Khalila Mbowe: A go-getter from an early age

Saturday November 11 2017

Khalila Mbowe, founder and MD of Unleashed Africa.

Khalila Mbowe, founder and MD of Unleashed Africa. PHOTO | GERVAS LUSHAJU  

By CAROLINE ULIWA
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Khalila Mbowe, 29, is a social entrepreneur and managing director of Unleashed Africa, a company she founded in 2015. The petite mother of two — Raphael, 8, and Belle, 3 packs a ball of energy into her tiny frame.

After completing her secondary education at St Mary’s Secondary in Dar es Salaam, she started doing odd jobs and landed her first real job at the age of 18, back in 2006. “It was surreal. I got a call at 4pm and was asked to attend an interview at 5pm."

The company was FCB, an advertising agency, a subsidiary of Lowe SCANAD group. Two weeks later, she was hired, and worked as a copywriter for two months before being promoted to an account executive handling a prominent telco’s account.

By 2008 she had saved up enough money to enrol at Taylor’s University in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. She graduated in 2010 with an advanced diploma in mass communication, specialising in marketing and advertising.

A family crisis stopped her from pursuing a degree course. Lucky for her, her earlier corporate experience made it easy to get contracts to work for Airtel branding, then a managerial position for Buddies, a TV production company from Uganda that was looking to franchise in Tanzania.

“In the capitalist economy, companies believe in the bottom line, and this is why I am passionate about social enterprises. In this framework, capacity building encourages social entrepreneurship. The bottom line cannot just be about money because for companies to thrive, people need to be able to spend,” says Khalila.

Khalila Mbowe, Founder and MD of Unleashed Africa,

Khalila Mbowe, Founder and MD of Unleashed Africa, is an all round social entrepreneur who believes in bringing out the best in people and companies. PHOTO | CAROLINE ULIWA

It’s this belief that pushed her to register Unleashed Africa, which currently employs over 20 staff. As a communications expert, she has worked with several major companies and organisations such as Vodacom, Total TZ, Uongozi Institute, TED Global and Sera Project.

Recently, she was a speaker at the Aga Khan Development Network’s Youth Entrepreneurship for Social Impact conference. Khalila is a self-taught choreographer who has worked with Ali Kiba, a renowned Bongo Flava musician.

She is the first to confess that the journey to self-employment is not an easy one. At one point after she had started her own company, she had to give up her home and vehicle and lived in a friend’s guest room with her son. Her vision is that everyone has a calling to solve a problem.

Earlier this year she became a member of the Women in Finance network funded by the Graca Machel Trust.

She’s currently taking a long distance degree course in business administration with a bias towards entrepreneurship at the University of the People in Florida, US.

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What is your off duty passion?

Scuba diving. I am a member of Gypsy Divers. We go scuba diving every so often; our favourite spots are White Sands Beach and the Sea Cliff beach in Dar es Salaam.

If you were not a social entrepreneur, what would you have become?

A performing artist or actress. [Her company, Unleashed Africa, a marketing, events and branding company, runs a dance studio, and has hired a dance troupe. She no longer dances or choreographs but still sings at open mic events such as Lyricist Lounge.]

What’s your personal style?

I love scarves. I find them versatile and I use them as head wraps or simply around my neck in various styles. And because I like bright colours, the scarves add a spark to my outfits.

How do you manage your wardrobe?

I love outfits made by my local seamstress, Mama Mushi. I pick designs from magazines or online and she translates them into outfits for me. But when I want a quick buy, the thrift clothes stalls at Mwenge commercial district of Dar es Salaam never disappoint.

How do you unwind?

I love reading and I’ve learned a lot from YouTube. From how to execute projects to organising my business, and fun games for my kids. Travelling also renews my spirit by helping me gain new perspectives from other cultures.

Where will you be found spending your time on a Saturday afternoon?

At home hanging out with the kids. Having children changed my priorities and I would rather be with them than attend a poetry session. I now tend to plan weeks in advance to attend a concert.

What is your best destination in East Africa?

Zanzibar. No place beats those turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. But also my home region of Kilimanjaro, where the climate is just right.

What is on your must-visit list?

I have this silly wish to make snow angels and I am yet to visit a country where it snows. So naturally, North America and any country in Europe during winter are on my bucket list.

What is your best collection?

I collect coins and books.

What film has impacted you the most?

The documentary The Founder based on the true story of the McDonalds fast food chain.

What is your current big read?

The Bible.

What is your favourite music?

I love jazz, soul and gospel music. Melody Gardot, Jill Scott, Rose Royce and Bethel are always on my playlist.

What’s a constant in your fridge?

Water and fresh fruit.