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
Neka Malone – From Wrongfully Convicted & Homeless Mum of 6, To Trailblazing Entrepreneur in Ghana
I even considered suicide once, and what stopped me was the thought of “Who will love my children unconditionally, and who will teach them the foundation of faith?”
Providing a stable and comfortable home for your children is every parent’s dream, but for many years, that was something that Taneka Kahilia Malone was not able to do for her children. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States, the mum of six went through a most challenging period in her life. Heartbreaking as the experience was, read on to find out how Neka and her kids managed to get through some of life’s greatest challenges.
What motivated your decision to study Psychology at university?
I studied in Dallas Texas, and I was very intrigued with how the mind works and the behavior of people. My mission in life is to help people heal from past challenges and struggles, and identify with who they are.
Around 2011, as a single mother of five boys and one girl living in Dallas, Texas, you went through a lot of challenges, the biggest one being homelessness. Can you briefly tell us about those challenges which you faced? What led to you becoming homeless?
Watching my children make pallets on people’s floors was heartbreaking for me. I used that pain to push myself to become financially stable. I was wrongfully convicted of a felony in 2006, which put a huge strain on me professionally, hence I was not able to find sustainable income. I was forced to take jobs that did not pay me enough to maintain housing.
What gave you the strength to get up each day and do odd jobs, while also continuing to look for better jobs to look after your children?
My children were my motivation, the fact that they smiled and laughed through the storm. Some nights we stayed up all night just talking and thinking about the future, and that gave us all hope. My children managed to still graduate high school and build their athletic careers. It was imperative that I kept my faith and continued to rise, even if it was just a few steps at a time.
I can imagine that at times it got so difficult that so many things would go through your mind. Did you ever get angry at God during your lowest moments, and did you ever give up and think you would never get out of the misery?
I’m only human, and for a long time I thought I had angered God, and that God was not hearing my cry for help. I never stopped praying, and even with all the anger and resentment of life in my heart, I still prayed and believed that there had to be an opposite to my struggle. I even considered suicide once, and what stopped me was the thought of “Who will love my children unconditionally, and who will teach them the foundation of faith?” By God’s grace, I’m still here.
From moving across homeless shelters, motels, and friends and family’s places, sleeping on the floor and surviving on government support, what inspired all your children to stay in school, stay humble, stay smiling, and stay well-behaved and finish school?
They have never seen me give up in life. The countless sacrifices I made to make sure they attended school motivated them to want to provide a better life not only for themselves but for me also, and my children encouraged and motivated each other.
After moving back to Minnesota and staying with family for about a year, finally in July of 2017, your prayers were answered and you and your family got approved for a four-bedroomed family home. Reminiscing on everything you had been through, how did you and the kids feel when you first moved into your new home?
One word – Peaceful!!!
God has been gracious to you and your family, the kids finished school and now almost everyone has a place of their own. How does that make you feel?
As a mother of six, this parenting thing was not easy. I’m beyond proud that they have been taught that no matter the depth of the sea, keep swimming, because greater things lie ahead. I’m very much humbled and blessed, and the love and admiration my children and I have for each other is incredible. They are my biggest cheerleaders, as I am theirs.
You also co-authored two books, one of which made you an Amazon No.1 Best-Selling Author. Can you tell us about the books?
‘Echoes in the Darkness’ was a joint collaboration of women who are domestic violence survivors. Amazon Best-Seller ‘Women Who Inspire Greatness’ was targeted towards the youth, and young women in particular, to help them learn about different women who overcame various obstacles while building their careers. Both books allowed me to be authentic, genuine, motivational, and inspiring, and contributing to them was so much fun!
When was Fire on the Runway born, and what was the inspiration behind starting it?
I started the Traveling Fashion Production ‘Fire on the Runway’ in 2015. Our first show was in Dallas Texas, U.S. in 2016. After becoming triumphant over my journey of homelessness and joblessness, I felt I had a deeper calling, so I started my entrepreneurial journey in mid-2014. My family was led by my Aunt Liz Adams, and we started Diamond Girls Fashion, an online clothing store with a focus on providing nice affordable wear to women in the military.
Fire on the Runway has now grown internationally, and will be touring Africa with our ‘All Eyes on Us Fashion Tour #RefocusAfrica’.
What are your biggest achievements so far as CEO of Fire on the Runway?
Changing the lives of others around me, growing my brand internationally, and now owning an all-black organisation!
After all your kids had left home, you decided to move to Ghana. What made you decide to pack up all your belongings and move to West Africa?
I started visiting Ghana in April of 2018, and from the first day I fell in love with the culture. Later on learning about the growing economy here and opportunities to build several businesses was very interesting to me, so I stepped out on faith, and the rest is history!
In 2020 you started an online store. Can you tell us about your business and how it is doing?
The store is called Kahilia’s Kollection and we sell sophisticated everyday wear for women. A year later we are still maintaining and growing our clientele.
You’ve been in Ghana for nearly six months now. How is it going there, and is it everything you imagined it would be?
I totally love Ghana, there is a very peaceful vibe. It’s not what I imagined, to be honest, it’s more than I could have even thought of. The beauty of the country alone is captivating. One month after arriving I was appointed Social Media and Marketing Manager for the Tourism Society of Ghana, which for me was a huge accomplishment.
What are you enjoying most about being in Africa, which you could never get or experience in America?
Freedom! I do not feel afraid because of my skin colour. People respect you more, you’re acknowledged as a woman entrepreneur, not just being a black woman entrepreneur. I can’t leave out the food; my favorite is Jollof Rice and Groundnut Soup with Red Snapper fish.
In most countries in Africa, we take for granted that someone can own an all-black company or organisation, but in the United States that is such a big deal, and opportunities like that are celebrated. What is the significance to you of now owning an all-black organisation?
I feel very accomplished and honoured that I achieved something that most people in America can only dream of.
What are your plans for the next five to ten years?
I will continue building Fire on the Runway and writing books, including my own story in fullness. I also will develop a mentorship program for the youth who are interested in the fashion industry.
What would you say to a single mother who is facing similar challenges to those which you faced, and all hope seems lost to them?
Keep going, It’s all part of the process! Stay strong in faith, never give up, and remember you are doing your best. Remember to love you as well!
Connect with Neka through her Instagram, @fireontherunwayllc, or visit her website, www.fireontherunway.org.
Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu
SA-Based Artist Thabiso Dakamela, On Exploring Emotional Themes
I have grown to develop awesome respect for single mothers and women in general, and feel they deserve some form of recognition…
Those are the words of one of South Africa’s most talented artists, Thabiso Dakamela. Based in Johannesburg, the academic-turned-artist took a moment to fill us in on his love for art.
Thabiso you are a renowned artist, how would you describe yourself to people who do not know you yet?
I’m a dreamer who seeks to communicate positive energy through a series and subseries of exploring emotional themes.
When did you realise your love of art? Is there an inspiration behind your arts journey, and how did you start your journey to where you are now?
I guess I’ve been an artist since I was very young, from creating my own toys to making numerous sketches at a young age, I was being developed for where I am now as an artist. Most of my subject matter is emotional themes about women and children; this is borrowed largely from the relationship I have with my mother. Raised by her, I have grown to develop awesome respect for single mothers and women in general, and feel they deserve some form of recognition, as far as their contribution is concerned. And with the support from her and other close people in my path, I’ve had the privilege of growing to become the artist that I am today. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s totally been worth every step.
Have you worked with any influential artists and if yes, what important lessons did you learn from them?
I have been in group exhibitions with several artists whom I feel have been impactful to the industry in South Africa. The likes of Percy Maimela (Guinness World Record holder), Greatjoy Ndlovu, Vusi, Dr. Pikita Ntuli, Azael Langa, and Enoch Mlangeni to mention but a few. My experience with my fellow creatives in the industry has taught me the importance of self-improvement and growth, and thus as I look back I feel that a lot has changed and my work has evolved, and will keep doing so until I reach my fullest potential as an artist.
Looking back, do you think making the choice to become an artist was worth it? And would you dedicate some of your time to mentor upcoming artists?
Yes, while an academic myself, I have however grown to love this part and path of my life more. It’s been worth every step being an artist. It has its own challenges, but it’s worthwhile. And in the near future, I hope to impart the knowledge that I have gained to others and to inspire some souls out there to believe in their journey and calling in whatever discipline they are in, especially art.
Do you have any role models that helped to shape your career?
With every developing stage in my career, I think I look to different people. At the moment, Nelson Makamo has proved against all odds that the life of an artist is worth everything. I have had other artists as well that inspire me, and continue to do so, but at the moment I think we can work with a local and close name like his.
Do you have any plans to give back to the communities? If so, where do you intend on starting?
Charity begins at home, and yeah… in the near future I do hope to start a project that would be helpful to whatever immediate community I have. Already every year there are a few paintings that I and other notable artists donate to charity and other beneficiaries.
The arts in Africa, do you think it still needs attention? What are some of the things you wish to see improved on?
I am glad that local, fellow black people are catching up with collection and investment in art. I think we could have more of that. And yes, Africa is so rich with untapped talent. I’m glad also that there is however a notable change recently in the way the world views contemporary African art, and quite a good number of people are collecting and investing in African art, so there’s great potential, opportunities, and promises now.
Besides art what other business[es] are you involved in?
As a firm believer in having multiple streams of income, I do other small businesses on the side, including interior decor, branding, and soon want to start trading in the fuel industry and in property.
What advice would you give to young African teens who aspire to start a career in the art industry?
Be resilient, be passionate… express yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough, because those who are meant to align with your work will eventually be in sync regardless of the amount of time it takes and the distance separating you. The world has so much to offer, be the very best at what you can be!
If you’d like to see more of Thabiso’s work or purchase some of his pieces, connect with him through his Facebook profile, @ThabisoDakamela, or through his Instagram page, @art_by_thabisodakamela.
Interviewed by Tholakele Dlamini
Tenacious Mabuza On Her Love For Sports, & The Hope Through Sports Trust
I faced a lot of backlash from the doors I tried knocking on, as I was constantly reminded that I should concentrate on my school work.
Talent Tenacious Mabuza Ncube is a sports personality who is passionate about the development of her community in the education and sports spaces. She is an opinionated individual who advocates for equal opportunities for all. Disappointed by a denied life-changing opportunity in her own life, Talent decided to dust herself up from the sad event and use her experience to make sure that other talented young girls do not have to go through what she went through. Read on to find out more.
When did you discover your love for sports?
My love for sports backdates to my primary school days. I was an all-rounder from primary up to high school. Participation in sports came naturally to me and my teachers encouraged me to take part in sports. Finally in high school, I found my niche in short distance running. I was a sprinter for 100m and 4 x 100m relay at Inyathi High School where I started and completed my high school. Currently, I solicit opportunities to partake in sporting disciplines around my community such as Netball, marathon, athletics, and Volleyball, and I am a member of FM Running Club and Bulawayo Marathon.
What challenges did you face in sports growing up, and how did that influence where you are in sports today?
This is a really sad story to tell, but if it had not happened, I would not have had the same drive to change and transform other people’s lives today. I excelled in sports, but there was a time when I was supposed to go and compete outside the country, and I was not able to travel because I didn’t have a passport. Support for the girl child especially in sports was extinct at the time.
I faced a lot of backlash from the doors I tried knocking on, as I was constantly reminded that I should concentrate on my school work. Some close family members thought I was too ‘playful’ for someone who is an orphan. It’s sad that the system we grew up in was that which viewed sports as an extracurricular activity that is not really important and holds no bright future prospects.
What inspired you to rally behind the girl child in sports?
My life story was inspiration enough to rally behind the girl child in sports. The fire in me to change the narrative that society has that girls are meant to be in the kitchen and not on the grounds pursuing their passion and talent never died. I always knew that If I had the capacity I would make sure to change the little bit that I could. I started as a volunteer at Bekezela Home-Based Care, and later on moved to Thembalethu Foundation as a volunteer, and later as a Resident Director in 2017.
Can you tell us about the ‘Hope Through Sports Trust’? When was it launched and what projects have you done so far?
The Hope Through Sports Trust, affectionately known as HoTS, was formed to cater to all sporting disciplines, since Thembalethu Foundation, a project I was working for in 2017, purely targeted girls’ soccer only. Volleyball, Netball and running clubs in Bulawayo reached out to us to look into their needs, hence I founded HoTS with my close friend Marley who is a former soccer player. We launched it in 2018, and since then we never looked back.
It is a project that is community-focused and so far, we have reached areas such as Gwanda, Tsholotsho, Filabusi and Bulawayo. To date, we have organised successful annual tournaments, training for the girls, and outreach programs in the aforementioned areas. We nurture, educate and empower the girl child on health, security, education, governance and citizenry through sports. We have donated sports kits, balls, school uniforms and sanitary towels to more than 10 teams from different disciplines.
What has been the major highlight of the trust since its launch?
The biggest highlight of the trust has been us managing to forge a strong partnership with the Zimbabwe Football Association, which is the southern region women’s football league main sponsor, servicing an approximate number of 300 girls who participate in the league.
The girl child rarely receives recognition in sports, how do you plan on improving that?
This is a sad fact, and as HoTS we believe that young people are the custodians of the future, therefore as the Trust our primary objective guided by Sustainable Developmental Goal (SDG) 5 is that of creating a change in the life of the girl child through sports by giving hope. We promote equality and inclusion, and we aim for our trust to contribute to a society of zero tolerance to discrimination against gender. Women and girls have been victims of inequality and abuse and we use this opportunity to develop leadership, resilience, and a network of sisterhood which will be helpful for them to break the barriers. Our Tag line is ‘Girls in sports dwell in possibility’.
How do you plan on breaking the stigma around the girl child and sports, and preparing her for what she will face in this chosen career path?
This is a war I am willing to fight every single day through our #GetInvolved Model, where we pioneer meaningful conversation along the subject with our community of girls. Also, as mentioned above, we intend to develop leadership, resilience, and a strong network of sisterhood.
Have you dealt with any negativity surrounding you as a woman in the male-dominated field of sports, and if so, how has it challenged you to continue day-to-day?
Yes, I have, a couple of times actually, and all thanks to my tenacious spirit I am not fazed by negativity. I have been called derogatory names, and some people even go to the extent of making ‘sick’ assumptions about me and the girls under our sponsorship, but at the end of the day, it is my vision for equal opportunities that keeps me glued to the end goal. I have learnt that this field might be dominated by males, but I can claim my space in it too. The war is not against male and female, but against social injustice, poverty and inequality.
What advice do you have for the girl child who wants to pursue sports as a career?
Sport is a career that one can choose using the heart and not the head, so my advice will be to follow your heart. There are so many avenues available that one can explore to be successful in sports, however, we also need to be cognisant of the economic and political environment we live in in Zimbabwe – it is not for the faint-hearted. In this industry you need to grow a thick skin, let go of the negatives, embrace every opportunity that comes, be hungry to be better than yesterday, and build a powerful portfolio of your sports track record.
What future plans do you have for Hope Through Sports Trust?
We are currently pursuing better opportunities for our exceptional girls outside the country. This is to encourage and motivate those in all the clubs who fall under our sponsorship. In future, we want to build strong partnerships with renowned clubs in the region and internationally; talks are already underway. Cognisant of the fact that sports are not a lifetime career, HoTS is looking at creating a sustainable mechanism to remain relevant in the industry for those who would have come of age.
If you would like to connect with Tenacious, you can send her an email on email@example.com, or visit her Facebook page, Hope Through Sports Foundation.
Interviewed by Tholakele Dlamini
Morley Chagurika: @AsanteAfrikaMag #EverydaySheroes
Forbin Audrey Nene: @AsanteAfrikaMag #EverydaySheroes
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