ISAAC PHIRI, Lusaka
FOR a person whose childhood activities included herding cattle, Clever Mpoha’s meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the corporate world is one of the most inspiring stories that should spur many Zambians to venture into unexplored territory.
“I was born in a village where I did everything a typical boy does to support his family, from hunting to watching over the cows and helping my family run their small shop,” Mpoha told The Economist in July 2019.
He went on to explain that the village setup gave him the survival skills he needed to run the businesses he runs today.
Today, Mpoha is managing director of the Savenda group of companies that started as a small family business with his wife Esther in 1997.
“Early on, my dream was to explore Africa, move to the city and build a better future for myself and my community,” says Mpoha, whose companies have adopted a pan-African approach, hence the name Savenda, an acronym which stands for Save Nations, Develop Africa.
It is from a humble background that Savenda has today become one of the most talked about brands in Zambia.
“We started with only US$1,000 which we used to buy and sell South Korean phones to the local market, focusing on anti-magnetic wave products,” he says. “From the profits made with this initial investment, we increased our volumes and started diversifying.”
The small company that was incorporated on February 6, 1997 has now morphed into a vibrant conglomerate that has since spread its tentacles to manufacturing, insurance, construction, express printing, logistics solutions, medical supplies, mining services and risk assessment for ISO certification.
Despite all this success, Mpoha wears a humble demeanour and rarely appears at public functions, preferring instead to lead a private life.
Such has been Mpoha’s phenomenal success story that even government officials feel that there is need for many indigenous Zambians to take a leading role in building Zambia’s economy.
Sometime this year, North-Western Province Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu praised Savenda Management Services for the role the group of companies is playing in its corporate social responsibility programme.
That was when Savenda made a contribution towards the hosting of the North-Western Province Investment and Trade Expo.
“As government, through the idea of hosting these expos, we want to see so many Savendas, we want to see so many companies that are able to thrive and compete favourably within the liberalised economy of this country,” Mubukwanu said when he received a donation of K100, 000 from Savenda General Insurance chief executive officer Irene Muyenga.
Savenda General Insurance is one of Savenda Management Services’ subsidiaries in the country.
Mubukwanu further explained the importance of indigenous Zambians taking part in driving Zambia’s economy.
“It is true that we want to see as much as we can get out of foreign investors, but again the sustainable development of any given country ought to be anchored on the local enterprise,” Mubukwanu emphasised.
Giving out to various communities has been a part of Mpoha’s life since his childhood.
Mpoha explains the genesis of his philanthropy.
“It is as a child that I developed this passion for creating a positive difference in people’s lives.”
This actually explains why Mpoha has been involved in many corporate social responsibility activities in the country.
These include a donation of K200, 000 to the Central Province Investment and Trade Expo last year, the hosting of the farmers’ golf tournament in Mkushi and the sponsorship of the Savenda Awards of Excellence at St Mary’s Secondary School in Lusaka.
The Savenda Awards of Excellence recognise academic excellence from grades eight to twelve and are aimed at helping raise the level of competition among the pupils at the Catholic-run school.
In November 2017, St Mary’s Secondary School careers master Davies Mubanga said that the Savenda Awards of Excellence had made a positive impact on the performance of pupils at the school.
“The Savenda awards began seven years ago, and since then, the pass rate for our pupils at both grade nine and twelve final exams has been excellent,” said Mr Mubanga.
“Our school is among the best in this country in terms of the pass rate. We would like to commend Savenda for being our dependable partner. And we urge other corporate entities to come on board and emulate Savenda.”
Indeed, Mpoha’s spirit of giving back to the community is something that other corporate entities should learn from if Zambia is to make a positive impact in its development trajectory.
Mpoha’s business acumen and resilience is something to be admired by all start-up businessmen and women.
He is a kind of person who can sell sand profitably in a desert.
It is all about knowing how to package products.
Recently, the Savenda Group announced plans to venture into a new territory with the launch of ZAMBIAFresh Lusaka Market, Africa’s first commission-agent and formal fresh produce market.
The market will offer a new and distinctive fresh market food hub experience and create a unique market model providing sustainable solutions to the fragmented African small-scale horticultural sector.
Mpoha here provides inspiring insight for this new project.
“Growing up in the village, I quickly realised what a challenge it is for farmers to bring their products to market,” he says.
“As a business, we have developed Zambia’s first formal fresh products market, with a specific focus on aggregating small-scale farmers’ products to bring them to market.”
Mpoha told The Economist that by aggregating their products and ensuring the right quality controls, farmers will get a chance to sell their products in a hygienic market environment with real price discovery and transparency, while consumers get fresh and locally-grown food.
The magazine also describes Mpoha’s rise to the top drawer of the business world as a true representative of the talent that Zambia has to offer.
But how did Mr Mpoha learn the ropes for what would later become an inspiring business journey?
“I first worked for a packaging company before joining a Caterpillar plant for about ten years. This is where I not only got familiar with how to run a successful business, but also got to know the running of several industries such as milling and manufacturing,” he says.
“During this period, we got to understand the business models that would eventually inspire us to build a multi-industrial conglomerate like Savenda.”
The Savenda group has continued to grow from strength to strength and is now a global supply chain management company with a network of partnerships in the United States of America, Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region.
It is not by accident that from the initial transaction of US$1,000 in 1997, the Savenda group has grown to an estimated US$200 million.
ISAAC PHIRI, Lusaka