Embracing the Sustainable Development Goals – Providing employment for refugees and artisans in Malawi


Sustainable development, business ethics, CSR and responsible management have been in the core DNA of Maastricht School of Management (MSM) since its inception. Not only is it clearly at the heart of MSM’s vision, mission and values, but it is also propagated by the students as they journey through the MSM experience, the passionate and international MSM staff and faculty, MSM’s international partner institutes and the corporate partners that share MSM’s vision for ‘working together for better global management’.

This is a series of articles highlighting how MSM as an institute, its students and alumni contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. In this article, the spotlight is on Florisa De Leo Magambi, current student in the MSM Online MBA program.

Providing employment for refugees and Malawian artisans
Florisa De Leo Magambi was born in Italy but has been living in Malawi for about 12 years now, combining her responsibilities as mother, wife and social entrepreneur, and currently also as student in the MSM Online MBA program.

Together with her husband Innocent Magambi, she founded Kibébé. At Kibébé, ethical, eco-inclusive, highly curated products are designed for the international market to provide employment for refugees and Malawian artisans. Being now a registered social enterprise, the founding of Kibébé emerged out of personal needs: “The project began informally,” Florisa explains, “I was working with my husband at Dzaleka refugee camp, when our first child, Mwiza, was born with a severe disability. We needed sensory toys and baby room decor, which I could not find in Malawi. I began designing a couple of items with tailors in the refugee camp.” The name Kibébé consists of two words Ki and bébé. Ki means chubby in Swahili and bébé means baby in French.

Since its inception in 2014, Kibébé has grown from a small-scale project into an award-winning social enterprise with international presence. In 2019 Kibébé International was established as non-profit organization in the US.

A win-win-win concept
Besides directly providing jobs to refugees and Malawian artisans, Kibébé sources the fabric for its products from the local fabric market, supporting around 30 female sellers. In addition, all profits Kibébé generates from its products are donated to its sister charity There is Hope Malawi that aims to empower refugees and local Malawians through vocational training programs and college scholarships.

The founding of this charity is also rooted in personal experience, as Florisa clarifies: “There is Hope Malawi was founded by my husband Innocent Magambi. He was born a refugee in DR Congo from Burundian parents and lived in 5 different refugee camps over the first 27 years of his life. All we do has one aim: equipping displaced people to become self-reliant: through education, employment and human rights advocacy.”

Award winning social enterprise
In 2019 Kibébé won the UN SEED Award for Eco-Inclusive Social Enterprise, recognizing its efforts in reducing poverty, providing employment and education, supporting gender equality and contributing to the environment.

Florisa herself is a knight in the order of the Star of Italian Solidarity – a recognition by the President of the Republic of Italy.

Contribution of Kibébé to the SDG’s
In fact, Kibébé contributes to quite a few SDG’s, as Florisa demonstrates.

SDG#1 No Poverty, SDG#2 Zero Hunger, SDG#3 Good Health and Well-being, SDG#4 Quality Education, SDG#5 Gender Equality: “Many of these are NOT public services in developing countries, but services available to those who can afford them. So, employment tends to address these as a bundle, the steadier and more significant someone’s wages are.”

SDG#8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG#9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: “As our organization grows, we can employ more people in more roles, and we hope to start printing our own fabrics through innovative technology.”

SDG#10 Reducing Inequality: “90% of our staff (management, sales, administrative) and artisans are women. Inequality in Malawi is still gender-based, as well as socio-economic. Most of our artisans never completed primary school because of displacement, but with on the job training and rich traditional crafting skills they can make high quality products for an international audience.”

SDG#12 Responsible Consumption and Production: “Our processes are ethical and all profits are reinvested in community empowerment.”

SDG#13: Climate Action: “70% of Kibébé’s products include repurposed materials.”

How the MSM Online MBA contributes
In November 2018, Florisa started the Online MBA at MSM. The decision to pursue the Online MBA was fueled by Florisa’s desire for the future: “I would like to grow Kibébé and in the future start other social entreprises. Kibébé has shown me how transformative employment can be to an individual, their family and their community. If you think about it, once an adult is employed their family eats better, can afford school fees and medical bills, and with 90% of our artisans and staff being women, we have seen how their participation to decision making has radically increased, too.” To help her grow Kibébé, Florisa recognized that she needed more knowledge on managing a business: “I did not have education in business management. In the MSM Online MBA I am acquiring knowledge to be more strategic in planning and implementation of where Kibébé is going.”

Hope for the future
Looking at where Florisa would see herself and Kibébé in the next five years, she has a clear view on what she would like to reach: “Running a strong export business on our own online platform, making our own patterned fabrics, and working with a network of collaborators to increase our reach, as well as attract visitors to our premises in the context of responsible tourism.” On the longer run she hopes to employ others in leadership roles at Kibébé, in order for her to move on to the next challenge: “If Kibébé can grow strong, and we can employ others in leadership roles, we will become better because we will have broader knowledge and expertise. I will then be able to exit the organization leaving it to thrive, and go and set up something else, hopefully enriched by some lessons learnt.”

Kibebe and COVID-19
Amidst the COVID-19 crisis Kibébé quickly reacted to the need for protective products in adding reusable cotton face masks to the production process. Florisa explains why she decided to do this: “One of our dearest friends and supporter of our work with refugees was infected with the virus in the United States. When she recovered, she pleaded with us to start preparing for the virus to arrive on the African continent. She made an appeal and thousands of dollars were raised for COVID preparedness, amongst which was the sewing of reusable cotton face masks.” Kibébé managed to turn around the production process quite fast to produce the face masks in growing quantities: “The décor and accessories we normally produce are all made by hand on traditional sewing machines – while we trained our existing artisans on the new product pattern, the German Embassy in Malawi rewarded our efforts and donated 45 extra machines, helping us to increase capacity by 200%,” Florisa adds.

In the light of COVID-19, Florisa would like to make an appeal: “When it comes to Covid19, people living in the Refugee Camp are especially vulnerable to the threat. A lack of running water combined with overcrowding makes infection control a near impossible challenge. A hand-to-mouth existence also makes bulk food shopping and a life in lockdown an impossibility. In fact, UN food distributions only cover enough for 12 meals a month. Dzaleka refugees need our help. We have teamed up with our sister charity There is Hope to reach 1,500 households by raising $153,750. This will enable us to supply food packs, soap and face masks. For more information and to support this initiative, please click here.

MSM’s capacity building projects supporting the SDG’s

MSM runs a broad portfolio of capacity building projects supporting the SDG’s. Here are a few examples related to SDG’s highlighted in the article. More examples can be found here.

The project Bright Future in Agriculture focuses on enhancing employability and food security in Ethiopia through supporting and developing the Ethiopian agricultural vocational education sector. 

The recently finalized project Safe and Sound in Lebanon focused on improving mental health of Syrian refugee children through psychosocial support. Read here more about the results of the project.

Gender equality in MSM’s Education Programs

At MSM, the promotion of working towards gender equality in all our educational programs is a top priority. Gender equality discussions run throughout the curriculum. To empower women, MSM offers the Women Ambassador Scholarship for its Master in Management and MBA programs. This scholarship targets motivated women, who in their own unique ways, are working towards gender equality, leadership positions as a woman, or taking on an `woman ambassador’ role to support other women to breakthrough in what remains a very male-dominated world.

Related publications 

Please find below some examples of recent publications by MSM (adjunct) faculty related to the article:

Digital girl: cyberfeminism and the emancipatory potential of digital entrepreneurship in emerging economies - McAdam, M., Crowley, C., & Harrison, R. (2020). Digital girl: cyberfeminism and the emancipatory potential of digital entrepreneurship in emerging economies. Small Business Economics. Read more

Exploring Degrees of Wellbeing of Women Entrepreneurs in Refugee Settlements: A Personal Account
Dijkhuizen, J. (2020). In M. Lepeley, K. Kuschel, N. Beutell, N. Pouw, E.L. Eijdenberg (Eds.), The Wellbeing of Women in Entrepreneurship: A Global Perspective.: Routledge. Read more

Maastricht School of Management: Working together for better global management

As a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), MSM strives towards making the world a better place through responsible management. MSM aims to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) in all its activities: the international capacity-building programs, the custom made programs, research activities and in its education programs. To learn more on how MSM contributes to the SDG’s, click here.