Enter the era of the Entrepreneur

Abel Dzobo Features Correspondent
In her prologue to “The Fellowship of the Ring”, the first film in The Lord of the Rings blockbuster trilogy, Lady Galadriel gives a grim prophecy of Middle East. “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air,” she says.

Similarly in Zimbabwe and Africa, the job landscape is changing and there is need to look into the crystal ball and divine the future of work.

Africa has a young population with a median age of 19, Zimbabwe its 20, hence the need to ensure young people are integrated into the mainstream economy.

Mustafa Sachak, who is CEO of Zimnat Group, says that in future the era of big corporates providing employment to masses is over, and the Small and Medium Enterprises are taking over.

“Jobs are not going to be created by corporates, formal employment is on a decline. Soon entrepreneurs will be dominating. In the world the trend is already set, for example, in Japan 99,7% are SMEs. SMEs supply components to large corporates such as Toyota, Honda or Sony,” he says.

He is also upbeat about the vast opportunities in the tech and internet of things (IoT), and how entrepreneurs can build a better world and also make a living.

“Zimbabwean entrepreneurs can exploit the global markets with inventions in areas such as artificial intelligence, precision agriculture, data analytics, healthcare and financial inclusion, among others,” he says.

And the Group CEO of the insurance behemoth also lays the gauntlet. “Without supporting the young entrepreneur in Zimbabwe we cannot grow the economy,” Sachak says.

Udugu Institute founder and former Country Director for Zimbabwe at the World Bank, Dr Nginya Mungai Lenneiye, agrees with Sachak on the dawn of the era of the entrepreneur and talks up the impact of hubs and universities.

“Here we have B2C Co-Working Space where young people organize themselves and create the culture of work, like they are in Henry Ford’s automated assembly plant.

“Universities should be the ones that teach critical thinking and problem solving so that youths can come up with disruptive technologies and systems such as Jack Ma’s Alibaba, but our Zimbabwean universities are not doing that,” Dr Mungai says.

And like Kwameh Nkrumah, who said instead of going to the moon, as Africans we should try to reach the village, Dr Mungai calls for entrepreneurs to solve local problems.

“We want our young people to solve Zimbabwean problems first such as providing clean water, and then like Mpesa in Kenya, they can also go global,” Dr Mungai says.

One of the biggest impediments to innovation and growth of entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe is lack of protection for intellectual property rights.

“What is drawing us back as a country is that government is not providing adequate protection for intellectual property, and this is also affecting universities and entrepreneurs.

“Zimbabwe’s value system must change. If one steals a cow worth $700 they are jailed for 9 years, yet one who steals a US$1 million business idea is left to go scot-free,” Dr Mungai says.

British Council Zimbabwe Council Director Rolland Davies concurs, and says as an organisation they have been working on promoting intellectual property protection, especially in the arts.

“The British Council places value and belief in the arts. Artists can spell prosperity for Zimbabwe. Unlike other professions that can be automated, arts jobs are long-term. In the UK we have vibrant IP laws, and the arts sector brings in billions every year,” Davies says.

According to the Report for Arts Council England November 2017, in 2015 the arts and culture businesses contributed £15,8 billion in turnover to the UK economy.

Piracy has crippled the music and film industries in Zimbabwe, among others, and the anti-piracy laws are archaic and not useful in this digital age.

Prominent author and lawyer Pettinah Gappah says the Zimbabwean government is committed to ensuring copyright laws.

“The government of Zimbabwe has set up copyright laws to protect intellectual property, and I can assure you government is doing all it can,” Gappah says.

Dr Mabel Munyuki-Hungwe, who is Program Director and Trustee at Barefoot Education for Afrika Trust, feels that agriculture will remain a major employer in Africa, and there is need to include youths in the agriculture value chain.

“Africa is going through megatrends. Zimbabwe and Africa have to find ways to bring youths into agriculture or the agriculture value chain because youths don’t find crop farming as attractive enough. Youths can come in as buyers of agricultural produce, providers of smart tech for agriculture, financing, manufacturing and in value addition,” Dr Munyuki-Hungwe says.

Funding is also a challenge for youths.

“Even if you have land to farm, you also need to have a house in the city that has title deeds to access a bank loan. Government should step in there, and turn land into capital. Where do you expect youths to have urban properties with title deeds?,” she says.

Concurring with Dr Munyuki-Hungwe, Sachak decries the lack of funding for youths in business, and has called on local businesses to walk the talk.

“In Zimbabwe we don’t have an ecosystem of supporting entrepreneurs, for example, venture capital. That is why as Zimnat we have decided to walk the talk, and we are giving entrepreneurs an opportunity to pitch their ideas to us.

“In November last year entrepreneurs from B2C Co-Working Space came and pitched their ideas to us as Zimnat, and we identified six entrepreneurs we are going to work with. As Zimnat Group we are committed to supporting Zimbabwe to become a middle-class economy by 2030. We will keep identifying more entrepreneurs we can work with,” Sachak says.

Sachak advocates for a Public Private Partnerships where government should also come on board and ensure that entrepreneurs grow.

“Government has lots of buildings lying idle. Bring in the entrepreneur to use those spaces, and they will create solutions to society’s challenges,” he says.

Internationally acclaimed documentary filmmaker Hopewell Rugoho Chin’ono lets rip at the lack of angel investor culture in Zimbabwe.

“When I first met (property mogul) Sam Levvy in 2005, he told me that black people in Zimbabwe do not support each other. We are not seeing the wealthy coming out and supporting entrepreneurs. We even have some big corporates that are stealing entrepreneurs’ ideas with impunity,” he says.

Nigerian billionnaire and businessman Tony Elumelu in 2010 committed US$100 million to the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme, which aims to train, mentor and fund 10, 000 entrepreneurs across Africa so that they develop their business ideas. To date the Tony Elumelu Foundation has funded 4, 470 entrepreneurs, which has spawned many new businesses and employers in Africa.

Last week Econet founder Dr Strive Masiyiwa and wife Tsitsi launched “Re-imagine Rural”, a $100 million fund for entrepreneurs to start rural enterprises so as to spearhead rural development, and this attests that the entrepreneur is the next best thing for Zimbabwe.

And Dr Mungai gives hope for a productive 2019.

“We are going to come up with a workable and progressive IP law. Entrepreneurs come to us literally in tears with proof that their business ideas have been stolen. That has to stop. President Mnangagwa’s mantra is that ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’’; we cannot be open for business yet not respecting intellectual property. We will ensure we have a progressive IP law to complement that because the existing IP framework is from 50 years ago.

“And we advocate for a University-Industry nexus where industry pays for ideas, so that our universities can generate ideas and earn from it,” says Dr Mungai.

Abel Dzobo is a journalist and filmmaker who is founder of health literacy startup, HELA TV-Zim. For feedback, email: