If there is anyone who can turn lemons into lemonade, it’s Betty Mulanga. After losing part of her property in a long court trial due to a lack of knowledge on her rights as a business owner, the serial entrepreneur underwent training to become a Consular Judge at the Trade Court in Kinshasa Gombe, where she helps other people, especially women, avoid similar situations.
And that’s only what this mother-of-five does in her spare time!
Betty is owner and operator of Paumubert Business sarlu, a diverse holding company with interests in the hotel and tourism industry, construction, entertainment and events, consulting and training, and property management. Oh, and she’s also the official Congolese representative of Marcé, a South African firm that manufacturers firefighting technology.
The 41-year-old launched her business over 15 years ago in the world’s most populated Francophone country during the protracted civil war from which the DRC is still recovering today.
“I was always the one organising parties among my friends. I’d take care of all the planning, food and decorations so events management seemed like the most practical place for me to start. I launched my business thanks to a little saving and encouragement from my husband, Papy Stephane. It’s been very rewarding but a long and bumpy road that continues to this day with the delayed construction of my hotel,” she explains.
What started with an events management business led to a nightclub and has today expanded to a variety of interests, mostly all self-funded as access to credit remains a hurdle for women in the DRC. In addition to the nightclub, Betty owns a restaurant and offers a catering service, Black Mamba, with trained hostesses. Her training centre, located in one of the properties she owns, offers paid courses in hotel management, welcome and reception, marketing, and ethics. She’s currently seeking funds to expand the centre to a fully-fledged Entrepreneurship Campus dedicated to the training of youth and persons with a high school education as well as entrepreneurs seeking to build capacity and those just getting started on opening a business.
“Since I’m working with my own money, I must go one step at a time, but I’m determined to open the campus so I’m actively searching for partners and outside funding.”
And perhaps her biggest accomplishment, Betty is building a hotel, a dream she’s had for a long time that recently overcame a huge stumbling block.
“Together with the complicity of the title deed manager, one of my tenants presented false documents that I had sold him the building where Paumubert is located and which I intended to expand into a hotel. Renovations were already well underway when I had to go to court. It took three years to end the case. Thank God I won, but I lost a portion of the building due to lack of knowledge of my rights. Before the court case, I had taken a loan to build the hotel so I continued to repay that all the while waiting to hear if I would keep the property. I am still paying back the loan and at the same time constructing the hotel with my personal funds,” Betty laments.
But determined, she perseveres and even used the experience as a learning opportunity.
“As a female entrepreneur, it’s really important to know your rights and how to defend them. I enrolled for training and recently became a Consular Judge at the commercial courts in Gombe where I deal with similar cases. I’m determined not to let the same thing happen to other women,” she says fiercely.
Advancing the rights of other women is something Betty has been doing for some time now. As national president of AFEECO, an association of female entrepreneurs from Congo, she works to promote the interests of women-owned enterprises and create opportunities that enable women to undertake all professional activities.
“Our members include female gardeners, vendors and those in the informal sector, entrepreneurs … all categories of women. We are concerned with violence against women, economic rights and justice, the independence of young women, and gender equality,” Betty explains. “AFEECO is headquartered in Kinshasa but we have outposts in 24 other communities across several provinces of the country and will keep spreading.”
Operating in the DRC continues to be risky business. The country is still recovering from a series of conflicts in the 90s that led to a protracted economic and social slump. And despite significant economic growth, Africa’s second largest nation remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
But that doesn’t hold Betty back. Her secret weapons giving her an edge in business are “being innovative, responsive, and determined”. In spite of all the hurdles, this resilient businesswoman remains positive, “I am proud of the reputation I have built for my company, proud to have won the trial and that we continue to exist to this day. It is possible to achieve this much when you are organised and surrounded by people who support you. In my case, I am lucky to have such efficient collaborators and my husband and five children! They are the foundations of my success.”
Betty Mulanga’s startup tips:
- In business, there are highs and lows. Keep pressing on no matter the difficulties.
- Begin your project with the basic means you have, fall into step; others will see you and support you later.
- Change your problems into opportunities. I did this thanks to the conflict I had within the courts and today am a Consular Judge at the Trade Court!
- Be ambitious, dream big and know how to manage time so as to be able to do many things at once.