BY RUMBIDZAI CHIKARANGO
Growing up in rural Chivi, Masvingo Province, pursuing a business in insurance was something that never crossed the mind of Solomon Chikanda, the founder and managing director of Vineyard Funeral Assurance.
The immediate past president of the Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers wanted to be a soldier.
“As I was growing up, it was not really my dream to start a funeral business. I wanted to be a soldier because I used to envy my cousin, Francis Chiwawa, who I had so much admiration for.”
Today, Chikanda is a motivational speaker, business coach and providing decent burials to thousands of people in Zimbabwe, thanks to Vineyard Funeral Assurance.
The business executive said becoming an entrepreneur was no easy walk in the park, especially for a person from a humble past like his.
He revealed that he nearly failed to write examinations because his bricklayer father had failed to pay for the fees.
Although the road has not been easy, Chikanda continues to push, against all odds, to overcome struggles associated with running business in a desperate economy.
The former Mavende Primary School and Kushinga Secondary School student, is the sixth born in a family of nine also found the going tough as a child as his father, in constant trouble with asthma, could not meet the demands of fending for such a big family.
However, like his childhood dream, Chikanda soldiered on.
“Financial challenges were quite severe and I almost failed to write my Junior Certificate exams until my father borrowed money from a relative and I had to pay the examination fee on the last day,” Chikanda said.
Just like all the young men and women from the village, Chikanda found himself in the capital, Harare, carrying huge dreams that had to come true.
He briefly worked at Timber Wholesale Centre, while he enrolled for a sales course at a local Harare college.
“I worked at Timber Wholesale Centre for less than a year and it was also the time that I enrolled for a sales course at a local college and from there I also joined the marketing team, later on the funeral industry,” he said.
His sister, Chikanda added, also had a positive influence in shaping his destiny in the funeral assurance sector after he heard her talk of insurance matters, where her boss was working.
“I immediately fell in love with insurance matters,” he added.
With his partner, Stephen Muteura, Chikanda started a coffin shop, Life Care Funeral Assurance, which later gave birth to Vineyard Funeral Assurance.
“We started from a very humble beginning, the smallest that you can think of, and it was a small office along Mbuya Nehanda Street. We grew from there.”
The company has managed to open branches in Masvingo, Kwekwe, Karoi, Bindura, Bulawayo and plans are still afoot to open more branches in every town and city countrywide in order to align the company with its vision of covering every corner of the country due to the peculiar nature of its service which is a certainty.
The company also intends to open satellite offices at growth points in line with this expansion thrust. Starting a funeral company comes with difficulties; it cannot easily be accepted especially by families as people still think anything associated with death is weird.
Recently under his visionary leadership, Vineyard purchased state of the art and modern fleet of hearses.
His family, Chikanda said, did not accept the funeral business idea.
“My mother considered it a weird and scary business. She was troubled and even asked what was wrong with me. However, her mind was to change when a fellow villager passed on at Parirenyatwa Hospital and because the family was poor and on the brink of a pauper’s burial, we came to the rescue.”
“I took responsibility for giving a decent burial. We had to take him to the village for proper burial and it was after the family of the deceased went to thank my mother that she began to appreciate the work. It impacted a lot on me
“My number one mission is to impact lives and I want to be remembered for giving people decent burials. It is through this company which had humble beginnings.”
Chikanda holds several professional qualifications including a Master of Strategic Management obtained from the Midlands State University, a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing Management, a Diploma in Insurance (Insurance Institute of Zimbabwe), Diploma in Leadership and Management (UZ), Diploma in Financial Accounting (Institute of Administration and Commerce), Diploma in Leadership and Management and Executive Certificate in Strategic Public Relations, Business Promotion from University of Zimbabwe, Chartered Wellness Practitioner, Certificate of proficiency (Long Term Business)- IIZ and has also attended several high profile staff development courses on business leadership and corporate governance.
Due to his sterling work, Chikanda was in 2015 accorded a befitting Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree by the International Institute of Philanthropy.
He is also a Pastor and a family man, blessed with four children.
Chikanda was also conferred Top Managing Director of the Year 2015 Award by the Zimbabwe Business Awards and Top Business Leader of the Year 2016 Award for visionary leadership by the Zimbabwe Business Leadership Awards and the latest Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year 2019-Goldwinner by Megafest Leadership Awards.
He also sits on the following boards:
• Board Member- African Union Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC)
• Board Chairperson – Wellness Institute of Zimbabwe
• Committee Chairperson – African Union Economic Social Cultural Council Finance Committee
• Board Chairperson- Zimbabwe Institute of Computerised Accounting Zimbabwe
• Board Chairperson- National Employment Council for the Funeral Industry (NECF)
• Past president – Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers (ZAFA)
• Board Member, National Employment Council for the Insurance Industry-(NECII
Chikanda says he draws inspiration and courage to continue aiming high from the quote of an American author and entrepreneur, Brian Koslow: “If you nurture your mind, body and spirit, your time will expand. You will gain a new perspective that will allow you to accomplish much more”.
He also owes his determination and character to renowned motivational speaker Milton Kamwendo whom he says shaped him.
“Milton Kamwendo’s book titled ‘It’s time to Unleash your Greatness’ shaped my destiny and I remember after reading the book I called him to explain some of the things that he had not elaborated”
As a parting shot, Chikanda said: “Every step discarded is another step forward!”