Sustainable designs and renewable technologies are central to CDS’s mission of social transformation. They strive to bring dignity, privacy, and opportunities to many living in poverty.
Ogunte: What kind of a leader are you, Chinwe?
Chinwe: I am a leader that believes in constantly raising other leaders. I push my team as hard as they can go while encouraging them to take on more responsibilities and think outside the box. I force them to blow through barriers and I try to balance the responsibility I am putting on others with authority for effective implementation.
Ogunte: What is your 3-point plan to create a sustainable future?
Chinwe: Ensure my enterprise remains environmentally responsive, socially inclusive and financially viable by constantly learning, enlarging my networks and engaging more with governments, political and financial organizations .
Ogunte: Scaling up an idea presents huge challenges. What are the greatest obstacles you are facing right now at CDS?
Chinwe: Affordable housing is one of the world’s greatest needs and yet, it is also one of the world’s greatest challenges! Having built an enterprise around providing affordable green housing, I fully understand why!
To be commercially viable, sustainable housing construction requires land, finance, labour, technical know-how, and scale. It thrives in an enabling environment where there is government cooperation, suitable policy, and good infrastructure. All of these are in scarce supply in the regions that need the housing the most, so making the stars align is a constant uphill struggle!
Housing provision requires great capital expenditure for construction and mortgage finance. We are constantly battling to find the kind of patient capital that will allow the marginalized and under-served the opportunity for home ownership.
Ogunte: How have you developed in confidence over the years?
Chinwe: I have developed confidence over the years by trusting God absolutely, learning from past mistakes and taking on challenges that are bigger than me… and succeeding in many (not all)!
Ogunte: How do you seek to combat gender inequality in your everyday life?
Chinwe: I seek to combat gender inequality by simply doing what I am passionate about, and doing it as well as I can. I operate in the largely male-dominated field of construction. I try to recruit female team members and hire female consultants at every opportunity.
Ogunte: How do business and social action fit together in your mind? Have you always held this opinion, or has your thinking changed since you started out?
To make this world a better place, we all need to do good. To be able to thrive on this planet, we have to do well. The challenge is to do good while doing well at the same time.
Chinwe: I have always believed that, as a professional, I need to render good service, profitably. Now, as a social entrepreneur, I am struggling to render socially impactful service profitably. It’s not as easy, but with determination, commitment, and innovation, it is possible.
Sometimes, it is difficult to remain compassionate and true to the cause of uplifting the under-served and marginalized, especially when you do not have the resources and eco-systems to support your vision.
Ogunte: What obstacles do you face in trying to get your business better known and visible?
Chinwe: My greatest challenges are not necessarily getting better known and visible but the follow up: what happens afterwards? Mostly, nothing! Affordable housing is not a topic that many people necessarily want to get involved in, because it is a huge problem that even governments have a hard time tackling. So, there are too many entrepreneurs like myself trying to get a piece of the pie in that space!
Ogunte: Have you ever felt isolated on your journey as a social entrepreneur? If so, how did you break out of that and reconnect?
Chinwe: I have certainly felt isolated on my journey as a social entrepreneur. I still feel lonely sometimes. I try toregularly reach out to other social entrepreneurs to share experiences . I also attend conferences and enter competitions to meet like-minded people on similar journeys.
Ogunte: If you could travel back in time to when you were starting out on your entrepreneurial journey and have a 5-minute conversation with yourself, what would you say?
If I could travel back in time, I would tell myself to get out there and network more. Engage many more people with my vision and do not be too hesitant, proud or shy to ask for help when I need it.
Chinwe: I would also encourage myself not to be too modest, and to toot my horn every step of the way to garner more interest in and appreciation of what it is I am trying to do!
Ogunte: It’s 2030. What steps forward have you taken? What skills did you need to develop to get there?
Chinwe: It’s 2030, and I have designed, built and influenced the construction and sale of 65,000 affordable green homes for 65,000 families at, or near the bottom of, the socio-economic pyramid.
I have attended housing finance courses to become more financially savvy. I have also engaged more with the governments of Sub-Saharan African countries to earn some political clout. Most importantly, I have increased my visibility by networking and engaging more assertively!
Ogunte: Finally, who are three women in social enterprise who you think the world needs to hear about?