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For people in corporate or public life, developing core leadership skills is key to success and career progression, but that often requires specialist coaching and mentoring support. In Malawi, one woman entrepreneur, Tamala Chirwa, founder of Women’s Leadership Footprint, is fulfilling that role and bringing specialist coaching programs to those who need them. 

What does your company do?

Women's Leadership Footprint is a Coaching Practice that supports leaders and professionals through the coaching and mentoring approach to enhance their leadership disposition and capabilities to become more effective and impactful in their roles. We particularly target women as a deliberate and strategic approach to robustly support them in their quest to succeed in whatever path they have chosen to pursue in their lives, however, we are not restricted to women only.

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Our portfolio of professional coaching services includes: one-on-one coaching sessions to individuals/private clients; group and team coaching sessions for corporate executives; coaching and mentoring advisory services to key decision makers in corporates. Typical coaching engagements focus on: Leadership Development; Team Development; Change Management; Personal and Professional Rebranding; New Job Coaching, Career Search Campaign and Career Transitioning amongst others.

What inspired you to start your company?

With a corporate career spanning 25 years working in leading organisations in Malawi, South Africa and Kenya and having undertaken various professional development programmes, I came to a point where I was restless and was agitating to create my own path. I was persuaded that I had assembled an adequate arsenal to venture out on my own and start my own coaching practice. Most of the assignments that I carried out in my corporate career gravitated towards developing and growing other people and I found that I would experience so much fulfillment in doing this and I would come alive to the extent that I believe coaching is a calling for me. The underlying factor is that early in my corporate career I did not have solid sounding boards with whom I could bounce off career issues with, as a result I made some serious miscalculations that slowed down my career growth. As I progressed in my corporate career, I had the good fortune of coming in contact with credible leaders who helped me to figure out many issues about my career and leadership trajectory. That is when I realized my purposed was to support fellow women in their quest for career advancement and leadership growth. I then made a life-changing decision to go through the rigorous process of coach-training, certifications and credentialing to begin practicing as a Coach and eventually starting my own coaching practice in Malawi.

Why should anyone use your service or product?

Being an International Coach Federation Credentialed Associate Certified Coach (ACC) with international certifications in leadership, talent management, career, group and team coaching means that I apply world-class professional coaching standards and adhere to the International Coach Federation's Code of Ethics. Being in a league of about 22,000 ICF Credentialed Coaches globally implies that I am highly technically competent having gone through several ICF accredited coach-training programs, having practiced for several years with a significant number of coaching hours to my belt and having my body of work presented to the ICF for validation sets me apart from the pack of others who have not gone through the same process. Being a member and a credentialed coach of the ICF which is a premier and most credible global regulatory body for the coaching profession is a unique differentiator for me in the coaching space in Malawi because so far, I am the first and only ICF Credentialed Professional Coach in Malawi. Apart from my credentials, I have a solid track-record in registering successful coaching engagements outcomes for all my individual and corporate clients. My subsequent assignments are always built on referrals based on past clients' experience working and partnering with them to support them in figuring out and unpacking their challenges to design realistic actions and strategies that improve their lives, careers, teams and organisations.

Tell us a little about your team

I am the CEO and Principal Coach in the coaching practice and I am in the process of developing other professionals who aspire to become professional coaches some of whom will be joining my team in the near future as Associate Coaches so that we can be adequately capacitated and positioned to take on larger and more complex corporate coaching assignments. In the meantime, I use a collaborative approach whereby I target credible professionals in the consulting and professional services space to work with me and deliver certain elements of the projects and corporate assignments I undertake.

I do have an on-site support team that takes care of functions such as administration and accounting etc. I also have a virtual support team that takes care of issues such as technology/digital issues, marketing and legal/compliance issues.

As an entrepreneur and a Coach, I figured that it is imperative for me to have a Mini Board that I can call upon for support when I want to sound off some ideas and seek solid, sound advice. These are a handful of credible and highly-respected individuals within my network that I normally have in-person and virtual conversations with from time to time. They keep me in check and hold me accountable to the goals I set for myself and my business.

This assemble of what I call a "team" works for me and the business at the moment, however, as the coaching practice grows, I am sure things would also look differently.

Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?

I have always been an entrepreneur at heart since my teenage years. I remember that as soon as I knew how to cut a pattern and sew a dress on a sewing machine, I cultivated an interest run a tailoring business whilst I was still living at my mother's home. I did this for a few years, then along the way, whenever I would travel outside Malawi I would buy various merchandise to sell. I recall that I would earn some good income that supplemented my salary from my full-time job, however, as my corporate career became a little bit more complex, the entrepreneurial side of me took a back seat for a while. My entrepreneurial spirit was awakened when my family and I relocated to Nairobi, Kenya in 2010 and noticed how entrepreneurial women at all segments of society were. The entrepreneurial energy caught on me very fast and my life and career turned around at that point and I have never looked back.

What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?

Since launching Women's Leadership Footprint in 2014, there are so many lessons that have been gleaned in the course of business that have necessitated the need to tweak certain elements of the business and our game plan to align with market factors, global trends and client needs. Having registered the coaching practice initially as a private limited company, we have reached a point where we need to upscale our programs to reach many more women to effect positive societal change. In this regard, we shall be converting the company into a non-profit social enterprise so that we organization can grow organically based on its ability to mobilize resources to reach more beneficiaries of our programs. To this end, there is a parallel coaching practice in the offing called Professional Coaching Institute which will primarily focus on coach-training (to develop a coaching community in Malawi) and coaching advisory services to specifically target corporates that seek to implement structured coaching and mentoring programs in their organizations.

What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur aligns to and satisfies my need to create the kind and quality of life that I want for myself. I value independence, flexibility and control in my life and I pursue entrepreneurial activities based on what is ranking as a priority in my life at any given time and according to my motivation, drive and energy levels. In this regard, I am able to realistically pace myself to work towards the SMARTER goals I set for my business in alignment with the vision and dreams I have crystalized for my life. I do not dance to anyone's tune or external pressure. As my own boss, I take responsibility for the success or failure rate of my pursuits and I do not have the luxury of cheering or blaming anyone for this, the burden lands squarely on my shoulders to make things happen - this is in itself is an ongoing catalyst for me to stay focused and keep going even in the midst of adversity.

What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?

Once you have set your purpose to go over the cliff and start your own business, tune out the inner critic that constantly rears its ugly head that you may fail, as this may easily play into the hands of all the naysayers lined up in your way who will tell you that what you intend to do may not work. Put the key business fundamentals in place, pay attention to market factors, learn as you go as you make appropriate adjustments to your offering and just stay focused. Always remember WHY you decided to venture out on your own in the first place, the problem you are solving and the solutions you are offering. In the end, what will matter is your grit, stamina to stay the course of your long-haul entrepreneurial journey - giving up is not an option.

Source: Lionesses of Africa