ALM TV Editorial Interviews

Conceptarian Worx:  Committed to the Education of Zimbabwe’s Young People

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Statistics reveal that nearly 42% of the Zimbabwean population are under the age of 15. Though 86.4% of Zimbabwe’s adult population above 15 years are literate, largely due to the abundance of capacity at primary and secondary levels, 60% of students graduating from High School simply do not have the required finance to further their education at tertiary level as the country lacks capacity at that educational level.

It is remarkable the tremendous contributions of Conceptarian Worx Limited to the development of Zimbabwe in terms of providing support for the empowerment of the country’s young people, beyond the organisation’s contributions to the economic growth of Zimbabwe. The company was established in 2012 by Mr. Jiten Shah, who is the company’s Group Chief Executive Officer.

In an interview with African Leadership’s Ehis Ayere, Mr. Shah discussed the impact of the organisation in providing educational advisory services to Zimbabwe’s youths, being a bridge across cultures and support for the tertiary educational pursuit of the younger generation. Mr, Shah also shared some of his other business interests that promote economic growth and create jobs, as well as how African governments and leaders can support youths to maximise their potentials. Excerpts:

Being a successful young entrepreneur with wide business interests in Zimbabwe, significantly contributing to the economic growth of the country, and creating jobs to enhance the lives of the people, kindly tell us more about yourself, what inspired you to entrepreneurship, and your business interests?

I was born into a Gujrati family of entrepreneurs, where my father and his brothers owned and managed several clothing retail stores. The journey started with my grandfather arriving in Southern Africa in 1914 from Porbandar, Gujrat, INDIA.

Needless to say, entrepreneurship came naturally to me. In my childhood days, I spent a lot of my free time in the shop working with my father. I helped customers try on garments, restocked shelves with newly arrived garments and did a manual stock take of garments on display at the end of each business day. I was accustomed to all aspects of running a store from sweeping the floor to manning the cash register. My greatest love in all this was interacting with the customers.

I revelled in the joy and pleasure they experienced when they made their purchases in the shop. Since our retailing days my family, by and large, always catered for the lower middle income consumers, offering them a fairly necessary product of high quality at a comparatively lower price than the “high” street stores. Nothing has changed for me today. Whilst “change is constant” and I enjoy bringing in new and different things to the people, I have continued to bring products and services that have great value to our consumers at comparatively lower prices. These include pharmaceutical (human and veterinary) products, medical consumables, FMCG, mobile phones and now, our education advisory services.

You are the group CEO of Conceptarian Worx, an education advisory service set up designed to provide a solution to the education crisis in Zimbabwe. What are some of the successes that have been recorded yo improving the people’s access to quality education?

Zimbabwe has an abundance of capacity at primary and secondary levels, but at the present moment lacks the same at tertiary level. This situation is compounded by the fact that 60% of students graduating from High School simply do not have the required finance to further their education at tertiary level. To qualify this further, for most students the opportunity cost of attending a tertiary institution is too high, especially when there is an extended family commitment.

Some of our activities to assist student, from all demographics, achieve their aim to attend tertiary educational institutions are:

– We are working on a micro-financing solution for education in Canada which will be mortgage based. This will dramatically improve access to students wishing to study in North America.

– We have launched a “Bonding Program” which will afford many students an opportunity to study in India. This program sees Corporates financing the education of the students in fields that would add value to the Corporate. The students will allow themselves to be “bonded” to the Corporate for a period not more than 50% over and above the length of the program abroad. This “Bonding Program” is set at US$10,000.00 per annum and will include:-Tuition, Text books, Accommodation, Meals, Medical Insurance and Airfare. The students will return home annually, spend time with their families as well as sometime at their Sponsors, applying what they have learnt and starting to understand the industry and culture at the Corporate. I see this program as a true “win –win –win” situation for the Student / Corporate / Nation. The students get tertiary education and a ready and waiting paying job upon graduation. The Corporates benefit from skilled labor and the Nation benefits from an increasing middle class that will formally contribute to the fiscus. Zimbabwean Corporates need to invest in the future of the nation. The students are our future.

– A micro-financing scheme for study in Malaysia is being finalized too.

– We have been negotiating with some local institutes and foreign institutes to offer locally some courses, or parts of courses, for instance, 2+1; 2+2; and/or 1+2 types of programs where students can stay in Zimbabwe and this will help to drastically bring down the costs. Educational Institutes take years if not decades to develop credible and reputable programs. We have chosen to work with Institutions in Canada, India, Malaysia and Cuba offering a comprehensive range of programs, all of which will be welcomed and recognized in Zimbabwe.

Philanthropy and give-back in Africa seem to be an exclusive reserve of the super-rich in Africa. What is your view on philanthropy in the continent?

Philanthropy differs from culture to culture. In Africa, we have lost our sense of community. We have lost our sense of philanthropy. We can only re-institute our sense of community through: the sharing of information, the exchanging of ideas, the understanding of living in a global village, respecting the fact that every human being has wants and needs and learning to differentiate between the two.

Philanthropy, to me, is sharing what we have, whether it be resources, information, knowledge, skills, material things, with those who are in need.

Africa being a continent with the largest population of young people, estimated at 60% within the ages of 18 35, the continent is poised to lead the next phase of global growth. What is your take about innovation and entrepreneurship in the continent, vis-à-vis the challenges of start-ups and budding entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe and Africa by extension?

Zimbabwe and Africa at large have an abundance of human capital and as the continent remains poised to lead the next phase of global growth our sense of community needs to perk up and our business and political leaders need to dig deep and find the will to invest in the young people. Let’s help them to help themselves. Let’s give them the knowledge, life skills and breed the pride in them to pass on the same to their future generations.

Zimbabwe enjoys a very high literacy rate and hence innovation and entrepreneurship are second nature to many. Zimbabweans overcame the hardships of the early 2000’s by “making –a – plan”.

Africans, generally, are survivors but these budding innovators and entrepreneurs are crippled by high levels of formal and informal taxes and it is these conditions that directly attribute to the creation of a vast diaspora and virtual brain drain.

Access to funding has remained one of the major issues, confronting African start-ups, and budding entrepreneurs with bold and innovative ideas. How have you been able to sidestep some of these challenges?

Through generations businesses have evolved, grown and reputations have been created. The key to overcoming challenges such as funding is reputation.

Budding entrepreneurs need to appreciate that businesses are not just a source of income but a livelihood.

Start-ups need to appreciate that they need to appreciate that they need to be in for the long run.

Business ethics, pricing policy, customer service, quality of product/service are some of the key attributes that will contribute to a good reputation in business.

What in your view should be put in place to arrest some of the impediment to the growth of entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe?

I have always believed that over-regularization has not only deterred the formal business community but in fact it has been the catalyst in the creation of the unsustainably huge informal sector. Zimbabwe is not short of entrepreneurs and we need to bridge the divides between; the budding informal entrepreneurs, the overburdened formal businesses and the regulators.

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