When Bonaventure Mhonda MS’16 was a child in rural Tanzania, he woke up most mornings not knowing where he would get his food that day. The majority of families in his village lived in poverty, struggling to feed themselves. Their children walked miles in darkness to get to school each day. He says their greatest hope was just to survive and stay close to home.
Mhonda had no reason to think he was special. He was on the same track, destined to farm and struggle. But his fortune began to change as he excelled at one state education exam, then another and another. “If you fail, you go home, and if you pass, the government will sponsor the next level,” he explains. “You need to pass all of these exams to continue your education. For me to come to the point where I would go to university, it [seemed] impossible.
Yet Mhonda proved to be an exceptional student, eventually achieving the impossible and receiving a scholarship to attend Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, Russia. It was there that his life really began to take off, thanks to several generous people and organizations. Their support made it possible for him to transfer to Brigham Young University–Hawaii, where he received a bachelor’s degree. Then it helped him enter the U to pursue a master’s degree in finance.
When Mhonda started taking classes at the U, he knew he wanted to return to Tanzania to help other people like him. And he had an idea for how to do it. His inspiration came from friends in Tanzania who kept asking him to order things for them from Amazon and mail them to Africa.
In Tanzania, there is little industry, so people have to import electronics and most other supplies. But because the country is still developing and lacks reliable distribution channels, companies like Amazon and eBay can’t operate there. “We don’t have physical addresses, and in order to buy [ from Amazon], you need a physical address. Also, custom duties are always fluctuating and hard to track,” he explains. “You really need to have someone on the ground. That’s why people fail to invest here. It’s hard to get a clear picture of everything.”
Mhonda wanted to solve this by creating an e-commerce platform and distribution network that would work in his home country. He first presented his idea to a business professor who liked it and referred him to the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, where he received further mentorship and guidance. With this support, he knew his idea could work.
While taking classes at the U and working as a nanny for room and board, Mhonda found angel investors. “Without these people who believed in me and trusted me, my dream would be just nothing,” he says. The money made it possible for him to create the website for Eshop Tanzania, which has a tagline of “Cut the middle man.”
After graduating from the U in 2016, Mhonda returned to Tanzania to grow his business. He now lives in Dar es Salaam— “the New York City of Tanzania.” He hopes to eventually spread Eshop to neighboring countries and across Africa.
Eshop sells both new and used products. Customers can buy from local distributors, or they can buy from Amazon or eBay indirectly through Eshop’s website and distribution network. “People are talking about what I’m doing,” says Mhonda. “I’m selling all over the country, plus there is more demand than supply, and the market is merging.”
More than just being successful for him, Mhonda hopes his company will allow more African people to achieve the same things he has. His goal is to give back to those who are less fortunate. “We don’t realize how much impact we have on other people’s lives, but each good counts,” he says. “Thanks to those who have made an impact on my life, hopefully one day I will have the same opportunity to help other people’s lives.”
—Thad Kelling MS’10 is marketing director at the U’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.