Meet Ethel Chiwara Mupambwa, the young girl from Gokwe who grew up to become an African Business Hero. Literally. Ethel, now 35 years old, a mother of 2, and Co -Founder and Executive Director of Money Mart Finance, a micro-finance institution that offers tailor made business loans to MSMEs, particularly for financially marginalized women and youth, is one of 10 African entrepreneurs selected as the Top 10 Finalists for the Jack Ma Foundation, African Business Heroes 2020 Competition. If she wins the ultimate prize this November, she walks away with a US $300 000 cash prize and the once in a lifetime opportunity of Fellowship Training at Alibaba’s Headquarters. That’s a LONG way from the rural streets of Nembudziya Gokwe, where at just 16 years old, at 2 am in the morning, on a bus to Harare, running away from the fate of marriage and subjugation that her father had handed her, she had nothing more than her dreams and the conviction of a better life for herself urging her on.
I always had ambitions, but my ambitions were limited to the things that I was exposed to. To me success meant I could be a nurse, or a teacher… that is what I envisioned. I have always been ambitious, but the kind of life I dreamt of back then is different to the life I now envision for myself with the exposure that I’ve now had. I now know the world is full of limitless possibilities and I can fly even higher than I’m flying now.
I had just passed my O Levels and having just taken my results was waiting for my father to come home, excited to share the great news with him. I grew up in a polygamous set-up, so my father was not always home with us. As soon as he came home, I showed him the results ‘Baba ndapasa’, but his reaction was not what I had hoped for. This meant nothing to him. I told him I wanted to proceed with my A’ Level’s but he wouldn’t hear of it. He told me there would be no A -level for me, and that there was someone, a friend of his, interested in marrying me and I needed to prepare for that instead. I cried. I CRIED. My mum could feel my pain and she came up with a plan for me to go to Harare for a while and stay with my sister and only come back home once this whole drama had settled down and my father had had some time to rethink. With the help of my mother, I was on the 2’oclock am bus to Harare the next morning. This incident was the first time for me to stand up in the face of my father. To tell him, ‘No, I’m not marrying this man, I want to go back to school, I want to do my A’Levels.’ I honestly don’t even know where I got the courage from because in our society you could not stand up in the face of your father, not on any given day.
My sister and her husband took me on, and I completed my A’Levels whilst living with them. I didn’t go back to Nembudziya at all for the 2 years that I was in school. After I passed my A ‘Levels, I think my father realized then that I was a different girl child altogether. But the idea of me going to University, when I told him that was my plan, was a strange one still for him. It was a big step, having to go to University from my community. I was one of the few then to ever do so.
It was growing up in a society where all the wealth belongs to your father, and whenever you wanted something, if you asked your mother for it, she would always say ‘We have to consult baba first’. My father was a businessman in Nembudziya and he owned some shops and they were all written, ‘Chiwara and Sons’. This clearly showed that daughters and wives were not included. We were not part of his legacy, simply because we were women. So I wanted that financial independence for myself as a woman, and I also wanted to help other women get that for themselves. I realized early on that the one with the money is usually the one with the say in families. And I wanted us women to have a say.
After graduating I got a job as a Finance and Admin Manager for a local company in Harare. But I was always entrepreneurial. I would bake cakes to sell, and at one time I bought a little car that I would use as a taxi during weekends. I was always looking for ways to make an extra dollar because I wanted to change the status quo for my family and my life. I then started a microfinance company with a friend but that didn’t do well because the model we were using did not speak to the clientele that we were targeting. It was a failure but I’m glad for that failure. It gave me the zeal to say ‘You know what, I can try again’. Money Mart Finance started on my verandah. I would go out kuvakadzi vemusika nemabhero and I would sit and talk to them and try to understand what help they needed. What it is that they wanted that the formal financial system was not giving them. I would listen to all of it, and with more research over the internet to see how other countries with a similar informal sector were doing it, Moneymart Finance was born.
We want them to become financially literate and for their businesses to grow because once their businesses grow, they can make better decisions for themselves and their families. And they become more resilient and better prepared for situations like this pandemic that we are currently going through. The moment women’s businesses thrive, even the economic situation in this country will change. And that is my ultimate dream, to see Zimbabwe’s economy thriving again, and to have women entrepreneurial adventurers making a significant contribution to this.
From the testimonies I get from the women we serve. I’m one person who takes the time to go out there; I make sure, maybe once every fortnight, to go back to my clients, you’ll see me in Mbare, talking to them to find out, ‘What benefits are you getting from us’ ,‘How can we improve your lives?’, ‘What else do you need?’ And the testimonies I get from these conversations make it all worthwhile for me. I’ll tell you one story. One of our clients was not feeling well, so I decided I’d personally visit her and see how she was doing. She was an elderly woman, and as soon as we arrived her granddaughter ran to the house shouting ‘Vanhu vekuBank vauya Gogo’ …I couldn’t believe this little girl knew who we were so I asked her how she knew us. And her response was ‘Kubva Gogo pavakatanga kutora mari kubank handisati ndambodzingwa kuchikoro’. I got goosebumps. This little girl knew the difference that Gogo’s relationship with us was making in her life. You see and hear such testimonies and you know you will definitely wake up the next day and do it all again for the next person. Another lady started out with just a vending stall outside her gate and she now owns a shop at Mbudzi Mall. We were with her through it all and it’s amazing to grow together with these women. I am inspired by these stories and they give me so much strength even in the dire situations, because I always think to myself, ‘If I don’t wake up to do this, what happens to all these women?’
I hope you get inspired to be confident in yourself and to know that we are not defined by our backgrounds. It doesn’t matter where we come from. We are defined by the future that we desire to have. I also wish for women to know that if we empower ourselves and each other, we have empowered the nation as a whole.
“You are on the right path. Even if they say ‘Chine nharo chimusikana ichi’, continue on this path. Stand in your confidence. Stand up for what you believe in.”
When I look at them, I can’t help marveling at how privileged they are to grow up in a family where both parents, my husband and I, are giving them full guidance and encouragement. I want them to be confident in themselves. I want them to stand up for themselves, regardless of being fortunate enough to grow up in the environment they are growing up in. I want them to know they can achieve anything in their lives. The sky is not the limit for them. They can go even further that what their mum did, and I wish they could grab it at an even earlier age.
My husband, Ken, is such a loving guy and very supportive. He is someone who has always encouraged me and he has always told me, ‘You know what babe, you can do it’. Even when I wasn’t sure of myself, he was always sure and he would always tell me, ‘If you did it back then, you can definitely do it again’. He’s the one who has been making the most noise about my being an African Business Heroes Top 10 Finalist, pulling out old pictures from back in the day when I would give inspirational talks to young girls, which really have nothing to do with Moneymart..I asked him recently where he got these pictures from and he says ‘I was keeping them for a day like this’. He knew it was coming. That’s how much he has always believed in me.
Thank you so much to everyone for supporting me. Zimbabweans are such a loving people and all it takes is one tweet or one post to get everyone rallying behind you. I am so proud to be Zimbabwean and it’s one of the things that keeps me inspired, to know I have a country that supports its own. I hope my story continues to inspire. I want it to reach that young girl who’s still in that situation to say, Look, there’s this one girl who was coming from a background just like yours and she did it. If Ethel Chiwara from rural Nembudziya Gokwe did it, then so can you!
Let’s help Ethel win the ABH People’s Choice award, which will be announced at the 2020 ABH Grand Finale.
Please vote and spread the link to others to vote!