?
She would have been so proud. In my small businesses she would always ask me how much profit I made, and what I needed the money for. Growing up, I adopted a mentality that a business should be profitable, and that I should have a goal that I’m working towards. Adore Gifts keeps her in my life on a daily.
How long has Adore Gifts been fully operational, and what are your biggest achievements so far as a business entity?
Adore Gifts was established in 2015 but has been fully operational from 2019. Our biggest achievement has been collaborating with EraByDJZinhle for Valentine’s Day 2021. We saw ourselves putting together gifts for SA celebrities like Jessica Nkosi, Moozlie, Thabsie, Dbn Gogo, Kamo Mphela, Dineo Ranaka, and it was such a humbling honour.
What are the biggest challenges which you face, and how do you overcome them?
Gifting is time consuming, when I started I would literally shut down due to exhaustion. I have learnt to give myself ‘me time’, off days, structured lead times for delivery, and most importantly, not exceeding our maximum order capacity at any given time.
Nearly a year ago now, you resigned from your corporate job to focus all your attention on Adore Gifts. Any regrets?
None at all. Weirdly enough though, two months after I resigned, I was Involved in an accident that led to my car being deemed a write-off. I walked out with one tiny scar (praise God), but a lifetime of emotional weight which I had buried over the years came all the way to the top. It was like a seal was broken… and for the first time I felt weak and helpless. I went through the darkest season of my life, and I remember spending hours on the phone with a counselor, and she helped me through it all. The only thing that kept me sane was working on a craft or a gift, and right then it dawned on me and I was so grateful that I made that decision. Fast forward, everything was restored, and God spared my life for a reason and a purpose.
Can you tell us about the other facet of your business, Adore Experience Gifts?
Adore Experience Gifts is about non-tangible gifting. Some people generally love experiences (especially those who have ‘Acts of Service’ as a love language), and that is where we come in. So far we have only exposed a small part of the experiential gifting which is through romantic setups. However, we are still slowly cooking that part of the business and we will introduce some other things as we go, but now our main focus is still on Adore Gifts.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far in your journey as an entrepreneur?
Patience is key, patience with yourself as an entrepreneur, and your business growth. Ask for guidance; business mentors and coaches can save you tonnes.
What words of advice do you have for a young African who would like to follow in your career footsteps?
Believe in yourself, write all your ideas down as they pop up. Have a tiny book you keep with you for ‘randoms’. You will make money, but stay financially principled, know what grows your finances, and what stunts your financial freedom.
Check out Adore Gifts selections on their website, adoregifts.co.za, or visit their Instagram page, adoregifts_official.
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia
The future is technology and health simply will not exist in the now and the future without it.
After working in the United States for a number of years and realising the difference that technology brought to the healthcare sector, Dr. Ismail Badjie was keen to take the knowledge he had acquired back to his home country. Having seen the dire necessity for innovative approaches to the delivery of healthcare in The Gambia, it soon became a dream of his to start a company which would serve as a bridge between modern healthcare solutions and affordable access locally, enabling wide-spread access to quality and affordable care to all Gambians and subsequently, to the surrounding West African Nations.
Read on to find out how the 35 year old Gambian national was able to make his dream a reality.
After graduating high school in The Gambia, you went on to do your undergraduate degree in Chemistry in the United States in Tennessee. Why did you choose to do chemistry, and what did you major in? Did you already know that you wanted to work in pharmaceuticals? What career options did you have in mind at the time?
Funny thing is, I left for Tennessee State University to study Civil Engineering, but changed my major two weeks into university. Science and Chemistry in particular always came easy to me in High School, and I had a healthy amount of curiosity in healthcare which led me in that direction. I felt Chemistry with a minor in biology was a great foundation degree for a profession in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or science research.
I got exposed to the Doctor of Pharmacy program (PharmD) which immediately aligned with my desire to choose a career in a field with tremendous potential for impact, not only in the United States but also in Africa. The over-commercialization of pharmaceutical products in Africa has removed the emphasis on the clinical aspect of the field designed to be gatekeepers for the safe administration of medications to achieve positive health outcomes (which I was passionate about).
After graduating with your first degree, did you do a Master’s degree before going on to your Ph.D.?
Similar to many professional schools in the medical field, the Doctor of Pharmacy program is a 4-year program I transitioned into immediately after the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.
You then went on to do a Doctorate Degree in Pharmacy in Indiana, before going on to practice as a pharmacist in the US. Can you tell us briefly (in layman’s terms) what your Ph.D. work focused on?
Attending a Top ten PharmD program in the U.S at Purdue University (Indiana) truly enriched my career development and prepared me for a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of individuals. The Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) is a four-year professional degree. The classroom, lab, and experiential requirements provide students with the educational background to enter any field of pharmacy practice such as community pharmacy, academia, industry & manufacturing, nuclear pharmacy, hospital pharmacy and more specialized clinical pharmacy .
My four-year training included nuclear pharmacy training and elective specialization in organizational leadership and supervision. We leave the program with comprehensive knowledge on the origins and makeup of medication including the research on safety and efficacy that goes into the manufacturing and approval process to a more high-level clinical application and distribution of medication to elicit positive health outcomes. The full spectrum of skills gained allows PharmDs to be integral parts to a variety of industries.
What is the difference between someone who does an undergraduate degree in pharmacy and goes straight to practice, and someone in your position? What professional advantages do you have over that person?
The U.S no longer offers any undergraduate degree in Pharmacy. All programs now are designed as a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree that requires a 6 to 4 year commitment. This is something that separates the profession’s integration into the health ecosystem compared to other parts of the world.
One of the major professional advantages in a PharmD program is the focus on clinical expertise across diverse fields which counters the more traditional narrative of only being labeled as “dispenser”, “chemist” or “druggist”. I spent my entire final year of the PharmD program on clinical rotations working in the field across various specialties such as Infection Disease, Ambulatory Care, Community Practice, Pharmacy Compounding, medication safety, and hospital inpatient clinical care just to name a few.
Can you tell us about the birth of Innovarx Global Health (IGH); what inspired you to start such a company, and what products and services does InnovaRx provide?
Innovarx Global Health was formed to level the playing field in access to quality healthcare services in Africa. Being a Healthcare professional practicing in the United States gave me firsthand knowledge on how technology was transforming healthcare delivery, and how huge the disparity was between the west and the African continent.
My Grandmother died when she was 56 years old from complications of diabetes and hypertension, which robbed us (her grandkids) of so many memories and moments of joy. I truly believe her living in the Gambia with poor levels of access to quality healthcare should not have determined a lower life expectancy. That wasn’t only her reality but that of many of our loved ones on the continent who for decades, have faced significant challenges while simply seeking a better quality of life. We therefore built the company to provide basic preventative healthcare and disease stage management services while leveraging technology in point-of-care testing diagnostics, electronic health record system, and prescription medication processing to deliver customized care in the most convenient and affordable way.
Our flagship delivery service Wellness on Wheels (W.O.W) was designed as a logistics tool that removed barriers of transportation and from inception, allowed the company to deliver products and services bedside to people’s homes all over the country. I believe IGH has revolutionized the way people consume healthcare, where a patient who lives in the furthest part of the country (6 hours away) can have a loved one living abroad sponsor their care, and have the same medications in circulation in the U.S delivered at their doorstep. Our e-commerce platform has also allowed for over-the-counter medications, health and wellness products such as vitamins and supplements to be accessible to customers all over the world for purchase and delivery as early as a 60 mins turn around in most parts of Banjul.
You mentioned that while planning on the inception of the company, besides the experience gained from your own workplace, you also travelled around the world to see how different companies carried out the services that you wanted to provide. Which countries did you travel to, and what stood out for you, which you really wanted to emulate back home in The Gambia?
I realized early that doing market research only in The Gambia was inadequate to solidify an integrated matrix of healthcare solutions, so we set out to key countries such as India, Germany and UAE. India gave us valuable insights into understanding the generic drug global supply chain market and how much revenue the country was generating through medical tourism from Africa. Over a billion dollars leaves the continent every year because of medical tourism, which stems from a pervasive lack of trust in our health systems.
The amount of Indian medical professionals trained at the best universities who returned home to provide specialty care to their citizens also inspired me. UAE was a perfect example of a country that embraced innovation and technology to propel all sectors, especially healthcare. The ingenuity and value creation in the healthcare sector is something I definitely felt the continent was also fertile grounds for. From the offset, we were intentional about creating a global company with the best ideas, and chose Africa as our first market instead of creating another “Less than” or “African Version” of a healthcare company.
You started doing research for launching the company in 2015, but only started operating in The Gambia in 2019. Besides doing research, what other facets of the business were you working on and preparing for during those years?
Unfortunately, bureaucracy can always impede any process in Africa that requires licenses and necessary registrations to get up and running. The Company was operating as a consulting company while attacking the daunting task of raising capital to start a business in Africa. The small market size of the Gambia as a pilot country made seeking investment even more challenging, especially for a business model that was the first of its kind. Human capacity is also another obstacle that adds to the process. Finding the right talent to understand and execute the mission and vision of a company in Africa requires a level of patience and constant allocation of resources to train and recruit that we still go through.
How did it feel to finally see your dream of setting up a tech-based healthcare solutions company in West Africa come to life in 2019?
It’s truly something magical anytime you see ideas that were simply sticky notes in my apartment manifest into a fully functioning entity now serving thousands of people. The magic however is ever so fleeting, as the waves of interchanging emotions instill a constant measure of cautious optimism required to always maintain faith while having the discipline to confront our current reality at any point. Africa is not short of great ideas, the greatest challenge in creating a successful business always lies in the consistent execution of said ideas.
What challenges did you face whilst preparing to launch, and how did you overcome them?
I think a lot of the challenges faced pre-launch had mainly to do with raising capital and working through the bureaucratic process of getting legally registered. The former (Fundraising) is a never-ending process we are still working on. Remaining committed to our “WHY” and exercising patience through building relationships always helps navigate the ecosystem. Establishing the right local partnerships also help in the general process of planting some roots in the ground .
Most of the products sold at your pharmacy division are sourced in the United States. Do you face any obstacles in getting them to the Gambia, such as maybe high import duty?
Most of the obstacles result from high logistics costs, especially when using air freight options. The wave of COVID in 2020 when the country was shut down was especially a trying time for the company, having a nation of people depending on the company to source products while facing exorbitant shipping costs. The Government of the Gambia does provide some tax holidays which ease the burden on otherwise high import duties. Most of the costs arise from the product registration process mandated by the Nation’s Medicines Control Agency.
You stated that Sub-Saharan Africa has a pandemic of counterfeit medication which is a billion-dollar industry, and in West Africa, almost 20-30% of the medication is counterfeit. As a pharmaceuticals provider, how do you avoid sourcing counterfeit medication?
Our decision to source medications only from the U.S is mainly based on the safety net of minimum quality standards required by the FDA. I think the African market is yet to make demands for only medications with safety profiles fit for sale in western markets, a non-negotiable. With our quality control infrastructures not readily available, the U.S sourcing allows for a level of assurance being infused into all our products. I think the continent is making strides in building our manufacturing capacity which will change the dynamics of our sourcing in the near future. From a pharmacist’s perspective, we just need to ensure every product dispensed to African citizens would always be safe, effective and with equal clinical potency to deliver positive health outcomes.
Your main clients are the diasporans who buy medication and healthcare supplies online from you for their family members back home in The Gambia. What marketing mediums do you use to reach your target market?
Social Media has truly been a game-changer for us in terms of reaching our target customers who live abroad but sponsor their loved ones’ health care in the Gambia. The country saw over $500 Million in remittances in 2020 alone which truly creates a new definition of market size not limited to the feeble spending power in the country. Our active engagement with Gambians in the diaspora from day one has allowed them to align with our mission of providing the peace of mind they desperately seek when it comes to the health and wellbeing of loved ones. The novelty of our services also gives us the confidence that “Word of Mouth” marketing will always be the greatest avenue to slow and organic growth, especially in our infancy as a company.
As a tech-based company, how do you overcome ‘typically African’ problems such as inconsistent power supply and bad network connections?
Well from a balance sheet standpoint it just adds to the cost of doing business. Getting back-up systems for electricity and the internet is unavoidable, but we are much closer to cheaper and more stable systems today than we were decades ago. It just creates a scenario where your product may be years ahead of the market, but also goes back to building companies despite the challenges and not attenuating your idea because of the “Typical African” problems. The future is technology and health simply will not exist in the now and the future without it.
As the Gambia is a very small country, you are actually able to service and deliver products to your clients across the whole country from just your one branch, making you a leader in that category. How have your competitors reacted?
Good ideas that enter any market simply create tension. Every player in the market will have to make a decision whether to adapt or die. We tend not to focus on the reaction of competitors because our business model differs greatly from the status quo. Nonetheless, we welcome enhancements and innovations of their own, which will also add tremendous value and the customers will always benefit. It does not have to be only one solution. The market will always follow where the best value is created and executed consistently.
Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your ability to import healthcare supplies from the United States?
I would like to believe the worst is behind us now, but absolutely. We went through a period where certain items like PPE, hand sanitizer, certain medications etc. were scarce, but we adapted accordingly. The company played a pivotal role in the country manufacturing hand sanitizers in-house, which allowed for great collaborations with the Ministry of Health and the Pharmacy Council of The Gambia. We have a great relationship with distributors free of middlemen, which always allows us to source products consistently.
You have in-house doctors that do consultations with patients, and you also do tele-medicine where patients can consult virtually with your team of specialist doctors who are abroad. How has this service been received by the locals? Are they embracing technology and jumping on board?
I think with most new technology you always have your early adopters that embrace the technology and receive it through the lens of the convenience it provides. The Telemedicine services was a timely intervention during the COVID peak which solidified its application as a healthcare solution of the future. So we still have some growth opportunities in adoption that will expand, especially with the key partnerships we have with specialty doctors all over the world.
You stated a very sad fact, that there are about 9000 Gambians to one doctor. Why do you think this is so, and is the government doing anything to curb the disparity?
A couple of factors come into play when analyzing the low physician density. Healthcare professionals struggle with some of the lowest wages in the region that provide little incentive to turn down opportunities to practice medicine in more advanced countries for more pay. The first intervention should focus on increasing doctor salaries and making a commitment to their continuous development.
I think the Government has made massive strides in sustaining a pipeline with the Nation’s Medical School, but with the number of years it takes to complete training and further specialization, only a seismic shift in reverse migration can fill the gap. This, however, necessitates technology as the only viable option short term of closing the gap. Embracing telehealth service can have an immediate and exponential impact especially in a country that does lack doctors but have an abundance of qualified nurses that are the bedrock of most health systems in the country.
You are already doing an amazing job providing easy access to affordable healthcare, but are you doing anything as Innovarx Global to give back to the community, especially the youth?
Incorporating a Corporate Social Responsibility was of great importance to the company from day one. We saw the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and hypertension, and sought out to help democratize access to preventative service in that area by launching our “What’s your number?” Health campaign. The WYN campaign leverages the company’s wellness on wheels to find communities in need and offer free health screening for the two most prevalent NCDs.
To date, the company has screened close to two thousand Gambians at no cost and in some cases in remote areas of the country several kilometers away from rural health centers. I think our greatest contribution to the youth has been in the talent development and hiring of young people at all levels of the organization. This has allowed our youthful exuberance to influence advocacy on subject matters like mental health and sexual and reproductive health, which are often highly stigmatized in African Societies.
Lastly, what words of advice would you give to a young African who would one day like to be as successful as you are in the pharmaceuticals industry?
Success is subjective and a never ending journey, so I would advise them to not ascribe a final destination to the perceived notion of reaching a peak. I believe I was fortunate to have a level of exposure, education, skills, and opportunities that allowed me to will the company into existence with a group of like-minded individuals.
The profession of Pharmacy is extremely diverse and is designed to work in harmony with all other healthcare fields. Young Africans (women especially) should follow their passion in the healthcare space and take advantage of all opportunities of apprenticeship and structured goal mapping along the way. Patience is a virtue and must be applied to every aspiration of creating value in any given ecosystem. Make a commitment to courage, accountability and continuous growth because we live in a very competitive world and one’s evolution should never come to a halt. Lastly, internalize the mere fact that yes, we (Africans) deserve better, but we have to create it by being the very change we seek.
Connect with Dr. Ismail through his Instagram @drismailbadjie, or visit his website, https://www.innovarxglobal.com/.
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
Fady Hocheimy – On Running One Of The Gambia’s Largest Business Empires, & Making His Own Chocolate
I am who I am because of the knowledge I have learnt from others, therefore sharing what I know is important.
Fady Hocheimy was born and brought up in The Gambia, and moved to Lebanon as a teenager to continue his studies, completing his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Business Administration. Upon his return to Gambia in 2003, his father had built a large empire, and it was now Fady’s responsibility to make sure the business did not just continue to operate, but also continued to grow when his father retired. Businessman by day, and chocolatier by night, read on to learn more about this intriguing entrepreneur and philanthropist.
You completed both your degrees at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. What or who inspired your decision to study Business Administration? Did you always know from a young age that you wanted to become a businessman?
Growing up seeing my father running MFH Group in The Gambia, I always had an interest in business. It was somehow natural that I would eventually study business at university level. Of course, my father did encourage me to take that path, as part of him had always expected me to come back and assist him in running the company. I did not enjoy all the courses in business school, but my favourites were always the marketing ones.
On finishing school you moved back to The Gambia to take over the family business, which you have been running for the last 5 or 6 years since your dad retired. Can you tell us briefly about how the MFH Group was founded and what products and services the company offers?
MFH Group was founded by my Dad at a very young age in 1970 from very humble beginnings. It all began with a small Banjul Pharmacy store in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. With time and dedication, he managed to grow the business slowly. In 1988 he began Sunu Kerr, which means ‘Our Home’, in the local language of Wolof, and sells home goods such as paints, kitchenware, garden and handy tools. In 1991 he became the sole distributor for LG electronics in The Gambia, and in 2000 he established King Food, our Food & Beverage subsidiary. Today we represent global brands such as LG, BASF, Tramontina, Bells Healthcare, Remedica, Munchee, Foster Clark, Vega Foods, and Indus Life Sciences. The MFH Group employs 180 people.
Besides educational qualifications, from your experience in business thus far, what else can you say is needed by an individual to run such a big and successful company with up to 180 workers?
I believe one’s personality is more important. Nowadays knowledge is easily accessible, if you look for it. I believe the following key principles are essential though: Discipline, productivity and fun. One must be passionate and determined about what they are doing. Moreover, in order to run a successful business, a great team is needed. Businesses are run by people, therefore I invest much of my time training my team and creating leaders. A big business must have structure, where everyone knows what their role is.
What business qualities do you admire about your father, and up to now still emulate in running the company?
I have learnt so much from my father. To begin with, I learnt to be humble and honest. People like to deal with those who they can trust and relate to. I also admire his ability to connect with people, to speak their language and understand them. His ability to understand what products people need is amazing, and that is something I try to emulate every day.
Being an entrepreneur also requires a lot of long hours and a lot of travelling. How do you balance being an entrepreneur, a husband and father, a philanthropist, and so much more, and still manage to find time for yourself to rest and do what you enjoy, and be happy?
When you enjoy what you do, time doesn’t exist. You make time. Most importantly, I am very organised. That is the only way I can manage everything in my life and still smile. I also learnt, through meditation, how to divide my mental time and not just physical time. You must be present in everything you do, physically and mentally. And lastly, I have a great team at work and a great wife, who has been very supportive of everything I do. I am a better man because of my wife.
About 13 years ago, a friend of yours gave you a cocoa plant as a gift, and only in early 2018 after forgetting about the tree all these years, and almost cutting it down after seeing it as ‘useless’, you decided to try your hand at chocolate making. What motivated you to give it a try?
I like challenges, so this was a challenge. And once I read that West Africa exports 70% of the world’s cocoa, I had to do something with my tree.
How was your first attempt at chocolate making?
My first attempt at making Chocolate was to surprise my wife for Valentine’s. I figured out a way to make it, even though it did not taste good at all. Of course, she was nice about it and pretended it tasted good, and we both laughed. But because I never give up, I kept on researching, and I made sure that this adventure doesn’t just go to waste. It was very new and it looked somehow like chocolate, but did not taste good. I continued to improve on it each time, and eventually got the right machines and with more knowledge, it just got better and better.
Initially, you were giving out the chocolate for free for people to try out for about 2 years, but as your skill in chocolate making has greatly improved, you are now selling it at your supermarket. Seeing as you are already so busy at work, when do you get the time to make chocolate to sell at your shop?
I work on my chocolates in my kitchen at home mostly at night after 8pm once my kids have gone to bed. It’s the only free time I get, but I enjoy every minute of it.
Ghana and Ivory Coast alone export 60% of the world’s cocoa, and you are keen on getting Gambia to become one of West Africa’s cocoa exporters. How do you plan on making that dream a reality, seeing as right now you are the only person growing cocoa in your country?
By sharing what I am doing I hope to get more Gambians involved in growing Cocoa. Currently I sell seedlings to whoever is interested, and I train them on the growing and pruning techniques.
You are not only a trailblazing entrepreneur, but you also have a heart of gold, taking part in many activities organised for the youth and giving back to so many good causes. Why is it important to you to be involved in philanthropy?
When we promote the welfare of others, we all benefit. I am who I am because of the knowledge I have learnt from others, therefore sharing what I know is important. I find great joy when I connect with young people, especially considering that Gambia’s population is mostly young. When you do good, good will always come back to you.
Besides business and chocolate which are your biggest passions, you are also very passionate about Africa, and as you said, “Africa is very rich, but it is poorly managed.” What do you think we can do as young Africans to change things around for ourselves, without waiting for governments to change things for us?
First is education; not just in schools, but about life and opportunities. Let us learn from others and see how we can apply that knowledge in Africa. Moreover, we need to be disciplined and productive. There are no shortcuts to success. We must realise that we can make it here. Surely, we need leaders who enable and encourage Africans to grow and make the best use of our rich resources.
What are your parting words for the young African who would someday like to become a business mogul like you?
I am humbled. Let me say that water tastes better when you’re thirsty, and so do the pleasures of life. We have to work hard and work smart. Keep learning and looking for opportunities; they are everywhere, but they come to those who seek them. We don’t know what we love until we find things we like. Go out there and enrich your experiences every day.
Connect with Fady on Twitter, @fadyhocheimy, and follow his chocolate-making journey on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, @fhbites.
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
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