“I want young people to change their thinking and not to believe that it is better overseas. In the DRC and Africa there are more opportunities than anywhere.” — Benedicte Mundele, founder of Surprise Tropicale.
Before she was 10 years old, Benedicte Mundele was making her own money.
Born with a love of healthy food, Mundele began her culinary career when she was just 7 and her mother allowed her to set up a fresh juice stand outside her mother’s restaurant in Boma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Every year, the young entrepreneur’s biggest day for business was June 30, Congo’s Independence Day. Holiday customers on their way to the restaurant flocked to her stand to buy fruit juice and to support her initiative.
In secondary school, Mundele nourished her interests first at the Elynd Institute in Kinshasa, which had a culinary course, then at the Lycée Technique et Professionnel de Kimbondo, which offered a culinary and hotel program.
When she was 16, she joined the Kuvuna Foundation, which her father led. The foundation trains young Congolese in leadership and entrepreneurship. “I was always dreaming to one day have a big business in the food industry,” she says.
She started Surprise Tropicale, which turns locally grown tropical foods into juices and chips while promoting healthy lifestyles. The company began a canteen service that serves healthy breakfasts to Kuvuna Foundation members.
“The food poverty in my country inspired my project,” she says. “We have many raw products in my country — coconut, plantain, potato, ginger, passion fruit, papaya and pineapple among others — but not enough food. You go to the supermarket and everything is imported from another country. They take the fruit and vegetables grown here and transform it into a product, often with added preservatives, and then import it back to our country for more expensive prices” that many can’t afford. That leads to malnutrition, Mundele explains.
As her business grew, Mundele learned about the food industry, farming, business, the logistics of food delivery and customer preferences. Initially, customers didn’t trust locally produced food or food products. She says that another challenge was convincing customers to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Still another challenge was acquiring all of the appropriate food processing equipment.
Mundele also supplies produce to nearby shops and runs her own take-away. The venture makes around $300 a month. Mundele plans to supply local supermarkets, develop a network of farmer-suppliers, and open outlets in Kinshasa and in other communities in Congo.
Mundele says her parents always encouraged her “to believe that I could succeed in what I love doing.” She credits her teachers with giving her guidance about the food industry and staff at the Kuvuna Foundation and African Leadership Academy in South Africa with providing her with the books and other information resources she needed to start a business.
“Most of all, I grew my business by developing a ‘Just do it’ attitude,” she exclaims. She next wants to learn more about food transformation and conservation.
Mundele shares the spirit of support by mentoring young women entrepreneurs and volunteering to assist underprivileged girls in Kinshasa. She serves as curator of the Global Shapers Hub in Kinshasa, part of a global network of youth-led groups initiated by the World Economic Forum, and is vice president of the Dynamic Women group at Catholic University of Congo.
Mundele’s entrepreneurial vision and efforts led to her selection as a 2014 finalist for the Anzisha Prize, a competition that recognizes African entrepreneurs ages 15–22 who bring positive change to their community. The prize is sponsored by the African Leadership Academy and the MasterCard Foundation. In 2015, the World Economic Forum named Mundele one of three young women who are using entrepreneurship to solve problems in Africa.
“I want young people to change their thinking and not to believe that it is better overseas. In the DRC and Africa there are more opportunities than anywhere else,” Mundele says.