I met Albert Mavunga when I was still an undergraduate in 2007 and we became fast friends. In fact when he started his company Smile 4 Africa, I was one of his first hires as the Marketing Director. Over the years Smile 4 Africa- a company that aims to reduce poverty in Africa- has grown. The interview below sheds some light into the man I have known for six and a half years. Enjoy!
Tayo Rockson: What is your story? How did you get to where you are today?
Albert Mavunga: I grew up in a high density suburb with an average to below average income level. Growing up as kids we would play soccer in the streets, go hunting for birds and grasshoppers. One would find that when growing up in a high density suburb, there are low achievement expectancies. Our family wasn’t well off as we started off staying in a 2 roomed house and then gradually expanded the house. After high school, I went to the states for college. I remember arriving in America with only $50 to my name to attend college. I had no tuition and was kicked out of school. I stayed in shelters and ate in soup kitchens until I received a scholarship to study at Liberty University were I attained a B.Sc. in Communication studies, an Associate Arts in Religion, and a Masters of Arts in Leadership and Management.
TR: Amazing drive you have there! I remember you telling me those stories. You have certainly come a long way my friend. So Smile 4 Africa, why did you start it and what is your vision for the company?
AM: My background is mainly the reason I started my foundation as I wanted to improve the quality of life of the less privileged, educate them on how to sustain themselves and create employment opportunities for them. My vision for the company is as the name says, to make Africa smile through helping the less privileged. For me its not a job, it’s a calling, something I live for and if need be, something I will die for.
TR: Social entrepreneurship is becoming an everyday word. What is true social entrepreneurship to you?
AM: Social entrepreneurship is the process of pursuing innovative solutions to social problems, creating and sustaining social value.
TR: If I asked you to give me 3 important skills that social entrepreneurs need to learn, what would you say?
AM: Leadership, Creativity and Empathy.
TR: In your opinion what are the biggest problems in Africa right now? Also please offer some possible solutions.
AM: Africa is not poor. Africa is a rich continent inhabited by poor people. Once we fix the people problem, everything else will fall in place. I believe Africa's biggest problems should be addressed from the root upwards, beginning with the standards of living and health issues. In 2011, Africa health ministers declared non-communicable diseases and access to portable water a "significant development challenge" due to associated high morbidity, mortality and economic burdens. Africa also remains at risk of counterfeit medicines with thousands facing death or serious illness. Africans under the age of 30 constitute 70% of the continents population. At least 60% of the unemployed in Africa are young adults. Africa's army of educated and unskilled youth pose a huge potential unknown risk for the continent in the near future. Solutions to Africa's problems will require policy cohesion and resilience, careful choice of priorities, prudent management of scarce resources and transparency in the public sector operations. Also, we would require proactive, mutually beneficial engagement with external partners.
TR: Love it. I especially agree with the education point, when did giving back become part of your story?
AM: I come from a Christian family and while growing up my parents instilled in me values that enabled me to strive to be the best person I can be and to be someone that helps others. After I completed my degree in America, I was able to set up Smile 4 Africa as a vehicle through which I give back, not only to my community and country, but to Africa and the world as well.
TR: I am running a campaign known as the give as you go campaign and it's basically encouraging everyone to perform random acts of kindness everyday. Do you have any suggestions?
AM: The best way to get people to adopt performing random acts of kindness everyday is to do it through involvement. Sometimes when you give and do not see who receives, you do not see the impact you have made on another individuals life. Pose a challenge to the people who you intend to adopt performing random acts of kindness, not only to give but also accompany in delivering. For example going to an orphanage with donations and spending the day with those children, one will find that those children are the same as the ones they have at home and that by simply showing them affection that they can touch their lives. Through this involvement, and knowing the impact of your actions, no-matter how small, one will be driven to do the little they can knowing the big difference they will make.
TR: Thanks Albert! That makes a lot of sense. You're always dropping knowledge on me haha. What projects do you have coming up?
AM: On the 10th of January together with our partners we will be attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the largest oral hygiene lesson to 1000 children. Smile For Africa has plans in the pipeline for building a Primary School that will accommodate 120 children, as well as a retreat camp for children under our program.
TR: Great! Best of luck Albert!
AM: Thank you Tayo!
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