Story By: Fazilla Tembo – Contributor (The Nation Newspaper Malawi)
For Siyaphela Makunganya 33years old, who operates private ambulance services in Zomba, his dream has come true.
The dream started in 2018 when his grandfather living in some part of Balaka district fell sick and there was need for a vehicle to urgently carry the patient to hospital. But all efforts failed and the old man died two hours later.
It then dawned on sad Makunganya that if private ambulance services were available, lives could be saved.
“I embarked on a research from inside and outside the country and I found that many such services do exist in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa,” he explained in an interview.
“However, I realized that running such business required huge capital but that did not discourage me,” he continued.
Makunganya connected himself to a Nigerian organization called Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) where he successfully got a $5000 grant and used the part of the funds to purchase a second hand Vannette minibus, which he customized to become an ambulance.
The major breakthrough for Makunganya came in 2020 when a client in Matawale, one of the renowned townships in Zomba, tipped him about Growth Accelerator Programme.
This is an initiative run by MHub in partnership with Growth Africa – Growth Frontiers with support from United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Malawi, KfW, and the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
The program seeks to support high-impact post revenue businesses with co-financing of up to $40,000, mentorship and technical assistance.
Makunganya successfully applied for $2,100 only, not knowing he could apply for a grant of up to $40,000 and get it.
When Makunganya realized that he had left a whopping $38,000 behind, he re-applied for it and got the funds in tranches.
“I got the first tranche of $3,000 which I channeled towards marketing my company through adverts and banners,” he explained.
“My desire was to have more ambulances: so when I got the remaining funding, I grew my business to where it is now,” he said.
Makunganya procured two sophisticated ambulances using the subsequent GAP grant tranches and the new vehicles have increased visibility of his business, Zomba Private Ambulance (ZPA) services.
Although he started the ambulance services business without any medical background Makunganya outsources off-duty nurses and clinicians who work in shifts to run the business.
Besides, ZPA services has also created jobs for over 10 people in Zomba.
With the publicity and visibility, Makunganya’s ambulance services business started receiving many calls around Zomba.
The founder and managing director of ZPA services recalls that in 2021 renowned musician, Lucius Banda, hired the firm to offer services at Sand Music Festival in Mangochi after seeing the adverts.
“The firm has now grown compared to the past, before joining the GA initiative,” explained Makunganya, adding: “The training and mentorship that we got from the initiative on bookkeeping and reporting has really contributed to our growth.”
Makunganya also recalls that his business thrived sharply towards the end of 2019 and early 2020 in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
With cases of COVID-19 on the increase, ZPA services was overwhelmed with calls to ferry clients to hospital, or to take those discharged from hospital back home.
According to the proprietor, another factor that has contributed to the growth of ZPA services is the affordability of their charges which range from K10,000 to K30,000 per trip.
Zomba ambulances are also available to ferry dead bodies from hospital to given destination.
Having registered success, one would think Makunganya’s dream is fully realized. But that is not what this enterprenuer Is thinking: he want to expand his business farther and beyond.
“I want to reach out to other districts in the country, and I want to expand to other neighbouring countries like Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa,” explained the ZPA services founder, who hails from Group Village Headman Jere, T/A Kalembo in Balaka district.
“In future, I want to expand to air ambulance sexpanto airlift those in need of medical attention elsewhere, outside the country,” he concluded.