“Africa is not poor; it’s just poorly managed,” says businessman Steve Zita of the DRC.
Steve is a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow and serves as head of internal controls for DRC Citibank. From a young age, he has understood the importance of community empowerment.
He believes that there’s more to running a business than simply making a profit. He has founded the Elikia Foundation, a startup incubator for local youth, through which he provides mentorship and training.
“Elikia means hope in Lingala,” Steve says. “What I try to do every single day of my life is to make people move from potential to measurable impact, and only that way will we see what … we can make Africa to become.”
Steve says in this YALI Voices podcast that it’s not about how innovative an idea might be, but rather, it’s about the young leader behind a new idea and whether they will make an impact. “When I look for young people to support or businesses to help grow, the first thing I look at is character, ambition, passion, and integrity. … Your business idea, as important as it is, it’s second rate.”
Steve is also the co-founder of Culture+, an NGO that plans athletic and artistic activities for disadvantaged youth to inspire lifelong learning.
Listen to the full podcast or read the transcript below to find out how Steve is helping to create the next generation of young entrepreneurs across Africa.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: STEVE ZITA
STEVE ZITA: As a YALI Network member, as a Mandela Washington Fellow, as a regional advisory board member, what I try to do every single day of my life is to make people move from potential to measurable impact, and only that way will we see what we are actually all able to do and what we can make Africa to become.
I am Steve Zita from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I live in Kinshasa.
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
VOICEOVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.state.gov to stay up to date on all things YALI.
Today’s conversation is with Steve Zita, a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow from the Democratic Republic of Congo and entrepreneur who is active in all things YALI.
Steve has served as a YALI regional advisory board member and continues to support the YALI Network, providing leadership and instruction to young entrepreneurs throughout the DRC through his Elikia Foundation.
In this YALI Voices podcast, Steve talks about the origins of his commitment to community service, how he’s empowering youth from disadvantaged areas by helping them develop and grow their businesses, and why he believes YALI Network members have the power to transform Africa.
STEVE: I was born and raised in Kinshasa, DRC, and my dad was a doctor, and he was very big in community service. So from a very young age he taught me what it is to give back, not only by his words but mostly by his actions. So I saw him going out there helping these ladies who had kids who were sick and things like that, and I’d ask him some days, “Why do you do all those free consultations?” He said, “You know, I want to help people, but I don’t have money to give them. So when I use my skills to kind of help them get this and that, it takes a whole big burden out of their bills, your hospital bills and everything.”
And it’s been my day, like, my life, my childhood and everything, when I was a teenager I saw my dad do that, and I think it’s just second nature to me now that actually giving back is a must, is something you must do. So basically that’s how I found myself into community service and things like that.
Currently I work in youth empowerment. I identify young people from disadvantaged areas in Kinshasa and neighboring cities, and I help them develop and grow their business ideas. So basically me and my people, because we are a group of people, we find them, we mentor them, we give them the training we can give them, and we see them grow into becoming men and role models for the society, because sometimes in our communities that’s what we don’t have — people who other people can look up to.
Anyone who wants to be mentored, anyone who has talent, anyone who wants to make a difference, but mostly anyone who wants to make it out of a messy environment sometimes. You know, growing up in Kinshasa you realize that our options are limited, and whether you’re a man or a woman, a girl or a boy, you need to take it upon yourself to want to get out of there, but in the right way. So whether you’re a boy, a girl, a man, a woman, no matter, if you want to, I’m there to help.
So, my foundation, the Elikia Foundation — and elikia means hope in Lingala — what we do, we identify those young people who have talent, and we work with them in developing their business ideas.
So we help them writing business plans, we help them get access to funding, we help them in early stages of their companies, and we become shareholders to those companies. So from the proceeds we get from what they are doing, we now what I call recycle the money to help other entrepreneurs.
So basically, we create this big pool of people who actually work together. You have this big synergy that is created. You have a lot of cross-sale that is created because of that, and so on and so forth. We make money, recycle the money, get into other businesses, but always with young people from disadvantaged areas because, it’s sad to say, but sometimes you have the feeling that people who should take care of these things have given up on the youth in our countries, and we are there to try to make a difference and get them to stand on their feet and become better people, and not — because, you know, when people don’t really have a lot of options they go for the easy road, the easy way, and that’s how you end up having a lot of young people in jail or a lot of young people not doing great things or good things, I would say. And we try to make sure that we have them to earn a living in the right way and also serve as role models for the younger generation.
STEVE: When I look for young people to support or businesses to help grow, the first thing I look at is character, ambition, passion, and integrity. Because as much as we want to invest in your business, we also want to invest in you and make sure that we are working with the right person. So it is about those three things — it’s ambition, it’s passion, it’s integrity. Your business idea, as important as it is, it’s second rate. We want to make sure that you are the right guy, and that you will serve as an example to the ones behind you.
Unfortunately in some part of Africa, because I don’t want to talk for everyone, but in some part of Africa, and especially where I’m from, some people see integrity as a liability. And unfortunately, bad governance is very contagious. So we try to, from a very young age, from very early on, to make them understand that, you know, you can do good if you do it the right way. So, yes, we talk to them about earning money honestly, being very dedicated to what they do, and also stop seeing integrity as a liability, but see it as a value.
When it comes to them managing their employees or people who will work with and for them, it might sound a little idealistic or cheesy, but it’s all about treating people the way you would like to be treated. And I personally put an emphasis on them never forgetting where they’re from, that at some point they were one of these guys who are looking for jobs today, and usually it works.
One of the things I think we have to teach them the most is for them to understand that when you start making some money, it’s not for you just to buy nice cars and nice clothes, but to make sure that the business grow. And to get back to what I was saying — for them not to forget where they came from, and make sure that they can carry on with their business, because it’s not only for them — it’s for them, of course, and then it’s for the community and it’s for the people who will come after them.
If there’s a key word that we try to teach these young people, it’s sustainability. You need to build sustainability and make sure that your business survives you.
STEVE: When starting a new business, most often than not people are facing quite a lot of issues. Of course one of them is access to capital and funding. But to me that’s not the most important or the biggest issue. One of the biggest issues that people are facing when starting new businesses is the business environment itself. A lot of taxes, for instance. Taxes that you cannot always afford paying. And the consequence to that is that some people run their businesses informally, so it is tough, because most of the businesses in Africa, especially where I’m from, they start informally.
You know, in your backyard you start selling your stuff and everything. But at some point, because we spoke about integrity here, at some point you need to be accountable and pay your taxes and run your business legally. But taxes are not always helping, because as I love to say, Africa is not poor, it’s just poorly managed. And we just don’t know where all our taxes are going sometimes. And it’s very difficult, and some people are sometimes very reluctant to going formal and paying all those taxes. So that’s one of the main issues and roadblocks that people are facing in Africa, especially in the DRC where I am from.
VOICE OVER: As we end our conversation with Steve, he shares what he sees as the best part of being in the YALI Network.
STEVE: Of course, as a YALI Network member I’ve been taking advantage of all the free courses there to make sure that I learn a lot, I read a lot, because it’s amazing how detailed these courses are, and they’re free. And as a Mandela Washington Fellow, you know, I love giving back.
The good thing about the YALI Network is that it puts people together. You know, people from various parts of the continent and people with different stories. But when we are able to get a lot of success stories from people across the continent, it inspires other people and they tend to try to emulate what they’ve seen happening in other parts of Africa. Or sometimes even in other parts of the country. So in that vein, the YALI Network has helped a lot, you know, putting people together, having all the stories told through the same channel, so I can say, okay, I’m trying to start this maize-growing business, and I’ve seen this guy from this part of the country has been doing it. He went through this and that course, you know, he had access to these people through the network, and it helps a lot. It really does help a lot.
It’s on us now to make sure that we perpetuate the thing and that we are up to the task, and that we will make the YALI Network what it’s actually supposed to be, a group of young people, not so young now when I look at myself, who are there trying to make a difference and make Africa a better place.
VOICEOVER: Steve — we couldn’t agree more!
Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on the YALI Voices podcast.
Join the YALI Network at yali.state.gov and be part of something bigger!
Our theme music is “E Go Happen” by Grace Jerry and produced by the Presidential Precinct.
The YALI Voices podcast is brought to you by the U.S. Department of State and is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative Network, which is funded by the U.S. government.