Sylvia Banda, founder of Sylva Professional Catering Services, with her husband (Photo: Business Week).
Sylvia Banda was tired of seeing traditional Zambian meals, such as chibwabwa (pumpkin leaves) and impwa (dry garden egg plant) snubbed for Western-style foods in her country. As a result, she founded Sylva Professional Catering Services in 1986 and in its success, created a market for local farmers and emphasized traditional cooking methods. Her business is presented by Winrock International as a model for other aspiring entrepreneurs to follow (see Innovation of the Week: Winrock International and Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited).
Ironically, Sylvia doesn’t officially own her business. Sylva catering is in her husband’s name because of lending policies that discriminate against women. Sylvia founded Sylva Professional Catering Training College in 2001 and Sylva Food Solutions in 2003, to respond to the growing need for skilled service employees and locally grown raw ingredients. Her training sessions teach farmers, mostly women, to grow traditional vegetables. Her catering and restaurant business purchases the resulting crops, ensuring that there is a market for the vegetables produced by the newly trained farmers. In this way, Sylvia is able to grow her business while keeping the majority of the profit within the community.
“When I first met some of these families, their children were at home while school was in session,” said Sylvia during a Community Food Enterprise Panel and Discussion hosted by Winrock International in Washington, D.C. in January. “They told me that they didn’t have money to pay for education. But after becoming suppliers for my business, the families can afford to send their children to school and even to buy things like furniture for their houses.”
Sylvia makes sure to follow up with the farmers that participate in the program and provide her restaurant with supplies, ensuring that they continue to follow her strict production standards, which include hygiene and consistent pricing practices. It also allows her to see the marked improvements to their daily lives that her partnership with them provides.
Still looking to expand her business model in a way that empowers her employees and local farmers, Sylvia recently released a Zambian cookbook, complete with a list of the nutritional benefits of each homegrown ingredient. She also uses her growing national notoriety to work with NGOs to increase funding for farmer training and support and plans to turn the Sylva Guest House into a full service restaurant and hotel.