At her book launch, Nyasha Gwatidzo is introduced by Baroness Howells inside the House of Lords, and three things became very clear.
Nyasha is formidable, yet gracious and undoubtedly loved by her friends and family.
Speaking with a broad smile which stretches from ear to ear like a crescent moon, she tells us that her book ‘Walk with me’ is about journeys, sacrifices and belief. The book charts Nyasha’s 183-mile walk of the length of the River Thames. A gruelling 16-day fundraising challenge for her charity, the Vana Trust.
Whilst embarking on her hike, she didn’t even realise she wanted to start writing a book. She found that she had a wealth of time on this journey, and with the help of her close friend Thandi – saw this passage as a chance to reflect on her own path from her childhood in Zimbabwe to today, where she runs a successful social enterprise and thriving charity from South London.
“I told the Vana Trust team I was doing the walk as a sponsored challenge so it would be a win-win situation. All my life I have tried to create win-win situations – with some success – but it has not always worked. My sheer determination often gets me into trouble and I sometimes wonder if I should choose my challenges a bit more carefully but I decided to prepare for this walk with as much determination as ever. Very few people know how ambitious and determined I can be” she recalls.
The charity delivers services in Zimbabwe and the UK, and aims to enrich the lives of vulnerable children and adults by promoting self-esteem and developing confidence and skills through education, commitment, encouragement and support.
In Zimbabwe, Vana Trust funds St David’s School Project – which covers the school costs of nearly 100 children affected by HIV/AIDS at primary and secondary schools. The project also has the ability to continue to support children after leaving St David’s School with further education or training if they wish.
In the UK, there is the Vana Organic Farm Project; an eco-friendly 8 acre farm which supports children and young adults with special needs, behavioural and emotional problems within the tranquillity of an organic farm. It aims to help unlock the potential of some of societies’ most vulnerable people, and lies snugly in Buckinghamshire’s countryside.
Beside her charity commitments, Nyasha is the founder of Banya – an independent fostering provider which operates across the UK. Banya supports hundreds of children and young people, and it’s beginning’s have been remarkable. Imba, a therapeutic children’s home, was Nyasha’s first UK business, and encountered a number of challenges to make it a successful fostering agency.
“My sheer determination often gets me into trouble and I sometimes wonder if I should choose my challenges a bit more carefully but I decided to prepare for this walk with as much determination as ever. Very few people know how ambitious and determined I can be”
“I started my social entrepreneurial journey with an £800 redundancy cheque; this was how I begun my first children’s home; Imba – and with the help of Triodos Bank who were giving low interest rate loans for community projects. Lots of other banks didn’t understand my social enterprise business model; they were almost unheard of at the time. It does show that some institutions can be generous if you have a clear vision and passion about your work”
On day 14 of her trip, somewhere in between Kingston and Teddington Bridge, Nyasha considered how important her ethics are as part of her business and charity endeavours. She speaks plainly about them inside ‘Walk with me’, and cites one of her idols, Anita Roddick, who as a successful ethical business woman – has made a huge impact on the way she approaches all aspects of her life.
“Anita writes about persuasive passion which is a process of auditing, being accountable and transparent in your personal life and in business…Values are my route map, my guidelines in how I want to live my work and home life. They are more my internal belief system. You therefore need to align your values and ethics within your business plan. My values include respect, taking responsibility, and treating others reciprocally like you would like to be treated.”
It’s easy to understand how Nyasha has racked up a lot of prizes for her social entrepreneurial work; she has been named one of the top 100 influential women in London by The Guardian, Businesswoman of the Year from Sue Ryder Foundation, and the Lambeth Social Enterprise of the Year Award.
While her focus is helping children and young adults to get the best out of life, she recognises the need to commemorate accomplishments – as these can help you keep driving further.
“Celebrations are affirmations that you are on the right track, rewarding yourself as success breeds success. In celebrating the success, you are opening up for more success. In Shona culture it is also about honouring your ancestors, thanking them for being along the journey.”
And whilst her walking challenge has finished, the journey doesn’t end there.
words: chris yong
Nyasha Gwatidzo is the owner and founder of Banya, an independent fostering agency, and Interim Chief Executive of Vana Trust. Beside these endeavours, Nyasha speaks nationally and internationally about social enterprise, and runs workshops on fostering with the Pellin Institute. Triodos Bank funded Nyasha’s first business Imba in the early 1990’s. To purchase “Walk with me” visit amazon.com/author/nyashagwatidzo
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