Awards 1998 The Gibb Award for Sustainable Development

The Gibb Award for Sustainable Development

The Winner: Mandala Ltd.

Mandala, Malawi's oldest company, is seeking to help the people of this heavily populated country improve their standard of living. This is a stern task given that Malawi is landlocked and depends almost entirely on agriculture: it has little mineral wealth.

Mandala, a nickname referring to the reflection of light from its first general manager's glasses, was initially established in 1878 by Frederick and John Moir. They wanted to underpin the work of Scottish missionaries with commerce. The company singlehandedly fought the slave traders in the north of Nyasaland for two years between 1887 and 1889, thereby greatly helping to remove this scourge from Africa.

The African Lakes Corporation was formed in Glasgow with Mandala as the Nyasaland branch. It did not officially adopt the Mandala name until 1977 when it became a company in its own right, incorporated in Malawi.

Mandala began as an inland shipping and transport company, operating steamers on the Shire and Zambezi rivers and Lake Nyasa. It later diversified into general trading. After Malawi became independent, it left trading and developed businesses in agriculture, motors and hotels.

At the turn of the century, it established a rubber estate near Nkhata Bay in the north. A major programme to expand this enterprise began in the early 1970s. Since this is the only rubber estate in the region, there is no local supply of equipment. A co-operative of tappers' wives makes clay cups (to collect the latex), which they sell to the estate. Mandala built the kilns and supplies the glaze. It is looking at the possibilities of making dipped latex products and growing oil palms.

In the south of Malawi, Mandala has coffee and tobacco estates. The tobacco is grown in a three-year rotation: tobacco, maize, fallow. Local villagers grow the maize which thrives on nitrogen left behind after the tobacco; but they must ridge the land against erosion. Again, Mandala is looking for new possibilities. Air transport is not regular enough for it to join the cut-flower trade but it is experimenting with growing flowers and herbs for seed.

Mandala is helping to improve schools. It makes its tractors and earth moving equipment available to keep roads open. "We try to do as much community work as we can," says Don MacKenzie of African Lakes Corporation in London. Mandala is a member of Impact, an initiative for involving business in the community.

For its motor trade, Mandala has established Mandala Motor City at Blantyre. Its link with Ford dates from 1924 and it is also the dealer for Nissan and Daewoo. Mandala's hotels include the long-established Ryalls in Blantyre, and the Shire Highlands, a centre for the tobacco community in Limbe. In all, Mandala employs about 3,000 people. Almost all the managers are Malawians.

Mandala is helping to take Malawi into the forefront of information technology through its sister company, Afcor, IBM's business partner for Malawi. African Lakes Corporation is a pioneer of information technology in Africa, owning Africa on Line, an internet service run by Africans out of Kenya.

Mandala Ltd, PO Box 49, Blantyre, Malawi
Tel: +265 621011/623373 Fax: +265 623107