Shamwari Lending Association

Shamwari Lending Association: Empowering Entrepreneurs and Changing Lives

It’s hard to believe today, but Zimbabwe was once known as the breadbasket of Africa. Boasting one of the most fertile lands on the African continent, it was a huge exporter of wheat, tobacco, and corn to the rest of the continent and beyond. Sadly, political and social upheaval over the last forty years have left this once proud and thriving nation struggling to survive.

“Today, the socioeconomic context is defined by high poverty rates (estimated at over 60 percent), high inflation, high unemployment rates and excessive debt. Most Zimbabweans rely on the informal economy to circumvent the restraints of overregulation. Informal cross-border trade has long been a key source of income for many residents…There are some 1 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa today, accounting for over 80 percent of the country’s diaspora.” Geopolitical Intelligence Services, November 2023.

It’s easy to understand why Zimbabweans would leave their beautiful homeland to look for opportunities elsewhere. It’s also easy to understand why those who stay rely on the “informal economy” to survive. Both of these choices, while necessary for basic survival, only make the economic situation worse and the outlook for any type of recovery all the more difficult to achieve. It’s a vicious cycle. But there is hope. There is always hope.

For the intrepid entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe and those who dare dream of starting their own business in such a challenging environment, hope has arrived by way of the Shamwari Lending Association (SLA). Established after the first Business as Mission conference in Victoria Falls in 2022, the SLA is the vision of MATTER friend and partner, Dan Fagan, President and CEO of Tradition Capital Bank in Edina, Minnesota. Upon meeting the participants and listening to their stories, Dan felt compelled to help these struggling, but resolute, businesspeople achieve their dreams.

Tradition Capital Bank’s COO, Jessica Porter and President & CEO, Dan Fagan, speaking at Africa Stories Live! in April 2024.

“When we got there and met these people, this idea came to me. We’re bankers and we like to be entrepreneurial and so we said to MATTER, ‘You guys have all these relationships here. What if we gave you some loan funds and then you lend to these people. You know them all, we trust you. Take the money, go make it happen.’ And that’s how it all started. Pretty simple.”

Also on the trip was Tradition’s COO, Jessica Porter, who was inspired by the people she met at the conference. “A lot of the individuals we met had moved away but had come back because they cared so much about the country of Zimbabwe and the people there. I was so impressed with their drive and their grit. They are innovative, creative, and determined to make things work.”

Since its opening in 2023, the Shamwari Lending Association has given out 11 loans and created 36 jobs. For its members, the SLA is nothing short of a miracle.

“It’s been so amazing for me. Coming from a place where you have a dream, an idea, but not having the capital to get started, it was very difficult. And so it’s completely transformed my life,” said SLA member Simba Musiyiwa.

Shamwari Lending Association member, Simba with his wife, Irina, at Simba’s Bakery in downtown Victoria Falls.

A professionally trained chef of 15 years, Simba was forced to leave Zimbabwe in order to find work. After building a successful career abroad that included being head chef at the renowned Four Seasons Hotel in both Dubai and Tanzania, Simba came back home with a dream to open his own bakery in Victoria Falls.

With help from the SLA and Simba’s own hard work, his dream has come true. With his first loan, he was able to purchase the equipment he needed, hire a few employees and find the perfect location in downtown Victoria Falls. His second loan allowed him to hire more employees and expand to a second location. With nine employees now working for him, Simba is dreaming an even bigger dream.

“The bigger plan is to train up a new generation of chefs. I was fortunate enough to work for some fantastic companies while I was abroad, so coming back it’s been in my heart to train a lot of up-and-coming chefs who will stay here in Zimbabwe.”

Shamwari Lending Association member, Loretta Musungwa with son, Noah, at her thriving business, Loretta’s Coffee.

Simba represents the heart of the members of the SLA, individuals who want to start their own businesses not just for themselves, but also as a means to help others and build the future of Zimbabwe. Providing capital and creating an environment where people like Simba can flourish is how Zimbabwe will grow strong. Over time, it may even become the breadbasket of Africa again – with Simba’s bakery leading the way!

Watch highlights from Africa Stories Live! and hear from Dan, Jessica and Simba as they each share how the Shamwari Lending Association has changed their lives.