Perspectives from a Social Entrepreneur: An Interview with Farai from Hutano Technologies

October 29, 2017 | Holly Schofield, Farai (Hutano Technologies)

What is your social enterprise called and where is it based?

Our business is called Hutano Technologies (Pvt) Limited. It is based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

What are the aims of your enterprise?

Our aim is to design and implement usable, innovative health systems technology to solve African problems using local resources while providing international standard software, service and support. This empowers patients through giving them electronic health records and provides valuable health information systems that will enhance the quality of health care administered by providers and other stakeholders in healthcare.

What inspired you to set up your own business?

I grew up in a household where I was inspired by my parents, who are both entrepreneurs. Their example instilled the belief that I can contribute positively to my community whilst also being in control of my own destiny.  

How does Hutano Technologies meet the needs of the community?

The founding conviction of Hutano Technologies was that patients should be empowered to access their personal health information. Prior to starting our enterprise, we were faced with a dilemma when a farm worker misplaced the immunisation book for her child. Under the prevailing system, mothers are issued with a book that is ticked off every time a child receives their immunisations, but damage to, or loss of, the book leads to adverse results as children can no longer access the health care they require. This meant that she could not give her child the immunisations she needed. We proposed that these health records should be electronic and carried in the form of smart cards that are updated every time a patient interacts with a healthcare professional. To achieve this aim we realized that we would first have to develop a system in which these health records can be created, stored and shared securely, which led us to founding Hutano and ultimately to developing the Jacaranda Health Information System.

In Zimbabwe most healthcare facilities still operate paper based systems which means that these records aren’t easily transportable or shareable. Conversely, our system ensures that health records can be created and stored electronically which makes records readily available and enables patients to have access to their personal health records. It also means that healthcare providers have full and accurate health records which will lead to better health outcomes for patients.

What are the two most important things that BfE has helped your enterprise to achieve?

Firstly, BfE’s advice made us think more about appropriate marketing strategies so that we can attract more customers. Although our social aims may be significant for local consumers, we still have to make our product attractive and market it effectively in order to gain revenue and sustain the business. Through the input and feedback that we received, we were able to focus on the things that would empower our business to have the chance to serve more people.

Secondly, BfE helped us to better prepare our business for angel investment by asking the hard questions that forced us to think critically about our business. For example, they helped us to think about how much debt our business could afford to take on and whether we should be going for grants, equity financing or debt. Consequently, we are in a much better position to attract the right type of financing to sustainably grow our business.

What are the challenges you have faced as you set up Hutano Technologies?

We have faced numerous challenges, the most difficult of which was finding the best developers so that we could create the solution we envisioned. As we had to work with a very tight budget, we needed to make sure that we did the right thing at the right time and that we were extremely efficient and cost-effective with our resources. This meant staying in constant communication with the team and developing functionalities as we had envisioned them. We have also faced challenges in selling our technology as most of the healthcare providers in Zimbabwe use paper based systems. Therefore, we had to begin by changing the mind-set of healthcare providers through the promotion of the numerous benefits of electronic health records and encouraging them to catch hold of our vision when the prevailing system is so different. From the outset, we were extremely ambitious with what we wanted to achieve given the resources we had at our disposal.

What is the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?

It is refreshing to wake up and work on an endeavour that is geared towards making an impact in the society that you live in. I am constantly encouraged when people catch on to our vision and offer their support in any way they can. Those quiet affirmations and words of encouragement help you to keep going in making your dream a reality.

What would you say to someone thinking of setting up a social enterprise start-up?

I believe that one should properly interrogate the business model that they intend to pursue. The desire for social impact on its own is not enough to create a successful enterprise as it must still have a value proposition that someone is willing to pay for. Social enterprises do not benefit from an easy ride just because they want to deliver social impact so you must develop sound financial assumptions and carefully consider start-up capital.

I would also suggest they pick their team members very carefully to ensure that there is cohesiveness and a tangible sense of purpose in achieving the stated goals of the enterprise. One has to be constantly vigilant in trying to build a business as there are frequent challenges to be faced, such as setbacks, delays and the unexpected. Starting a business entails many sacrifices without the guarantee of success but it is a very enriching endeavour when you are able to achieve the social impact you envisioned in the first place.

Overall, I have found the journey of starting a social enterprise to be extremely rewarding as it forces you to always think about the impact that you are trying to achieve and how you can best achieve your goals in the face of a daunting task. I believe that a social entrepreneur is more empowered and motivated than any other type of entrepreneur because they not only consider the profit motive but more importantly how much good they can actually create for people facing difficult circumstances.