Africa's Female Entrepreneurs Part III: Devotha Ntuke Minzi, Improving Lives via Microfinancing

In this interview, co-author Pamina Mullins and I speak to Devotha Ntuke Minzi, Chief Executive Officer and founder of K-finance Limited, a microfinance company providing financial services and business mentoring to small and medium scale entrepreneurs in Tanzania. Devotha holds a Masters in Economics from Youngstown State University, Ohio, USA, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Poverty Analysis from the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam in The Hague, Netherlands. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Devotha worked in the policy and research department at the Central Bank of Tanzania for more than 20 years.

Pamina & OB: Why did you decide to leave your comfortable position at the Central Bank of Tanzania?

Devotha: Great question. In Tanzania, it is very prestigious to work at the Central Bank; the dream work place for most graduates and entry is very competitive. But I was a born entrepreneur. When I was young, I was always questioning my Dad, a rural Medical Assistant, about why he didn't own a motor vehicle. When my Mother answered that he couldn't afford one, I wanted to know why, because my Father, who was my role model, was very hard working. To me that didn't make sense.

Pamina & OB: So that experience helped drive you to become an entrepreneur?

Devotha: Yes. As an Economist at the Central Bank, my main obligation was to support policy makers to facilitate economic growth. But I wasn't seeing this economic growth. My well-paid job made me feel like a traitor; a selfish person with no purpose except personal gain; someone who was having no impact in my society and the world at large.

I thought my contribution would have more impact through direct involvement with the grass roots segment of Tanzania's economy. I suspected that entrepreneurs could achieve a lot more if they received more tangible support, like microfinancing, business training and insurance services. Eventually I quit my well-paid job to follow this vision.

Pamina & OB: And what does K-Finance provide?

Devotha: K-Finance was created to be an Enterprise Facilitation Center that provides microfinance services and business mentoring programs. I believe that through such initiatives more people can improve their economic situation, and the unemployment rate in Tanzania will decrease. Thus, I decided to start a company that would support my fellow entrepreneurs who were less fortunate than me. I strongly believed that this could make a difference to their lives and mine. Apart from the income I was expecting to make, I would finally have personal fulfillment.

Pamina & OB: What support did you receive to achieve this noble goal?

Devotha: It wasn't easy! Many people thought I was insane to quit working for such a prestigious institution to pursue the unknown--a career with an unpredictable income. I faced opposition from almost everybody: family members, workmates and friends. To my surprise, the only support that I received was from my children.

I was ready to live with less income. My main concern was what impact it would have on my children's education. At that stage, all my three children were at school: the eldest at college, the second in college admission stage and the youngest in lower secondary classes. My move to quit my job would suddenly cut 50% of our predictable income, so it was a difficult decision to make. I had many sleepless nights during the first few months of being a business woman!

Pamina & OB: Yet you dared to do it, and have achieved so much...

Devotha: Thank you. We have managed to establish a well-structured institution with proper systems and a good level of organization and governance. Currently, our total company assets stand at about USD $500,000 and we serve more than 4,000 clients. The company is profitable and employs more than 20 people. Although we are proud of what we have achieved, we understand that we still have a lot to do in terms of Human Resource capital and company organization. This will enable our company to be sustainable and mitigate the underlying risks associated with microfinance. We would also wish to serve more people, particularly in the rural areas where our services are most needed.

Pamina & OB: What does it take to realize a business dream in terms of skills, business strategies and personal qualities?

Devotha: From my experience there are four key factors:
1. The dream - that burning urge inside that drives your momentum. This is critical. If you don't have it, it is very easy to give up. Doing business and for that matter being your own boss, is not easy.

2. Hard Work - It is a sacrifice that you have to make. You have to be completely committed to your work, and enjoy it.

3. Networking is Key - You need people to support you in one way or another. It can get very lonely at CEO level. People think you have made it, while you know how much there still is to pursue and solve. I have learned so much from good mentors in my industry.

4. Keep Learning - there is so much I don't know, so I am always open to new ideas and opportunities.

Pamina & OB: Would you recommend this path to others?

Devotha: When I look back at how we started and where we are now, I realize it's been a long journey. K-Finance started as just a dream; nothing tangible and no operating manual to guide us. Although I worked with the central Bank for 20 years I was a policy analyst--not a banker. I really didn't understand the nuts and bolts of banking required to operate a microfinance company. We had to start from scratch, and it was tough. Very tough. It is a risky business that is very procedural. But I am so happy and grateful that I made that tough decision.

Pamina & OB: Thank you for sharing your wisdom, passion and experience with us. Very enlightening indeed!

Devotha: I am grateful to you both for allowing me to share my practical experiences with others. I hope I can inspire others to live out their dreams.