Young Zimbabwean provides free online classroom
“My vision is to see an Africa that is free from poverty. This can only be achieved if we, as business people, take the front role in empowering our people.”
This is the view of Farai Munjoma, the 19-year-old social entrepreneur behind a new e-learning platform in Zimbabwe, called Shasha Iseminar. The site offers A-level high school students in the country a free, online library of course and study notes, past exams, as well as career guidance.
Munjoma’s inspiration behind starting the platform came while at boarding school in Nyanga, in eastern Zimbabwe. He had a great history teacher who had been working at the school for the past 30 years, but Munjoma worried about him retiring.
“I wondered how, after he left, we could access the information he taught us, and also the way he taught it,” he explained.
Many professionals, including teachers, left the country around 2008 when Zimbabwe experienced one of the worst cases of hyper-inflation in world history that saw food prices double on a daily basis.
While Munjoma noted the economy has since stabilised with the adoption of the US dollar, the country’s brain-drain of teachers is still being felt.
“We as students suffered a lot in that period, and as we continuously changed ministries and ministers, the curriculum changed with them. It was very difficult to adjust,” he recalled.
“In 2011 the pass rate was down and that was also a turning point for me. I thought if we can’t have teachers because they are running away from this country, then why not use the internet to replace them?”
At age 17, and with the help of a co-founder, Munjoma started compiling A-level course content, study notes and test questions and putting it online. All content was first approved by teachers and course examiners.
He decided to make it a free service to reduce the financial barrier to information that the high cost of good textbooks had created for many underprivileged students. It draws revenue from selling advertising space to companies and organisations looking to specifically target Zimbabwean students, and a portion of these profits have gone towards paying the school fees of underprivileged students.
Munjoma’s efforts caught the attention of the Anzisha Prize, Africa’s premier award for its youngest entrepreneurs, and last year he was named one of its 12 finalists. Soon after, he applied to study at the prestigious African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, and received a Global Merit scholarship to be a catalyst student. He will be graduating in June.
“The Anzisha Prize has opened doors to many opportunities,” said Munjoma.
“It has helped give me enough publicity to be able to reach out to my desired customers and other thought leaders. The opportunity to be a catalyst student at the African Leadership Academy has allowed me to build a bigger network to expand and develop my venture. And I am also currently completing an Anzisha course, which is helping to expand my business perspective and allow me to develop soft skills that I require as a growing entrepreneur.”
He believes the Anzisha Prize liked his application because he invested adequate time in providing enough detail about his venture, and was honest and realistic about communicating his vision.
“My advice to those applying this year is believe in yourself because that will go a long way in determining how far you go in qualifying. The most important thing is to realise that by applying for the Anzisha Prize, you have not just applied for a competition, but a lifelong dedication to bring positive impact to the continent.”
Munjoma has big plans for Shasha Iseminar and sees room to expand his service to neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia. However, he first wants to be well established in Zimbabwe.
One of the major challenges his company is facing is acquiring the right technology and skills needed to implement many of his ideas. For example, he has a vision to implement web seminars where students can access virtual classrooms online and digitally interact with other teachers and students in real-time.
“It would be like social media for e-learning. We started to add a web seminar section to our site where students can just go online and watch a live seminar that is happening in another school, but we need the high-tech skills to make sure that we could take the project to this next stage. Africa is still adjusting to internet technology and its speed is not as fast as it is in the West,” he noted.
“It is also a challenge to make sure that teachers, students and parents are on board and actually understand that we are moving towards a more digital information age and need to shift from the traditional way of learning.”
Prepared for challenges
Munjoma was first exposed to entrepreneurship while growing up on his parent’s farm in the agricultural town, Norton. At age 11 he would sell tomatoes and cucumbers and learnt how to compete in a market place. But most importantly, he discovered he loved the challenge of entrepreneurship.
His advice to other African entrepreneurs is to collaborate as much as possible with others, be prepared to face obstacles, let their passion drive them, and focus more on having an impact than making money.
“And when you have a good idea and that burning desire within to bring change, do not have anyone tell you that you can’t do it – or let any situation stop you from achieving your dream. Because the first thing you will face will be challenges,” he emphasised.
“As I was coming up with this project I had people try discouraging me. But the number one rule is not to think too much – just do it. As you go through your journey it will make more sense to other people.”
Billionaire Kumar Birla Champions Regional Supply Chains
As the head of the Aditya Birla Group, a US$46bn firm that operates in 36 countries, Kumar Mangalam Birla is no stranger to splashy strategic moves. Yet his recent announcement that he no longer wants to acquire globally distributed supply chains stood out. While many companies have struggled to cope with shipping backlogs, his firm has chosen to pivot and focus on regional networks. Said Birla: ‘We wouldn’t look at a company or a business where you source in one corner of the world and sell in another’.
He cited protectionism, the pandemic, and the limited movement of products and people around the world as ABG’s primary causes of lost profits. And they aren’t alone. Over the past year, 900 of the U.S. and Europe’s biggest IT, defence, and financial services firms have lost an average of US$184mn apiece.
An Era of Global Disruption
Over the past few decades, low shipping rates and rapid delivery times have lulled multinational firms into a false sense of security. In the early 2000s, companies chose to take on significant global supply chain risks in exchange for increased profits. First, it made sense to manufacture higher-value goods, such as electronics, in low-cost regions throughout Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Second, first-tier suppliers started to outsource the manufacturing of specific components to second-, third-, and even fourth-tiers—leaving supply chains with extremely limited visibility.
So when COVID-19 disruptions struck certain regions, companies were caught unprepared. Usually, these events come few and far between. But over the past ten years, we’ve seen a number of ‘black swan’ events that have thrown the supply chain industry into chaos. Here’s a quick history of the most significant events in recent years, thanks to the MIT Sloan Management Review:
- 2010. China creates export quotas for rare earth elements.
- 2011. The Tōhoku Earthquake hits East Japan; flooding sweeps throughout Thailand.
- 2016-present. Trade wars between the U.S. and China hurt suppliers.
- 2020-present. COVID-19 pandemic shuts down international shipping ports.
Now, Kumar Birla is one of many who want to re-evaluate how we run our supply chains. Though his company has acquired 40+ companies in the last quarter decade, Birla intends to build up local hubs rather than expand operations.
Why Pursue Regionalisation?
Combine Chinese economic dominance, global supply chain vulnerabilities, and major government policy shifts around the world, and you have a storm brewing on the horizon for big multinational firms. As Brookings noted, ‘the biggest risk for trading opportunities in the developing world is growing protectionism in more advanced economies, often dressed up as national security protection’.
Altogether, from the U.S. to the European Union, governments are trying to protect their domestic supply chains, secure adequate stockpiles of materials, and build world-class local networks. Consider Biden’s recent executive order, which seeks to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to home soil, or Japan’s bid to open more memory chip fabrication factories near Tokyo. The Aditya Birla Group intends to react in kind. Said Birla: ‘We’re looking at regionalism as a very big theme’.
Will Others Follow Suit?
In the post-pandemic economy, global businesses must decide whether to expand or contract. On one hand, the Alibaba Group’s Cainiao Smart Logistics Network recently launched a direct flight between Hong Kong, China, and Lagos, Nigeria. On the other, the Japanese government is desperate to make its chip manufacturing domestic. Indeed, as two supply chain strategies diverge in a post-pandemic world, the one businesses take may make all the difference.
Yet Birla is confident that regionalisation is the right call. According to his words at the Qatar Economic Forum, even necessary cross-border transactions should be smaller in scope. And as the Bloomberg Billionaires Index now lists his net wealth at US$10.4bn, up 52% from 2020, he may have the cash to test his theories out. ‘Regional hubs, regional presence, regional employment, catering to regional demand’, he stated. ‘We’re a global company rooted in local economics’.