Following a chance meeting at UNZA sports day, student President Misheck Kakonde invited an excited Challenges team onto the popular university radio. The hour-long ‘cultural forum’ welcomed volunteers Cameron McIntosh, Mweetwa Tevin and Team Leader Tabby Dambanemuya to answer a range of listener queries. In an interactive format, the show considered Challenges’ work with Zambian small and micro-enterprises (SMEs), and the realities of living and working on placement.
Interspersed with some wavy Zambian tunes, including the bold and playful Bana Mulenga by Pontiano Kaiche, the opening minutes drew attention to one SME in particular: Shopzed. Under CEO Victoria Muzumara, ShopZed is Zambia’s first e-commerce grocery delivery business, currently servicing Lusaka and the Copperbelt, but eager to expand further afield. Muzumara has welcomed Challenges volunteers to review Shopzed’s supply chain, increase efficiency and promote public awareness. Whilst the enterprise functions for-profit, Shopzed is not without social impact. Acting on behalf of both national and international sponsors, Shopzed also distributes foodstuff to orphans in its active regions.
Given the high rate of graduate unemployment in Zambia, the President was then keen to establish how UNZA graduates would personally and professionally benefit from the ICS programme. Tabby explained that Challenges Worldwide deals in cross-cultural experience, pairing in-country volunteers with an international counterpart. In most instances, the counterpart differs between work and home, encouraging fresh perspectives and a positive working environment to maximise volunteer impact on SMEs.
Tevin drew particular attention to the CMI (Chartered Management Institute) certificate offered on placement, using it to demonstrate the professional development opportunities available. Challenges hire a variety of Zambian graduates, he says, meaning there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ degree choice. The NGO works with a range of miscellaneous SMEs, from tech start-ups to fashion enterprises, meaning they desire a range of skills from the pool of volunteers.
Quick to emphasise the personal benefits of the scheme, Cameron and Tevin animatedly discussed their experiences over the past month. Cameron came to Zambia with an open-mind and little expectation; now, he explained, he knows how to hand wash his clothes and eats in a totally different way – ‘not a small feat,’ he was keen to point out. Of course, whilst Cameron enjoyed Soweto (‘stone’ in Nyanja) Market last weekend, Tabby emphasised that ‘work comes first; we may have fun, but we are not on a holiday.’ The Zambian SME sector has a great deal to offer the Zambian economy, including social impact, jobs and economic growth. For this reason, Challenges acts to empower entrepreneurs in a feasible way, hoping to promote sustainable change in the process.
With this in mind, the interview turned to a final, and important question: ‘is this scheme compounding the issue of neo-colonialism?’ With discrete ease, Tabby jumped in, drawing attention to the UN’s final SDG – working in partnership for a brighter and better world. In a global environment, economies operate on an international scale, working cross-culture, importing and exporting from abroad. The Challenges volunteer scheme is about mutual learning, about listening as much as advising, and about empowering the employment backbone of the Zambian economy: SMEs!