Lusaka — BRENDA Omba Kayumba Lacey is one of the few women in Zambia who has decided to venture into construction, an industry that is male-dominated. That has not fazed her. Infact, she gets an adrenaline rush from the venture.
And despite the challenges that women continue to face in the industry to break the ceiling, her hard work is beginning to pay off as she continues establishing herself, especially after being recognised and receiving a 2016 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNICTAD) Empretec Women in Business Awards in September in Nairobi, Kenya.
The awards are aimed at raising economic awareness on the gender-gap for women in entrepreneurship and to support women entrepreneurship.
About 60 nominations were received from 23 countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia for the 2016 awards.
"It was an honour being recognised for my contributions by UNICTAD and being one of the recipients of the 2016 Women in Business Awards. Especially that I was one of the 112 women nominated to the final 12," Mrs Lacey said.
Although she seems grateful for the numerous opportunities that are opening up for her in the industry through the establishment of her company, Katcey Construction Limited, Mrs Lacey is quick to acknowledge the difficulties she faced in the early stages of her company.
Born and raised in Solwezi district, Mrs Lacey did part of her education in Kitwe and later completed her secondary school in Solwezi. Upon completion, she did a secretarial course in Solwezi.
"When I completed my course in 1992, I got married immediately and started assisting my husband as his personal secretary in his business. Unfortunately, the marriage ended but we had two children together," she said.
In 1997, she re-married her current husband with whom they have two children. After getting married, she settled into a life of comfort as a full-time wife. But that was until her husband decided they buy their own house in Olympia, from the suburbs of Kabulonga.
"I was not happy but my husband convinced me that we were better off in our own house than rented property. And we would be able to customise it. That excited me," she said.
Extension works on the house started after her husband hired a contractor. She supervised the project. And because the project was labour-based, Mrs Lacey ensured that she was hands on and worked closely with the contractors.
"It was not easy in the beginning because I did not know anything about construction but I learnt a lot along the way and that begun to ignite interest in me. My husband would also check on the renovations just to make sure everything went according to plan," she said.
Upon completion of the renovations, Mrs Lacey thought of venturing into construction. After discussing with her husband, she decided to learn more about the industry.
"I was informed that I needed to have my company registered so I registered Katcey Construction Limited with Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA), then later with the National Council for Construction (NCC) and got involved with Small Scale Contractors. I thought it would be easy after that but I was wrong," she said.
Instead of being discouraged, she persevered.
"I had always been self-reliant before I got married and so the idea of establishing my own company re-ignited the zeal again," she said. However, experience is an important aspect in construction but she did not have it.
"I had not done any work. Those in the industry told me to aim for Government tenders. I knew I still had a long way to go, I didn't even know how to write a Bill of Quantities, among other things," Mrs Lacey said.
She then decided to go into partnership with someone who had a project and experience but no funding, because Mrs Lacey had resources but no projects. Upon completion, she was awarded a completion certificate.
"After that, I decide to do more courses in construction and that's how I got involved in green technology construction. Green technology is the use of locally available material, which are friendly to the environment," Mrs Lacey said.
Luckily, her involvement with Small Scale Contractors begun to pay off when International Labour Organisation (ILO) got involved with NCC and small scale contractors.
"In 2013, ILO requested for four women and 16 men to participate in the Empretec programme for a week," she said.
The training was an eye-opener and enlightening because she learnt techniques on how to effectively run her business. Eager to put into practice what she had learned, Mrs Lacey bought land in Solwezi and used her company to construct shops using green technology.
Upon completion, she worked on a project using green technology on the construction of Lumwana West Hospital in 2014.
"The advantage of green technology is that one can work with readily available labour from the community, therefore empowering them," she said.
When she returned to Lusaka, she did another course; 'Create and improve your own green construction'. Afterwards, she started another project to construct flats using green technology.
"Green technology in construction is less costly and can save up to 60 percent. Unfortunately, it has not been recognised by Government. This makes it difficult to get Government projects. We are, however, hopeful that Government will do something about it," she said.
She recently completed the construction of a piggery for the Ministry of Agriculture, which was funded by the World Bank.
Currently, Mrs Lacey is working on a business plan to construct 700 houses in Kalumbila, Solwezi. The project is in conjunction with ILO and the Finnish government.
"In construction, you start in grade six; then after some projects, you upgrade to grade five then grade four acquiring machinery but without a project, it is difficult to upgrade. And it is pointless to get a loan to buy machinery when you have no work," she said.
She said Government should come up with a deliberate policy specifically for women in construction by ensuring that they are awarded 20 percent of Government projects.
"ILO has been encouraging us to form partnerships, so we have formed a consortium of 16 women and I am the chairperson. And we are all going to be part of the Kalumbila project," Mrs Lacey said.
Mrs Lacey has also been attending various trainings including the Graça Machel Trust to participate in the women in business training.
"As women, we face a lot of challenges with the major ones being access to finance, high interest rates and issues with collateral. We are grateful to ILO for opening doors for women in construction through Empretec training," she said.
This article was first published by the Zambia Daily Mail.