The Sunday Mail
AT 16, she could have become a wife to a much older polygamist.
After completing her O-Levels with flying colours, her father, who believed a woman’s place was in the kitchen not the classroom, arranged for her to promptly get married.
However, Ethel Chiwara (now Mrs Mupambwa), had a dream; she wanted to be a businesswoman. So, one early morning, 2am to be precise, she nicodemously left her father’s homestead in Gokwe and boarded a bus that was headed to Harare.
Nineteen years later, Mrs Mupambwa is the founder and chief executive officer of Money Mart Finance, a micro lending finance institution. She is also mixing and mingling with the likes of Jack Ma and Strive Masiyiwa.
Ethel is among the top 10 finalists in the African Business Hero 2020, a programme started by Chinese billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, Jack Ma.
“I do not blame my father. He was a polygamist and his world view was shaped by the society, background and culture surrounding him,” she told The Sunday Mail at her offices in Harare on Tuesday last week.
“At that time it was normal and many girls were going into arranged marriages. So I was called soon after collecting my results and he told me that I was getting married. I said ‘but baba I have passed my O-Level, please let me proceed with my education’ – but he had already made up his mind.
“I was lucky my mother believed in my dreams and that night she helped me board a bus at 2am so that I could come to Harare and live with my sister who helped me proceed to A-Level.
“Years later when I had graduated with a degree in Finance, I saw pride in my father’s eyes and knew I had ministered and taught him a valuable lesson — girls can do it too.”
Born in 1985 in Gokwe, Ethel and her siblings used to help in the grocery store their father owned at Nembudziya Growth Point. She, however, noticed that women, especially in the rural areas, did not own businesses and even if they did, they were at the mercy of their spouses.
After graduating from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), she was employed in various organisations as a finance administrator but never abandoned her dream to become an entrepreneur.
“I graduated in 2008 when the country was going through economic challenges, but I was born to be an entrepreneur, so I started baking cakes and selling them to earn a living,” Ethel narrated.
“In 2010 I worked as a finance manager at a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), however, I remained determined to be an entrepreneur. The first time I tried to start my micro finance business it flopped because the model that I used was not compatible with the informal sector in Zimbabwe.
“In 2012 I started Money Mart Finance, in my veranda. I remember I used to go around market places such as Copacabana, Charge Office and Market Square in Harare talking to women in the informal sector mainly those who were selling second hand clothes.”
Ethel said this is how she learnt that women were financially excluded by banks and started researching before coming up with a model.
“That is how I started Money Mart Finance,” she said.
Money Mart Finance is tailor-made for businesspeople in the informal sector, especially women selling fruits, vegetables and second hand clothing, among other businesses. It seeks to include those excluded by large financial institutions.
Loans and credit are given based on one’s cash flow with repayments methods done daily, weekly or monthly. It is a model popular in Kenya and Tanzania.
Money Mart Finance was registered with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) in 2013 with official operations starting in 2014. It now boasts six branches — three in Harare and one each in Mutare, Bindura and Mhondoro.
It has around 1200 clients with the bulk of them being women and youths.
Ethel has started distributing solar equipment to women in the rural areas that are off grid.
“Women in the informal sector are usually financially excluded. They lack the courage to go to big financial lenders such as banks, mostly because of lack of collateral.
“At times this collateral is in the name of a spouse and given our cultural set-ups it becomes difficult for women to get financial assistance. The model thus seeks to include those that are usually marginalised and have no means to access capital easily but would want to start businesses for themselves.”
Women who spoke to The Sunday Mail said their lives have been transformed through the micro finance institution.
“I was introduced to the institution by a friend and I have been working with them for over two years now,” Barbra Mutepa, a boutique owner in Mbare, said.
“I can now go to Tanzania fortnightly to restock and our lives have been transformed as we can now afford to send our children to school.”
Ethel is set to virtually meet billionaire businessmen Ma and Masiyiwa, and Nigerian businesswoman, author and motivational speaker Ibukun Awosika.
The winner of the African Business Hero 2020 is set to be announced next month and will walk away with US$300 000 cash and fellowship training at Alibaba’s headquarters.But for Ethel, she believes she is already a winner and hopes that her story so far inspires a lot of women.
“Even if I do not win the final round in the Africa Business Hero 2020, I have won a lot already. I have managed to change some women’s lives and now it is my wish to inspire young women and girls out there.
“I always see jokes about people from Gokwe on social media as if nothing good can come out of Gokwe.
‘‘However, here I am.’’