Bracing for post-COVID-19 challenges

A laboratory worker places a test tube containing a patient's sample into a box during coronavirus detection tests in the virology research labs at UZ Leuven university hospital in Leuven, Belgium, on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. China has kick-started a clinical trial to speedily test a drug for the novel coronavirus infection as the nation rushes therapies for those afflicted and scours for vaccines to protect the rest. Photographer: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg via Getty Images

LUSAKA – As Zambia deals with the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 which limits trade and increases business opportunities, it can rely on its solid private sector companies to rise up to the challenge and bring it back on its path to recovery and growth.
Because of its strategic geographical position and stable environment, Zambia has nurtured companies that are able to take on the challenge of integrating Africa and serving as an entry door to the continent’s booming economies.
One such enterprise is the Savenda Group, a Zambian-born logistics and global supply-chain management company which offers end to end global solutions.
The Savenda group has positioned itself over the past two decades as a true global gateway into Africa and is set to participate in making the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA) a reality.
Africa is indeed steadily becoming the world’s largest free trade area following the unveiling of the AFCTA in Rwanda’s capital Kigali in March 2018.
Unifying the continent under a single trade area concretely means creating a market of well over 1.2 billion people, with a combined gross domestic product of over US$2.5 trillion.
Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu has already signed the AFCTA framework, and the country is expected to ratify the AFCTA in the very near future.
The benefits that such integration represents for the African private sector are tremendous, especially for local companies whose establishment, track record and reputation has positioned them to be the next generation of players shaping the African future.
The vision of an integrated Africa where trade is made easy and economies flourish is anchored within the core foundation of Savenda, whose name actually stands for “SAVE Nations Develop Africa”.
“When we embarked on our entrepreneurial journey, we had a dream to make a positive difference for ourselves, our country and our continent. Today we realise that this dream is what took us to us to where we are. So we are ready for bigger challenges,” explained Savenda Group managing director Clever Mpoha in Lusaka.
“When most businesses in Zambia were suffering from recent economic headwinds, Savenda concentrated on building sustainable platforms to generate future revenues for the country and address the rising needs for Zambia.
“These notably include Zambia’s main data centre that will provide hosting services to big data organisations, developing a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) to respond to the rising demand for cyber security and a communications assembly plant. As a global company born in Zambia, it is important for us to do what it takes to support our national economy in difficult times.”
The US$200 million Zambian conglomerate that Savenda has built started off with only US$1,000, which it used to sell phones in Zambia back in the late 1990s.
“The country was then running on CDMA technology and the use of very big phone devices,” Mr Mpoha explained. “By introducing a smaller device based on electromagnetic waves, we revolutionised the telecom industry in Zambia and secured very early on big ticket customers such as the United Nations, Care International, the state insurance company and big foreign mining investors.”
In 2020, Savenda has become a truly integrated Zambian conglomerate operating across the agroindustry, energy, telecoms, construction and logistics industries.
The group notably comprises Savenda Management Services Limited, its consulting arm, Savenda Express, its corporate branding entity, Savenda Electric, which manufactures energy-saving bulbs, Savenda Insurance, its general insurance business, Savenda Fresh Produce, that works on bringing freshly-farmed products to market, Savenda Construction, which handles end to end construction solutions and its cyber security division which develops and runs data centres.
“Our business model and mentality has always been to look at what is affecting corporations’ bottom line and come up with local solutions. In 1997, that meant helping the market transition from CMDA technology to GSM,” he says.
“In 2020, the set of challenges is more complex and diverse but we have grown and are able to serve a wide range of industries. Beyond telecoms, we are now heavily focused on energy, agriculture and ICT.”
Savenda has been part of the country’s development for over two decades, building schools and roads, promoting the exchange of key commodities and goods, and building Zambia into the logistics and trading gateway it has become for the region and for the world.
“We will remain a diversified conglomerate serving Africa and leveraging on our global supply-chain management solutions to grow. That being said, we are currently focusing on growing within the ICT, agriculture and energy space where we think we can make the biggestimpact,” Mr Mpoha said.
In line with the challenges of its time, Savenda is at the core of Zambia and Africa’s fight against climate change.
Its energy affiliate, Savenda Electric, has established the first-of- its-kind energy-saving bulbs manufacturing plant in the region whose LED lighting bulbs are now available at all major retail stores and are witnessing increasing market penetration.”
“Savenda Electric was born out of the recognition that Zambia, and Africa at large, are strongly impacted by climate change.
“Instead of producing energy, we went on developing solutions to save it and make the country and the region more energy-efficient. Today, our manufacturing capacity exceeds local demand and we are able to meet the needs of the entire region.”
As the country multiplies efforts to bring capital and technology into its food value-chain, Savenda is also answering the call to action and developing several initiatives for the country’s agroindustry.
As a result, Savenda is now also applying its truly innovative and entrepreneurial spirit to Zambia’s agriculture and food industry.
The company is embarking on a new journey with commencement of the first-of-its-kind Lusaka Fresh market, offering local farmers a central market infrastructure to bring their crop to market and offer consumer products that are traceable and meet international quality standards.
The company’s anchorage into local realities and daily challenges also provided the ground for the development of its insurance business, Savenda Insurance
“Initially, our insurance business started up by assisting farmers whose crops had been devastated by fire or droughts,” added Mr Mpoha.
“As the country’s economy expanded and its infrastructure developed, there was an increasing need for risk mitigation solutions, which supported our insurance growth. Today, we are one of the strongest insurance companies in the country.”
Faithful to its humble beginnings in tech, Savenda has kept growing in the telecom and ICT industries.
Zambia is ideally placed for such development given that most fibre networks infrastructure in Africa pass through its territory.
As a result, Savenda is currently developing, in association with Israeli partners, a world-class cyber centre for Africa, to be based in Lusaka
“Technology and data management are the future, and we are strongly positioned in that space through the development of data centres and offering both training sites for the youth and twenty-four-seven cyberspace support services,” added Mr Mpoha.
Savenda’s success relies on the entrepreneurship spirit and humility of its founder and leaders, and on being a successful African business born out of Zambia.
The determination of its foundation team, its personal history and vision make it a true African success story.
But it also speaks to the potential of Zambia to be generous to its entrepreneurs and investors, and anyone who is ready to bet on the country’s global recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and its government remains focused on building an inclusive and modern country under its Vision 2030.
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in a July 2020 edition of an international publication, FOCUS magazine, which focused on Zambia.

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