By Boris Esono Nwenfor
These two African Heroes run companies that are close to their hearts and what they enjoy doing. Chebet Lesan and Christelle Kwizera, two incredible female entrepreneurs were brought together by the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition in an inspiring video-interview series “Hero to Hero” to share their stories and insights.
Chebet Lesan won the 1st prize of the ABH competition in 2020. Her Kenya-based company BrightGreen Renewable Energy is revolutionizing the way people cook across the continent by offering affordable, live-saving fuel solutions.
Christelle Kwizera ranked third in the 2019 edition of the ABH. She had previously won the CISCO Youth Leadership Award at the 2020 Global Citizen Awards, among others. Her business Water Access Rwanda is eradicating water scarcity by providing affordable and reliable safe water solutions.
Growing up, Chebet witnessed the difficulties of the traditional way of cooking on the continent, which involves the use of firewood and being in smoke-filled rooms for most of the time. Though times have changed, many African homes and mostly in villages still practice this rudimentary way of cooking.
Chebet says this method made use of an “inefficient source of energy.” “For me, I thought this is something that cannot continue when I have a skill set that can do something about it. For me it is all about looking at my society and thinking how we change the story; how do we change the things that are not working for us and how can we be those champions to bring change while telling the stories to the world.”
Christelle Kwizera had a tough childhood after being diagnosed with a rare illness called pemphigus in 2011, when she turned 18. It took a long time for her to be diagnosed and she felt she was “going to die”.
“That inspired me and I think if that did not happen I would not have gone on to found a company that is committed to alleviating the pain of African women. It is something that has guided my life,” she said.
With many Africans looking to start businesses despite the challenges that lie ahead, Christelle says it is “already a good situation that you are in. If you start a business for something that you care about you will have an unending source of energy and as an entrepreneur, you need that.”
“Entrepreneurs should watch out for the pitfalls; being so passionate about the business sometimes it is hard to let go. Businesses sometimes feel like our babies and as you grow you have to let the baby go a bit,” Christelle added when asked about advice to young Africans who want to start a business that is driven by their passion.
“The other thing is that you tend to move fast. In my case, the water crisis is a huge challenge that I want to end it but that will not happen overnight, it is something that will take time. Nobody should still be without water.”
As an entrepreneur, make sure the vision is clear because as a visionary you assume that the people around you can see your vision and they might not. You also need to give them space and room to work, Chebet says as she responded to the question on how one leads others so they can become heroes too.
“The third is that you need to allow them to make mistakes – sometimes as entrepreneurs, you can be rigid with your business since it is your baby and angry when people make mistakes but it is something we need to learn and rise to also be leaders in whatever they are doing.”
Africa is endowed with a lot of resources ranging from minerals, plantations, wood, gold and others but the continent is often seen as one that is “backwards” and always in need of aid. In a continent where many tend to look at the many challenges rather than the opportunities, these two African Heroes and many more of their peers are changing that mindset one successful business venture at a time.
Looking for inspiring African entrepreneurs who are providing solutions to the most pressing problems and uplifting their communities, the third edition of Africa’s Business Heroes 2021 prize competition has opened applications until 7th June.
Entrepreneurs from all 54 African countries, across every sector, age group, and gender are now welcome to submit their applications, in either French or English, for a chance to become one of the Top 10 finalists and compete for a spot at the Grand Finale. Finalists will not only be rewarded with a share of a US$1.5 million grant, but will also get access to invaluable training and mentorship programmes as they progress through the selection stages.
The ABH is a flagship philanthropic program of the Jack Ma Foundation spotlighting and celebrating Africa’s entrepreneurs. The central theme of this year’s competition, “It’s African Time”, is a bold call to action to all aspiring and seasoned businesswomen and businessmen of the continent, who are already challenging stereotypes and using their skills and competencies to be change-makers.