By Metohuey Adoglo
Social enterprise hubs in Africa have emerged as powerful catalysts for driving social impact and economic growth. Among these hubs, the Jacaranda hub Zambia stands as one of the few hubs in Southern Africa, spearheading the conversation on sustainable business models.
With a strong focus on empowering local entrepreneurs and addressing pressing social challenges, Jacaranda hub has created a vibrant ecosystem that nurtures innovative ideas and fosters collaboration. Through its unique programs and partnerships, Jacaranda hub is paving the way for a new wave of socially conscious businesses that are transforming communities and shaping the future of Africa.
The Jacaranda Hub is a social enterprise organization that aims at developing young people through the provision of collective services, infrastructure, and specialized tools and equipment for common use among the young and aspiring MSMEs with growth potential.
Speaking with us on this edition of Dreams Talks is the Founder and CEO of the Jacaranda hub, Mara Zhanet Michelo. She shares her thoughts on the challenges, merits and future of Social Entrprises in Africa.
Dreams Talks: What specific measures or programs does the hub have in place to support the socioeconomic emancipation of young people and encourage their self-motivation and skill development?
Mara Zhanet Michelo: One of the major objectives for the hub is to drive socio economic emancipation of young people properly. We also aim to provide aspiring startups with open-source tools and infrastructure to ideate and develop social ideas that drive change. This is a fundamental part of our efforts to extend to different parts of the country and involve the people of Zambia in helping us establish initiatives that align with our interests. Our goal is to reduce the dependency that individuals have on the government or other programs and agencies. Instead, we want to create an alliance where they can be self-motivated, self-driven, and develop the skills of 50 people who are committed to social independence.
Dreams Talks: How does placing people at the core of social enterprises drive both social impact and entrepreneurial opportunities?
Mara Zhanet Michelo : When you consider social enterprises and their role in innovation, it’s crucial to place people at the center of everything. We need to think about the individuals we are trying to support and find solutions for. This is why social enterprises are important—they have the potential to create both social impact and entrepreneurial opportunities. While some companies focus solely on generating profits, even their social business models include sustainable practices, albeit on a small scale, to demonstrate their social responsibility. However, organizations that prioritize social impact understand that developing programs and solutions with people as the focal point leads to greater acceptance and positive outcomes. By addressing barriers and catering to the needs of the majority, around 98% of the population, particularly the youth demographic, who are highly people-centric, social enterprises can create favorable impacts and drive development. Programs that effectively tackle these issues are essential for societal progress.
Dreams Talks: What are the two key components that a social enterprise should focus on, and why is it important for them to align?
Mara Zhanet Michelo: There are two key components: social impact and sustainability. These aspects must align to ensure mutual agreement. Therefore, program design and activities should be carefully structured to remain relevant not only to funders but also to the community being served. Can the community afford the product or service provided for social impact? It should not be provided free of charge. Instead, it should be run as a profitable organization, generating revenue through competitiveness. In Africa’s competitive environment, innovation, technology, and digitization are crucial for efficiency, market expansion, and success. Thus, developing a clear competitive strategy, vision, and impactful initiatives are vital in mapping social impact.
Dreams Talks: How does innovation and creating opportunities in Africa help address challenges in underprivileged communities and reduce poverty?
Mara Zhanet Michelo: Africa is considered one of those parts that is very well-read, and for us to captivate the interest of young people and utilize human resources effectively, we need to be innovative and create opportunities for them to take center stage. Otherwise, we risk losing a significant human capital that is crucial for our development. Innovation is of utmost importance in this context, especially because many people in smallholder communities have low literacy levels and limited access to resources. By harnessing innovative ideas, we can address these challenges and focus our resources on a larger scale, ultimately reducing poverty in Africa.
Dreams Talks: What are some of the major challenges in achieving connectivity and infrastructure development in Africa, and how can the government and private sector work together to address them?
Mara Zhanet Michelo: Well, to be honest, when it comes to connectivity, infrastructure is a major barrier. It’s a big challenge that requires government investment to overcome. We need high-quality and affordable internet access that can benefit the entire country. Another challenge is the lack of teacher licenses, especially for those in poor communities, which hinders their ability to access quality education. Additionally, access to electricity is expensive and limited in many African countries, which further widens the digital divide. Solving these challenges requires government involvement and partnerships between the public and private sectors to ensure widespread connectivity and infrastructure development.
Dreams Talks: How are you addressing the challenge of sourcing initial capital for their social enterprise and attracting partners?
Mara Zhanet Michelo: Many social enterprises prioritize social impact but overlook the business aspects. It’s important to have a sustainable revenue model. Understanding your business flow and product offerings and deciding whether to generate revenue or rely on external funding is crucial. We faced the challenge of sourcing initial capital but created value to attract partners. We also designed job-driven programs without heavy dependence on external partners. After five years, we have the potential to scale and make a significant impact.
Dreams Talks: What is the primary focus of the “Jacaranda Hub”, and how do you ensure that the social impact is felt by people?
Mara Zhanet Michelo: For us, the most important thing is social impact, where people feel a significant positive change. If someone wants to prioritize making money, there are other avenues available for that. However, our focus is on being people-centric and deeply invested in addressing societal challenges. We are a team of passionate and committed young individuals who are driven by our desire to solve problems and create ventures that cater to the needs of youth. Our approach involves designing specific programs tailored to our target audience. We seek collaborations with like-minded individuals and organizations who share our values and are willing to contribute to our cause. We aim for mutual benefit and strive to establish favorable conditions for partnerships.
Dreams Talks: What are some of the key achievements and successes your organization has experienced in terms of business growth, partnerships, and the impact on young entrepreneurs and communities?
Mara Zhanet Michelo:
Many businesses in these parts don’t reach their third or fifth year. However, we have been consistently growing and expanding our team. We have established valuable partnerships, like the one with the bank, implementing projects across the country and setting up hubs in different provinces. This allows us to test our products and support innovative ideas. One of our biggest accomplishments is seeing graduated businesses thrive independently. We primarily focus on industry and food development, adding value and meeting market demands. Our success stories and positive impact bring me joy. Looking ahead, the next five years hold tremendous potential as we strive for even greater achievements.
Dreams Talks: What is your vision for the future of young entrepreneurs in Zambia, what do you expect the hub to mean to them, say 20 years from now.
Mara Zhanet Michelo: In 20 years, I envision every young person under the age of 30 knowing that we are their partner in growing their business ideas and expanding into the market. I want to see Zambia connected to all countries across the continent, with strong linkages from our Hub. Our goal is to contribute to a sustainable economy that provides equal opportunities for young people to develop and start businesses. Starting a business in South Africa should no longer be a challenge. I want the narrative to change, where entrepreneurs can establish their ventures within hours or days. Moreover, in 20 years, the businesses we support today will become major employers in Africa, creating entities that will generate significant revenue. Africa will overcome these challenges through funding and partnerships based on mutual value and mutual benefit, not solely relying on external aid.