As I sit in front of my computer, cup of tea in hand, prepping for my chat with Chenesai, I know that this is going to be a life altering discussion. Her passion for Trade Development, particularly in the Creative Industry is well documented. Her outfits are always bold, carefully chosen, statement making, and authentic.
Dressed in her active wear, Chenesai implodes onto the scene. Her energy, power and confident voice come through from the other side of the screen and I settle into an hour and a half of conversation with the Founder of Chenesai Africa……..
My name is Chenesai and I’m a Trade Lawyer. I work in the creative industries and my ambition is to increase trade for creatives for both goods and services.
Everything I do is centred around answering the questions – “How do you increase trade for creatives, services and goods? How do we move services across the border? If you’re a graphic designer in Zimbabwe, how can we find you clients in the U.S? What is that process? How do we get you paid?”
Part of my strength is product identification, value addition and curation. How do we look at a product most people wouldn’t see as an asset, curate it, and get that product across boarders?
I can tell you a lot about myself but if everyone is not seeing those things that I’m seeing then am I describing myself honestly? I don’t live in isolation, I live in a society that judges me and considers me, so the way they see me is as important in shaping who I am as well as the way I see and describe myself.
I am driven; that goes without saying, Extremely Energetic, Motivated, Constantly on the move and I’m well aware that my achievements can both intimidate and inspire other people; my prayer is that they inspire! I’m forward thinking, very bold, absolutely passionate. I’m not scared to take chances or risks. The kids in the creative industry call me the Godfather because I’m extremely resourceful. I have the ability to link people up and I always deliver.
My journey in the creative industries has taught me a lot. I went to law school, did my Masters and specialised in International Trade and Investment Law. After graduating, I thought that was it, I was done with school and ready to take on the world with the knowledge and skills I had acquired. I was naïve.
I quickly realised there was no one in that space I could leverage on, there was no real organisation that I could work with that would help me realise my long term vision. This was a lonely road. I put myself out there and had to rely on people which is hard when you’re trying to build something legitimate, to make money, to make a living. When I went to people for assistance, I really needed them to come through for me. I depended on them for my success. My experience therefore in building myself up is what has anchored me to do the utmost I can to help people out. I have an open door policy and help people grow in whatever they’re trying to build. I constantly check myself – am I approachable? Because I’m painfully aware of how it feels to rely on people to come through for you to move onto the next step in your journey.
Allow me to reintroduce myself……..
My name is Chenesai and I’m a Trade Lawyer specialising in the Creative Industries. It has taken 12 years to get to where I’m sitting with you and confidently telling you exactly what it is that I do. I know my value proposition.
When you invite me to a table, you better know I’ll be talking about trade and trade facilitation. At the core of the company I’m building, Chenesai Africa, is trade for development. I’m not going to talk to people about grants that don’t involve product, service or community development. I want to work on projects that will facilitate trade and not just temporary relief through aid.
I ask myself these questions:
We’re focused on packaging micro entrepreneurs, establishing legitimacy for their services, so that people know they can deliver and have them start trading. I believe that for Africa to develop, for Zimbabwe to develop sufficiently, people need to trade. Trade is about “what is it that I have, how can I package it to the market and sustain supply”. It’s difficult work but I love it, the learning never ends!
The spark for trade in the creative industries was ignited in me a long time ago, creatives were all around me growing up.
From my Grandmother, Evelyn Mazonde, (MHSRIP) who used to trade her handmade crafts at the Showgrounds and Harare Gardens to my artistic and creative dad whose Christmas decorations were hands down the best I’ve ever seen to this day; to my mum who worked for the Harare City Council and issued the first licenses to the Avondale and Borrowdale Village markets.
After school, working in a traditional law firm was unsettling for me, I knew I was born for something else. I had a skillset, passion and experience that needed to serve on a bigger platform. This is when Chenesai Studio, my clothing brand, was birthed, in my garage.
But I was still unsettled, building a clothing brand was not the end game, it was not enough. I had a deep understanding of trade law, investment, cooperate business and I knew I needed to use them more effectively. I needed to learn and understand how we could increase trade in the creative industry.
I was born to do this.
I accepted the calling.
My journey and the people around me growing up moulded me into who I am today.
I grew up around lots of cousins and lots of parties. My parents were big entertainers and that helped me to be very comfortable around crowds. We grew up organising parties and my sister has continued with event organisation and has her own company in the States. My brother has always loved music, especially good music at a party and is now a sound engineer.
The way we grew up shaped all of us into who we are today.
The schools I attended, the education I received and the teachers that crossed my path are some of the reasons I am who I am today. My grade 6/7 teacher, Mrs. Masoha, saw something in me and sowed a seed. She mentored, coached and implanted in me confidence that I could become anything I wanted to be.
Monte Cassino taught me principles and values I cherish to this very day. Sister Bernard, my Form 1 Shona teacher instilled in me pride of where I come from. No matter where you go, everyone matters, everyone is important, you need to be humble because you don’t know the next person’s story.
When I walk into rooms, I carry that humility on my shoulders. I’m a completely confident person and understand the need to balance acts. When you see me kunhamo, when I’m in my muroora setting, I’m full on there. If you see me in an office, or at the World Bank discussing creative industries, I’m fully there. Monte Cassino taught me to know where I am, what I’m doing and the role I’m playing. That ability to be versatile is critical in navigating life.
Creative industries and Trade – it is central to who I am. I’m extremely passionate, without a shadow of doubt about this. I believe creativity is at the core of what will propel and develop the world at large.
When I stayed in the US, I had my whole life mapped out. I worked at an Auto-Finance Bank and became a Manager in Training at 23 years. Because of my work ethic, I got promoted quite quickly. I was on a completely different life and career projectory. I imagined I would spend my whole life as a Cooperate Lawyer.
It didn’t work out quite that way.
My husband, then boyfriend, was sick for a long time and we moved to South Africa but it wasn’t ideal, we needed to be closer to home so after my Degree, we packed up, moved back to Zim and I got into practice.
When I left the legal practice, people thought I was insane! But, I’m where I am because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants, people that have continually rooted for me.
This isn’t what I had planned,but it is way better than I had imagined. I admit, it would have been nice (and so much easier!) sitting in that corner office at Auto-Finance but building Chenesai Afrika, the journey, the lessons, the experience and knowing I’m going to leave this for my kids… you can’t put a price tag on that.
Trade Lawyer – that’s what I went to school for and I’ll pursue it for the rest of my life. I have three subsidiaries that make up Chenesai Afrika;
The conversation for me always starts with questions on “what are we trading, how are we trading?” If we are giving them money, what are we giving them money to develop and how is it sustainable?
It starts with who you spend your life with. Marry someone who understands you, have friends who understand what you’re after. Your passion is your passion; it runs in your veins. If my husband didn’t get me, we wouldn’t get along. We always find points of intersection in our different journeys where we bring our passions together to better what we do. This is why it’s important to have the right people in your life, walking and supporting you along your journey.
You need to know and identify the stage you are in when building your empire. We are in the building stage and understand that there’s no separation of our personal lives and businesses at the moment. If you’re in the building stage then apply yourself; Strive can afford to switch off his phone on the weekend because of the stage he’s at in life, know your stage and act accordingly!
What’s the next move? What do I not understand yet and how am I going to get it? I’m not sitting at a desk where the next move might be obvious like becoming a partner in a law firm. There’s no roadmap to what I’m doing. I want to fully understand the creative industry and how it works, it’s never clear. There’s no benchmark, or roadmap, it’s just never been done before.
I want to figure out how to increase trade by increasing market access in the creative industries of Zimbabwe, particularly for women.
In 5 years’ time, I want to see Chenesai Afrika established. I want to have 3 CEOs running the three subsidiaries of my company. I see myself working with a Lead Designer running Chenesai’s Studio, a Trade Lawyer running our Trade Business and a Philanthropist involved in my Community Development.
We are currently building the blocks of our empire, trying to cement them together.
I hope I see the success of Chenesai Afrika in my lifetime. It might not happen but I’ll work with everything in me to plant that seed so that one day anyone who picks it up will run with it and succeed.
In a world where most of us conform to a certain standard to fit in – this phenomenal woman sets the scene, walks in her own unique way, stands out and refuses for societal norms to dictate her pace…
By: Emmagness Ruzvidzo