By Pamina Mullins
Although Zimbabwean-born Roselyn Charehwa has always had a knack for identifying opportunities, she didn’t classify this skill as particularly entrepreneurial until she found herself backed into a corner, with no job and no one to turn to. So she did the only thing she could do and started a business. The country’s inflation rate at the time was the highest in history, and what she thought would be easy turned out to be survival of the fittest. “I dove in without giving it much thought—and found myself swimming with the sharks,” she remembers with a rueful smile!
Roselyn began her career as a retailer, caterer, and personal assistant, never dreaming she would one day be Managing Director of her own cleaning, landscaping and waste disposal company. It hasn’t been easy. She’s had to deal with many people, men and women alike, who believed a man should be at the helm of an organization. But facing obstacles like these has simply fine-tuned her leadership abilities, enabling her to hold her own with fellow leaders in her field.
“Start – even if you start small! A lot of dreams remain just that because of lack of courage to start. Identify your talents and passion, and develop your focus around that. Do not let your background define you. Rise above your culture, family, education, disappointments and failures. Failing is just another opportunity to start over, from a more informed platform.”
As the fourth born into a family of six, Roselyn was the first girl, and bullying from her three brothers taught her to stand up for herself. She clashed with her mother on numerous occasions over her unladylike behavior, but her father (an unorthodox African dad) admired her spirit.
Roselyn’s realization that the environment was her passion came by accident. “I was working for a regional organization project and they decided to relocate to another country due to sanctions being imposed on Zimbabwe, I was then left jobless and with no one to turn to for help – a bad thing to happen to an independent woman.”
It took a lot of brainstorming and many false starts but the cleaning services company she started expanded into garden maintenance. And then she started wondering what to do with all the waste generated by cleaning gardens and buildings when the spark of inspiration hit her. She launched Surdax Investment bringing together cleaning, janitorial, landscaping, and waste management services into a single business. Headquarted in Harare, Surdax currently employs around 400 men and women. The company’s current turnover is US$1.5 million and there are plans to venture into recycling in the near future. Learning from earlier days when she struggled to find competent staff, Roselyn now engages college graduates and offers on-the-job training.
“I’ve discovered a talent for bringing out the best in people,” she says proudly.
In addition to her ability to spot opportunities, Roselyn credits her resilience, perseverance, determination, and positive outlook for much of her success, but many important mentors have played their part. The biggest influence she says has been from Divine Ndhlukula, a Zimbabwean entrepreneur par excellence. “She has been very instrumental in my journey as an entrepreneur. My association with her has opened doors that I would have never thought possible”.
It was at Divine’s insistence that Roselyn studied Strategic Business Management in Sweden when her business was growing, a transformational leadership course in the U.S. and a “Talent in Business” course in the Netherlands. “I know I can never thank her enough,” she exclaims “but I can pay it forward!” This is why she is part of a mentorship program run by the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce.
Roselyn also credits Kenneth Musakasa her local church Pastor for keeping her spiritually grounded, and Pastor Keith Jones is her go-to man in the U.S. and something of a father figure. Martine Bolsens & Yvette van Dok give her courage when she feels inadequate or out of her depth. “And it would be a grave crime not to mention my husband, considering he has been a pillar of strength and my most committed cheerleader,” adds Roselyn, with a grin.
How does she maintain a work/life balance and her high energy levels in Zimbabwe’s extremely turbulent economic and political environment? Her treadmill gives her the freedom to exercise anytime, providing the energy to drive her through the day. Being the face of the organization has given her confidence and inner strength, and once a month she has late lunches with her girlfriends to reboot. She’s also deservedly proud that most stakeholders are impressed by her company’s business ethics.
Roselyn’s advice to those with a similar dream? “Start – even if you start small! A lot of dreams remain just that because of lack of courage to start. Identify your talents and passion, and develop your focus around that. Do not let your background define you. Rise above your culture, family, education, disappointments and failures. Failing is just another opportunity to start over, from a more informed platform.”
Pamina Mullins is based in Zimbabwe. Learn about her Career and Life Coaching business, Break Free and Reclaim Your Life.