Ruth Butaumocho HerStory
ALTHOUGH prominent property developer Ms Nancy Saungweme flashes a trademark smile, making her appear naïve and doting, beneath that smile lies a strong-willed woman who will stop at nothing to achieve her goal.
An ex-combatant, former diplomat and a versatile businesswoman, Ms Saungweme is one of the few women who have successfully established themselves in property development, a sector currently dominated by men.
She is the owner of Aloe Enterprises, a company that is into property development and has built thousands of houses across Zimbabwe in the last 20 years.
“Establishing myself as a property developer was not easy. It has been a long and winding road, riddled with challenges.
“But I am glad that I remained resolute, and I have achieved a lot of things, I had set out to do after I returned home, after the war ended,” she said.
She actually accomplished much more than what she had set out to do, when she returned to Zimbabwe, having joined the liberation struggle when she was only 16.
Apart from setting up a vibrant business, Ms Saungweme also fulfilled her wish of pursuing her education and is currently doing her doctorate, focusing on women in construction as part of her thesis.
She never thought all this would be achievable.
Her dream of becoming a businesswoman of repute began to take shape in the early 1990s when she decided to open a mini supermarket, in pursuit of her family’s vision, to run viable businesses. That was soon after she returned home from her diplomatic post.
That decision marked the beginning of a business sojourn that took her on a whirlwind tour of the United States of America and other countries to sharpen her expertise and deepen her understanding on the type of businesses she was running.
“I already had a business background, because my family had small and various businesses, back then when we were growing up in Sakubva.
“So when the opportunity to venture into business came, I opened a mini supermarket, which had a grocery shop, bottle store and butchery in Norton,” Ms Saungweme said.
While running the venture, she kept her eyes open for other business opportunities, to widen her horizon.
One day while reading the newspaper, Ms Saungweme came across an advert from a foreign company that was looking for businesspeople for a franchise opportunity, dealing in roof waterproofing using asphalt.
“I got interested in the business, but I realised that I didn’t have the necessary expertise to deal in the product, so I went to America for training,” said Ms Saungweme.
She came back, certified as a sub-contractor, and immediately looked for a business partner so that they could start working on available opportunities. Because the concept was fairly new, with the service being provided by a few companies, she started getting contracts from different ministries, private companies and individuals who wanted their roofs waterproofed.
“Four years down the line, I was already restless. I was again on the hunt, for new opportunities. Providing asphalt was a seasonal business, which would peak during the rainy season, so I needed something to fall back on,” Ms Saungweme recalled.
She immediately started making inroads in land development, buying virgin land, having realised that there were not many players in the sector.
She approached Masvingo Town Council in1994, which eagerly approved her request to service land for the construction of houses in high-density areas.
With little expertise in land development and financial assistance from a local financial institution, Ms Saungweme together with her business partner who is now late, serviced the land and built 700 houses, signalling the birth of Runyararo high-density suburb in Masvingo.
“We did not just develop land, we went all the way. We provided roads, water, sewer and eventually built houses,” she said.
The Masvingo project earned her a good profile, giving her a competitive edge against other developers.
It also became easy to approach other municipalities and several local authorities for consideration on housing projects being undertaken across Zimbabwe. Ms Saungweme achieved a similar feat, when she successfully built 700 houses in Mutare, her home town.
Several other projects were to follow, earning her a place among few women who were into property development, a sector which was considered a preserve of men.
Having carved her name in the annals of history, as one of the few women who made a breakthrough in property development, Ms Saungweme says she has not reached her zenith in business. She is keeping her options for other business ventures.
“My passion for business is heavily ingrained in my family background, where everyone runs some business of some sort. Everyone is a hard worker.
“It is not a coincidence that I am into property development, because my father was a builder, even though I never interacted with him. He died when I was still very young,” she said.
While many would consider financial gains as the biggest motivator of running a business, Ms Saungweme says she is in it to earn respect from colleagues and friends.
“It is not only the money that I am after; I want to grow both my social and business profiles, while earning respect in the process.”
However, like many women in business, Ms Saungweme doesn’t sugarcoat her ascendancy in business. She concedes that gender stereotyping remains the biggest hurdle that women face in business.
“Sometimes you fail to get a business opportunity, not because you are not capable, but you are placed under the high risk category because you are a woman and deemed incapable
“So even when you have the required requisites, you can still have the rug pulled from under your feet,” she said.
She, however, urged women to persevere, if they want to succeed in business.
“Women should not be scared to get into business, but should grab opportunities that are their disposable. During my days in the liberation struggle, I learnt that women are just as good as men, if given the same opportunities,” she said.
It is the same mindset that has enabled her to tread into areas that the majority of women still consider inaccessible.
A mother of two, Ms Saungweme is married to a very supportive husband.