In celebration of our 15 years empowering women, we are excited to introduce a collection of success stories from EWI alumnae. EWI board member Howie Feinstein is the contributing writer for this series.
For Kudzai Gombakomba, the road to entrepreneurial success has been marked by personal tragedy, geographic dislocation, and governmental oppression. But no matter what challenges arise, Kudzai faces them with optimism and faith in her own resilience, much of which she attributes to EWI.
Growing up in rural Zimbabwe during the outlaw Rhodesian regime and later the brutal dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, Kudzai was fortunate to able to attend a mission boarding school, although this was at great financial sacrifice for her parents, who viewed this as an avenue for eventual upward mobility.
Kudzai dedicated herself to gaining as much education and training as possible in the hospitality industry, working hard to gain scholarships for further classroom instruction. During a series of internships and paid positions with hotel chains in Zimbabwe, elsewhere in southern Africa, and Britain, Kudzai developed a particular affinity for housekeeping and hospitality, and realized the critical importance of people skills to success.
“I learned how to handle clients. This is the key for me. Dress appropriately; look sharp, wear a uniform. Be timely and responsive. I learned how to convey a professional image.”
Kudzai paid a heavy price for her intense workload and international moves. In South Africa, she lost two daughters to a tragic boating accident. She had to deal with new cultures and languages, not always in a welcoming atmosphere. Eventually returning to Zimbabwe, she and her family were threatened, spied upon, and condemned by the increasingly despotic Mugabe regime. “The government made me paranoid. You could not trust anyone. Neighbor spied on neighbor, and personal conversations were reported to the authorities. I was living in a police state.”
In 2009, Kudzai managed to send her son to the U.S. for his college education. A year later, when she finally received permission to visit him, she took the step of applying for asylum in America. After a nerve-wracking application process, she brought the rest of her family over in 2011.
On a new continent, with few resources, Kudzai relied on her hospitality and housekeeping skills, finding work through referrals from the International Rescue Committee. She worked diligently at hotels and offices for minimum wage. But she came to realize that she could do better. “People are happy with my work. I can do this for myself. I don’t need the middle-man anymore.”
The International Rescue Committee referred her to Empowered Women International, and that is when it all started to come together.
“I went to interview with EWI, and they placed me in the ETS class. I had an excellent mentor. I worked hard during the day, and raced to ETS at night. I was tired all the time, but EWI taught me that if you are determined, you can succeed at something new.” EWI gave Kudzai the encouragement she needed, and taught her to create a business plan.
“I was in a new world, still traumatized from living in a police state. But I learned to trust people, and I gained confidence. With these women, I could be honest and say what I thought, and I came up with the idea of my own residential and commercial cleaning service: KG Spotless.”
KG Spotless landed clients quickly following the ETS course, and Kudzai has never looked back. Her emphasis on professionalism and impeccable client service has brought a bundle of referrals, including several clients from the EWI board of directors.
Predictably, Kudzai is hardly in a holding pattern, as she looks to move on to a client base of office and apartment buildings. “Now, I’m thinking big–I’m expanding. I want to concentrate on administration and client relations, and let others do the work.”
Nothing could be more well-deserved.