Cecilia Rice is an entrepreneur and a trainer who is interested in youth and women empowerment. She supports young people in education and career development. Rachel Kachali Spoke with her.
Who is Cecilia Rice?
I am a business person and a mother of three children—a son and two daughters. I am passionate about serving and supporting others. Many people describe me a risk-taker and a fighter. I am the last-born in a family of six. I was born and brought up in Blantyre by a single mother. I was born on February 1 1973.
Tell me about your upbringing
I lost my father when I was one year old. It was so challenging to be brought up by a single parent who was not even working. It was difficult to earn a living. However, I feel that it was God’s plan because that upbringing groomed me into what I am today. My mother managed to send us all to primary and secondary schools using proceeds from small scale businesses. I did my primary school at Matindi Primary School in Blantyre rural. In 1987, I was selected to Lunzu Secondary up to 1991. Then I found a job as a secretary to start paying fees for my tertiary education. At that time, I found secretarial to be the cheapest course (considering how much I was earning). After my secretarial course , I did a post graduate diploma in business management. I am curently studying for my master’s in business administration.
What has been your work experience?
I have worked for companies such as TNM, Lab Processors and Capital Oil Refining Industry. At Capital Oil, I worked as a marketing officer and I was later promoted to marketing manager and served in that capacity until January 2013 after I started my business in November 2012. I took two months leave to manage my business, but my employers terminated my services when they learnt about that news. I had taken a big risk because I was not sure about the success of the business; more so because I did not have enough capital since my salary was less than K100 000 per month.
I have always wanted to do something. My initial plan was to open a secretarial service centre, but that did not work out as I lost my job at TNM in 2003. I suspect it was something to do with my involvement as an executive member of workers’ union.
But how did you start your business.
I noticed that Malawians grow groundnuts, eat nsinjiro (groundnut flower), but there was no proper supplier of that product. So, I interacted with big shops which assured me that they would buy my nsinjiro if I had approval from the Malawi Bureau Standards (MBS).
I used my salary to set up a small office. I tried to get get a loan from my work place but it was impossible. I borrowed K500 000 from a friend, which I used to buy equipment and a bag of groundnuts. The bureau certified my samples, which helped me to get a contract with one of the major chain stores. So, I took that contract to the bank where I got a K1 million loan. I managed to buy more machinery required in the business. I also built my own premises in Chileka Township and moved out of rented buildings in December 2013. I also opted to start another product, peanut butter. I got another loan to buy machinery for production. Now, all my products are being supplied across the country from Nchalo to Chitipa in shops such as Chipiku, Metro and PTC.
I started all this in November 2012 while I was still working. I remember sleeping only for two or three hours in the night because there was just so much to do. I named my business Estrell Trading. It is a word from my other name Estreller, a Spanish word which means a star.
I hear you have a lot of young people working for you. Why is this so?
Indeed, almost all my employees are young people and most of them have Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE). I told you, I have a passion to help others, especially the youth and women. Currently, I have 27 employees. I have special consideration for workers whose families depend on the employment. Unlike in the past, today many young people with MSCE are staying idle, cannot find jobs. So, I employ them on a basic rate recommended by the Ministry of Labour. At least they find something to do, especially continuing with their education while working. I encourage them to take part-time courses and pay for the school on their own. Job creation is one of the main purposes of my business.
Besides creating employment for the youth, this business is also promoting livelihoods of small-scale farmers in rural and hard-to-reach areas who grow groundnuts. I interact a lot with these farmers and support them in their associations. I also buy their groundnuts and create markets for them.
Do you train the youth before they start working for you?
Yes! Together with colleagues who are conversant with the production, we train them in how to use the machinery and everybody is free to learn anything I do there. When I started this business, there was some interest from other parties, one of which was USAid, which invited me on its buyers’ tour and training. Because of all these trainings, I now know about the benefits of groundnuts to human beings as well as its dangers. I also have to make sure that the nutrients are preserved.
What roles have your family and friends played in your life?
They have been very supportive. They know how stressed I was when this business started. They understand that it is not easy to run this business, so they help me whenever they can. My children are aware of whatever I am doing and they know how busy I am. They make sure that when I return home, I should relax. Like I said earlier, there are many Malawians who have played a part in my success. I talked about friends who lent me money and, of course, some commercial banks. I thank God for them all!
What are your plans?
I want my business to grow into a big company. I want to create employment for more people.
What do you like doing when not working?
Hey, I do not usually have free time. I have to work every day! However, I like to read a lot about cash crop production and business management. This is because I am still looking for means to expand this business. I also use my free time to read and do school work because I am still studying. I also enjoy interacting with my workers and the farmers. n