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Out-of-the-Box Thinking Leads to Social Good
July 17, 2015

2014 Mandela Washington Fellow Nomvula Mhambi (State Dept.)
2014 Mandela Washington Fellow Nomvula Mhambi (State Dept.)

Nomvula Mhambi is a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow from Zimbabwe and a U.S. African Development Foundationgrant recipient. With more than five years running her own marketing and advertising business, Mhambi has learned quite a few lessons about social entrepreneurship. We sat down with her to see what advice she had to share with YALI Network members. (Please note that some of her remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Q: Tell us a bit about your business Disruptive Innovation.

Mhambi: Disruptive Innovation is a marketing and advertising social enterprise which I started in 2012. We generate and implement ideas and provide vibrant, unconventional but practical communication solutions to enhance brands while developing and empowering communities.

Q: What’s the significance behind the name “Disruptive Innovation”?

Mhambi: Disruptive innovation is described as the introduction of new technologies, products or services to promote change and gain advantage over the competition. It requires you to embrace a radically different approach to product development or marketing. Often a product of out-of-the-box thinking, disruptive changes can initially seem out of step with contemporary preferences but prove successful in their ability to create new market opportunities where none existed before. I came across this term while trying to define my advertising social enterprise, and this concept ticked all the correct boxes for what I had set out to achieve with my business.

Q: What encouraged you to open your own business?

Mhambi: I thrive on working with and meeting different people and generally being of service to others. I wanted to be able to act on my ideas, rather than waiting for them to become a priority to someone else. I also wanted to share my creative business sense with people and organizations who, like me, believe the box does not exist and are willing to explore the infinite possibilities out there. Working for someone else would have restricted me and the level of impact and change I could contribute.

Q: What goals have you set for your business?

Mhambi: Our short-term goal is to grow our brand to be recognized among the leading social enterprise business models in Zimbabwe. The long-term goal is to expand the business to include a creative hub for people in my industry to gather and tackle social issues together. Through our expertise, we can increase the impact we will have on our continent.

Q: In what ways are you using marketing and advertising to solve a social problem?

Mhambi: We identify the problem and create sustainable links to the solution. The skeletal thought process of addressing any of our clients’ needs is “How will the communities benefit from our work and how do we maximize sustainability?”

Q: What encouraged you to select this business model?

Mhambi: I am passionate about advertising and helping people, but there are limitations with mainstream advertising and advising clients on how much good they can do with their brand. My business being known as a social enterprise means when a client seeks out our services, they know and understand our core values and how we will apply them to our work.

Q: What are some of the benefits of this approach?

Mhambi: The social enterprise model has allowed me to develop and integrate marketing concepts with other approaches to influence behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good. Consumers appreciate it when they can see their purchases of goods and services come back and make positive changes within their communities. This is the most rewarding part of my business.

Q: Have you encountered any challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?

Mhambi: Challenges are an everyday thing in our business. We involve several stakeholders — the client, the municipalities, the communities, for example — in our work and decisionmaking process at any given time. We overcome challenges by stepping back to assess how best to navigate the particular challenge, and by being adaptable.

Q: What’s your advice for YALI Network members looking to break into social entrepreneurship?

Mhambi: They must have purpose, passion and perseverance. They should know what the purpose of their business is besides profit making. They should be passionate about their business so when they have nothing else on their side, their passion to fulfill their purpose drives them forward. And when they are ready to give up, after they have failed a few times, they must remember the passion they have for their purpose and persevere!