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  • Ndapile Mkuwu, 2019 Leadership Fellow

COVID-19 Youth Challenge

COVID-19 crept up on most of us. It was just something I saw on social media, starting with the large hospital that China built in under 15 days, then the lockdown that was imposed in Italy. It all seemed so distant until new cases were reported in Africa, it still felt surreal, we carried on with life as if though the world wasn’t going through a natural purge. I was going through drone and data related training at this point and was about to graduate when the president of Malawi declared a state of emergency. The graduation was set to be a public event but was then changed to a closed ceremony with less than 100 people.

When things are happening around the world, you tend to develop an attitude thinking it’d never be us. I was bound to start my new job in April, around the same time that Malawi registered its first cases. This resulted in a few changes to what I was supposed to do, this was because all schools closed down and most of the in-person activities were suspended. We started to operate at 50%, both in terms of salaries and work efforts. Not only did I suffer financially, but my family business suffered too, not forgetting some of the members that fell victim to the pandemic. Thankfully they did not succumb to it. After noticing how my family’s business suffered, I noticed a few things about the business environment in Malawi. It was very evident that most businesses did not have an online presence, which I felt was very vital for a business to navigate through the crazy times, where people are able to operate in the comfort and safety of their homes.

In June, UNICEF launched a COVID-19 youth challenge, it called upon youth to come up with innovative ideas addressing some of the issues that the pandemic has brought up that may be affecting the community. The challenge used a human design thinking platform which contextualized the problems. My idea was to provide local vendors in one’s vicinity a platform that gives them an online presence. The platform would ideally enlist local vendors (your basic Malawian vendor) thus giving them a larger customer base which would in turn generate more revenue. People would get their products delivered to their doorstep by harnessing the power of locational data. Of course, all this would be done whilst upholding the COVID-19 precautionary measures that have been established. Local food stores would also be made as partners, giving customers a plethora of groceries to choose from.

My idea was picked as one of the top 10 finalists out of approximately 350+ applicants. An intense online incubation was conducted so that the ideas were modeled into a viable business. The end game was to empower the youth by supporting them with grants for their start up ventures. The final pitch day was set after completion of the incubation, where the top 5 finalists were picked. While I did not make it to the top 5, I was able to learn from the experience, gain knowledge that I can apply to any future endeavours that I might want to venture in. I’ve been inspired and I've built a strong network with various organizations that took part in the incubation program. We were taught various things such as financial management and projection, storytelling, marketing and branding just to mention a few. I can confidently say that I can start my own business with an informed outlook on things.

Some of the lessons learnt through these difficult times is to cherish the people we love, and to be very thankful for the online platforms that have kept us sane till this day. Cheers!


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