All posts by irenechikumbo

When Failure Happens….Fail Forward!!!!!!


When failure happens embrace it…learn from it and grow! Failure is something we tend to shy away from, probably one of the things we cannot openly talk about. We fear the embarrassment and judgement that comes with being labeled a failure or having failed at something no matter how big or small! No one wants to be known as that person who failed. What we need to realise is that failure is actually part of the process, it is part of the learning in the big bad world we call life. It shows that you are trying….you did something unlike your neighbour who sat there and complained.  There is definitely more value in mistakes and failures because it shows us what we can improve on and what doesn’t work so we do better next time. I really appreciated the Lean Startup moto: “Fail fast succeed faster”. The problem is we refuse to try things because we do not want to fail. If you don’t try how will you ever succeed or know what success feels like.


The iceberg illusion is something I really connected with too. People have a tendency of seeing the tip of the iceberg, seeing only the success. But when your iceberg gets hit by the titanic aka reality….you realise that there is a lot more complexity to success. People only see or choose to see the glitz and  glamour. People only see the success. They don’t see the failure, resistance, sleepless nights, constant attempts, co-founder fights, failed processes and structures.


I thought it interesting to also highlight some famous failures from famous people that we tend to overlook:


My lessons from failure:

  1. Own your mistakes and failures: We have tendency of pointing blame onto others when things go wrong. Take ownership of your mistakes and acknowledge your role in the situation even if it is a small part. It is still your mistake in one form or the other!!
  2. Align your personal goals with that of an organisation. Things can really go pear shaped if you are not aligned with your teammates and overall vision. We take this for granted but this can become a real problem if it is not addressed.
  3. Founder’s syndrome: Something I learnt about as a co-founder of a startup, is something called the Founder’s syndrome. It is dangerous and can literally destroy everything you worked so hard to build =?”Founder’s Syndrome occurs when a single individual or a small group of individuals bring an organization through tough times (a start-up, a growth spurt, a financial collapse, etc.). Often these sorts of situations require a strong passionate personality – someone who can make fast decisions and motivate people to action.Once those rough times are over, however, the decision-making needs of the organization change, requiring mechanisms for shared responsibility and authority. It is when those decision-making mechanisms don’t change, regardless of growth and changes on the program side, that Founder’s Syndrome becomes an issue”
  4. Act now talk later!! Prototype! Prototype! Prototype! Take the time to do what we term a minimum viable product or a pilot of whatever you are working on. Get to know the kinks and what the customers/beneficiary wants.
  5. Invalidate your assumptions: Never assume anything! You will get a rude awakening when you realise you assumed wrong. Take time to validate or invalidate your assumptions about people, you will save yourself a lot of pain and drama.
  6. Ego wars: Never let your ego or the ego of others get in the way of the mission.
  7. A good idea does not always guarantee success. If you have poor team dynamics  and the many other things that can go wrong , and you fail to mitigate them cause you think you have a great idea, you are probably doomed to fail. Make sure you do your #DueDiligence even if they are your buddies.
  8. Learn to identify dream sellers: One big lesson I have learnt, don’t be gullible to the extent you can’t tell who “sells dream”.  I have realised there are many people in this country who are good at telling a good story and making promises on things they can’t and will not deliver on.  Wake up and avoid people like that.
  9. Never give up! There comes a point where you feel like just letting go and letting things die. Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe cause no one else will. But you also have to trust your intuition when it is time to let go .
  10. Embrace and learn from the experience and FAIL FORWARD: Fighting the feeling will only make it harder. Embrace it and learn what you can so you can do things better. Move forward knowing that the experience will make you stronger.





Demystifying the term “Sustainability”

The first question you should ask yourself before we go any further: what is sustainability? Take the time to really think about what this really means to you. The chances are your definition is completely different to your colleague or friend sitting next to you.

Some people have no idea what it means, while others are aware of the term but have a vague understanding of what it actually entails. Then, there are others who have some insight into what sustainability is but leverage this knowledge to make an organisation appear to be something it is not.  Let me shed some light on some commonly used definitions so that we are all on the same page.

DEFINITION 1: “The ability of an ecosystem to maintain ecological structure, processes and functions, biodiversity, and productivity over time” (The State of Zimbabwe’s Environment, Chenje, Sola, Paleczny, 1998)

This definition seems loaded with big words and honestly, the average, normal person on the street may need some time to dissect and understand what is happening in that definition. Lets take a look at a couple more definitions:

DEFINITION 2: “The potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions. Sustainability requires the reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands – also referred to as the “three pillars” of sustainability or (the 3 Es). (Wikipedia, 2013)

This is a more rounded definition that incorporates 3 very important elements we need to consider in sustainability. The first is the economic or financial sustainability of any entity whether it is a company, an organisation or even society itself. The second element refers to the surrounding physical environment and how that can be sustained for future generations. The last and probably the most important, the social aspect of society and how that is maintained. It focuses at what is needed to sustain human life and basic human needs.

DEFINITION 3: “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.” (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2013)

I like this definition, as it highlights something very important, “creating and maintaining the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony”. This leads me into something I would like to share with you, whether you are in the private or public sector; a corporate or just an individual living his or her life. I would like to share my understanding or definition , which is broken down into what we termed the “sustainability principles” at my university. These are four basic principles or conditions that must be met in order for us to work towards a sustainable society, underpinned by scientific laws (I won’t get into those) and knowledge.

The diagram below summarises the principles in both the scientific jargon and a simplified explanation of how these principles occur in our lifes.

(The Natural Step, 2011)

Sustainability Principle (SPs)

SP1: This looks at all the violations we do as humans, to the environment through mainly digging and mining. The extraction of minerals or substances that do not replenish or regenerate are usually the main concern. As humans we rely so heavily on oil and mineral wealth. What will happen when this all runs out? How will this affect an economy that is so reliant on fossil fuels for energy and minerals for economic sustenance? One can even go further and ask will a sustainable society even have mining as an economic activity?

SP2: This SP refers to all the substances, materials and chemicals that society produces. We produce so much waste in an effort to be more “advanced” and “progressive”. However, we end up producing so much waste or substances that are harmful to the environment from some of these activities. For example, methane, which is a greenhouse gas that can be emitted from landfills or through the transportation and production of coal, contributes to Global Warming. As society we need to look into how we can reduce the concentrations of such gases.

SP3: This principle is one that affects Zimbabwe and every other country significantly. Processes such as mining are having a drastic impact on the country’s landscape and the destruction is usually not mitigated. People are constantly cutting down trees that eventually leads to large-scale erosion. Society needs to take responsibility for their actions, and we need to work together to ensure that this physical degradation does not happen or is at least reduced for now.

SP4: The other three SPs dealt more directly with physical violations to the environment. SP4 is probably one of the most important, because if this one is not managed properly society will resort to violating the other three in a means to survive. Social sustainability is key and is at the heart of ensuring environmental sustainability. Social sustainability refers to ensuring that people’s basic human needs are met. We can use Max Neef’s hierarchy of needs for example. These basic needs include subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, idleness, creation and freedom. If a human being does not have some of these needs met, he or she may venture into other means of survival.

In closing, I would like you to think about how we as a nation can move towards a more “sustainable society”. The first and most important step strategically is to ensure that we all have the same understanding and the same vision of what a Sustainable Society looks like for Zimbabwe. As a nation we need to know and understand where and what we are working towards.

Social Entrepreneurship Part 1: The Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp #Lastcall #ApplyNow #deadline #2Feb #Zambia #Zimbabwe #Namibia

We all have a dream! A dream of a great Zimbabwe. A Zimbabwe where we as citizens take ownership of our country and help our fellow countrymen. A Zimbabwe where we play an active role in creating solutions to address the social challenges we as a nation face.

Well guess what? You have the opportunity to turn that dream into a reality in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia. Apply today for the Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, a collaboration between Hypercube Hub and the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Lusaka and Windhoek.

Learn how to build a sustainable and profitable social enterprise. Get hands-on tips and training on business principles and international networking. You can even connect with a mentor.

Join the movement! Follow this link for more information and to apply today:

What kind of applicants are we looking for?
While each applicant is unique and will be different, successful candidates will be those who can demonstrate:

  • An unwavering commitment to a social issue;
  • An ability to solve problems independently; and
  • A positive track record of leadership.

What is expected of applicants if they are selected?
If you are selected for the bootcamp, we expect that you will:

  • Attend all workshops;
  • Complete all assignments in a timely fashion;
  • Read the provided course or training materials;
  • Participate in peer reviews; and
  • Commit to sustaining your project after the bootcamp ends.

2015 Program Outline (Exact Dates to Be Confirmed):

  • March: Kickoff Session (1 day)
  • April: Ideation Session (2 days)
  • May: Social Enterprise Business Modelling (2 days)
  • June: Funding Your Social Enterprise and Becoming Financially Sustainable (1 day)
  • July: How to Measure Impact and Performance of Your Social Enterprise (1 day)
  • August: Pitch Day with Community Input and Local Judges (1 day)

To learn more about this bootcamp and to start your application today, here’s that link again:

This is your time to be the change you want to see!

P.S. Still not convinced? According to Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka, “Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems.” He also said social entrepreneurs “are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.” Does that sound like you? If so, apply to Zimbabwe’s first-ever Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp (ZSEB):

The work-life balance…can women really have it all? #WDDSeries



I was sitting on a plane on my way back to Harare after another weekend on the job or doing what I love I guess. Following my passions has taken me further than I could have ever dreamt of #followyourpassion. Anyway, while I was sitting and reflecting on my life, a question had been eating at me for some time. Can women really have it all? Or does something in your life somewhere pay the price. Striking a balance between all these various aspects of your life. We spend too much time being hard on ourselves. We spend too much time focusing on what we can’t control, we need to learn to focus on what we can change and let go of what we can’t. I always found myself questioning why I was single. Am I setting unrealistic expectations? Do I even  have the time to be in relationship? What happened to my social life? When was the last time I spent time with some of my friends? Read a book for fun? Baked a cake? (insert many arb questions here)

It made me realise how grateful I was to be part of a women’s mentorship program. I actually began to think that it wasn’t a coincidence that I was selected to be part of the Women’s Development Dialogue Series. My first session was on the Work-Life Balance part of which you can watch here

(it is just 24 minutes, I suggest you watch it). This could not have come at a better time…. intervention me thinks. I thought I would share my reflections, insights and share what i have learnt  as I go through the #WDD series journey.

7 Tips for any woman needing more balance:

  1. Get help when you need it! There are times I feel so overwhelmed and I loose sleep because I feel if I don’t do it wont be done right or not done at all. But I am realising that I am surely no superwoman and that sometimes it okay to ask for help. Asking for help and support does not make you a failure, it makes you more efficient.
  2. Do something that you love! We waste a lot of our time feeling unhappy doing jobs that people expect us to do, or doing jobs that just bring us financial security. But you can still do what you love and still be able to sustain yourself. I am not saying it is a an easy journey, but you feel happier. Your passion is something that can drive you to places you never imagined.
  3. Learn to say no! This is one thing I have struggled with, but i soon realised that we can’t be everything to everyone. I found myself burning out. So sometimes it’s okay to say no and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it either. I found myself feeling guilty about refusing to go out with friends or taking on things at work that were not part of my mandate.
  4. Set and enforce you boundaries! It is important to set your boundaries because people have a tendency to take advantage of you. If you don’t have boundaries you just know your life will be a whole lot more complicated.
  5. Learn to take control! Don’t let anyone dictate how your life should be. It distracts you from what you envisioned for yourself. There is no silver bullet or one size fits all for how your life should be. You yourself determine most of the outcomes of your life, all stemming from your decisions. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
  6. Small things matter! I have realised that there are so many things we take for granted in life, and yet those little things are what can be the difference between a good and bad day. A message/sms from a loved one, taking time even if it is an hour to meditate or pursue a hobby. These take you away from the stresses and challenges of life.
  7. Be kind to yourself: I think this is something else that has been an epic failure in my life. I realised that I am way to hard on myself and beat myself up about a number of things. I have learnt to treat myself once in awhile.
  8. Get a great support system: We thrive in an environment that we are loved. So get a good support structure.
  9. Get organised: Get your life in order as much as possible and you won’t be so stressed out.

Three tips for those in relationships:

  • Know what you want from a partner and you will find the right man who will suit your needs and support your dreams. There is no such thing as the perfect man, just the perfect man for you (but at the same time don’t settle).
  • In relationships don’t give 50% each but give 100% each. This made a lot of sense cause as soon as couples start only giving 50 % and having the expectation that the other must give 50% (half half), the other will always fall short somewhere. It is all in how you phrase these things.
  • Don’t overwhelm you partner with work issues. Like one of the mentors said to us, he (your guy didn’t marry or date you because you are “insert your occupation here” but because you are an amazing woman, friend and lover. Don’t seek to impose you professional importance to him (or her)

Marianne Knuth my mentor during the #WDDSeries:

She works to create healthy and vibrant communities in Zimbabwe. She is the founder of Kufunda Village, a learning center that allows people to recover their sense of pride, wisdom and capacity in working with their own knowledge and deepening their resourcefulness. The organisation’s programs reach out particularly to rural Zimbabweans with a focus on children, youth and community leaders. Kufunda was one of the six centres chosen for a study on leadership, concluding that Knuth’s work is indicative of a new global social movement that is rooted locally, works with existing assets and enhances opportunities instead of only concentrating on solving immediate problems. Knuth’s work extends beyond Kufunda, as she brings her capacity for community building to other parts of Africa, Europe and North America.

So why am I excited about being mentored by Marianne:

  • I think she help me regain balance in my life. She is a woman who has achieved to so much and is centered and ground.
  • It is always good to spend some time sharing with someone who has been through a similar process, and spending time with her will help me better navigate through my life.
  • She has a positive energy about her, she radiates a warmness and an approach to life that I would like to adopt.
  • I am also keen to learn more about building strong communities in the work that I do.

On a closing note, one of the books we have been given as part of our personal growth journey is “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg…I suggest you get a copy and read it. It goes into some very real issues we face as woman trying to do things outside of what our culture expects of us as women, building a career. “We face real obstacles in the professional world, including blatant and subtle sexism, discrimination, and sexual harassment.” Interestingly enough with all this nonsense we have to go through, “women have to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men, men are promoted/recognised based on potential and women are promoted/recognised based on past accomplishments. I am grateful to the handful of men that have been open-minded and supportive to women getting access to the same opportunities but trust is no easy journey…anyway stay tuned on some reflections on the book…



Blogging: Tell your story or someone else will do it…badly

Hello Zimbabwe and all readers! My name is Irene Chikumbo and have decided to share my story with you. As the community manager at Hypercube Hub, I have been learning many important lessons over the past few months. I guess I have always been one of those people who sees the good in people and am really idealistic about how life should be.  I have learnt a considerable amount about myself and the people around me. It all started as a seed… a dream of what I hope would assist and empower other young people to build a better nation and a collaborative ecosystem where we are building solutions and not focusing on problems. I really hoped that starting up a hub would be one of them. However, during my journey so far I have had a combination of many good and mostly difficult lessons. I have decided it is time to share my story, and occasionally share my relevant everyday experiences. I used to blog…simply expressing my thoughts and perspectives on one of my life passions. Sustainability. But I had an ever-growing passion for technology which has led me to where I am today. The insights into starting up a tech-hub and all the “sugar coatings” and “chilli shavings” that come with it. So today we talk blogging.


What is Blogging? I think to get some context for those who are not familiar with the concept and maybe align myself with those who are, I would like to start by highlighting what blogging means to me:

Blogging is about sharing my experiences. It is about writing my story, our story so people understand what is really happening from the inside. Think of it as a web diary entry if you will. It will be a platform to share my lessons learnt, opportunities and the amazing people who I meet everyday. I find that people spend so much time writing their opinions about other people, organizations and not their own.

The context: Some of the writing I have seen is emotionally driven as opposed to fact based, which is not a crime. What I do have a problem with is the general lack of a holistic approach.  So I had told myself I would write more, and I guess sometimes we get so caught up in “things” we forget that the small things can have a huge impact. In this particular case not sharing your story and having others do it for you can be either constructive or detrimental to you. One common example most Africans can relate too. Some people outside of Africa see us as this poor, hungry and suffering group of people. It was until we started sharing our story, people are seeing the vast potential that Africa has because some showed the other side of the coin.  The way the world views Africa is changing significantly.

After some very interesting blog posts I have seen being written by others, who have no idea what we as startups, hubs and individuals in the Harare ecosystem are going through on an everyday basis. I have decided in collaboration with the other hubs to give a more holistic perspective on what we are doing right, where are failing, share our observations and our experiences. This gives people a better appreciation of what is happening as we grow and develop.


Lessons learnt:

  •      Write your own story. If you don’t people will write for you and you might not like what you read.
  •      By writing your side of the story people get a more holistic view of the whole system and can have a better understanding of what is really happening from your side too.
  •      Don’t be afraid to share your experiences you might be surprised who it could help.
  •      Blogs don’t have to be long, just be honest to yourself and your audience. Try use more pictures, videos and all sorts of other media.



Moving forward

  •      Realistically writing a blog every week is going to be tough considering the many things that can happen in a day. Once a month is too little so ideally at this preliminary stage try do one every two weeks
  •      Coming together with the founders of other creative spaces to also share their stories, that will either help or inspire other young people out there…something exciting coming soon to the Zimbabwean creative space blogosphere



Anyway that’s all for now….speak to you all later!


Found this amazing social innovation in Nigeria that could be used in places where there is a lack of a well established infrastructure for the recycling process of glass and plastic bottles.  The bottles are creatively used to add value by building houses.  SUPERCOOL!!! I then looked more into this innovation and found various other examples that have done similar initiatives.  This type of reuse is just one example of how we can reduce waste (environmental sustainability) and contribute to social needs.

A greenhouse in Ohio
 Bottles used to make a bedroom
 Eco tech home in Bolivia
 Office partitions in Tokyo
 Unknown bottle structure
 Eco tec sky field house in Haiti
 More office partitions
 Unknown location
An ecological bottle house in Argentina
An eco house made of bottles, has composting toilets, a rooftop garden and a solar water heating system in Honduras


Social Innovation Insights: The Mud Pool Table

I never cease to get amazed by the wonderful and creative inventions/solutions that people in remote and/or poor communities achieve. This example proves that poor communities can be seedbeds for creativity, social innovations and social entrepreneurship. The mud pool tables have to be one of my favourites, using only sticks, clay, grass and mud,these children put together a pool table.  The most interesting aspect is how they used the resources they had availiable to them.  As opposed to manufacturing  companies that use huge amounts of resources to produce the same service/product.  It is importnat to acknowledge that we have alot to learn from the people we think are less disadvantaged than we are. Especially when the world  is moving into times, where resourcesfulness is probably going to be one of the most necessary attributes to survive the sustainability challenge.  Just something to think about…