Social Entrepreneur Spotlight: Emmanuel Chatina

Credit: Online Clinic Yathu

Credit: Online Clinic Yathu

Earlier this year, Emmanuel Chatina participated in Flame Tree Initiative's Development Entrepreneurship Lab (DELab) to learn practical social entrepreneurship skills that would take his business, Online Clinic Yathu, to the next level. Online Clinic Yathu, better known as Ocliya, is a year-old Malawian social enterprise that offers affordable multidisciplinary physiotherapy and health services to adults and free cerebral palsy therapy to children. It uses a mobile technology platform to lower the cost of accessing health care and allow its users to locate health personnel according to their needs. When Ocliya launched in 2018, Emmanuel faced many challenges like so many other social entrepreneurs. However, his perseverance is proving to pay off as Ocliya was recently awarded one of the six best social enterprise ideas by mHub Malawi and was showcased as an innovative business model in Nairobi, Kenya at the Digital Opportunity Trust Unconference. This month, he graciously shares with us his entrepreneurial journey and the lessons he learned in business.

FTI: Emmanuel, you were only 22 when you founded Ocliya. What motivated you to start a social enterprise so early in your career as opposed to following a traditional employment path?

EC: I have always wanted to do something impactful. I noticed different challenges that I wouldn’t [be able to] solve if I was employed by someone else. You know, more often than not, in a traditional employment path you are motivated mainly by your salary or something like that. I wanted to be part of something which is on the long vision of creating impact and value. This led me to found Ocliya.

FTI: Did you experience any sort of nervousness starting your own business?

EC: Talking about nervousness, I had a lot of that. There is a lot of negativity concerning business or entrepreneurship in Malawi and Africa at large. Before I actually started out, I had heard more reasons of why I should not start. You hear it from friends even some people who have businesses and they talk of how tough it is out there. Most of the things might be true but I believed that they should not stop me from getting started in the first place. I had to remember a quote by Mark Zuckerberg that says “You just have to get started." I overcame my fears through different ways. One of the ways include getting associated with people who share the future of entrepreneurship. Coincidentally, I got admitted to Flame Tree Initiative’s program which provided me such kind of environment, you know. Another way was through books. I am a voracious reader and I found ways of how to deal with my fears through reading.

FTI: How did you prepare to launch and lead Ocliya?

EC: I had to put in a large fraction of my savings to get Ocliya started. It was the two of us starting and this person had to move to the south of the country to finish her studies and I ended up alone. So I had to talk to my friends who have shown interest when I shared them the Ocliya idea. They became part of our current seven-person team.

FTI: What is the hardest part of having your own business?

EC: The hardest part for me having my own business is the case of having to do a lot of things at once or within a short period of time which I think is the story of many start-ups across the world. I am not just a founder but I am also one of the therapists at Ocliya. It reminds me of the story the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, usually talks about - that he was driving all the packages to UPS all by himself after packing the books on concrete floors during the early history of Amazon. I believe that this will get better as we grow and as the team becomes efficient on our day to day operations.

FTI: How did DELab help you as a social entrepreneur? Did you learn something from the training that now helps you with Ocliya's day to day operations?

EC: 5. DELab was very informative and full of practicalities. It helped me as a social entrepreneur in a lot of ways. It helped me in refining my social entrepreneurial goals and mission. It is easy to get distracted from your social mission when there are a lot of things going on as you establish a sustainable business. It also helped me to get valuable feedback from the facilitators concerning my business. Oh yeah, I sure did learn things from the training that is helping us in our day to day operations at Ocliya. Things like making the business plan part of day to day job - looking into which goals we have achieved and which ones are lagging behind and why. So this kind of lesson has helped us to identify certain tasks which are helping or have a potential of making a huge impact.

FTI: What difference or social impact do you hope Ocliya to have on Malawi?

EC: Well at Ocliya, we want to be a role model when it comes to offering different healthcare services in Malawi. When patients, clients and children are able to access fast, affordable, respectful, efficient and high-quality service through Ocliya, that will mean that we are really making a difference in Malawi. Our social impact goes primarily to children. We have started with children with cerebral palsy and we believe children shouldn’t be denied healthcare because of long distances or high rehabilitation costs.

FTI: Lastly, do you have a message for young people who hope to become a social entrepreneur like you?

EC: I think my message to the young people who hope to become a social entrepreneur is to choose something that they are passionate about and not necessarily to start something which appears to be cool or which has a large following. The reason I am saying this is that in moments of despair, you need to find a greater reason of why you are doing what you are doing. That way, it will save you a lot of mental energy and you can keep pushing forward even when no one believes in you at that particular time.

To learn more about Ocliya’s work and to stay updated, check out their website and their Facebook page.