Entrepreneur's Portrait: Mieja Vola RakotonarivoSubmitted by Admin on Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:19
We met with Mieja Vola Rakotonarivo, Managing Director of the Malagasy company Nutri'zaza.
Mieja is featured in the book Bâtisseurs d'Afrique, recently published by Eyrolles, which relates the journeys of eleven determined entrepreneurs accompanied by I&P.
Supported by I&P between 2012 and 2018, Nutrizaza is a social business fighting against children malnutrition. The company has developed a network of baby restaurants (hotelin’jazakely) alongside with the commercial selling of “Koba Aina”, a range of enhanced baby food. The company seeks for the largest distribution of a good quality aliment for infants, and especially among the poorest while sticking to an enterprise-based approach as a financially sustainable business. Nutrizaza has also undertaken a campaign against malnutrition through information campaigns and a watch over the babies’ weight.
Can you, in a few words, tell us about your backgroung and Nutri'zaza?
I am an agricultural engineer by training, with a master's degree in food technology specialized in hot regions at ENSIA SIARC Montpellier. It was my internship supervisor at the IRD who introduced me to the challenges of malnutrition and put me in contact with the GRET. I therefore entered the world of nutrition in 2003, during a block release course at the GRET. I was then hired as head of a GRET's project to fight malnutrition in rural areas, funded by UNICEF and the French Decentralised Cooperation. And then, in 2008, I took up the position of GRET's agri-food manager in Madagascar. In this position, I worked on the formulation of new products for vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women.
It was at that time that the concept of Nutri'zaza emerged. The subsidies were coming to an end, we had to renew ourselves, find a way to make the existing service work. Nutri'zaza represented the urban part of what I had been doing until now in rural areas. With a higher concentration of population, you could try new things, like launching a network of "restaurants" for babies. One day we met Blédina, who had more or less the same concept as us: a commercial service for low-income populations. A reflection on entrepreneurship began: how to make this service last over time, functional by itself and financially sustainable?
"The subsidies were coming to an end, we had to renew ourselves, find a way to make the existing service work. It was during this period that the concept of Nutri'zaza emerged."
How did you meet Investisseurs & Partenaires ? What were the objectives of this partnership?
Nutri'zaza was created at the beginning of 2013, with the help of 5 shareholders: GRET, I&P, SIDI, TAF (a local producer) and APEM (association for the promotion of entrepreneurship). We quickly opted for the creation of a public limited company, allowing transparent and fair governance for all and satisfying the shareholders' desire to have an active participation in the governance of the company. The first years were very difficult. The lack of guarantees made it difficult to build baby restaurants, and Nutri'zaza decided to give priority to door-to-door distribution.
I&P strongly supported Nutri'zaza in setting up a sales department. The idea was also to improve our flagship product, the Koba Aina: its packaging, its logo, its communication, so that it would not be perceived as a product for the poor, but for all Malagasy children. This evolution was accompanied by a restructuring of the company, by rethinking the profession of women distributors, and by implementing a real distribution strategy. The institutional network started to really grow from 2015 and Nutri'zaza came to light. Today Nutri'zaza represents 118 permanent employees and about 50 freelancers. I&P left Nutri'zaza at the end of 2018, and its shares were taken over by the other shareholders.
You are one of the 11 inspiring portraits of entrepreneurs presented by Nathalie Madeline in the book Bâtisseurs d'Afrique. What does that mean to you? What do you think is the importance and impact of this type of advocacy project?
A project such as the book Bâtisseurs d'Afrique has a strong impact in terms of visibility. This is the moment when a particular company like Nutri'zaza speaks out. It sheds light on social entrepreneurship, its specificities, its challenges and its needs (especially financial and support needs). For us, social impact is the very DNA of the company. It is really different from a CSR  strategy. This book shows that it is possible to have a real social impact while being a company like any other, and this, in front of a larger audience than we could reach in our own country or with our personal networks.
I hope that it will inspire young entrepreneurs seeking to develop their country while developing their business. Such an advocacy project can make a difference by stimulating exchanges with other similar or dissimilar businesses in Africa.
This type of project also provides a form of legitimacy. A social enterprise is not an NGO but a business in its own right, subject however, by its desire for impact, to strong constraints. These constraints should be taken into account at the national level and this legitimacy helps to support lobbying at the state and institutional levels, so that the legal and fiscal framework is more favorable to social enterprises.
"It sheds light on social entrepreneurship, its specificities, its challenges and its needs. For us, social impact is the very DNA of the company."
Does the health crisis linked to covid-19 have an impact on your activity? What measures, if any, have been implemented? What are the expectations you may have from the government or investors?
Madagascar has been under lockdown for one month, which naturally has an impact on Nutri'zaza's income and activity. The various development projects around the products are delayed, due to difficulties in restocking materials and packaging. Shops being closed, the financial implications are real. In April, we should not reach more than 65% of the objectives for the commercial network, and certainly even less for the network of women distributors in hotelin-jazakely. The production of cereal bars is stopped, even though it represents 25% of sales.
However, the government has put in place a social emergency plan to accompany the lockdown, which includes the distribution of food, of which the Koba Aina, institutionally recognized for its nutritional value, is a part.
 GRET is an international development NGO under French law that has been working since 1976 to provide sustainable and innovative responses to the challenges of poverty and inequality. https://www.gret.org/
 Corporate Social Responsibility: a consideration by companies, on a voluntary basis, of social and ethical issues in their activities.