Q&A with Nokuzola Ncube, Founder of OBD Ventures (Our Brother’s Desire)

Nokuzola was born in Zimbabwe and raised in Canada. She has just graduated with an Honours Specialization in Health Sciences at Western University (formerly University of Western Ontario). Nokuzola is passionate about education, equity, and global citizenship. She earned a Resolution Fellowship at the United Nations Youth Assembly in the Winter of 2018 for her initiative, Our Brother’s Desire: a community-based social venture tackling the illegal migration of Zimbabwean youth by providing economic opportunity.

Please introduce yourself.

Hello!! My name is Nokuzola Ncube, some people call me Zola. I recently graduated with an Honours Bachelors in Health Sciences from Western University. I was born in Zimbabwe and moved to Canada when I was three years old (I’m 22 years old now). I go back and forth between Canada & Zimbabwe, spending months at a time in one of the two countries.

What adjectives would people use to describe you?

Energetic. Soft. Hopeful.

What is the challenge your venture seeks to address?

OBD Ventures (Our Brother’s Desire) seeks to address the lack of economic opportunity for young people living in rural Zimbabwe. The ultimate challenge, however, is illegal migration — we’ve chosen to address this through economic opportunity as this is often cited as a push-factor for illegal migration.

Have you been personally affected by this issue? If so, how?

Yes, a few years ago my cousin-brother died in a neighboring country while pursuing economic opportunities. Unfortunately, his case isn’t the only one— it’s something that communities in Zimbabwe are faced with far too often.

How is your venture addressing these challenges?

OBD Ventures believes that economic opportunity goes beyond money– it’s about collaborating with many different sectors to provide young people with transferable skills and equitable income. Specifically, we identify gaps in the market and aim to fill them through empowering young people. Currently, our research has shown that there is a shortage of eggs in Zimbabwe— national egg production is not meeting demand. We will, therefore, center our pilot around this product. By building relationships with the private sector, we can help increase the supply of eggs to match demand. This will provide us with a steady stream of income while still allowing us to build our brand as OBD Ventures. Additionally, all of our activities are guided by a curriculum that is tailored to the context of our youth.

What does your venture hope to achieve?

We hope to contribute towards a generation of self-sustaining young people in Zimbabwe.

What inspired you to start your venture?

Honestly, I’m pretty easily inspired, so lots of things, but the tipping point was the death of my cousin-brother in 2015.

What excites you about the Resolution Fellowship?

The support and inspiration! There have been a couple of times where I’ve found myself discouraged, like when something is taking longer than I anticipated or having to rework my original action plan (true story). It’s great to have this community of brilliant young people to learn from on social media and to stay updated on their work. Additionally, having Guides who are dedicated to not just my venture, but me as a human, is so wonderful. In Zimbabwe, we say “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” which loosely translates to “I am because we are.” That proverb is embodied by the Resolution community.

How will the Fellowship help you achieve your goals?

The Fellowship will help me achieve my goals by providing me with resources in the form of conversations, information, and inspiration– yes, inspiration is a resource. Also, the seed funding for OBD Ventures has been incredible.

Zola pitching her idea for OBD Ventures at the Social Venture Challenge

What advice would you give other college students who are looking to start their first social venture?

Do it scared. Even with the support of the Resolution Fellowship, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. However, instead of being paralyzed by the fear, I’ve used it as motivation to move forward. Furthermore, it really helps to constantly focus on the issue that we are addressing. When I remind myself “Zo, this is a real issue that OBD is addressing,” everything becomes less abstract. It’s no longer just numbers, budgets, indicators, and documents—it humanizes the issue and the venture.

What do you love most about your home community?

When I’m in Canada, I am often asked “where are you from?” and most times I answer “here, but also Zimbabwe.” In Zimbabwe, I STILL get asked “where are you from?” and have to reply with “here, but also Canada.” So, it has definitely allowed me to think more critically about what it means to be a child of the diaspora and has provided me with some much-needed identity gymnastics. To answer the question, about both communities — I love the sense of belonging I feel at community events (ironic, right?).

What role do young leaders play in the world today?

Young leaders can bring people of all backgrounds together. We the young people are filled with zeal and innovation and it is so exciting when young leaders facilitate meaningful discussions with leaders of all ages.

Why is it important for young people to focus on social impact?

In regards to Africa, we are the youngest continent! I hate to put this burden on us, but hey, *shrug* — young people make up most of the continent, so it’s crucial for us to focus on social impact. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to start a non-profit or work for the UN — no way. It means that we have to be intentional and conscious about our social impact regardless of the sector we choose to work in; from tech to the arts to finance — social impact is always relevant.

What are your goals for the future?

My goal is to sit at multiple decision-making tables so that when I arrive at a high-level position, I’ll be well-equipped to make empathetic, knowledgeable, and effective decisions. This means that I want to gain experience EVERYWHERE. Over the past eight years, I’ve been focused on grassroots and community organizing through various public speaking opportunities, as a student volunteer with the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, a committee member on the London Black History Committee, and I even did a community development film apprenticeship. In 2018, I completed an internship with Education for Better Living, an education & sexual reproductive health organization located in Mwanza, Tanzania. However, during my degree, I worked as a research assistant and co-authored a paper on care for children with medical complexities which allowed me to take an academic lens to my advocacy (we published a few months ago — yay!).

Additionally, I first got involved with Plan International Canada as a speaker bureau member and was accepted for their Girls Belong Here program which gave me the opportunity to be Canada’s Ambassador to the UN for International Day of the Girl that year. I then took a contract at the Youth Engagement team at Plan International Canada which gave me my first extended experience with an international organization.

Specifically, in the near future, I want to gain experience in consulting and tech innovation for sustainable development.