Innovation of the Week: Winrock International and Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited

By Abby Massey

Sylvia Banda started Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited in 1986, even though just 30 years ago women weren’t allowed to own businesses—or even eligible for loans—in Zambia. She began her business by serving people food she cooked and brought from home on what she calls, a “standing buffet,” because she didn’t have enough money for tables and chairs.

Not having furniture didn’t stop Sylvia’s business from taking off; she made almost a hundred dollars after a few days. And with her husband listed as the proprietor of her business because land rights are limited if not inaccessible to women in Zambia, Sylvia was able to grow her small “standing buffet” into three subsidiary businesses.

Sylva Professional Catering Services Limited is dedicated to creating, selling and serving nutritious foods, made from indigenous and traditional products that are purchased from local farmers and merchants. Sylvia provides work for 73 people and has developed partnerships with local development organizations, using her financial and popular success to become a proponent of farmer and employee training. She calls it “economic emancipation.”   

Sylvia’s success has benefited not just her own family, but the wider community as well. And Winrock International, an organization that collects examples of projects focused on sustainable food, improving livelihoods and preserving local food traditions, hopes to extend her positive impact even further still by making her case study available as a resource and model for potential entrepreneurs—and for policy makers and NGOs who support potential entrepreneurs—around the world.

For more information about Sylvia’s work and other projects that are focusing on sustainable food, improving livelihoods and preserving local food traditions, see Winrock International’s site on Community Food Enterprises.

Abby Massey is a Food & Agriculture intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

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