Fannie Gondwe is the Founder and Executive Director of Perisha Agro and Packaging Enterprise, an eco-inclusive agri-business enterprise aiming at improving the nutritional status of women and children under-five. Perisha Agro and Packaging Enterprise was founded about 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, Fannie’s sister lost a two-year-old child due to malnutrition. This unfortunate incident drove Fannie to become an entrepreneur to combat high levels of malnutrition in Malawi. The name of her business is actually her middle name. She holds an MBA from the Eastern and Southern Africa Institute of Management (ESAMI). She worked as the Regional Finance and Administration Manager for World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) for the Southern Africa region for 11 years before founding Perisha Agro in 2 | P a g e 2015. As an entrepreneur, she has won several local and international awards in agribusiness, including HIVOS' Most Impactful Business award and the Female Biosciences Business Acceleration Program (Fembiobiz). Fannie agrees with popular entrepreneurial advice that entrepreneurship is different from business because entrepreneurship is more about social impact and profit margins while business is more about making profits. She disagrees with the notion that entrepreneurship is for uneducated people. In the business world of today, competition is fierce. So what makes Perisha Agro and Packaging Enterprise stand out from the crowd? Fannie Gondwe highlights her business’ competitive advantages as follows:
1. Promoting locally grown products that are bio-fortified with Vitamins; i. Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato Flour/Puree; Orange Maize flour (Bio-fortified with Vitamin A). ii. NUA Bean Flour (Bio-fortified with Zinc). iii. Process Cassava; groundnut and rice flours.
2. Use of own factory and machinery.
3. Collaboration and partnerships with NGOs and Non-NGOs, including SMEDI.
4. Right pricing and effective distribution.
Fannie is very serious about the way she handles investors and funding issues in her business. Whenever there is an opportunity to apply for funding, she submits applications and business plans in time. She makes sure donor funds are accounted for according to contract agreements. Her winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur is “prioritizing and information seeking”. Perhaps it is worth noting that Fannie identifies business opportunities through partnerships and uses market value knowledge and 3 | P a g e customer feedback metrics to measure the viability of those opportunities. Her greatest support when facing up hardships in business is her husband. Fannie’s entrepreneurial motivations are commitment, honesty and hard work. Her favorite quote for describing entrepreneurship is “The secret of getting ahead is getting started” by Mark Twain, and her favourite metaphor for describing entrepreneurship is “planning, problem solving and negotiation skills”. She reads widely. The book that inspires her the most is Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, 2009 by Simon Sinek.
When asked if there are any missed opportunities she wishes to have leveraged, she mentions teaching and understanding business and market dynamics from primary to tertiary education. Her definition of success is things done the way you planned or wanted them done. When asked about her greatest fear and how she manages it in general, she mentions failure and that she controls it by working hard and putting much effort into good planning. Some of her failures and the best lessons she has learned from them include spending over K1 million on household items without any profit as compared to over MK1 million spent on orange-fleshed sweet potato flour and raising over K700, 000 in profits Fannie thinks that being an entrepreneur has turned her into a better person. Why? She used to get loans for family use with no return on investment. But not anymore. As an entrepreneur, she takes loans only to invest and experience the return on investment. Of course, she has had to make some sacrifices to be a successful entrepreneur, e.g., purchasing a farm tractor with her entire retirement fund. She has also experienced some rough moments in her business practice. The toughest one was when she had to endure a four-year delay to have 3-phase electricity installed for Perisha Agro and Packaging Enterprise factory. As a result, she was forced to start processing cassava and sweet potato flours using rented equipment in other people's factories. She 4 | P a g e had to endure the delayed electricity installation. Otherwise, her vision and objectives could have been run into the ground. Fannie’s advice to start-up entrepreneurs is simple. Conduct research to understand the business you want to venture into and its market. Then get started with full passion and focus.