Rosemary Chileshe: Build your business on solid foundation, otherwise …….

Rosemary Chileshe’s commitment to support charity work made her win the prestigious Gathering of Africa’s Best (GAB) Award, becoming the 2nd person after Mr. Nelson Mandela to receive one in Southern Africa. She has extensively supported different NGOs and Charities raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and taking care of needy children. Rosemary is also a Beauty Queen. She is an international runway supermodel, former Miss Zambia UK and Miss Zambia Universe 2007.

She is also a Commercial Property Surveyor, and the CEO of Swanilenga Group. In this exclusive interview with The AfroNews, she talks about her love for helping the needy and the importance of carefully planning one’s business and taking time to build it gradually, without cutting corners. “If you try to grow your business fast by cutting corners, your business will equally crumble just as fast,” she says.

Rosemary, you’ve done and continue to do so many things. You are the CEO of Swanilenga Group, a Beauty Queen, Church Choir Member, a Sunday School Teacher, Charity Founder & Ambassador, how do you manage to do all these things?

Hi Stephen, first and foremost, many thanks for honouring me with a Cover interview! “How do I manage to do all these things?” By God‘s grace and guidance. I am a strong believer that we all have talents, which we have to be smart enough to act on coupled with having the passion and determination to keep striving upwards and onwards. For me personally, it helps that I am a very driven and goal orientated lady. If something ‘more exciting’ comes my way but it is not on my ‘goals list’, I will not be sidetracked by it, I stay focused on what I have outlined for myself.

If someone asked you, who is Rosemary, what would you say?

There is a question everyone asks! I would simply say, ‘Rosemary is a very blessed humbled young lady. A woman with a rounded personality in the circles of Faith, Property, Charity, Media & Fashion’.

You dined with the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh & Prince Michael of Kent in 2007, exactly a year after getting your Gathering of Africa’ s Best (GAB) Award making you officially the 2nd person after Mr. Nelson Mandela to receive one in Southern Africa. What made you win the GAB Award?

Yes, see what I mean when I say I’m a “Blessed Lady?” Meeting and talking with the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Michael of Kent amongst other Royalty was such a humbling experience. That was a reception to honour those who had made a positive contribution to national life. Also in attendance were inspirational personalities such as Ozwald Boateng! Very surreal!  Winning the GAB Award was very exciting.

The Award was to acknowledge all my charitable work. I believe what made me the winner in that category is the dedication I continue to portray in my charity work worldwide dating back to 2000. In this day and age, it is very rare to see people of any age dedicate so much time and effort in the name of charity without expecting anything in return. This is where I stand separated. If a genuine cause has been put to my attention and it has a credible registered charity behind it, upon making a commitment to assist in whichever way, I do the work with a pure heart. The only expectation I always have is that whatever funding or resources gathered in the name of “that charity” get used as advertised or as explained to me.

Please tell us about Swanilenga Group?

Swanilenga Group is my brainchild, one enterprise I am very excited to build from the ground up! The name ‘Swanilenga’ is a combination of my two other Zambian names; Liswaniso (My Lozi name from the mother’s side) & Mulenga (My Bemba name from the father’s side). For many years, the name “Rosemary Chileshe” has been in the forefront in Charity, Pageantry, High End Fashion. The timing to add my other names into the mix was just perfect. Swanilenga Group is my parent company, which will unleash various other projects as time progresses. These will be in the lines of all my interests and expertise, which will be under various subsidiaries in Property, Fashion, Charity, Media, Production & Entertainment.

You are also a Commercial Property Surveyor, a profession that has only 10% women. What exactly do you do?

I love challenges and I believe it is crucial to step away from your comfort zones. As a Commercial Surveyor, my tasks range between dealing with Property Acquisitions and Disposals. Therefore upon receipt of my client’s instructions, I have to be out on site carrying out inspections of various types of commercial properties in Retail, Offices and Industrial Warehouses, etc. I then take measurements, note down comparable evidence of the same or similar properties in the surrounding areas, do the ‘math’ work, undertake the valuations and place a value on the subject property. I enjoy the surveying field because no day is ever the same. Other types of work I cover are in the areas of Landlord & Tenant issues, Property Management of various portfolios, etc.

Why do you think there is such a low percentage of women in this profession and what can be done to improve their involvement?

I believe it comes down to the misconception that anything not fashion or cookery or simply requires ‘heavy duty work’ ONLY belongs in a Man’s world! For so long the “Girl Child” has been issued with a picture that they cannot do anything in the Built Environment i.e., Surveying, Construction, Engineering, Building, etc. To encourage more involvement in either field, in both industries deemed to be “women centred or men centred” I would urge everyone to challenge  themselves, forget all misconceptions and break out of their comfort zones. So Ladies, try out Construction & Gentlemen, try out Cookery, etc. Until you try, you will never establish your fullest potential.

You are working jointly with your fiancé Carl Ellis – a fashion designer on your clothing line label called “Mother Africa”. Please provide more information about “Mother Africa”. Why that name?

Mother Africa is a signature of all cultures African. It was created and marketed to add Glamour to a more traditional side of the fashion industry. It plays with a lot of culture and tradition in its colours and fusion of fabrics. The fashion label initially debuted at Miss Universe 2007 in Mexico City, where my fiancé stepped in as the National Director for Zambia for that year and as my official sponsor in Mexico City when I represented Zambia, great teamwork right there! I had the privilege to be dressed in the lovely garments from the Bow Collection where big ‘Bows’ were featured on every garment. In breaking more boundaries, at last year (2008) Sanlam South Africa Fashion Week, Mother Africa introduced the “Black Diamond” Collection on the Catwalk, which portrayed a High End range inspired by the new breed of cosmopolitan spending power in Africa – the fast growing affluent African middle class market.

What would you say is the most unique aspect of “Mother Africa”?

The most unique aspect is definitely the creativity behind the fashion label engineered by the head Designer – my fiancé; Carl Ellis. Mother Africa does not set out to initiate a trend; instead it focuses on sending out a message to the world that as a fashion label, it has a solid base in a class of its own. Mother Africa Fashion Label believes that “The potential to unlock great glamour in Africa is out there”.

Who are your heroes?

My heroes or those who inspire me are: first and foremost – my heavenly Father, only through Him is everything possible. Without my faith and the guidance that I seek at every step, I would not be in a position I stand in today. My family as they encourage me to go for my dreams and always support me. My fiancé for being the man that he is, in every area, together we are complimented. My friends because we inspire each other, with all of our different skills, when we join forces, we are a complete team. And finally but not least – those who work against me. Indirectly, they assist in getting me up the ladder because in all the ill luck they may wish me, all I have in return for them are blessings.  When you bless others, you are also blessed.

What would you like to achieve in life?

I believe I have achieved so much already, however as a child of God, I am confident to acknowledge that I still have many more ‘riches from my heavenly father’s kingdom’ to  receive. To date, I have an honours degree attached to my credentials. I am engaged to be married; I have a wonderful family and a strong network of friends. I have met, talked, danced and sang with Lionel Richie at Miss World 2004 to “you are once, twice, ..three times a lady!” I have met and talked with Donald Trump at Miss Universe 2007. I have met, dined, shook hands with the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh etc. at Buckingham Palace.

I have an Award to my name (more to come because I have set my goals). Together with my fiancé we are Charity/Foundation Founders. I am an Ambassador of a wonderful charity which believes that all Children should be free of hunger, need, abuse and neglect. I have set the foundation for Swanilenga Group to flourish into an enterprise which will encourage more people to realise their dreams. What more can one wish for? I am excited to find out.

What are your future plans?

My immediate plans are to take some time out from all my projects and dedicate the time to fully plan my upcoming wedding then to sit back and embrace all blessings, which I am confident will follow thereafter. My future plans are to grow and nurture Swanilenga Group and make it a global enterprise, all by our heavenly father’s grace and in his time.

What’s your advice for young people aspiring to become entrepreneurs?

This advice is actually for everyone at any age. In all areas of my interests (Property, Charity, Fashion, etc.) I have observed a lot of errors in the management of people who call themselves “Entrepreneurs”. When I reflect back to one of the reasons why Swanilenga Group was born, seeing people make the simplest but yet the most effective mistakes in business or any environment was one of my driving forces to ‘run my own show’, with an aim of delivering services that have been fully researched and carried out and done by the book.

Most people are under the blind impression that if they wake up with a dream that they want to make it big, automatically, they are “Entrepreneurs”. My advice would be for everyone wishing to make any business flourish, however big or small, to dedicate the time to fully understand what it is that they wish to do and carry out the ground work, no shortcuts. If you try to grow your business fast by cutting corners, your business will equally crumble just as fast. It is better you take time out to set everything in stone regardless of how long the process will take but rest assured that if you cover your basics (i.e., establish the ownership of your business) should any obstacle cross your path, you will definitely know how to deal with them whilst continuing to grow and expand your projects, pace by pace.

Any other comments?

In everything whether good or bad,  negative or positive, always give your thanks to our heavenly father who gives abundantly and equally takes away what is not being used. Keep in mind, ‘the parable of the talents’. Also give credit where it is due and be humbled in your surroundings, regardless of how far you have risen, only our heavenly father is above each and every one of us.

Rosemary’s and her fiancé’s foundation – The Roc Foundation is aimed at raising HIV/AIDS Awareness. It also assists credible and registered NGOs or Charities to secure funding. They are currently working on a key campaign which will be released soon. Through All Star Kids, the charity Rosemary is an Ambassador for – they are working on a big fashion show to be hosted in September in Manchester. All proceeds will to go to the construction of a Mobile School for Street Kids in Lusaka, Zambia.

We wish you Rosemary and Carl a happy marriage!


By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a