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The Future of Work Podcast

Episode 4
Green jobs

Zimbabwe’s green economy trailblazers

23 April 2021
00:00

For Sub-Saharan African countries the challenges of climate change come alongside more long-standing development issues. However, the shift to a greener economy also offers commercial opportunities, with the potential to create employment and boost access to core services.

Zimbabwean green entrepreneurs, Elizabeth Nyamuda, founder of Tamba Washables, and Luke Makarichi, founder of GreenTEC, share their experiences of launching and running their green businesses.

Transcript

Greetings and welcome to our green edition of the ILO Future of Work Podcast.

I'm Belinda Japhet and I'm joining you from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Today, I'm chatting with two very talented green

entrepreneurs from Zimbabwe.

They have recognized the challenges brought about by climate change and

have come up with some interesting solutions which they are now

running as successful business.

Before we begin, we'd like to share a few figures around these two businesses.

For example, did you know the average baby can use up to

4,000 to 6,000 disposable diapers before they are potty trained?

Besides the huge cost, that's around 550 kgs of carbon emissions per child,

and not to mention the billions of tons of plastic and toxic

waste being disposed in landfills.

Secondly, roughly around 16 million Zimbabweans live in rural areas.

With limited or scanty access to electricity, women and children

can often be found walking after 10 kilometers daily to collect

firewood for cooking and heating.

This obviously contributes to rampant deforestation of precious

forest land in Zimbabwe, but obviously around Africa as well.

My guests today are Elizabeth Nyamuda, founder of Tamba Washables.

It's a reusable cloth diaper manufacturing business in Zimbabwe.

Our second guest is Luke Makarichi, founder of GreenTEC Energy,

whose biogas digesters enable households to convert food and

animal waste into renewable energy.

His company now allows households from around Zimbabwe to use this

energy for cooking and eating instead of cutting down trees for firewood.

Both of these businesses have been awarded grants by the ILO's Green

Enterprise Program in Zimbabwe.

Elizabeth and Luke, welcome.

-Thank you, Belinda.

-To begin with, your businesses are actually quite different,

but they're actually both give towards having a positive impact to the environment.

Perhaps you can first start by you both telling us exactly

how these ideas came about.

-Thank you very much, Belinda.

GreenTEC Energy is an idea that was born out of a visit that I made to

a country in Southeast Asia in 2015.

I had visited that country for a short course on global warming mitigation by

balancing sustainable energy management.

I visited a number of inspiring energy projects, including a

waste power plant in Phuket.

On my return to Zimbabwe, I realized that as a country, we're not

doing much in terms of recovering energy materials from waste.

At the same time, I also realized that my country had a huge challenge when

it comes to access to electricity.

About 68% of the public of the Zimbabwean population live in the

rural areas where they have limited access to electricity

and you realize also that even in the urban areas, they are frequent power cuts.

Zimbabwe was only generating around 1,200 megawatt against a demand

of approximately 2,400 megawatt.

I realized that there was a gap and we would come in and bring in

a business that can allow people to recover energy from waste materials

ranging from the food waste that they generate in their households on a

daily basis and also the livestock waste that is generated in farms.

We realize that there is a gap and we can make use of that

waste and convert it to energy in order to supply the shortfall.

-How exactly did you come about to bring this idea now into making

it a tangible business model?

-For me, first of all, I realized that because we can recover energy from

a number of waste streams, including municipal solid waste, the organic

waste that is generated in households, and also the livestock waste that is

generated in farms mostly, but as a starting point, I realized that it

would be very difficult to start with the large-scale commercial plants like

the waste to energy incinerators that we see in other parts of the world.

I realized that it would be easier for me to start with

biogas, which is much simpler.

In the country, we already have a number of biogas plants that had been deployed,

most of which were donor-funded.

I realized that I could start by working with the small-scale biogas plants

and then move on to the larger-scale commercial plants.

I put together a team and shared the vision with them.

They accepted the vision, they bought into it, they were inspired.

Right away we went on the ground, started talking to

people whom we thought could be our potential first customers.

There we were, we were already making a business.

-Elizabeth, I know your business idea is very different from Luke's.

Do you mind sharing exactly where your business idea came

from and where you began to make it into a successful business?

-My business came about out of experience, what I went through

in trying to manage and provide a solution for myself at household level

with regards to disposal of single-use diapers and also disposal

of household garbage where in the city that I live in, we're experiencing

inadequate garbage collection.

We would end up with tons of used sewed diapers.

In me trying to reduce that at household level, that's when I realized I could

opt for the reusable diapers where we get to do laundry, but at the same

time save on our garbage and reduce our garbage and save on our income as well.

After that, that's when I then decided to say, I have this

experience, I'd like to have other mums go through it as well.

That's when I then started to Tamba Washables.

-That sounds very interesting.

Now we can definitely see that you both are coming from

two very different angles.

In terms of the renewable energy sector, we are seeing a lot of

opportunities available for especially young people to enter this green economy,

but it's still very young, it's a very young sector especially

in African countries such as ours.

How profitable is it to work in the sector at the moment?

-I would think that it's quite profitable, even though there are

significant challenges in the sector, mostly emanating from the fact that

Zimbabwe is-- In the past, we used to have a very stable power supply,

but between the year 2000 and to date, that's when we had quite

an erratic supply of electricity.

The penetration of the renewable energy into the power supply

sector has been very, very low mostly because of that reason.

It's a business that in my view, I think is quite profitable.

We see so many young people getting into it.

Some are getting into solar installation services and a few are

getting into biogas systems as well.

It's still a very new sector, but we see a lot of progress in the sector.

We also think that there is still a lot of space and there are more players

that are coming and joining day by day.

-Just to add on that, green businesses, in general, they tend to take time

for the business to even break even and then starts to making profits and all,

because on one hand they solely rely on people, customers that is

consumers changing their perspectives, changing their behavior patterns

and the way they consume things.

It's in relation to that.

When people are more aware of the impact of their daily decisions on

the environment, I think in a way it also will mean an increase in the

profitability of green businesses.

-Yes, for sure.

I think it's also very important like you touched on how have you

guys gone about changing people's attitudes firstly towards the

environment and why should they care?

Secondly, towards what your product or what your services are offering?

Why should they need you?

How have you both gone about to start the conversation with the

community and the country as a whole?

-One of the key things is concentrating your marketing

strategy on raising our awareness.

You just have to spend more on that because the more people are aware

that the solution exists and the more they are better informed at

making their next decision with regards to purchasing green products.

Sometimes people don't know that such products exist, so we humper a lot with

our marketing on just raising awareness and just making sure that people know

the green alternative that exists.

-I completely concur with what Elizabeth is saying.

It's an issue of awareness.

What we have realized, for example in the biogas industry, is that

even though the technology has been around for many years, but still

not so many people know about it.

We get so many questions from customers and potential customers.

Each time we talk to them about biogas, they will ask us, "Please, I'm a layman.

Can you explain to me how biogas works?"

We realized at the end of the day, after explaining to them so many things

about biogas, that they are interested, they are excited about the innovations

that we are bringing on the market.

It's a question of awareness.

That's the reason why, for example, as a company, we are trying to intensify

as much as possible our marketing and awareness campaigns in order to

raise awareness so that people get to know more about these green products.

-With maybe some cultural challenges, some cultural barriers, or maybe

just cost, some people think green is more expensive, for example.

Have there been any challenges around making people aware of your services?

-In our case, I think the issue around cost is one of the most

important barriers apart from just the idea around awareness.

The issue around the cost you realize that the biogas digester, the smallest,

for example, in our case would cost somewhere between $500 to $700.

At times, that cost is a huge barrier in terms of the decision to go for biogas.

What we've been trying to do as a company is to try and come up with

innovative ways to make sure that our clients can still

benefit from our services irrespective of the cost.

For example, at the moment, we have launched what we call a

pay-as-you-use biogas scheme, which is allowing our customers to own

a biogas plant before they can actually pay for its construction.

It's just one way to try and circumvent the problem around the cost.

We build the plant for them and ask them to pay for the cost for the next

18 or 36 months in small installments.

That way it's easier because already they are now using the plant, they are

now aware of the benefits, they are now enjoying the benefits of using biogas,

so it's easier for them to pay up the project fee in small installments.

I would say that yes indeed, the issue of cost has been one of the

barrier, but we are trying to bring innovative ways to go around it.

-Thanks, Luke, for sharing that.

In my business also, the cash upfront factor is always a

challenge in as much as someone will get to serve in the long run.

I just wanted to found out, how is the model of your pay as you use or

pay as you go, how is it working?

Are people actually paying to clear up or are there

challenges with credit and stuff?

Because that's also something I would want to consider in my business,

but I would also want to know from someone who's actually doing it.

-What we have seen so far is an overwhelming response in the uptake

of our products under this new scheme.

We have two clients so far who are already on the scheme.

Even though it's quite new, it's doing very well, and we think that

we can rope in a number of customers to operate under the scheme.

So far, we haven't seen much of a challenge.

I'm not so sure whether is it because it's fairly new because this is

the second month of rolling it out.

Perhaps as we go we'll be able to see some of the challenges

perhaps around credit, late payments and so forth and so forth.

So far, it's still good.

We are anticipating to rope more clients.

Actually, our target is to be able to rope 200 clients, around 100 for the

10 cubic meter facility and then around 100 for the 20 cubic meter facility.

We have a target of installing 200 plants under this scheme

in the next three years.

-Wow.

That's great, congratulations.

From what you both are saying, it seems like there are maybe some costs

incurred that you did not maybe expect to incur as you're starting a business,

as many business people will tell you, what other surprises have you

faced while starting your businesses?

How have you had to change your strategies maybe to

meet some of these surprises?

-The biggest surprise for me was the journey, the time it took

for the business to break even.

[chuckles] I would have thought going into business, we're just

going to experience profits.

I didn't realize that the journey you have to first

break even then you go beyond.

I thought we would just cast ourselves into profit first.

That was the biggest surprise.

Much appreciation goes to the trainings that we had been undertaking

with the ILO, the Green Enterprise and Innovation Challenge Program.

At least it was now easier to just go about it just

[chuckles] to go through it.

Had it not been in the case that I was undergoing training, I'm sure that's

when most small businesses would just say, "We'll give up," because of that

delay in experiencing enjoyable profit.

-It's a big challenge.

Even just paying yourself, for example, at what point could you

even pay yourself from your business?

-Yes, that's quite a challenge.

If you have workers, you will have to prioritize paying the workers before

you even think about paying yourself.

I've come to understand that that's quite normal.

When I'm doing my budgets, I have to think about making sure that

the workers are paid before I even consider paying myself and the other

two directors that I work with.

Yes, indeed, it is really an important factor.

For us, you realize that our products are divided into the

small-scale biogas plants as well as the utility-scale biogas plants.

Our biggest surprise has been in terms of fundraising,

the challenges around fundraising for the larger-scale projects.

We've been doing very well with the small-scale projects, the biogas plants

that range up to around 20 cubic meters in size, but we have a project for

which we signed a contract last year, it's a capital-intensive project which

is supposed to run for about 5 years.

Fundraising for that project has been really, really, really difficult.

That has been one of the biggest surprises.

We never thought we would actually go for as far as 12 months

without hitting a huge milestone in terms of getting it financed.

Of course, also COVID was a huge surprise.

We had to really comply with the government directives when

they ordered non-essential business services to close down.

We just had to comply.

That had to mean two to three months of not operating.

It was indeed a huge blow.

-I'm glad you touched on the COVID-19 pandemic and

how it's affecting everyone.

Let's go into that actually.

In terms of running your businesses, obviously there's been the downside,

but on a more positive note, any surprise benefits for running

a green business at the moment?

Any maybe delivery or pay as you go, any marketing strategies you've

had to incorporate and they've actually had some beneficial impact

on your businesses during this time?

Maybe Elizabeth, you could tell us about this, especially now that

more mothers are staying at home, more children are being born.

How has it impacted your business?

-I'll just take it from, say, the time when COVID hit.

We would have thought that was the end of our business, but when we realized

that, as a green business, we also had a role to play in helping to reduce

the number of cases of COVID in our country through making cloth face masks.

That was something that we ventured into.

It really helped a lot to boost our business during such a difficult period.

The increase in demand of our product has been on the rise with mothers

staying at home, being at home, and also people losing their jobs.

People are actually realizing the importance of saving household income.

We have seen quite an increase in the demand of people

requesting for our products.

It's been like more of a push factor on our consumer side that the circumstances

that came around COVID really pushed them into opting to make that decision

to make use of green cloth diapers versus the single-use diapers.

-Elizabeth, I understand that you have also been involved in the

production of cloth face mask in response to the COVID-19 challenges.

How has this part of your business been performing?

-It was a bit of a challenge, in that, right at the beginning

of the pandemic we weren't sure of will cloth first masks work.

There was that phase where we waited, are they going to work, until we

started getting reports and guidelines from the WHO, from the Center for Disease Control,

highlighting that, you know what, cloth face mask, they do work,

even from your homemade one.

That's when we jumped in and we managed to have our product undergo

laboratory tests to actually see the efficacy in how they could work.

Getting that report was something that then instilled us to say,

"Okay, now we can make this product available because we know it can work."

We're able to make a face mask at the same time do trainings, we would go to

rural communities and train seamstresses and tailors that side on how to

make an effective cloth face mask.

That would have meant looking at the number of layers and even

the design and stuff like that.

We're really proud of ourselves and the role that we got to play.

-Elizabeth, I would really like to learn more about your product.

For example, what makes it different to maybe, for example, the traditional

diaper or the store-bought diaper?

Could you maybe tell us a bit more exactly how it is green?

-Currently, we are making your modern cloth diapers, which has somehow an

improvement of the traditional nappy.

They also have a feel of the disposable nappy.

However, they go further and be funky and attractive to look at through

the various prints that we use.

With the cloth diaper, we see that it's able to provide the diaper need care

for any family at least costs compared to single-use disposable diapers.

-Then, what materials do you use to make them?

-We use a waterproof material and then for the absorbency,

we make use of organic fabrics.

We make use of cotton, bamboo, and hemp.

-In terms of this theme of green and sustainability, as you might know,

this Thursday 22nd April was earth day and this year's theme was restore our earth.

Elizabeth, you've actually answered pretty well about how

your business is helping your country to restore our earth.

Perhaps, Luke, you could tell us a bit more how exactly your business

will help us restore our earth, especially with the challenges facing

Zimbabwe and the continent as a whole.

-You realize that our biogas systems make use of waste in order to convert

that waste into useful energy.

In line with the theme, restore our earth, we are making use of waste that

could have otherwise been disposed into the environment and caused a lot

of pollution and a lot of challenges.

In Zimbabwe, according to the latest reports, the nationally determined

contributions, it has been reported that the waste sector contributes about 4% in

terms of the greenhouse gas emissions.

By recovering energy from the waste, especially the organic waste,

we remove that part of the waste from the environment which could have resulted in

the generation of the greenhouse gases.

We make sure that anything that is generated by our systems is converted to

carbon dioxide during the combustion processes, which means that instead

of us releasing methane into the atmosphere, which has a higher what

would say global warming potential, now if our customers are able to use

the methane as a fuel, they can reduce it to a less potent gas, which is CO2.

We are doing a lot in terms of saving the environment.

At the same time, wherever we have constructed a plant, that means they

will be able to cut less trees, they will be able to depend less on coal,

they will be able to depend less on the other biomass sources of energy.

They will rely solely on the biogas, which in a way, we are also

helping to conserve the forest.

We are helping to conserve the carbon sink that is available in the environment.

We are doing quite a lot.

Apart from that, you also realize that there is a byproduct that comes

from the biogas plant, the digested material, we call it digested.

It comes from the biogas plant.

It is a nutrient-rich product which can be used to replace

the chemical fertilizers.

Instead of the farmer, for example, who has benefited from our services,

instead of him buying lots and lots of chemical fertilizers, such as ammonium nitrate,

now they can offset that by just making use of the digestive that comes from

the biogas plant and they can use it as an organic fertilizer for their crops.

In a nutshell, those are some of the things that we are doing to

help the environment while at the same time, making sure that we are

also doing business sustainably.

-It seems like there's so many opportunities in the

green economy for Africans.

It's all about just what your interest is and where your talents lie.

Elizabeth, for example, you are geared towards something that you

actually experienced as a mother.

In terms of your experience, what advice would you give to others, especially

women who are interested in starting their own green businesses in Africa?

-The advice I'd give to young girls and women who want to enter into

green business in Africa is show up.

We know the challenges that we go through in Africa and some of

these we go through them daily.

It's only up to us to provide the solutions to these challenges through

using business models such that we kill two birds with one stone,

we're able to provide solutions for our communities and for our country and

at the same time, we're also able to create employment for ourselves and

for other women as well, which is so much needed in Africa at the moment.

-For sure.

We have this whole, a term called leapfrogging in Africa because we

lack some access, for example, to electricity or internet or whatever.

It allows us to be more creative with how we-- but also using our

traditional knowledge, which both of you are actually doing, which is great.

In terms of growth, both of you, could you briefly share with us

your five-year plan on how you plan on expanding your companies?

-In my case, as I mentioned before, with the pay-as-you-use biogas scheme,

we are expecting that in the next three years, we should be

able to construct and deploy about 200 small-scale biogas plants.

Apart from that, we're also working on it on the large-scale project

that I mentioned about, which is a biogas to electricity project.

It's the first of its kind in Zimbabwe.

We think that if we successfully implement this project,

we are going to unlock a lot of investment in the sector.

It's a project that is being constructed next to a housing development.

We have quite a number of such housing developments around the country.

We hope to have a lot of projects of this nature in the next few years.

Apart from that, in the long run, we'll also move to the larger-scale

projects such as landfill to gas recovery energy from waste that has

been disposed in sanitary landfills.

Those are some of the things that we are just anticipating

in the next 5 to 10 years.

-Our five-year plan entails us really trying to push for an

increase in the use of our products that is through complementing

even the traditional nappy.

Through our experience through COVID, we now have had our eye cast on

entering into the maternal mental health terrain where we realized that

diaper need plays a big role in creating anxiety or depression in mothers.

We feel that that's an area that we would want to actively participate

in and see the improvement of the mental health of mothers.

-Wow, that sounds like a great idea, Elizabeth.

I think that is an area that we often very much neglect, especially maybe

in areas where there's not even a hospital mental health clinic and

so on for mothers to go and use.

Congratulations on that.

Last question, I think we're actually running out of time.

The conversation has been some flowing.

Last question, you guys are leaders in green economy in

your country and in Africa.

In terms of where do you guys think that the future of green jobs is

headed in Africa and how do you plan on being at the forefront of it?

-In my view, I think you realize that there has been a lot of talk

around sustainable development, cleaning the economy, and obviously

renewable energy penetration into the energy supply matrix.

We think that with that movement that is taking place,

there's going to be a lot of space for the creation of more and more green jobs.

I think as more and more innovative products come into

the market, especially related to energy supply and also energy

efficiency is also coming on board.

We think as a result of those developments, there's going to

be a lot of green jobs creation.

That's going to go a long way in terms of improving even the

economies of many African countries.

That's what I would say in a nutshell.

-I would concur with Luke and then I'll just add that through the commitments

that we see governments of African countries taking to actually take issues

of climate change on board and ensure that their countries are initiating

programs that at greening the economy, we see that in as much as we have run

maybe as the foreigners a difficult mile that we have run, but we feel that in

the future, it's going to be easier for other green businesses to come on board

as long as we just have the support and the commitment from government and all

the various interested stakeholders.

-Oh yes, for sure.

I think both of you and your companies are doing a great job

paving the way for other entrepreneurs to make the process simpler.

That would be great.

Thank you so much, Elizabeth and Luke, for your time and

for chatting with us today.

I wish you all the best in all your future endeavors.

I'm sure this is not the last time we'll be hearing from you.

Thank you so much.

-Thank you so much, Belinda.

It has been a pleasure to be a part of this meeting.

Thank you very much.

-Thanks, Luke.

-Thank you so much, Belinda.

-Thank you, Elizabeth.

It was really great chatting to you.

That's all for this edition of ILO's Future of Work podcast.

Thank you so much for listening and that is it from us.

Goodbye.