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Lona Mnguni: Motivation is like happiness, it shows on the outside

Some women look unemployment in the face without fear. When Lona Mnguni found herself unemployed after leaving her service consultancy job, she came up with Gracenet Logistics. Gracenet is a social entrepreneurship venture that aims to improve livelihoods in rural areas and townships in South Africa through logistics and distribution. When Lona shared her story with SLA, we learned that she has high strengths in empathy and motivation. Lona lets us know her tips on keeping herself and her small team motivated. She also reminded us of the importance of leading from a place of understanding. Tell us about the inspiration that led you to start Gracenet Logistics? Starting Gracenet Logistics was a case of making lemonade out of lemons while simultaneously creating an impact in rural areas. I grew up in a rural town and during school holidays, we would visit “home” in our rurals. I’ve always wanted to improve life for those who live in rural areas in one way or another. The opportunity presented itself at a time where I found myself unemployed. The only experience and qualifications I had were in banking, logistics and customer service. What better way to create the impact I wanted, create employment and also do something about my own unemployment than to create something that will combine my interests? Gracenet brings together my love for rural areas and the lack of access to resources because of a delay in logistics to them. As well as procedures and customer satisfaction measures that would ensure that timelines are in place and communicated to the end user. Why did you decide to leave your job as a service consultant? I wanted more, I had worked in my job for two years and found that in that time it was going to take me ages to move on to the next level. I wanted growth, and to develop as an individual. When I resigned, I had not resigned with the intention to start Gracenet. I resigned to join another organization in a position just above the one I was in. However, things backfired and the position was not available anymore by the time I had finished serving notice. Why do you think little attention is paid to deliveries in rural areas and townships? I would say it’s the roads. Also, the task that it is to actually deviate from a route that is on the main road to then get onto a gravel road. Most big companies have set routes and this would mean that there would be a delay in their delivery times. What was the situation that lead to resources such as school books and medication sitting for days on end in warehouses? What prevented them from being distributed? Delivering to rural areas, more so to public institutions, is not as easy as putting the address in the GPS and driving there. This is because the address might not be there or may be inaccurate. Sometimes, even when the drivers get to the area that they are delivering to, they still need to ask for directions. With school books for example, before leaving we would have to call the school to find out where they are located. All of this takes effort and I’m sure that the reason most of these resources are not distributed is because no one is willing to put in the extra time and effort to make it work. How do you effectively manage a small team? I recently did an emotional management session with my mentor. In a quiz, my two highest scoring strengths were empathy and motivation. This was comforting because it was confirmation of my ability to keep my team motivated and always lead from a place of understanding instead of being a dictator. Having scored high on motivation, can you share six ways you motivate yourself and your team? Keeping myself motivated, is the important part. Motivation is like happiness, it shows on the outside. When you are motivated, it rubs off. I keep myself motivated by; Looking after my spiritual health, Consistently practicing mental toughness Celebrating small victories and Reading and watching things things that motivate me (such as my SLA newsletters). Keeping a small team inspired can be challenging. At times, everyone will slack off or feel entitled as we all play multiple roles since the business is still at start-up phase. We have regular conversations about the current position of the staff in the business and the position of the business as a whole. I also constantly remind my staff of the company’s vision, and that we are in a growth process together. Hey South African #MotherlandMoguls, the SheHive will be landing in Johannesburg from November 3-6. Find out more here.

Urban-rural migration and the weird city girl that dares it

While rural-urban resettlement may be the most studied human migration pattern, it definitely isn’t the only existing one. Considering the pros of urbanization and the excitement that the urban switch stirs, it is understandably confusing that anyone would want to spin the bottle the other way around. I’m talking about urban-rural migration. Yes. Packing up your valuables then taking a hike out of town, destination, some good old rural grounds with the intention to settle for a few months…or for good. Talk about a reverse trend. The question is, why? You know how when almost everyone gravitates towards something, it becomes particularly precious? Urban cities illustrate this best with their high cost of living and increased competition over limited resources. The basic structure of the urban system in itself is as magnetic as it is frustrating. As much as we love it, sometimes it gets too much and there is a yearning to shut out the noise of the city. This goes beyond taking days off work, or locking up and staying indoors. Rural life presents a picture of serenity, easy living and greater mental focus -which we like to call ‘clarity of mind’. It also suggests cheaper land and rent, a chance to work without constant disturbance of modern tools and to learn the art of human relations in its most basic form. Now for the soulful African woman who needs to find herself but cannot because of the confusing urban noise and pressure, ruralism may be a very bold step. Moreso if it involves living alone, as many African cultures still raise eyebrows at the single woman who dares to live alone. Yet, it just might work. Going rural may not be at the top of the list for most young women. But, when it does become a choice, it is always a good idea to start a business that will give financial security. Here are a few ideas; Go ruralpolitan Be that city girl that knows how to farm. Those who know this, know this, farming is good business. There is something strongly appealing about a farm girl. She’s a girl you do not want to mess with. Everyone loves to eat, even those who don’t eat much still need food. Cultivate maize, yams, vegetables, fruits…anything that works with available soil. There’s no shame in it. Farm and sell the produce within your community and find a market in the nearest city. Here’s a fact; because of the absence of chemicals and smoke from industrial chimneys, crops grown in rural areas thrive, look and taste better. Get into some animal farming too. Rear chickens and sell the eggs, add goats to the mix if you can. And if people like rabbits in your part of town? Do not hesitate. Set up a bakery  We haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t enjoy a good loaf of bread. Chances are the nearest bakery is a good distance away from your town and folks do not particularly like walking so far to get some flour in their diet. Bake breads, doughnuts, rolls, pies even sweets if you know how to and sell. Drum up some new confectionery when you can and introduce it. You’ll be shocked to find how receptive people are to the new. They won’t just want to see it in your show-glass, they will want to taste it too! Become a transporter At a reasonable fee, of course. If it’s high, you may very well just ride alone.This may be tricky because of the cost of the vehicle in question whether motorcycle, motorcar or van. If you have any of these, transporting would be good commercial enterprise to undertake. Don’t just ride that bike or car, make some cool cash out of it. Launch a convenience store Every town big or small needs a convenience store (guess that’s why it’s called “convenience”). Before you do this, find out about the people living in your area and what they gravitate towards. This way you don’t waste time trying to sell things nobody has any interest in buying. It does not necessarily have to be a big shop at first. You could start small then later expand to something larger and on and on. Stock up on products you know people cannot do without, things they like but can’t get because they have to go miles to find them. Save them the trouble and include all those things in your store. This business ensures a steady flow of income everyday! Start up a medical care/pharmacy Please be certified to do this. You don’t want law enforcement agencies knocking on your door one day out of the blue -that just smashes the whole idea of peace and quiet, don’t you think? Much as this is humanitarian, it is also a service provision that comes with a fee. People have headaches or illnesses they simply can’t explain, women get pregnant, children run, fall and get bruises. Every one of them needs to be treated. Every town or village needs a medical facility no matter how healthy-looking the environment is. Open a beauty salon People get tired of doing their own hair. Even those who didn’t give it much of a thought earlier will suddenly begin to find their way to your shop once it opens up. Beware, you need to be able to make that hair sing. A lack of skill will quickly bring an end to customers trooping in. Establish a guesthouse Why open a guesthouse in a rural area? It’s as confusing as it is simple. City dwellers may not always like to go to small towns or villages but they usually pass through. Whether they come alone or are accompanied by friends, city dwellers will visit family ‘back home’ for festivities. Most of them will require lodging so that they don’t inconvenience their hosts. It would be a great idea to establish a place where they can lay their heads for the night or for a few days

Creating impact that works: Tips from my start-up experience in Ghana

Eu'Genia Shea - Impact

Naa-Sakle Akuete is the founder of Eu’Genia Shea, the first line of premium shea moisturizers dedicated to using 100% natural ingredients in partnership with female cooperatives in Ghana. She shares what she’s learned from working with rural communities for her natural products. When my mother founded a shea butter manufacturing company in Ghana in 1999, she had never heard the term “double bottom line.” She did, however, know that if she was going to succeed in business, she wanted to do so in an ethical manner. By partnering with pickers from female cooperatives, paying them above-market prices, and offering organic and financial training, she was able to ensure that her community thrived along with her business. Her decades of experience inspired me to start my own finished products line last year: Eu’Genia Shea. As I pore through her life’s work, applying lessons learned and trying to avoid mistakes already made, one point shines through brightly: good intentions do not always yield good results. Hopefully, some of these points will be helpful to others aiming to make mutually beneficial business partnerships in rural developing communities. Build Trust You know yourself, you understand your motives, and without a doubt, your heart is in the right place. But even if you are native to the country/region/community, how can others be assured of this goodwill if they do not know you? SNV is a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to “creating effective solutions with local impact”, in this case facilitating savings. They entered Damongo, Ghana with speeches and promises, but without any connections. The cooperatives with which we work were understandably wary. How many times have they encountered non-profits who raised their hopes only to disappear, or worse still, people claiming to have their best interests in mind, only to cheat them? They sent the confused SNV away then SNV came to my mother to explain their mission. My mother spoke on their behalf, and now SNV is a valued contributor to these cooperatives. Bottom line: Understand the legacy of the community and approach accordingly, whether through an intermediary or through years of proving yourself (which takes a bit longer, but Mum can confirm it works!) Listen There are thousands of aid organizations flooding millions of dollars into poor communities globally. Most of them have good intentions, but their money still goes to waste. For example, on one visit to our facilities in Damango, Mum occasionally saw workers without shoes. As a westerner, or a native with a westerner’s perspective, this is jarring for a number of reasons, not least of all because of the safety implications. She spoke with the women and made a point of purchasing shoes for all of the workers on her next trip to the US to ensure that no one was left unprotected. Upon her return, some women again were not wearing shoes. When she inquired about it, she discovered two things: some husbands were absconding with their wives’ shoes and some women found it difficult to maneuver in the new shoes. Had my mum taken the time to dig a little deeper originally, she would have found that buying local shoes closely fitting each woman would have helped solve both problems. Encourage them to maintain assets Now you’re partnering with a community whose needs you understand and are able to address. You’ve suggested ideas and implemented technology where appropriate; they’ve told you why half of your bright ideas aren’t quite so bright, and everything is moving along swimmingly. It’s come time to leave them for a couple weeks, months, or years… Before you leave operations in their hands, make sure you’ve given them the tools and know-how to maintain (and how often to maintain) any machinery you’ve introduced. The once shiny, now corroded Japan Motorbike rusting by our plot is a great example of something that made life easy for a couple months before falling into disrepair. Choose the right customers You’re running a business not a charity. On one end, you have Bill Gates in Microsoft era and on the other, Bill Gates in the Bill & Melinda Foundation era. You don’t have to be either extreme, but what you have to do is make enough money to keep yourself afloat and to continue the work you’re doing. If social impact causes your products to be slightly more expensive than competitors, find the customers who care. And make sure your product is worth it! At Eu’Genia Shea, not only do we pay above market wages, provide training, and give 15% of our profits back to our workers, our longevity in the industry helps ensure our products are always of the highest quality. Our customers get expertly moisturized skin, our partners make a good living, and we get to keep on doing what we love — win/win! Transparency Your aim is to do great things, so be open about it. Maybe you’re not doing quite as much as you’d like yet. For example, 15% of profits covers some of the tuition costs of our worker’s children, but not all. I’d love Eu’Genia to be able to give all the children in our communities a free education. I’d love to provide all past and future workers with a pension when they retire. I’d love to offer free daycare to workers whose children are below school age. The reality, however, is that I’m not in a position to do any of this yet. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try though. Along the way, I’m sure I’ll make mistakes. But my mistakes can be learning points for me and other entrepreneurs like me. Being transparent about our goals and processes not only allows others to give us valuable feedback, but also supports the growth of all enterprises looking to make an impact. We live in a big and complicated world with many societal issues I’ve never heard of or understood. If those who are able can contribute to improve the landscape how best they know, our actions will magnify each other’s. I’m excited to