Zambian women build sustainable businesses

Zambian women lead sustainable businesses — from solar energy to honey production — while training peers to follow suit.

In Africa, women operate more than 40% of the small and medium-sized businesses, but often lack sufficient funding or expertise to expand.

U.S.-backed programs work to change that.

Since 2019, 430 Zambian women have obtained the knowledge, networks and access needed to start and scale a new business from the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a U.S. State Department program. Fifteen AWE alumnae then applied for and received funding from the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), an independent U.S. government agency.

To receive a USADF AWE grant, applicants must complete the DreamBuilder online course, designed by Arizona State University and funded by the Freeport McMoRan Foundation.

Meet four Zambian women entrepreneurs who participated in these programs and are making a difference in their communities.

Siphiwe Lukama

Siphiwe Lukama posing with containers of honey (Courtesy of Siphiwe Lukama)
Siphiwe Lukama holds containers of honey that her business produces. (Courtesy of Siphiwe Lukama)

Some entrepreneurs look around the office for new business ideas. Siphiwe Lukama just looked outdoors.

As a child she grew up on a farm with a beehive. “The fact that bees make such a sweet and healthy product fascinated me,” Lukama told ShareAmerica.

Now she is chief executive of Kasenga Agro Solutions, a business that trains women in beekeeping techniques, forest management, honey production and financial literacy.

With $25,000 from USADF in 2020, Lukama trained honey growers, built a small processing plant and installed a solar-powered water pumping system. The water source helped her business and the surrounding community, which previously only had access to well water. Her business, located in a rural town called Chongwe, employs 25 women growers.

Besides expanding the business and helping her community, Lukama wants to build a conservation legacy.

“The goal is to conserve our natural habitats and improve lives for generations to come, even long after I am gone,” she said. “It will be the heart of Kasenga.”

Mutale Kapekele

Mutale Kapekele and other women standing, posing for group photo (U.S. Embassy Zambia/Brian Moonga)
Mutale Kapekele, pictured third from left alongside other USADF grant winners, helps other business owners obtain access to energy. (U.S. Embassy Zambia/Brian Moonga)

Mutale Kapekele made a major career change from journalism to energy distribution.

A former business reporter, she obtained a fellowship with the International Monetary Fund, where she learned about worldwide energy poverty.

Kapekele learned about real-life business challenges and prospects when she traveled for two days from Choma to Livingstone City with a neighbor who sold vegetables in area markets. By the time they got there, much of the produce had spoiled and turned yellow.

“The vegetable sales experience made me think of ways to prolong the shelf life of our produce, and I came up with the idea of drying the food,” Kapekele told ShareAmerica. “It was a great solution.”

The neighbor lent Kapekele $18 to get started. But Kapekele had no experience running a business. Kapekele discovered the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs program, managed by the U.S. Embassy in Zambia, where she learned skills to build her business. After the training, Kapekele obtained $25,000 from USADF.

Her business, Ngweru Solar Services, provides energy access to people in southern Zambia who are not connected to the national grid. The company also offers mobile solar dryers made with local materials that vendors can use to dry their produce to reduce produce losses after the harvest.

She credits the USADF and the Women Entrepreneurship Access Center, the AWE local implementing partner, for expanding her horizons.

“They not only mentored me, provided funding and a network, they made me a better citizen of Zambia,” she said.

Deborah Lee Pumulo

Deborah Lee Pumulo standing, posing in front of white board in classroom (Courtesy of Deborah Lee Pumulo)
Deborah Lee Pumulo founded Dielenka Schools, an inclusive school for children with special needs. (Courtesy of Deborah Lee Pumulo)

Deborah Lee Pumulo drew upon her own family experiences when she planned a school for children with special needs.

A relative had a medical condition that required special care. That prompted her to found Dielenka Schools in Ndola, an inclusive education and day care center that offers learning, child care, and behavioral and speech therapy.

“I wanted to provide children with disabilities, both visible and invisible, with an opportunity to learn lifelong skills that would enable them to be independent and responsible individuals,” Pumulo told ShareAmerica.

The school is geared toward children from 12 weeks to 12 years old. Forty percent of the students have special needs. Pumulo wanted to create an environment where children of varying abilities and backgrounds could study together.

The school, which opened in 2020, serves 18 students with a staff of five, including three women. Before participating in AWE and receiving $10,000 from USADF, Pumulo operated the school out of her garage with just two tables and seven chairs.

The experience and grant allowed Pumulo to build a separate physical structure for the school and classrooms, buy school supplies, renovate the guest area and expand the restrooms.

“I have a school open and ready to enroll children of different abilities all because USADF gave me the support,” she said.

Monica Dimingo

Monica Dimingo posing for photo with plants in background (Courtesy of Monica Dimingo)
Monica Dimingo leads tree-planting campaigns while educating fellow Zambians about the dangers of deforestation. (Courtesy of Monica Dimingo)

Monica Dimingo combined business training with her passion for nature and a desire to protect the environment.

Her company, Dimitru Events, works with local residents to plant 10,000 trees while also educating the community about the dangers of deforestation and climate change.

The organization received $25,000 from USADF in 2020 to expand the tree-planting project. Dimingo used the funding to build a greenhouse to store tree seedlings, establish an office and purchase a delivery van.

Based in Lusaka, the organization has six full-time employees.

Dimingo plans to offer eco-friendly products, including sustainable charcoal and organic compost.

“We also want to partner with the local municipal council to adopt streets that do not have trees,” she said.