Renowned philosopher Confucius once said “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Perseverance will get you somewhere, and sometimes, it ends up being a better place than you originally envisioned. One of the purposes of professional exchange programs is to motivate participants to realize their potential and to give them opportunities to connect with new people and understand the advantages of social entrepreneurship through exchange of ideas and experiences. This gives them the tool set to persevere through the challenges Confucius referred to so long ago. Professional Exchange Program alumnus Moreblessing Sigauke is especially representative of this sentiment.
In April 2014, Meridian International Center implemented the U.S. Department of State’s Business and Economic Entrepreneurship Program (BEEP) for Zambia and Zimbabwe. This innovative leadership development program, funded by Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), brought two cohorts of 12 competitively selected emerging business leaders to the U.S. for a five-week fellowship with American businesses. Eight American fellows also participated in a two-week reciprocal program in Zambia and Zimbabwe in February 2015. The program aimed to strengthen the visiting fellows’ understanding of American business practices, entrepreneurship, culture, and values, while also building their professional networks and project development skills so they are better able to bring about economic change in their home countries.
One of the participants of BEEP was Moreblessing Sigauke, a Zimbabwean travel businesswoman who also leads a community-based organization to help vulnerable/disadvantaged women and those living with HIV/AIDS in rural and urban communities. Seeing these women with no means to help themselves inspired her to establish Sanning Foundation in 2013. Though she started the initiative, she was restrained by lack of funding.
Meanwhile, she was accepted into BEEP and came to the U.S. with the goal of learning techniques to expand her business. She was placed at Zimbabwe One Seed Expeditions, a Denver-based travel agency in Colorado and was fortunate enough to have a very experienced mentor – Chris Baker. After a complete evaluation of her business model, Baker suggested ways to restructure her action plan to more effectively grow her business.
Morebessing’s fellowship was also rich with networking opportunities. During the fellowship, she met Gerald Mangena, another fellow who had extensive experience in accounting and farming skills, and they briefly discussed possibility of working together. She also got an opportunity to meet the President of Zimbabwe AIDS Treatment Assistance (ZATA) at an event, where she pitched her idea. What Zimbabwe needed, she argued, was a community-based and business-oriented organization to assist vulnerable/disadvantaged women and those living with HIV/AIDS in boosting small scale, household level projects (e.g. horticulture and poultry). Her idea and commitment to serve moved the President and he offered to fund Sanning Foundation.
Upon her return to Zimbabwe, she was successful in implementing the new model, and she expanded her business by offering a variety of tour packages, but encountered a setback when her business partner decided to pursue another career opportunity. Despite this hiccup, with the support and encouragement of her husband, local mentors and Chris, she quickly got back to her feet again. Even by spending just an hour of her time a day, she was able to continue giving back to the community and the Sanning Foundation project.
Keeping her professional network in mind, Moreblessing contacted Gerald – the fellow she met in U.S. – to help set up the organization, which proved to be a very wise decision. Keeping past experiences in mind and enlisting the help of other fellows she met during BEEP, she was able to realize her vision of Sanning Foundation as an organization dedicated to imparting knowledge and skills to disadvantaged women. Sanning Foundation began implementing projects in 2014 and now is a registered entity. It is actively helping the marginalized women through ZATA-funded projects. So far, her organization has funded 80 women in horticulture projects. Recently, it won another funding to start a poultry project, and if its 7-month pilot, which began last month (February 2016) with 20 women, remains successful then Sanning Foundation will be able to fund 100 more women by the end of 2016.
Blessed by good fortunes of the New Year, Moreblessing was invited to partner with the District Administrator’s Office of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development in launching future community development projects. The local administration recognized Sanning Foundation’s positive impact on the lives of marginalized women and values its cooperation in implementing other community-based projects. This collaboration has opened doors for future public-private partnerships. Recently, the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development has also partnered with Sanning Foundation in opening new avenues for government-backed welfare initiatives in the community.