Chiwanza breaks the gender barrier in construction sector

THE construction sector, which is male-dominated, is faced with a plethora of challenges among them a difficult economic terrain characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, foreign currency shortages and runaway inflation of more than 700%. However, Channel Construction founder and businesswoman, Tafadzwa Chiwanza, decided to enter the sector despite it being male-dominated and beset with numerous challenges. Acting business editor Kudzai Kuwaza (KK) caught up with Chiwanza (TC, pictured) to discuss various issues, including the challenges she faces as a woman in the construction sector, the currency conundrum and plans she has for her company going forward. Below are excerpts of the interview:
KK: Why did you decide to venture into the construction sector?

TC: Three years ago, I decided to venture into the construction industry after noticing that a lot of homeowners were not getting value for their hard-earned money. Every building project represents a huge investment and it must be done to perfection.

Driven by a passion to bring innovation and modernisation into the construction industry, I came up with an entrepreneurial idea to establish a construction company. I was motivated by a burning desire to deliver excellence in building projects and help our clients get value for their hard-earned money.

Channel Construction was created mainly for the purpose of ensuring that we build beautiful and classy homes for all our clients that is precisely what we are doing to this day.
KK: What are the services you offer as a company?

TC: Channel Construction specialises in domestic and commercial building projects, which include construction of residential houses, cluster homes, offices and other workspace structures. From the foundation right up to roofing, we offer world-class services up to the point where we hand over the keys to the client.

We have building experts who will do the setting out, excavation, trenching, brick work, roofing and all the finishing touches such as tiling, paving and fittings. We place a lot of emphasis on the structural integrity of every building project we are commissioned to do, always ensuring that our products are of a very high quality and can stand the test of time in terms of durability and strength.

KK: What are some of the challenges you face in your operations?

TC: I used to face challenges as we were starting up our construction business, especially when I would go out by myself to meet a new client and try to convince them to give us their building project. Being a woman, it was difficult to pitch to a client because they just did not take me seriously. Obviously, they doubted my capacity as a woman.

Generally, it is very rare to find women in the construction trenches. With time, I managed to build my profile and I now had something to show to my potential clients what we are able to do for them as a company. I must thank all the clients who trusted us with their projects. In most cases they were humble enough to tell us that our levels of professionalism, attention to detail, quality, perfection and turnaround time, clearly surpassed their expectations.

KK: How have you managed to remain afloat during this turbulent economic environment?

TC: We have always remained focused on consistently providing excellent service to our clients and, at all times, the money has followed. Our firm belief is that we must always focus on delivering excellence, satisfy our clients and look after our hardworking employees. A happy and satisfied customer is always a good reference point.

KK: There have been complaints from players in the construction sector that government tends to favour foreign contractors at the expense of local companies. Do you share this view?

TC: We have seen government awarding tenders to local companies that have the capacity to produce results. For me, I think it is all about capacity. But, of course, we would want our government to do more to empower local construction companies to enable them to grow to the levels of international contractors.

It is also important that as local companies, once we are engaged by government, we should do our best to produce structures that can meet international standards. It is not just about getting a contract and making money, it is about the integrity, expertise, innovation and acumen to deliver results.

KK: The country has been faced with a currency conundrum where service providers prefer to use the United States dollar rather than the depreciating Zimbabwean dollar. What is the solution to this in your view?

TC: Most people find it easier to transact using the US dollar because of its stability and predictability. This is very important, not only for planning purposes, but also for storing value and for business continuity. Stabilisation of the Zimbabwean dollar currency is a matter which I believe is within the purview and scope of government and I am sure something is being done to ensure currency stability.

But as a nation, we need to focus more on production and exporting so that we can earn foreign currency; let us move away from being a consumptive society to a productive society. We should produce not just for our local domestic consumption, but also for export.

Our country is endowed with abundant natural resources, our land is the best for agriculture and the people of Zimbabwe are counted among the best in terms of education. We need to capitalise on all these resources and focus on value-addition to earn more and compete on the global marketplace.

KK: Government has set up a Women’s Bank to enhance their empowerment. What more should be done to achieve this objective?

TC: The idea of a Women’s Bank is most welcome, but it must not end there. There is need for a massive rollout of educational programmes to teach women how to run their own business projects. Zimbabwean women can do big things if they are adequately trained and empowered to do business in every sector and every facet of business.

Women should be taught how to do basic accounting, manage a business, investments and savings. That way, I believe, we can see and enjoy more of the practical benefits of having a women’s empowerment financial institution.

KK: What advice would you give to other women who want to venture into capital intensive sectors such as the one you are in?

TC: Work harder than everyone else. You can accomplish each and every one of your goals. Dream big and do not stop dreaming. Challenges will always come, but you need inspiration to overcome them and claim your victory.

Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook, once told students at Harvard University that “ideas don’t come out fully formed, but they become clearer as you work on them. You just have to get started”. I find this to be absolutely true. We waste a lot of time thinking about challenges without getting started.

Sometimes we actually never get to start and many big dreams have failed to materialise because we focus on challenges and problems instead of getting started. Do not let anybody tell you who you are, tell them who you are.

KK: What is your company’s outlook in five years?

TC: We anticipate exponential growth over the next five years. Channel Construction is now firmly grounded in the construction industry and the company is currently on a growth trajectory. It is clear that if we maintain our professional standards and remain focused on providing excellent service to all our clients, we will be a force to reckon with in the construction industry.

We are investing significantly in machinery and equipment and we will continue to explore new frontiers and opportunities for growth. We have been approached by an international construction company based in South Africa for possible joint ventures and we are excited about this partnership because it will translate into greater capacity for Channel Construction. Ultimately it is our clients that stand to benefit.

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