She has been executive director of National Association of Business Women (NABW) for the past 10 years, former board chair of TEVETA and board member for different other organisations. Her job involves overseeing who is worth receiving a loan and who is not, which can never be easy. How does she do it? Mwereti Kanjo asks Mary Malunga to reveal her secrets.
When and where were you born?
I was born on 24 March 1971 right here in [MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ s commercial city] Blantyre in a family of five; two boys and three girls. I was the fourth born, youngest of the girls. I have lost a brother and sister.
What was growing up like?
I grew up in a normal family setting. We moved a lot between Blantyre and Lilongwe [MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capital city] and I have learnt in eight different primary schools and two secondary schools. It was, to some extent, exciting because I met new people all the time.
How far did you go with your education?
I studied up to diploma level in Business Administration at the Polytechnic. After secondary school, I did secretarial studies after which, I worked for eight years. Thereafter, I decided that I needed a change in career because I was looking for something more challenging. I felt that being a secretary was quite monotonous.
How did you find yourself at NABW?
There was a vacancy advertised in 1999 for the post of deputy executive director.Ã‚Â I applied and I was successful. At that time, the incumbent director was the current Vice-President Joyce Banda. She was about to retire to join politics. Initially, I was deputy director to understudy the position before taking it up.
In your position, you are entrusted with overseeing the allocation of loans to women across the country, how do you do it?
At first, it was not easy. Previously, I was doing administrative and managerial work. The first few years were tough. I was still learning a lot. With time, it became enjoyable. As you know, our organisation deals with giving out loans to women and engaging them in various business trainings. What makes the job so enjoyable is that we are able to see the fruits of our work. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something very pleasing.
I understand you are a board member of a number of organisations; which organisations are these?
Currently, I sit in on the board of Manet Plus. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an organisation that works with issues of advocacy in HIV and Aids and giving support to persons living with HIV and Aids. I was board chairperson of the previous board of TEVETA up to last year March. I have also been board member of Non-Governmental Organisation Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN).
What is it about you that makes these organisations interested in having you as part of their team?
I believe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s my abilities. Probably people see the work I do at NABW because it is my day to day job. They have been able to see the fruits of our work. They feel that I could assist them in decision-making processes in their organisations.
What does your job as executive director entail?
On a day to day basis, I supervise staff of 17 people. We have three regional offices and basically our key responsibility is to look for funding for our programmes.
Right now, we have three major programmes. The major one is the United States African Development Foundation (USADF). Under this project, we are assisting 20 different farmers groups and SMEs in building their capacity in terms of value adding to agricultural products.
We are also running micro-leasing where we are giving out loans to women for expansion. We also have programmes with the international labour organisation called [Women Entrepreneur Development and Gender Equality] Wedge Malawi. Under this one, we are training women entrepreneurs in how to exhibit their skills because our members take part in local and international trade fairs so they must be in a position to sell themselves and their products.
Why do you think most women are failing in business in the country?
I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say that they are failing but women-owned businesses are small because they cannot access huge loans due to the fact that most women do not have assets they can declare to a bank as collateral. As a result, they run small business. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not by choice. Small businesses have a small profit margin which makes it harder for them to survive.
So what sort of advice would you give to such women?
As much as we can, we encourage them to work hard. At the moment, we are referring our members to NBS bank, which has a programme called women entrepreneurs. They want to promote female-owned businesses.
You find that women that have come from us are not asked to present the same levels of collateral as the others because they go with our good word. If a woman was paying her loan payments to us in time, the bank must expect the same.
When an application comes to you of a woman you know personally, is it treated like any other application?
As long as they meet our criteria it does not matter whether I know the woman or not. You cannot be seen to be favouring certain people in a position like mine because at the end of the day, we are trying to promote female entrepreneurs in the country. There is no discrimination. We treat everyone that wants our services equally.
Who is Mary Malunga?
She is a resourceful person, a risk- taker, someone who looks forward to meeting various challenges and looks at ways and means to address these challenges.
Do you have a business of your own? How did it start?
Yes, I do. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a bridal hire that I am running jointly with my sister. I also have a poultry business though right now, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not quite running but I hope to get back to it soon. The thing is I am always at work, always travelling, so running a business is not so easy right now. That is why I am running something jointly with my sister.
However, I would love to go into business full-time sometime. I would like to become self-employed and employ others; maybe when I retire, sometime in the future. My business started from a small personal saving. As employees, we are not allowed access to the loans.
When you are not thinking of NABW and the other organisation, what are you doing?
I hardly have any free time, so there isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t much to do but during those rare times that I am free, I garden. I love flowers. But I also have proper gardens where I grow maize and the like, so I go and see how they are doing.
Are you married? Do you have children? If yes, what sort of relationship do you have with them?
No, am not married but I have two sons. The first born is Solomon who will be turning 21and David, soon to turn 18. We have a very close relationship. I have stayed with them throughout. They are both young and they are going through that phase, you know how boys can be. But I believe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just a phase because generally they are good boys.
What values are you passing on to them?
I always ask them to work extra hard in whatever they are doing. I also believe in honesty but the most important thing is to fear God. I try so hard to pass this on to them.
What has been your biggest achievement in life so far?
What can I say?Ã‚Â I guess being the director of this organisation. NABW is one of the largest NGOs of women in the country. We have been in existence for a long time. We have seen over the years women NGOs come and go. Our continued existence is an achievement on its own.
What makes you happy?
Just the fact that I am alive. I know that life is a gift from God and I cherish it.