Bwalya Maketo: You have the innate ability to actualize all that you can envision for yourself

bwalya maketo
As a woman, you are capable of achieving all your dreams no matter the hurdles Click To Tweet

An English teacher based in Lusaka, Zambia, Bwalya Maketo is also the founder of the NGO, Zambian Women With Skills. ZWWS has a primary focus on equipping Zambian women with the necessary tools and resources needed to identify and harness practical skills and talents, thereby effectively translating them into sustainable streams of income.

Bwalya holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts with Education from the University of Zambia and is passionate about women empowerment and entrepreneurship at various levels. She hopes that her efforts can contribute to mitigating the effects of rising unemployment in Zambia.

SLA contributing writer Uloma Ogba caught up with Bwalya to learn more about her NGO and her plans for the future.

In August 2016, you launched your NGO Zambian Women With Skills. Can you share with the readers what your organization’s mission is all about?

When I initially set out to form this organisation, the underlying reason was the urgent need for the creation of a platform where local Zambian women could access the relevant resources needed to hone their God-given talents and practical skills. Through ZWWS, some of the skills women have chosen to harness include: baking, hairdressing, basket weaving, knitting, beading, public speaking, cosmetology, home management, home and event décor, flower arrangements, etc., which they can then use as vehicles of wealth creation.

We currently have 30 officially registered affiliate members, of which 9 are serving as board members and two as provincial coordinators for Lusaka and Copperbelt province respectively. Our main service is the provision of skills identification and training to 3 kinds of women:

(i) The educated/semi-educated woman who has a skill and is in formal employment but with no job fulfillment and would like a smooth transition into the business world by capitalising on her skill. She may also seek to create a balance between her formal job and a skills-based business on the side.
(ii)The uneducated/semi-educated woman that has a tangible skill but no proper knowledge (technical or other) of how to translate that skill into a sustainable stream of income.
(iii)The educated/ uneducated woman that has no idea what skill she has or which skill to harness.

I like the idea of a subscription-based organization. In this day and age, it’s sometimes difficult to convince people to realize the benefit of and pay for services they may feel they should be able to access for free.

How have you been able to hack this process and build a reliable membership base?

At ZWWS, my role has been to make them understand this entire concept; it’s not so much about me, but about how each individual woman that seeks to join the organisation can capitalise on what we are proposing. The idea has been to make each woman see the platform as a stepping stone to actualising her own individual dreams and goals.

We have two particular programs running which are specifically designed to benefit registered members. The first one is an in-house Legal Aid Clinic which gives members access to free legal advice except for court representation from our in-house lawyers as well as those that come through as volunteers. The second program is the Continuous Skills Development Program, which is specifically designed for affiliate members to stay abreast of changing trends in business (etiquette, advertising, customer care, personal/ business branding etc.). It also provides free knowledge intended for their benefit.

The second program is the Continuous Skills Development Program, which is specifically designed for affiliate members to stay abreast of changing trends in business (etiquette, advertising, customer care, personal/ business branding etc.). It also provides free knowledge intended for their benefit.

Basically, the idea has been to provide a range of enticing benefits that the women can only access by becoming registered members of ZWWS and so far that has worked in our favour.


Can you tell us a bit more about the specific programs that Zambian Women With Skills offers and what level of impact you have achieved with these programs so far?

In total, we have 8 active Programs running for the year 2017, namely: The Learn a Skill Program, The Learners Hub Program, The Mentorship Placement Program, Continuous Skills Development Program, Legal Aid Clinic, The Red Flame Initiative, The Fundraising Program as well as our Community Works Program.

One of our most popular programs is, of course, the Learn a Skill Program. This program was specifically designed to offer a 3-4 weeks course on learning a specific skill which is designed to lean more on the practical aspect of the skill in question. The course also includes some theoretic components of the following: basic financial literacy, marketing, social media/general business branding, compliance, sources of capital etc.

The practical information is usually concentrated within the last week of the training after the theoretic part of the course has been tackled. The overall objective is to accord an opportunity for learning to the vulnerable/poor woman who cannot afford to pay for a fully structured course.

Facilitators are volunteers and “friends of the organisation” who work on a pro bono basis. So far we have had 20 women in Lusaka, that have successfully gone through this training with specific focus on cosmetology.

You mentioned a mentorship program. Now, I personally think that mentorship should be a core part of every young woman’s life. There is so much we can gain from being mentors and from being mentored.

Could you share with us how your mentorship program is organized, what types of issues you address and what the reception has been like among the target audience?

Ok, so we have two mentorship programs that we are currently running. One is called the Mentorship Placement Program which has been designed in such a way that affiliate members, can access either short or long term mentorship to help them harness their specific skills.

Our second mentorship program is our recently launched Red Flame Initiative which has been designed specially to help mentor, inspire and motivate young secondary school girls within the 13 to 18 years age bracket. Our goal is to effect positive change among these young girls through mentorship, networking and skills training.

Given my teaching background, I realised that of the many young girls that passed through my hands as pupils, not so many were privileged to have positive role models within their various communities. The platform was thus created to help them find their true purpose in life and help them ably understand the immense role they have to play in shaping a better Zambia and the world at large.

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Still on the subject of mentoring, who are your role models and the biggest influencers in your life that you look to for guidance and direction, especially when it comes to running an NGO successfully?

I am a very spiritual person and have a deep rooted belief in the Christian faith and particularly the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I would have to say, He is definitely at the top of my list of those from whom I draw strength and guidance when it comes to running the organisation.

I also draw lots of inspiration and counsel from my mentor, Charity Limula. As one of the local life coaches here in Zambia, Charity is the one person I know I can also run to for sound advice and direction. And then, of course, there is my mum, who happens to be my biggest cheerleader. My mother is a source of upliftment and counsel during those times that I get too overwhelmed and feel like giving up.

Sometimes, it’s easy to fall into the trap of glamorizing social entrepreneurship, but the truth is for most people who choose this path, it’s a bumpy ride.

What sort of challenges have you encountered while trying to establish and grow your organization? And what have you done to address these challenges?

Indeed, if I was to sit here and paint an amazing tapestry of silver plate achievements and hustle free chains of accolades as they relate to my organisation, I will be lying. It has not been an easy ride. It does get overwhelmingly lonely at times, and the only thing that sometimes keeps me afloat is my unwavering passion for women empowerment and entrepreneurship at various levels.

One of the major hurdles we have had to work our way through is resource availability. I started off this social enterprise without the slightest idea of where I would draw my monetary resources from. And because currently, we are not receiving any funding from donors, the little resources we have are mostly sourced from affiliate member subscriptions, fundraising ventures, as well as my own personal salary from my formal job. Because of this lack of resources, we are unable to reach out to as many women as we wish to.

I started off with very little knowledge and information of what it takes to run a successful NGO. I have had to learn and unlearn so many things along the way and had to humble myself so many time to get the relevant information needed to stay afloat. I am very thankful for my exposure to the YALI network through its online resources, which has helped to give my ideas some solid grounding. The amount of knowledge I have been able to acquire just through this network alone is something that I am eternally grateful for.

It gets lonely at times & the only thing that keeps me afloat is my passion Click To Tweet

You were recently nominated as a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow and will be traveling to the United States in June to participate in the 6-week program. This must be so exciting for you.

Can you share with us what this program is all about and what you hope to gain from this experience, personally and professionally?

It is an exciting feeling given the competitive nature of the application and selection process. I consider it a privilege to have been selected as one of the 1000 fellows that will be part of the program this year. More so, this year alone saw an estimated 64,000 applications sent through for consideration. So briefly, the Mandela Washington Fellowship for young African Leaders, which began in 2014, is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). It empowers aspiring young African leaders with academic coursework, leadership training, and networking opportunities in civic leadership, public management and business and entrepreneurship.

I intend to make good on this generous investment in me, by fully acquiring the relevant and academic practical experience needed to help grow my organisation, and in turn, reach out to more women. Personally, I hope to meet new people and possibly make new friends from other parts of the continent, learning about different cultures and new ways of life in the process.

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You have a lot going on for you professionally, how are you able to stay grounded and remain focused? What do you do when you just need to take a break and rebalance?

Well, I cannot say it’s been a walk in the park. I do have days when I feel utterly worn out and almost off balance. But like I said earlier, my passion for women empowerment tends to override all the hurdles that spring up along the way. I strongly believe in the emancipating power of discovered and harnessed potential. Personal fulfillment often springs from one pursuing that which they are passionate about.

I believe my platform has the potential to help women harness skills that they can not only draw an income from but also find immense fulfillment from. Also, when I do feel the need to recalibrate, I turn to the Bible for some alone time with God. This is just so I can refuel and gain fresh insight on what direction to take.

My husband is also a great source of strength as he fully supports my work. He not only gives me time to fully focus on this venture by getting our three children off my shoulders sometimes but also helps provide material and emotional support whenever I need it.

My platform has the potential to help women harness skills they can draw income from - Bwalya Maketo Click To Tweet

If there is one key message you could use the She Leads Africa platform to share with millions of readers, what would that message be?

As a woman, you are capable of achieving all your dreams no matter what hurdles you may face along the way. You have the innate ability to actualize all that you can envision for yourself. The key is to fix your eyes on the goal, then begin to slowly work your way through the process of getting to where you want to be.

And to re-echo the sentiments of Zambia’s former First Lady, Dr. Maureen Mwanawasa, who said,  “Let us sing from the song sheet of our own resources. Our ability to multi-task as women should always be considered as a strength that should be utilized at any given opportunity.

As women, we have the ability to grow any skill we get exposed to, simply because we are “nurturers’ and are able to grow any skill to commercial levels. A woman can turn any idea or skill into a sustainable income generating tool, the most important thing is to allow yourself to take on any opportunity of learning presented to you.”

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