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Meet Sivi Malukisa, The Congolese Entrepreneur Whose Food Startup Is Promoting DRC Cuisine

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MANITECH CONGO is n agribusiness company producing natural fresh jams, jellies, peanut butter, sauces and flour. A 100% Congolese products, sourced from Congolese farmers and transformed by Congolese workers. Inspired and headed by Sivi Malukisa Diawete, born and raised in the small city of Kisangani, north of Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). After completing high school, she was accepted to UNIKIN (University of Kinshasa) where she obtained her Bachelors degree in Biotechnology.

In 2016, Sivi made the decision to leave the corporate world with experience in Human Resources and rose to the top of the ladder in her career as HR Director with top multinationals in DRC like DHL, Vodacom and MIH so she could follow her passion to empower the local economy by founding MANITECH. In this interview with  Alaba Ayinuola, Sivi shared her views on entrepreneurship, the role of government, how her company is promoting and modernizing DRC traditional cuisine.  Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Tell us about your brand, MANITECH Congo and the gap its filling?

Sivi: MANITECH is the products line powered by MANITECH CONGO, our company. We are in the food industry and produce 100% Congolese products, sourced from Congolese farmers and transformed by Congolese workers. We want to be a 100% Congolese food processing company. Our products lines are jam with tropical and local fruits, traditional peanuts butters and Congolese cuisine’s sauces.

In DRC, our local food is not yet transformed in modern way. We want to offer traditional food modernized.

 

Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?

Sivi: I didn’t have a chance to raise any capital. I worked on my own from scratch. I had only 300 USD in hands when I started and slowly I built my company brick after brick.

 

Alaba: How are you different from other brands in terms of your unique selling point?

Sivi: Our uniqueness is the fact that we offer traditional food in modern manner. For local market, the innovation is in term of  the packaging that we offer. For external market, it is the content which is the innovation. At the end of the day, our customers are happy both with the content and the packaging.

 

Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?

Sivi: The biggest challenge is environmental; the business climate is very tough here in DRC, and for small business, it is even worse. Aside the environmental issues, we also face infrastructural, electricity and water challenges. Add on to that is importation; people are used to imported products and it is not easy to convince them that local is also good and even much better. This is because buying local reinforce local economy.

Finally, we have difficulties in packaging. For all these issues, we have decided to advocate, showcase, promote values of local companies, etc. And we import packaging, sadly I will say.

Alaba: What’s the future for your business and what steps are you taking in achieving them?

Sivi: Our next step is building a 10 times bigger factory. I’m focus on my objectives and embracing opportunities. It is a learning process, a journey from A to C and as one of my mentors says, “I trust the process, I’m going my way.”

 

Alaba: What are the challenges facing entrepreneurs in Congo, today? What crucial role can the government play? 

Sivi: Hmm, this is a difficult one. Let say it this way: if you succeed as entrepreneur in DRC, you can make it in any part of the world. Any challenge you name, we face it here. Get the picture, no fund system to boost start ups, no water, no electricity, very expensive internet and bad network, no proper road, one of the countries with the high cost of clearing imported goods, difficulty to find good employee due to lack of proper education, high taxes, one of the highest rate of corruption, no justice, etc.

I don’t want to give a bad image of my country but unfortunately this is the environment in which we as entrepreneur, are supposed to strive and develop.

 

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Sivi: Proud. Africa is a giant who is awaking now. We see every where entrepreneurs, innovations, excellence. Africa is better than ever and I’m happy to witness this and to be part of this shift. In few years, AFRICA will be the place to be for any business in the world.

 

Alaba: What’s your advice for entrepreneurs and investors in Congo?

Sivi: Let do it. It is not easy, but we can make it easier. There are opportunities everywhere; the country needs some courageous people ready to take up the challenge. We are the disruptive generation and believe me; future generations will thank us for this. This is the perfect time to change things around and we have everything we need to do it.

 

Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?

Sivi: My country, my flag, my people, my children. Our country is one of the biggest in Africa, with so much wealth. Yet, my people are poor because we don’t use our resources properly. To be an active actor of change in my country is the best legacy I can give to my children.

 

Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?

Sivi: I take 30 mins off for meditation and 20 mins to exercise daily, and I play with my kids. Most of the time I read novels or I take courses on finance, leadership, marketing, etc.

 

Alaba: Teach us one word in your local language.

Sivi: FIMBU which means WHIP. A lingala word that Congolese use for victory. We use it in competitions such as football to mean that we are champions. We dance it, and shout it. We gave this word a national meaning and it is associated to the leopard, the DRC’s totem animal.

Also Read Lillian Barnard: Tech Enthusiast And First Female Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa

Alaba: What’s your favourite local dish and holiday spot in Africa?

Sivi: My local dish, definitely is FUMBWA. I don’t know the name in English. But it is a forest leave that we cook with smoked fish and peanut butter and we eat it with FUFU (cassava pap). My grandma use to make the best fumbwa in the world. And this is my inspiration for our MANITECH peanut butter.  My favorite holiday spot is Cape Town, South Africa. I love to sit in front of the sea and just listen to the sound of the wave, some time you see whales or dolphins. It is amazing.

 

B I O G R A P H Y

Sivi Malukisa Diawete grew up in the small city of Kisangani, north of Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  After completing high school, she was accepted to UNIKIN (University of Kinshasa) where she obtained her Bachelors degree in Biotechnology.

Shortly after graduating Sivi was offered a position as the Head of Human Resources with DHL in DRC and Republic of Congo.  Her work with DHL created opportunities for advancement in the discipline of HR with companies such as Vodacom and MIH where she was promoted to HR Business Partner than HR Director.

In 2016 Sivi made the decision to leave the corporate world so she could follow her passion to empower the local economy by founding MANITECH, an agribusiness company producing natural fresh jams, jellies, peanut butter, sauces and flour.

After 4 years of hard work and dedication, MANITECH started to grow significantly, which allow her to get national and regional recognition. She was nominated Entrepreneur of the year in DRC by the prestigious MAKUTANO Network, she was featured in Forbes Afrique Magasine (septembre-octobre 2018) and was ranked among the 50 most influential under 40 Congolese’s people by the magazine KivuZik, she was also named ambassador for the Tony Elumelu Foundation.

Recently,  she extended her investments in new companies such as DRC Paint, a paint factory; DRC Constructs, a construction service company; and some other investments.

As a leader in the community, Sivi founded the MADE IN 243 association to bring together the resources and expertise of the owners and executives of local Congolese industries. She also Co-Founded ACPRH, the largest HR Association in DRC in which she is the vice president.

Visit MANITECH CONGO

Afripreneur

Mary Njoki is helping startups tell their stories through Glass House PR

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Mary Njoki is the CEO and Founder of Glass House PR, an award-winning pan-African PR firm headquartered in Kenya that offers custom public relations solutions across Africa. She founded Glass House PR in 2012 at the age of 23. Mary has worked with more than 100 organisations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, Facebook, Viber, Paxful, Nissan, and African governments such as Zanzibar and Ethiopia among others through her company, Glass House PR. She has mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. 11 years after launching Glass House PR, Mary Njoki in this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, shares more on her entrepreneurship journey. Excerpt.  

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your career journey?

Mary: I grew up in  Ngarariga village in Limuru. I finished High school at the age of 16, but my mother could not afford to take me to University. I found solace in acting, doing some gigs at the Kenya National Theatre to hone what I thought was a fledgling acting career. A year later I gained admission in the university to study Information Technology at Graffins College. It was while here, I concentrated on coding. I then got a job with an IT firm as a marketer, then later a Business developer. I then moved to another IT firm as a Business Executive. 

Here, I started volunteering at K Krew and I gained my first experience in the media which ignited my love for Public Relations. Soon after, I moved into a PR agency and it was in between my jobs where I enrolled for part time classes at Daystar University Majoring on Public Relations. 

Alaba: What sparked your interest to go into PR and how did you launch Glass House PR?

Mary: After my two jobs in the IT industry and while working at the PR agency, I discovered more about PR and I was determined to find my purpose. Deep down I knew the future of PR was on Digital media. I resigned, determined to start my own company. Initially I wanted Glass House to be a social Media company as I understood technology. I started Glass House PR with an initial capital of Sh6,000 from my savings, a laptop, an Internet modem and tons of optimism. 

Starting the company was not easy and the first year of business I did a lot of pro-bono jobs but I learnt alot. I then realized that there was a lot of groundwork needed for my company to gain establishment in the industry. I was a member of Business Networking International (BNI) when I was employed and this network and skills also became my capital. Presently, I have worked with tech giants like Viber,Facebook Paxful,Walt Disney Africa among others.

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Alaba: What services does your company offer?

Mary: We are a Pan-African PR Agency, offering PR strategies, media relations and management, digital media communications, event management, we are a whole 360 PR agency that help brands tell their stories through different channels to their audiences. 

Alaba: Before venturing into entrepreneurship, what lessons did you pick as an employee?

Mary: I have worked with SMEs, directly working with the founders, I learned and picked different lessons which actually formed the basis of the name Glass House PR. There used to be a lack of communication between us and the management, lack of transparency, and over time one realizes you do not need to share everything with everyone. But I felt that was lacking, and from that I learnt that when I start a business, I have to ensure that there is clear communication with all the public that I am dealing with. Working with millennials and GenZ, I realized the importance of employees’ inclusion, sharing with them the vision and allowing them to see themselves in it. After I resigned is when I realized I was just an employee and I was never included. 

Alaba: What lessons have you learnt as a female entrepreneur?

Mary: I have learnt that growth is a process that takes time. Keep discovering and learning every day. Becoming a leader is a process, one has to build a community they can learn from, also lead and leave a positive impact on. I have learnt to walk in wisdom and be more discerning, I have learnt to have boundaries and while disrupting the PR industry, I have previously worked through naivety, which is the major challenge women go through but grown out of it. For one to keep growing, one has to communicate their vision while bringing others onboard.

Alaba: Could you share some of your accomplishments so far?

Mary: I have worked with more than 100 organizations, including SMEs/SMBs in Africa, African artists, etc. I have also mentored entrepreneurs across Africa through “A Billion Startups, a free mentorship programme that educates entrepreneurs about brand visibility and sustainable development. I have spearheaded the conversation of the future of finance in Africa through the annual ADFS summit “The Africa Digital Finance Summit”, which is held in conjunction with governments, regulators, start-ups, and thought leaders from around the world in the digital finance and decentralized finance industries. I have won several awards locally and internationally.

Alaba: How has Glass House PR impacted society?

Mary: I came up with a billion startups, we are yet to grow it to where it’s supposed to be. It is a platform where we have been mentoring entrepreneurs and we hope to do more across the world. Glass house PR intends to help these startups tell their stories, get their market share and learn how to position their brands to their audiences. We have also spearheaded certain conversations in the society like the “The future of finance in Africa” through  African Digital finance summit; to redefine value exchange in Africa,  inviting governments, regulators, stakeholders and private sectors to discuss this. 

Alaba: What’s next for Glass house?

Mary: We are getting into a lot of content production and content marketing. We hope to be part of the people who will shape the future of media and how the future of decentralized media will look like.

Alaba: What is your source of inspiration?

Mary: I draw my inspirations from God, I have learnt from him over the years through practice. Everything I do, people or companies I bring on board, things I walk away from, I seek God’s guidance. Any mistake in the past has become a lesson that I have learnt from as a leader.

Alaba: Any advice to someone who wants to venture into PR and entrepreneurship ?

Mary: Pursuing a career in PR can be a rewarding and exciting career choice for those interested in telling authentic brand stories. 

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Afripreneur

Deraya entrepreneurship initiative to boost job creation in Libya

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Young entrepreneurs in Libya face many challenges, including accessing markets and financial resources, and navigating regulations and administrative procedures. The Deraya initiative is designed to equip entrepreneurs with the essential know-how to turn innovative ideas into successful startups. The initiative was jointly developed by the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with  the European Union (EU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Targeting youth and vulnerable groups, Deraya is open to innovative and aspiring entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 35. Through interactive webinars, the initiative’s participants will be given an opportunity to engage with experienced entrepreneurs, subject matter experts, and role models from Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia and learn from their success stories, wealth of knowledge, and expertise. The initiative will also entail startup weekends in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha, and Derna, culminating with a pitch competition where the winning startups will receive financial support, financed by EU and AfDB, to further develop, grow, and take their business ideas to the next level. As a critical step towards sustainability, entrepreneurs will be linked to the municipal business incubators being set up with MoLG with UNDP’s technical support.

Commenting on the launch of the programme, Dr. Bader Al-Deen Al-Tomi, Minister of Local Government, said: “The Deraya initiative plays a pivotal role in the Ministry of Local Government’s strategy to develop entrepreneurship and micro-enterprises at the local level, empower municipalities economically, and provide job opportunities in line with Law 592 and Resolution 15003. We are delighted to work towards these goals in cooperation with our international partners, EU, AfDB and UNDP.”

EU Ambassador Mr. José Sabadell added: “Libya’s economic prosperity will be driven by young entrepreneurs with innovative, forward-looking ideas. They will be the key to a more diversified Libyan economy, a strong private sector and new jobs. Together with our Libya and international partners, the European Union therefore seeks to offer strong and concrete support to young Libyan entrepreneurs, to realise their business ideas.”

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Mr Mohamed El Azizi, Regional Director for North Africa at the African Development Bank, further commented: “Private sector development is key to boosting economic diversification and job creation in Libya. Supporting the trajectory of young Libyan men and women to develop and grow their start-ups has enormous socio-economic potential and will contribute to job creation. It is also important to ensure an adequate business enabling environment and institutional support. The EEYES project, financed by the AfDB through the Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multidonor Trust Fund, and implemented by UNDP, supports these components.”  

UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Marc-André Franche, said: “Libya has a new generation of young people, women and men, with promising capacity and big ambitions. The country has the potential to be one of the biggest entrepreneurial ecosystems in North Africa, and through the Deraya programme, UNDP seeks to help inspire and provide young entrepreneurs with the necessary resources and assets to realise growth and innovation.”

The Deraya programme is part of UNDP’s Local Peacebuilding and Resilience efforts in partnership with MoLG, aimed at creating socio-economic opportunities for youth and vulnerable groups to promote sustainable growth in Libya, including the establishment of the first Municipality-led business incubator and the TEC+ Accelerator programme.

The Deraya initiative, co-funded by AfDB and EU, is designed and implemented in collaboration with a consortium consisting of Flat6Labs, Tatweer Research and MAZAM, bringing in years of experience and specialized knowledge in helping young entrepreneurs launch successful ventures in both the Middle East & Africa regions.

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Senegalese Agripreneur says digital marketing key to luxury tea startup success

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Senegalese businesswoman Adja Sembene Fall said she had no choice but to launch her start-up business online because her new Contanna fair-trade tea company only had $200 to its name.

“Due to lack of finance, it was not possible to get a physical shop. We started out in the backyard of my brother’s house. We sold our teas via social media for three years,” said Fall. She says her line of luxury brand tea products is about more than taste. Fall says Contanna teas sell a “Senegalese experience” that promotes a women-owned, 100% locally sourced and processed product based on recipes infusing family and cultural traditions.

“Digitizing our buying process was really important. We were also able to present and adjust packaging of our product online, [to emphasize] it was premium and different from what was available in Senegal,” the 29-year-old added.

Contanna says its first year of operations, a focus on Instagram and its website drew $5,000 in online sales.  As the online business grew, Fall said, Contanna hit $12,000 in sales and established a community of around 2,000 clients.

Contanna recently opened a pop-up stall at Dakar’s Sea Plaza shopping mall. In January, it was named a winner of the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch Competition, which supports African youth agripreneurs by improving their business bankability and ensuring that they are “pitch ready” for potential investors.

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The 2022 AgriPitch competition, which started last October, received nearly 750 complete entries from entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector – or “agripreneurs” – from 38 African countries. The judging panel comprised women- led enterprise support advisory firm, Private Equity Support; the Private Financing Advisory Network, a global network of climate and clean energy financing experts; and EldoHub, an education, innovation, and technology organization targeting youth and women.

The competition, which this year awarded $140,000 in prizes, is a key activity of the Bank’s ENABLE Youth Program.

“African youth have great ideas. It was exciting to see the high level of innovation and passion from these young agripreneurs, particularly the large number of women-owned enterprises like Contanna,” said Edson Mpyisi, the Bank’s Chief Financial Economist and ENABLE Youth Coordinator.

AgriPitch organizers selected 25 semi-finalists, 68% of them women-owned or led businesses, to attend a two-week business development virtual boot camp. The boot camp culminated in a pitch session to judges, who chose 9 agripreneurs to advance to the finals.

“I was pitching in front of my shop – where customers were passing by. They were so encouraging when they discovered that [my business] is a 100% Senegalese company and especially that the founder was a woman,” said Fall. She received $25,000 as the winner in the AgriPitch competition women-owned business category.

Fall says she’ll use part of the prize money to upgrade a digital payment system and for computers and digital skills training for Contanna employees, all women.

“We don’t eschew hiring men. The women were first to apply and were qualified. They currently log their work production and stock building in paper books. We are training them to build capacity to use Google Sheets [and other digital software],” Fall said.

Contanna and the two-dozen other competition finalists will retain access to the AgriPitch “deal room” to avail of post-competition digital expertise, business development, and investor engagement.

“We look forward to working closely with the entrepreneurs in the coming months through individual business advisory support and investor engagement in the deal room,” said Diana Gichaga, Managing Partner at Private Equity Support.

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