When Gordon Abraham Mutale was selected for the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship in the U.S., his plan was to use the opportunity to enhance his business skills to influence policy change and help promote rural industrialization in Zambia. Three years after the program, Mutale still has fond memories, describing the fellowship as a transformative and enriching experience.
“The opportunity to meet 700 energetic and like-minded fellows from other African countries was a great privilege and I learnt a lot from them, experienced the American culture, built powerful networks and made life-long relationships,” said Mutale, who did his business leadership training at Oklahoma State University. “The fellowship created a favorable atmosphere for interaction with a variety of people and organizations.”
Part of that interaction included field visits to business incubation centers in Oklahoma, among them Meridian Technology Center for Business Development and 36 Degrees North-Incubator, where Mutale learned how American small and medium entrepreneurs are supported during the critical stage of starting a new business. He was impressed. Back in Zambia, Mutale adopted the SME incubation concept – a new policy change – and incorporated it in his work as Northwestern Provincial Team Leader for the newly created ministry of small and medium enterprise development.
With a focus on youth and women-led enterprises, Mutale has managed to incubate seven co-operatives/SMEs in Northwestern Province since returning from the fellowship. The one-year incubation program involves intensive capacity building programs in various business skills, including business planning, market research, business commercialization, branding, and market linkages.
Some of the enterprises have graduated and, through Mutale’s leadership, have been connected to markets and are now supplying honey, spices, and other products to leading chain stores and major restaurants in the province.
“It gives me a lot of joy to see individuals and co-operatives come to my office with only a registration certificate and a business idea and begin a fulfilling journey with me,” said Mutale. “And after a couple of months, we start talking about market linkages for their products and services.”
Mutale now wants to take advantage of the huge market that has been created by the three mines operating in Northwestern Province through facilitating business opportunities for SMEs.
“The time is ripe for our co-operatives and SMEs to begin a more prosperous journey with our mines and as a ministry we are not resting until we get things done,” he said.
After getting a savvy understanding of the entrepreneurship and business dynamics of SMEs in the U.S., Mutale said he returned from the Mandela Washington Fellowship a highly talented and motivated young professional.
“If you are that Zambian youth looking for international connections, trying to explore industries beyond your daily work, looking forward to expanding your expertise and above all, hone your leadership skills, then this fellowship is for you. I couldn’t have asked for a better fellowship than the Mandela Washington Fellowship,” Mutale said.