Farai Munjoma on disrupting education through innovative entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship has often been regarded as the key to empowering young Africans to drive the continent’s inclusive economic growth and social progress. To discover more about the change agents fuelling Africa’s prosperous future, we spoke to Farai Munjoma, who works as the Deputy Chief of Staff to Fred Swaniker at the African Leadership Group. Having discovered a passion for entrepreneurship at an early age, Farai has already had an incredible journey harnessing the power of entrepreneurship through his digital learning enterprise, Shasha Network. Read on to discover how a simple job of selling chickens sparked his journey.

From selling chicken to building an e-learning social enterprise

When Farai was just 12 years old, his mother gave him the vexatious task of selling chickens at the local market. Farai’s father had lost his job in the wake of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse and his mother had become the sole breadwinner for the extended family. Having told Farai that her civil servant salary wasn’t enough to cover his school fees, she sent him on a mission to make up the shortfall. Although consumed with feelings of embarrassment, Farai’s youthful charm saw him become a hit, with his chickens soon selling out before he could even reach the market.

Through this experience, the seeds of entrepreneurship were planted. They were not to bloom, however, until Farai was confronted with stark inequalities in the educational landscape. Recognising that many of his peers lacked access to a good education, while he was afforded the opportunity to attend one of Zimbabwe’s top high schools, Farai aimed to level the playing field by launching an e-learning social enterprise, Shasha Network, at the age of 18. Whilst completing his A-levels, Farai worked on digitising curriculum notes and sample exam papers for students to access for free. He realised early on that education was the key to breaking the poverty cycle for young Zimbabweans.

Since launching in 2015, Shasha has reached thousands of students across the continent and has grown to become an award-winning online learning platform. Farai credits the success of his enterprise with the life-changing connections he’s formed and resources he’s mobilised through the African Leadership Group.

Pursuing an education without enough funds

Having been selected to attend the African Leadership Academy’s (ALA) catalyst term, Farai became determined to study a Business Management degree at African Leadership University’s (ALU) campus in Mauritius. He was inspired by the innovative thinking that characterises ALA and ALU’s disruptive educational model. The only problem? He couldn’t afford the fees to attend the university of his dreams.

Farai courageously reached out to 50 people he had met throughout high school and his time at ALA, in the hope that someone would be able to provide financial support. After receiving dozens of rejections over the following months, he was about to give up when he saw an email in his inbox with the subject line, “Get Ready for College.” An American videographer who had visited his school in 2012, with whom Farai had formed a connection after the painful passing of his mother, convinced 15 of his friends to contribute towards Farai’s tuition.

Today, Farai works directly for Fred Swaniker at the AL Group, a role he took on soon after graduating from ALU at the end of last year. It is an opportunity he does not take lightly; the hours may be long, but he’s grateful to be working for a visionary such as Fred, who has become his greatest mentor and role-model.

In September, Farai heads to Scotland where he’ll pursue a Master’s in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Edinburgh Business School, whilst remaining as the CEO of Shasha Network. We caught up with him ahead of his travels, to find out more about his entrepreneurial journey and his advice to other young leaders.

What is your vision for Shasha Network?

To reach millions of high school students across the continent, breaking barriers through digital learning and providing access to career development. This goes beyond academic coursework — it’s about linking them to mentors for career guidance and teaching critical skills such as writing a good cover letter. Thanks to the learning experiences I was exposed to at ALU and the internships I was able to take part in, I’ve managed to raise funds from companies such as Facebook Africa and FedEx to support the enterprise.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from working for Fred at the African Leadership Group?

Fred is by far the hardest working person I know. I thought I knew what working hard looked like before this job — I completed 13 O-levels while starting to create a business after all! But this experience has taken my work ethic to a whole new level. Fred is so driven by his ambitions and dreams that he transcends basic human needs! I’m a testimony to the power of what Fred is building. I’ve seen how the AL Group opens doors and unlocks incredible opportunities for thousands of young people. It’s exciting to be part of setting up a foundation for millions to access this.

The theme for this week is the Power of Entrepreneurship. What do you think it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?

Three things. Firstly, you need to find a problem that you’re passionate about and it has to resonate on a deep level. If you’re going to put in the long hours and put up with all the sacrifices you’ll have to make, you need to believe in what you’re doing. There’s no justification for embarking on an enterprise if you can’t envision yourself being committed to it for the next 5–10 years and beyond.

Secondly, you need to build relationships if you want to succeed. I would be nowhere without the relationships I’ve formed. They’ve linked me to a wealth of resources and opportunities. This is what inspires me about The Room. It plugs you into a vibrant ecosystem and connects you with a community of mission-driven people who are doing phenomenal things. Access to these types of relationships is more valuable than anything.

Thirdly, you need to have empathy for the people you’re impacting. Every user of your product or service, every employee and every client has to be made happy by what you’re offering, so empathy is crucial.

Finally, what advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship is about optimism. If your brain defaults to pessimism, you’re not going to go far. Remain determined and don’t give up. I never gave up on my goals for achieving the education I wanted or growing my social enterprise. If your mission is one of significance, have hope and keep going.