Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

An interview with Nigel Chanakira

Prominent banker and entrepreneur, Nigel Chanakira, is passionate about money and wealth creation. He was in Johannesburg last week as keynote speaker at the Men of Valour conference whose theme was Making Money Make Sense.

Nigel Chanakira
Nigel Chanakira

Antony Jongwe, (AJ) caught up with him on the sidelines of the conference for an interview:

AJ: What are your thoughts on the issue of unemployment especially amongst the youth and university graduates in Zimbabwe?

NC: Unemployment among youth and university graduates is not only a Zimbabwean problem but has become global. As a country, we can deal with youth unemployment by ensuring that we try and resource the young people and keep them of our streets.

We need to get them to be productive because it is a huge workforce that we have, an educated one at that and this is where energies are very high and so the youth have got to do something whether it is working the farms or getting the factories working again and creating employment for them.

And they themselves (the youth) must also take the initiative of not beginning to think of being employees but to think of being entrepreneurial, to think of becoming employers. They should not just sit but must strive to do something.

AJ: There is convergence of opinion on the need to mainstream entrepreneurship as a way of dealing with unemployment. What are your views on this?

NC: I believe very much in generating entrepreneurship as part of the curriculum at school and particularly in Africa and Zimbabwe and so as a result of the efforts that are being done by organizations such as Junior Achievement Zimbabwe of teaching young people who are still at school on how to start a business, run a business and close a business is all very important because they then do not have a culture of thinking that when I finish school I must get a job.

If there is no job, they must learn the entrepreneurial competences, the attributes of an entrepreneur and begin to create something out nothing. What are entrepreneurs? They are like Alchemists that create something out of nothing. They create an opportunity to serve or provide a product. The younger we can capture people and imbue them with a spirit of entrepreneurship the better we will be as a society because more jobs will be created.

AJ: Nascent entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe have been subject to labelling; often in derogatory terms such as ‘kiya-kiya’ and the bankruptcy laws seem to punish business failure. What are your thoughts on this?

NC: I think people must realise the history and statistics of nascent entrepreneurship. There is a high failure rate and so I believe society must be more accommodating of people who fail and allow them to be able to bounce back. In terms of businesses, I know for a fact that I am very much always in favour of rehabilitating businesses that fail by studying carefully why they have failed so that we can give people a chance.

I do not believe I would be the businessman that I am today if society had not given me a chance. My first business was not a success and so you try and you try again until you learn the rhythm of success and the rhythm of being able to succeed in business.

Some businesses will collapse, there is nothing personal. It is a business; after all, it is a limited liability company. It is limited to that company and so some ventures will fail. On the matter of ‘kiya-kiya’, I think that term is a little condescending even the whole term ‘indigenous’ is also somewhat condescending.

It kind of suggests that indigenous people are not competent business people and I think we must debunk people of the theory that if you fail once, you are a permanent failure. You know, white businesses do fail; white banks do fail as well so failure should not be associated with black people or Zimbabweans.

It is unfair to say that Zimbabwean things do not work. No. I think people must be given a fair chance to try in business and where things do not succeed, they are rehabilitated and if they cannot be rehabilitated then someone can say:

‘You know what, I have tried and I conclude I am not a businessman or perhaps I may be a failure in this particular sector of business but that does not limit me not to be able to go to another sector and try again’.

AJ: As someone from the corporate sector, do you think that the corporate sector has any role to play in creating and nurturing nascent entrepreneurs?

NC: I think there is tremendous opportunity to extend what is already in place. We have organisations like Empretec and Junior Achievement Zimbabwe that I mentioned. We also have opportunities that have evolved because of the indigenisation and empowerment laws.

We have various youth funds, we have various banks and corporate entities that are deliberately, and with intentionality, giving out loans to start-ups, and giving out loans to SMEs and those must be encouraged.

I believe that the more resources that we can channel in that direction the better because it allows a competitive framework to exist within Zimbabwe and so I definitely support that and where we can as corporates support, we can and should be doing so.

AJ: As a Christian, is there any fundamental difference between mainstream entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship from a biblical perspective?

NC: I think the biblical perspective is interesting; it is different because it means you come with a different feel and you operate along the lines and value systems of the Bible. An ordinary entrepreneur perhaps may have different values outside of the Bible but I find it interesting that some of the most successful businesspeople have a Christian orientation.

Look at the Jewish community, for example, they are renowned within their culture to be prolific businesspeople and I think it emanates from their Jewish cultural heritage and so I think there can be and could be differences in terms of mindset of the two. There are obviously other religions that motivate businesspeople but it really adds to the value-system if people are religious or biblical in terms of their entrepreneurial approach.

AJ: You are a pioneering and successful entrepreneur in Zimbabwe. What lessons do you have for nascent entrepreneurs?

NC: Well, thank you for the compliment although I do not see the success myself. Suffice to say, I think the role of appreciating mentors in the nascent entrepreneurs to look up to learn from, to also then be pioneering in their own right because the younger ones are probably more technologically savvy than we were and so there is a lot to learn from each other.

They can teach us a thing or two because it’s a new era. It is the information, technology and telecommunications era and so we are going to have different aspects and probably different types of entrepreneurs because we originate from different time zones and different technological spheres but all in all, there is much to learn from one another and my advice is that it does take time and they should grow little by little.

AJ: You have a passion for mentoring. Tell us more about the potential for mentoring in entrepreneurship?

NC: Mentorship offers a situation where the mentee can reach out and learn from the mentor and then be able to reach out and question the mentor and from it derive experience and exposure that they otherwise would have to go through themselves and so there is a huge benefit that can arise from a mentoring programme.

Anthony Jongwe is a researcher on entrepreneurship. He can be contacted via e-mail: itai.jongwe@esbc.co.za or by telephone: +27824083661. This interview was initially published by the Financial Gazette.