Benedicte Mundele Kuvuna is the Founder and CEO of Surprise Tropicale, a Congolese food enterprise with a mission to promote fresh local food, educate people on its benefits, and eradicate food poverty. She is also the Executive Director of Kuvuna Foundation where she initiated the Youth Leadership Programme: a High School Programme that helps youth to find out their potential and become actors of change by mentoring, empowering, equipping and training them in different activities. The Foundation is currently running an annual competition called Youth Hackathon where youth learn and come up with amazing solutions to communities’ problems by choosing one problem per year. By 2018, the Foundation had worked with 118 youth, and it is targeting 5 million youth directly and indirectly in 15 years. After her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Communication, Benedicte had her Master’s Program in Food Innovation in Italy. As a Food Innovation student, she had the privilege of working with Barilla (one of the biggest food factories in the world based in Parma, Italy). She also collected information in Expo Milan 2015 for the WikiExpo,( a Project of food innovation Programe), and was one of the panelists at Seed and Chips 2015. Because of her passion for reducing food poverty, Benedicte co-founded Agriboost Consulting, She is a Global Shaper Kinshasa hub Alumni (the first Kinshasa Curator); a branch of the World Economic Forum and has been selected to attend four Africa annual meetings (2014, 2015 and 2017,2019). Benedicte was selected as a panelist about food paradox in Africa, and was also panelist in Shape Africa Abuja 2014. She is also a recipient of Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program seed fund, An Anzisha Prize Alumni (The Prize of young entrepreneur under 22 years old funded by African Leadership Academy and MasterCard Foundation). In addition, she is a recipient of “The Strong Ladies Prize 2018”. Benedicte has featured in several magazines such as Forbes, Venture Africa, How We Made It in Africa, Go ladies, and Jeune Afrique. She is committed to helping young people become actors of change in their communities and not victims of problems. Benedicte is also working hard to reduce food insecurity and poverty by making healthy food available, accessible, and affordable. She was one of the 2019 BBC’s 100 inspiring and influential women in the world
Benedicte speaks exclusively to Sunday Oyinloye, Publisher, Green Savannah Diplomatic Cable
How did you come about the idea of Surprise Tropicale?
It started with school homework, we were asked to do a restaurant menu and business card and while I was thinking about the name I should put, I just saw a name on a recipe book “Surprise Tropicale” . In order to be coherent with the name, I started to do some research about fruits and vegetables we have in the tropical region and what can be done with these fruits and vegetables. Then the idea came. Why not promote local fruits and vegetables? I thought within myself. That was how the venture started. It started from homework and later became a passion.
What were the initial challenges, and how were you able to overcome them?
The biggest challenge was the focus. I had a lot of ideas at the same time, so I didn’t know how to focus. I did most of them after many trainings and experiences. I was learning everyday on how to be focused.
What makes Surprise Tropicale unique from other fresh food companies?
Most of our clients come to us from three reasons. First, our products are not just natural, but also fresh with no additives. Secondly, our products are unique because we make healthy juices for specific purposes; for example, we have detox juice. And thirdly, our juices are tasty, so we always have good feedback from clients.
Do you have a dream of making your presence felt in other parts of Africa?
Right now, we are focused on Kinshasa and Democratic Republic of Congo market, but if there is an opportunity and the need, we are open for that.
How best can governments in Africa assist young entrepreneurs, particularly young ladies?
By trusting them and giving them opportunities. For example, i am in juice processing, government can take the responsibility to start buying juice from us for all their meetings and events instead of buying imported juice. After giving us deals, they have to help us increase our revenue base to be able to keep delivering quality products. The point I am making is that governments across Africa should encourage and promote local entrepreneurs their products.
Tell me about Kuvuna Foundation?
Kuvuna Foundation is an Institution based in Democratic Republic of Congo where youth learn how to become great leaders in their communities and be involved in the country’s development. We are present in Kinshasa, but our goal is to be present in all the big cities of the country. I can say that we have impacted positively in the lives of many youth, and we shall continue to do that.
What are your thoughts on youth leaving Africa to seek greener pastures in Europe, America and other parts of the world?
We all have reasons for doing something. They know the reasons, but on top of that, I always say Africa’s development or otherwise depend on us. We have two choices either to run away from our challenges and take refuge somewhere or take our responsibility seriously and become change agents. God knows why He placed us in our continent; we have a mission and responsibility. Running away is giving up on God’s mission for your life. So if you want to go fine, but learn to come and rebuild like Nehemiah in the Bible.
Give me a picture of your dream for other young Africans?
This is why I am working very hard at the Kuvuna Foundation. Our aim is to mentor, equip, empower and train a new generation of leaders and entrepreneurs who are aware and responsible for their country’s development. I believe in the generation of Young African entrepreneurs who have the mindset of “Africa Starts with me “
Would you say you are fulfilled as an entrepreneur?
The road is too long; I am not even in the middle of the road. But, my joy is that God has used me to inspire many young people to become entrepreneurs.
What are the key steps a young entrepreneur needs to take to succeed in business?
They need to clarify their vision first; knowing why they are going into a business, then their how will be clarified with experience and market reaction. Don’t give up but learn by doing. Work hard to have the necessary resources to succeed on the project; not just financial resources but human resources as well. These are some of the key steps.