For the younger generations using a slate and chalk as a medium of learning at primary school is inconceivable but ask any quinquagenarian and he or she will confirm that all learners in the fifties and sixties learned to spell and calculate on a slate square with a wooden frame. Chalk, rather than pencil, was the most common, cheapest and convenient way to write.
The growing need for chalk in schools for this same purpose, has promted an Okahandja-based enterprise to start manufacturing chalk locally. This small business is growing fast and making inroads in the educational sector but like all SME's its growth is constrained by a lack of funding.
Relief came last week in the form of financial support provided by the Namibia Procurement Fund as a donation. Maria Nikodemus, the innovative female entrepreneur and driving force behind TR Embrace Namibia Enterprise CC, the chalk manufacturer, received a contribution of just over N$24,000 from Mr Derek Wright, the fund's chairperson, at a ceremony at the fund's offices in Windhoek.
This money will enable TR Embrace to grow as Namibia's first manufacturer and distributor of locally-produced school chalk.
Labelling their product "Embrace Chalk", Nikodemus said TR Embrace Namibia was born to fill a void in the country's education and manufacturing sector. "My research indicated that all the chalk used in Namibian classrooms are imported from South Africa, Germany and even as far as Vietnam, China and India. Moreover, further investigation revealed that our country has all the raw materials required to manufacture chalk in ample supply. I then looked into the actual production process and found that it was rather simple. At first I wondered why nobody else had taken this opportunity yet. And then I decided that I would" she said explaing where it began.
TR Embrace Namibia Enterprise CC is emerging as the first Namibian manufacturer of locally produced, high quality chalk products that are environmentally friendly, non-toxic and produce zero waste. Yet securing the finances to keep production, packaging and subsequent marketing initiatives going has proved a challenge. Retailers indicated that they would only be interested in the chalk products if they were properly packaged, and as a start-up, TR Embrace Namibia Enterprise cc lacked the financial resources for such packaging. The Office of the First Lady referred TR Embrace Namibia to Nampro Fund, who saw the SME's potential and decided to donate the funds required to package the chalk products for distribution in the market.
Nampro Fund is a bridging finance solution for SMEs who are experiencing high growth, but need short-term finance to meet their contract obligations. Through its Enterprise Development Programme, the fund also comes to the aid of upcoming small businesses who demonstrate the skill, strategy and potential but lack the financial resources.
"Nampro Fund is in the business of uplifting SMEs," explained Ms Josephine Shikongo, Head of Finance and Administration. "We were particularly impressed with this proposal, seeing that it impacts education and aims to replace a product that is currently being imported from outside the country with a product manufactured on the Namibian soil. As our goal is to have proudly Namibian products available for Namibian use, we knew that this was an initiative that we wanted to support."
Fund Chairman Wright commended Nikodemus saying "Young entrepreneurs like yourself have the drive to get things done. It is wonderful to see that you have taken the initiative to identify a need in the market that is associated with education, which is one of our greatest needs. You have come up with an idea that has touched on what we as Nampro Fund like to do to assist young entrepreneurs. It is thus with great pleasure that we hand you this donation that will smooth the road ahead for your business so that you can achieve the goals you have set."