Social entrepreneur wins nomination for international award

Vambo Academy, a company that facilitates online learning of African languages ​​and indigenous cultures. Photo: Supplied


When Zimbabwean-born Chido Dzinotyiwei moved to South Africa at the age of eight, she didn’t realize how difficult it would be to master English and local languages. Several moons later, she created an innovative app that teaches 12 African languages, including ChiShona, isiNdebele, Sesotho and isiZulu.

Dzinotyiwei is the co-founder of Vambo Academy, a company that facilitates online learning of African languages ​​and indigenous cultures. Since then, it has employed 16 language teachers.

“When I was young I could understand English and IsiZulu at school, but it became difficult to speak Shona when I went home to visit because my vocabulary and accent weren’t good. Luckily I had some old Shona books and started reading and remembering the language. Before I knew it, I was speaking my native language fluently again.


Chido Dzinotyiwei has been nominated for the Global Student Entrepreneur Award 2022 as the only South African finalist. Photo: Supplied

After completing her bachelor’s degree and going to the University of Cape Town for an honors bachelor’s degree in economics and finance a few years ago, her struggles learning African languages ​​prompted her to reach out to students in her neighborhood. She went door to door to help them learn these languages, but the project came to a halt after the Covid-19 pandemic.

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However, she decided to recruit her co-founder, who had experience teaching English online. During the lockdown, the couple exchanged ideas on how to reach more people and help them learn different African languages. They launched Vambo Academy in August. Since its creation, the academy has given 650 courses. It offers individual or group sessions for a fee of R180 per lesson for 45 minutes.

Dzinotyiwei has been nominated for the 2022 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), a global competition for students who own and operate businesses. The nominees compete against their peers from around the world in a series of local and national competitions in the hope of qualifying for the final. The final round of nominations took place in Cape Town on May 26 and the winners will be announced later this year.

She is the only South African finalist:

I’m not going to lie, it’s a little intimidating. I think it’s because I represent a country and I want to do my best to make my mentors and my country proud because they believe in me.

“I’m also excited because I can network with global entrepreneurs, and I know I wouldn’t have had this opportunity any other way.”

The 25-year-old is a master’s student in commerce at UCT’s Graduate School of Business.

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She said the business is growing and has been able to reach many customers across different continents which would not be possible if it still offered face-to-face services.

“I have developed a passion for linguistics and once I finish my masters I would like to learn more about the linguistic side of things so that I can use it to improve the business.

“We are constantly researching and reviewing other languages ​​to add to our curriculum. The next language we are looking to add is Swahili and for each language there is a group of native speakers with qualifications and experience in linguistics and teaching.

Dzinotyiwei adds that his team is based in different parts of the country and went through training before having tutors.

She advises any student entrepreneur to apply for the GSEA as it helps change the way they do business.

“If I win, I will definitely invest the prize money in the business,” she adds, crossing her fingers.

Follow her on @chidostartsup on all platforms.


Vambo academy student learning a language online. Photo: Supplied

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