By Philes Davis
Gone are the days when our mentality was groomed on saying women are goal holders, the only thing there to do is hold the family down not to add value and success to it. Looking at the life of Ellen Chakanga Mchenga, Managing Director at EMJ Cake and Wedding Supplies, a fast-growing leading supplier of cake baking ingredients, cake decoration ingredients and tools and wedding accessories. You would bare with me that women are leading, not just leading but putting there the future of the next big thing called success. Despite all the odds surrounding women and success Ellen is showing ladies out there that we as ladies can also attain the highest beads as men do. What you have to do is find the skill in you and use it as a money making tool.
Ellen was born on 19thNovember, 1991 and she is a beautiful first born in a family of 3. She was trained as an Accountant and is a holder of a Bachelor of Applied Accounting, Auditing and Information Systems from the Malawi College of Accountancy. Previously, she worked with the Malawi Posts Corporation (MPC) for 5 years before resigning to go full time into business. Some would say what a stupid move leaving a job for business. If you haven’t tested freedom before, you would feel slavery is freedom as being under someone is slavery. Being your own boss nowadays is the big deal. Life is too short to be groomed in a full walled room. Instead of deciding on what to do at anytime, making a living out of yourself. Despite leaving her job Ellen has not regretted anything and she believes it’s the best decision she has ever made in her life.
“I come from a very humble family background. I was born in Dowa and grew in a rural village life and spent most of my life staying with my Grandmother. I started my primary school at Mpalankhwali Primary School in Dowa while staying with my Grandmother. Those days, my grandmother used to send me to the market to sell some agricultural produce like bananas and vegetables from our farm. Those experiences taught me some skills on how to handle customers and convince them to buy my products. Ellen attested”
Looking at Ellen’s life it shows that her passion for business started at a very tender age and she grow up with the mentality of saying she is goner make it in business one day. Most often the family we are raised into groom us to what we are today.
According to Ellen she said, “Later on, I left Dowa and moved to Blantyre to stay with my Mum, there, I continued my primary school education at Mbayani Primary School then went to Namiwawa CDSS where I did my secondary school education. We were earning a living through small businesses like selling mandazi, mangoes at a market in Mbayani. I could wake up early in the morning to help my mother prepare mandazi, go to school, then go to the market to sell mandazi after knocking off from school. This helped to develop a passion toward baking in me and gave me confidence that it is possible to survive on business, without being employed by someone. As time went by I also believed aside bussines I need to vast my knowledge by at lest attaining territory education.”
After completing her MSCE education, she enrolled at Nyasa College, a college which was supporting orphans and children from households whose parents were struggling financially. From there, she got a Certificate in Financial Accounting and in 2013, while studying towards a Diploma in Financial Accounting (with tuition support from AQUAID Lifeline for the first part and Louise Brimicombe, a friend from the UK she got to know through Jesus Christ Outreach Ministry) , she got a job with the MPC as an Assistant Postal Officer (Jali Post Office, Zomba). In 2015, she got married to her husband, Joshua Mchenga a supportive husband, thanks God and they moved to stay in Mzuzu. Later on she rose to the Position of Assistant Accountant for MPC Northern Region, the position she was holding by the time she resigned to go full time into business.
Ellen had a Narration on how her dream all started, “In 2016, together with my husband, we started a small business, selling samosa. We had a boy we employed walking around town selling the samosa. With proceeds from Samosa business we invested in a small grocery shop which failed in the first place. The samosa business continued, challenges we were having with the boys doing street vending motivated us to find a shop in town to be selling assorted snacks and drinks. Our dream was to have a snack shop and we opened one in town where we were selling assorted snacks. We called it “EMJ Snack Den”. Together with my husband, after knocking off from work, we were making assorted snacks from our home, some days we could sleep for only 3 to 4 hours a night or less but always made sure we arrive at work in good time. We employed someone to be working at our shop.
On top of the snacks, we started baking cakes for different occasions and by the grace of God our customer base expanded with time and the cake business was growing. I discovered that I had passion in baking cakes and later on decided to focus on the cakes. By then, there was no supplier for cake baking and decoration supplies in Mzuzu and we used to buy from Blantyre and Lilongwe. We saw this as an opportunity and after doing a market research, we rebranded the Snack Den into EMJ cake and Wedding supplies. The cake supplies shop was financed by our personal savings. Those days, I could travel to South Africa to order items for the shop while I was still working at MPC. With time, the demand from the shop required frequent traveling to South Africa and my leave days were not enough. Also, considering time commitment between family, work and business, I realized I could achieve greater things if I can be full time into business. With support from my husband and the faith I had that I can do it, I resigned from the Position of Assistant Accountant for the Northern Region at MPC in 2017 to go full time in business. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, leave the Office of the Assistant Accountant and be in the kitchen, full time baking cakes and spending 3 days in a bus trips to Johannesburg to order items for the shop almost every month.”
And after leaving her job Ellen has achieve a lot in business as of now Ellen is a new big thing in Mzuzu, they have 2 shops in Mzuzu, where they sell cakes and wedding supplies. The sales are on retail to walk-in customers as well as in bulk to corporate customers. They also send items to customers across Malawi. They have managed to create employment for the people who work as Sales Persons at their 2 shops and by the grace of God, they have seen their customer base growing.
I always hear women saying that their partners don’t want them to do business at all, they want them to be full time house wives that’s not the case with Ellen, her husband has been with her through out her business journey.
Through the years her biggest supporter has been the man she decided to marry years ago and their bond still grows both spiritually and physically. His encouragement when she felt like quitting made her what she is today. He had confidence in her when she decided to go full time into business and has been there for her to make sure the dream comes true. Now she is the Managing Director and her husband works on part-time as Marketing and Operations Director. She can’t ask for more than what she has but only to thank the most high God.
As the dream continues to grow, they believe in themselves, they know they have the capabilities in achieving anything because few years ago they were not where they are today. They have moved and they are still moving. They believe the will be fully established as a leading supplier of cake and wedding supplies with outlets in different parts of Malawi and beyond.
LIKE EVERY PERSON OUT THERE ELLEN HAS A ROLE MODEL WHO SHE BELIEVES CONTRIBUTED IN WHO SHE IS TODAY .
My first role model is my mother. She has been in business ever since I was born and never gave up. My mother paid fees for my secondary school education besides taking care of our daily basic needs through proceeds from mandazi. I am also inspired by Lilly Alfonso. I once worked at her shop in Lilongwe as a Sales Assistant. She is a fashion designer who has achieved great things. Her courage and passion to go beyond her limitations is an inspiration to me. She started from a very humble beginning and now she is a recognized Fashion Designer Internationally.
The quote that keeps me going is, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me”. Philippians 4:13. This was a theme for one of the Student Christian Organization of Malawi (SCOM) conference during my secondary school days. It helped build my self-confidence that I can do everything in the midst of challenges and it keeps me moving forward.
Every business has its own challenges. The biggest Ellen is experiencing is finances to achieve her desired business growth. The interest rates by lending institutions in Malawi are exorbitant and it is not easy to service a loan and see the business grow at the same time. “Instead, the have been patient and the mainly rely on personal savings and reinvesting the profits the make more, a strategy which is helping the business grow, but at a slow pace.” And they ain’t giving up they believe Rome was not built in a day. OPRAH WINFERY DIDN’T become one of the riches woman on earth in a day she has a story to tell on how it all started for her to be called the black woman who has made it.
ELLEN HAS AN ADVICE FOR WOMEN OUT THERE
“Move out of your comfort zone and do something on your own. When thinking of a business idea, go for something you are passionate about because, even if it doesn’t work, you will still do it since that’s what you love to do. Don’t just copy what everyone else is doing. Have patience to see your business grow step by step as desire to have unusual growth has landed others into challenges before. Challenges are inevitable in business, never quit and above all be prayerful and trust God always.
Over the years, I have discovered that if you have some education, you are in a better place to run a business well. Business is not for uneducated people only. According to Malawi Ministry of Trade and Industry, only 0.2% of SMEs owners in Malawi did some tertiary education and most educated people are afraid of taking a risk to establish their own businesses but prefer to be employed. Malawi will not develop beyond what we are today if we produce more employees than entrepreneurs. It’s so touching as we have an outcry of high unemployment rates and our energetic young men and ladies who could have developed the economy of Malawi are leaving the country to search for jobs outside Malawi. I chose to create a job opportunity for myself and in the process I am employing others. Everything is possible just believe!”
DIRECTIONS TO HER SHOP
We sell to walk-in customers through our 2 shops, both of them are located in Mzuzu. Our first shop is inside the Mzuzu main market, opposite the last banana bench in the banana section. The other shop is at old town, in Gift Veterinary building, close to Gumede Hardware. We have also embraced online marketing platforms and through such platforms, we have customers in almost all districts and cities in Malawi to whom we send cake and wedding supplies. With time, we will be expanding to open shops in other parts of the country.