By Leonora Joodt
When she still served as a communications officer in the Namibian Navy, August Lisias was on her usual early morning run when she stopped to talk with a lady selling traditional food. It was an encounter that would change her life, she just didn’t realise it at the time.
“That 5 am chat left me thinking how hard people work to make ends meet, how entrepreneurial especially women can be,” August recalls. “I always bought from her whenever I could because I wanted to show my support.”
At the time, she was really frustrated at work. So when a friend informed her applications were open for a food science degree in Canada, she immediately jumped at the opportunity.
That was 2006 and it was an exciting time for August. She came to appreciate her own personal strength for survival in the face of the unknown, fondly remembering the moral support she received from people at church and how the name of the street where she lived – Costa Augusta – gave her hope that things would turn out fine. But as her studies progressed things got tougher, and the time came when she could no longer afford to pay her school fees. She made the difficult choice to give up her studies and return to Namibia in 2010.
Never one to look back, within a few months August had launched an informal food take-away business. But it eventually failed because she kept giving food away to the less fortunate, so she turned to her baking skills – learned in Canada – and launched a bakery.
Living in an informal settlement without running water, electricity or water, August had to collect wood during the day to bake muffins in the early morning hours in a traditional makeshift oven. “I remember fighting off snakes while collecting wood and how the thorns would pierce my feet through my worn-out shoes,” she says with a wry smile. “I sold everything each morning at the bus stops starting at 5 am, just like that woman all those years ago.”
“The concept of a poor woman saving up no matter the cost is based on the same principal as the strategy of investment applied by an educated businesswoman – a woman should be able to take care of her future needs and support herself.”
August makes nutritional muffins with eyandi, a natural ingredient also known as the jackel berry, from a large deciduous tree (the Diospyros mespiliformis) indigenous to the Savannahs of Africa. She sources the fruit from the northern part of Namibia and harvests its flesh, pounding it until it’s almost powder and using it as a key part of her muffin recipe, which is very healthy and filling thanks to the fibre it contains.
“I got the idea for eyandi after I was sick and a nurse advised me to consumer more fibre. I was visiting my village at the time and thought I could use the fruit in a more creative way that would taste great but also be healthy. As far as I know, it’s the first business commercialising a product with eyandi. It’s unique and tastes great so there is a wide range of possibilities where new local and organic flavourings are concerned.”
One day at the Oshetu market, where locals sell and buy fresh produce, August met a customer, Leah Olu-King, who was really impressed with her muffins. Leah Olu-king turned out to be a femTECH trainer and knows a thing or two about a good idea when she sees one. femTECH is an experiential learning programme offered to women entrepreneurs in Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania, sponsored by the Government of Finland and other donors.
Leah insisted August apply for femTECH training, explaining it would be good for her to build her business skills. The 37-year-old eventually signed up knowing she didn’t have the funds to cover the training fee but not letting that small obstacle stand in her way.
“The concept of a poor woman saving up no matter the cost is based on the same principal as the strategy of investment applied by an educated businesswoman – a woman should be able to take care of her future needs and support herself,” August argues.
This Namibian baker believes her success to date is all due to the fact that she took every theoretical tool from the femTECH training and applied it in her business. “Do you know why people buy my muffins? Because I pitch their nutritional value and I price competitively,” she smiles, so proud to show off that she is applying pricing techniques. “Plus they taste great.”
Today, August remains committed to her goals. She opened a bank account for her business, Mother Nature, and was admitted to a 3-year incubation programme at the Bokamoso Entrepreneurial Centre run by the City of Windhoek. She’s received funds from the Environmental Investment Fund (EIF) to equip her operations.
Despite the fact that her day starts at 3 am, when she puts on her white apron to start baking fresh muffins for her clients, and concludes at noon after her last sales, August says she is still working on plans to set up a small production factory and hire staff. The formerly shy entrepreneur is confident of her success.
“Your level of education and the kind of work you do should not define what you can’t achieve in life. If you use your brain and work on your ideas, you can make it happen,” August argues. “My daily sales continue to grow because I have confidence in my product and myself. I’m not afraid to tell anyone that.”
Leonora Joodt has worked in national, regional and local government, respectively. As Section Head for SME Development and Promotion in the Economic Development Division of the City of Windhoek in Namibia, she initiates activities and projects that empower entrepreneurs to make a meaningful contribution in the SME sector. In 2014, Leonora was accredited as a femTECH trainer as part of a program that offers experiential learning to women who operate and manage growth-oriented businesses. Outside of work, she is doing an Honours Degree part-time and coaches women entrepreneurs on the weekends. Leonora says: “I am a people person, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to be amongst people whom I can learn from and who are willing to learn from me. It gives me immense joy when I see someone I have helped blossoming and rising above their circumstances. My personal philosophy is to own my season no matter what.”