Our team worked on a growth strategy for Microhub, a Harare-based financial institution that provides loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Before joining our client in Harare, we had closely followed the news coverage about Zimbabwe’s rising inflation and local currency uncertainties. But it wasn’t until we landed at Robert Mugabe Airport, named for the country’s recently overthrown leader, that the full extent of the crisis became evident.

A Microhub branch in Harare

Facing severe fuel shortages, cars were queued by the hundreds at gas stations in Harare, waiting days for the next shipment of government-subsidized gasoline. Zimbabwe’s currency inflation and dwindling supply of highly coveted US dollars made essential imports like food more expensive. Higher import prices shuttered businesses and hurt everyone but the politically connected.

Against the backdrop of this crisis, our Pangea team was in Harare to develop a growth strategy for Microhub, a leading financial institution in Zimbabwe that lends to hundreds of SMEs across the country. With small businesses and consumers suffering from the worst currency crisis in a decade, it was an exceedingly tough environment for a financial firm like Microhub. Our task was therefore challenging: we needed to create a strategy that would help the company weather this crisis, grow their top line, and position the firm to emerge stronger when the economy recovered.

Over the course of a week, we worked out of Microhub’s headquarters in downtown Harare and traveled by pickup truck to satellite offices in Chinhoyi, Kadoma and Mutoko. We met with Microhub’s loan officers and key executives to map out the firm’s operations, while interviewing dozens of customers to better understand their needs and perceptions of our client.

Meeting a Microhub retail customer in Mutoko

We came away from these meetings with some important (and at times surprising) insights. For example, after sitting down with the operations team and reviewing financials, we realized the satellite office model was a much more profitable blueprint for future growth, rather than replicating their full-service flagship location. Meetings with customers revealed that Microhub branded merchandise – something as simple as a tee-shirt or cap – was so sought after by customers that it could be used as a reward to incentivize high-quality customer referrals. These insights and others illuminated growth levers in an otherwise adverse economic environment.

As a culmination to our engagement, we attended Microhub’s annual offsite meetings to present our growth strategy. Our recommendations included a geographic expansion plan to the country’s south that would minimize capital expenditures. We also proposed ideas to diversify their product offering to grow revenues and broaden their customer base. We then concluded our presentation with a synthesis of key customer feedback, and some corresponding strategies to boost customer acquisition efforts.

Group breakout session during Microhub’s annual offsite meetings

Our presentation sparked a lively discussion among the entire executive team, which in turn yielded several concrete decisions for their coming year. Not only were we able to deliver real insights and impact to our client, but we found the entire experience — our meetings with Microhub staff, our conversations with small business owners across Zimbabwe — to be a great opportunity for our own development. We had stepped into a completely new sector and geography, learned a great deal from our gracious hosts, and improved our understanding of some of the unique business challenges in markets plagued by significant political and economic risks. We left Harare with a much greater appreciation for Microhub’s mission and a desire to soon return to the region for similar work.


– William Gangware ’19, Brendon Earle ’19, and Charlie Drain ’19