"In my opinion, education and entrepreneurship are the ways in which people in our village can have access to opportunity. Once they learn the skills necessary, they can either start their own business or they can go on to get a job and earn an income to support themselves and their families. Focusing on entrepreneurship and education takes more time and patience than just giving them a handout, but it creates lasting success."
At 24, ELISABETTA COLABIANCHI joined the Peace Corps and went to Mozambique. During her stay, she fell in love with the community and wanted to help. She then launched a non-profit social enterprise, Kurandza, that invests in the future of Mozambique women.
Every Ella: Hi Elisabetta! Tell us about yourself.
Elisabetta Colabianchi: Hi! I’m Elisabetta. I’m 29 years old and currently split my time between a rural village in Mozambique and San Francisco, California, where I grew up! I went to college in San Diego and moved to New York City afterwards to work in the non-profit field. At 24, I left NYC for Mozambique to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years!
You are the founder of Kurandza. Can you tell us more about your company?
Sure! When I completed my Peace Corps assignment and moved back to the states, I knew that my work in Mozambique wasn’t over. I had created strong friendships with the community members, and I wanted to continue supporting the work that I had started. A couple months after returning to the US, I founded Kurandza. Kurandza is a non-profit social enterprise that invests in the future of women in Mozambique. Through education, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development programs, women learn to become leaders in their community and make an impact in the world.
Why did you pick the women of Mozambique?
When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I didn’t get to choose to go to Mozambique. They placed me there because of my romance language skills (Portuguese is the national language of Mozambique), and because my skillset fit with the health education assignment. I chose to continue working with these women because I had already built a strong foundation with them—they are not just colleagues, but friends and family to me!
What does the word “Kurandza” stand for?
Kurandza means “to love” in Changana, the local language of the women we work with in Mozambique.
What type of special projects have you done in the past and are currently doing?
Our first project was the sewing collective that started as a way for HIV-positive women to earn a sustainable monthly income and pay for transportation to the hospital every month. Then we built a convenience store with a family in a neighboring village, and one of the women from the sewing collective acts as business mentor, transferring the skills she has learned with this family.
Currently, our effort is focused on hunger relief. Due to the 2 year drought, the village where we work is experiencing severe hunger. We are partnering with the hospital in the village to provide hunger relief to HIV-positive mothers and at-risk children.
Why are you so passionate about women receiving entrepreneurship and educational opportunities?
It’s important to me that these women have access to opportunity to create a fulfilling life for themselves and their families. In my opinion, education and entrepreneurship are the ways in which people in our village can have access to opportunity. Once they learn the skills necessary, they can either start their own business or they can go on to get a job and earn an income to support themselves and their families. Focusing on entrepreneurship and education takes more time and patience than just giving them a handout, but it creates lasting success.
What are your future goals with Kurandza?
I hope that Kurandza can grow to impact the entire village where we work. I want to create a leadership academy where community members can learn life and vocational skills and improve their livelihoods. I also want to create a deeper relationship between our supporters in the US and our projects in Mozambique. So many people want to make a difference in the world, and I hope to inspire them to do so!
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in operating your business?
There are lots of challenges operating an organization like this. I would say that it’s been difficult communicating regularly with the women in Mozambique given the obstacles in our village—no electricity where the women live, sporadic internet, etc.
Has there been one story or one woman in particular who has touched you?
There are so many! One story that showed me the impact of our work was when one of the ladies in the sewing collective’s husband was out of work because of miner strikes in South Africa. Their daughter was studying at a trade school in the north, and they had been paying for her tuition through her husband’s work income. Even with her husband out of a job, she was able to continue providing for her family and sending her daughter to school! It was a really amazing thing to see the woman in the family keeping the family together.
When you think about all that you’ve accomplished in your life, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of myself for moving from California to NYC after college with just $200 to my name in hopes of working for the UN and changing the world. I made it on my own in New York, got experience working in the non-profit field, studied abroad with NYU at the United Nations in Geneva, and found my calling to change the world through direct service.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like to be in nature, workout, bake, and hang out with my amazing friends! I also love visiting NYC and Italy.
If you could give one piece of advice to girls and women, what would it be?
My one piece of advice would be to take risks and just go for your dream. We only have this one life, and we’ll be happy that we took action even if there was a chance of failure; we will be happy that we went for our dreams!