The idea occurred to Binja Basimike when she returned to Africa in 2020 after a dozen years in the United States, where she earned two degrees at Northeastern: During her ensuing travels to Congo, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Kenya, she noticed that small businesses in the food industry—especially those run by women—were struggling to grow.
Based on a solution that is as promising as it is audacious, Basimike has launched Kivu Venture Capital, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the goal of empowering and investing in 500 food entrepreneurs in Africa by 2026.
To help jump-start her venture capital fund, Basimike received an inaugural Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. They are receiving a total of $100,000 in grants to help fuel 17 ventures.
It was during her travels through central, eastern, and southern Africa that Basimike experienced her revelation: She could address issues of malnutrition, poverty, and gender equity by investing in women who create and sell food.
“What I saw across the board was that there was so much progress being made” in terms of women starting their own businesses, says Basimike, who in 2020 won a Northeastern Emerging Leaders Award. “While there was progress, especially among female-run businesses, there wasn’t much growth.”
Most businesses run by women are sole proprietorships, says Basimike.
“Which means they are not creating jobs for other people,” she says. “I started seeing these patterns where you had strong, innovative African women who were entrepreneurs in the food space, but their businesses were confined to their kitchens and the street corner.”
High-interest bank loans are not the answer, says Basimike, who has begun offering capital investment (funded by grants) as well as business advice to women who express entrepreneurial instincts. For her first client, African Foood, which delivers meals in Kinshasa, Basimike helped streamline internal business processes to reduce waste and increase return on investment.
“It was very chaotic in terms of how orders came in,” Basimike says. “You start your day and you don’t really know, ‘Am I cooking for 50 or am I cooking for five?’ You have to create a cutoff point—after this point we cannot accept any more orders—because then how are you budgeting for the next day?”
Additionally, says Basimike, African Foood transformed from a pickup to delivery service that now uses 15 motorbikers.
“Those are the people that I’m looking for,” Basimike says. “I’m looking for that person of innovation who is looking for that leg up, that extra step to take them to the next level.”
Before her return to Africa, Basimike appeared to be moving toward a career in healthcare. She earned a bachelor’s degree in health science and a master’s in public health and urban health, and she is a member of the Strategic Advisory Council at the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.
“I invited Binja to join the council because of her commitment to furthering Bouvé’s and Northeastern’s mission,” says Carmen Sceppa, dean of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, who led a nutrition course Basimike took as an undergraduate. Binja is a contagious and positive driving force. She is very comfortable being outside her comfort zone while comfortably bringing others along.”
Basimike’s father, Mulenda Basimike, has worked with the United Nations and World Health Organization as a senior advisor and capacity builder for the Roll Back Malaria program. He’s an international consultant for malaria and other communicable diseases with the University of Congo and additional clients. He encouraged Basimike to create her own path.
“I was lucky,” Basimike says of her relationship with her father. “I’m very outspoken, I can go back and forth with him, and to have the ability to be that open with a different gender is not something that many African women get to have.”
Basimike is using the $5,000 Innovator Award as funding to empower additional businesses.
“Enabling women to have that freedom is one of the tools that will get us to that gender-equitable place,” Basimike says. “Because then you’re self-reliant, you’re more independent, and your dollars actually have a say in how you operate and in your decision-making process.
“It’s about rewriting the stories of how we thrive, how we are resilient, and how we are able to lift ourselves out of poverty and malnutrition—everything that Africa has been labeled,” Basimike says. “It’s about us being able to tell our own stories.”