I was born in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, and had a privileged and happy childhood growing up there. We lived in a nice house, my three brothers and I went to good schools, and our family enjoyed life at the higher end of the local society. I remember seeing an advertisement on television for British Airways when I was about ten years old and, like many other girls at that age, I was instantly completely enraptured by the dream of living the glamorous life of airline cabin crew, travelling the world.
But then when I was 13, my father died and it was like my world had fallen apart. Our family had lost not only a husband and father, but also its main breadwinner and my own utter inspiration. My mother was working as an accountant, so we weren’t on the streets, but the fact that our income was suddenly slashed meant we had to move house and move schools, all luxuries were cut off, and life became something of a struggle for us all.
I left school at the age of seventeen, trained to become a travel consultant and worked in a travel agency for a year, until I found out one day that the airline Zambian Express was recruiting for crew. I got all ready for the interview but felt totally deflated when I arrived and found out I was one of five thousand people applying for just ten positions! I knew this was my big chance, though, so was determined to do my very best, and it paid off because I was selected! The next three years was like a dream, flying throughout Africa initially and then when the company went intercontinental, taking trips to Europe. I was seeing new places, meeting new people and was finally able to help support my family….I thought life couldn’t get much better, but suddenly the company went into liquidation.
At that point, everything for me hung on getting my last redundancy cheque, so when the liquidators dragged their feet, I decided to go to their offices and demand to see the person in charge! It took me a while, but I finally got in to see the senior liquidation handler and clearly made an impression because he personally delivered my cheque that evening to the pub I was then managing. Not only that, but he asked me out to dinner, we started to date, and two years later on a holiday in Capetown, Michael the liquidator proposed to me!
We got married in Zambia in 2001, then in 2002 moved back to Michael’s hometown of Swindon with his two young sons, mainly to take advantage of the better opportunities available in the UK. Michael continued to work as an accountant, and I became an administrator and promoter for a marketing company, before going self-employed a year later and movng on to promoting everything and anything, from cars to cereal bars. Michael also went self employed and set up his own accountancy business, and our happy family was completed in 2005 when our son Ashley was born, a new brother for my two step-sons.
In 2006, Michael and I went to the Business Achievers Conference in Alicante, and because we had inherited a few properties, we were keen to listen to a presentation about property investing. Our portfolio was giving us quite a poor return, with some properties actually in negative cash flow, so when I heard Steve Bolton speak about his business model, the systems he had in place and the high returns he was achieving as a result, I knew I needed to speak to him as quickly as possible! I wanted to be actively involved in building my portfolio, so agreed a mentoring programme with Steve, focusing on a cash positive strategy of investing in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).
In March 2007, Steve came to Swindon to work with me and after and after the end of the second day of being mentored by him, I was sale agreed on 2 properties which would both give fantastic returns exceeding my expectations! That was the beginning of my success in business, and thanks to the business model, I was left with a system and support network that enabled me to acquire 4 more properties by December 2007, something I’d never imagined I’d do.
I realised that if I was going to continue to invest aggressively and creatively I needed some long term support, so thank God, that was right at the time that Platinum Property Partners was formed, and I was immediately signed up as a foundation Franchise Partner. As well as getting the business support in expanding my UK portfolio, I can also take advantage of great capital return opportunities overseas. In October 2007, Michael and I bought an apartment in Bucharest, Romania, which offers an exceptional return on investment and will bring us a good cashflow boost at a time when the UK market is not appreciating. My goal is to have purchased four more HMO’s, four below market value properties and invested in more international deals by March 2009.
Every two months I and the other PPP franchise partners come together for workshops, which is like the best networking club I could imagine. I really feel like I’m operating with the best systems and strategies, thanks to these regular information injections on where the market is, creative financing, working with Passive Investors, BMV deals, Land and Development and international investments. I don’t have to worry about changes in the market, because I know PPP will always be there with the best solutions.
Early on I realised that in order to be a successful business owner I needed to understand business fundamentals would probably benefit greatly from paying some attention to my personal development. I started to read and listen to motivational speakers – teachers such as Robert Kiyosaki, Brian Tracy, Tim Redmond, Brian Klemmer and Mike Murdock – just to help me think differently and get different results. Even over a short period of time, this has certainly helped me have higher expectations in running my business and reassured me that I can and will achieve my goals!
I am proud to be a part of an organisation that has not only helped me set up a successful business, but that also wants to make a difference in people’s lives and truly enable all Franchise Partners to be more, do more, have more and give more.
In January 2008, the producers of The Secret Millionaire were put in touch with Caroline by Platinum Property Partners, and they wasted no time in arranging a screen test. Caroline’s desire to be a blessing to others, combined with her proven business skills, established property portfolio and bright, warm approach meant she was quickly accepted, and in February she was whisked away on location…
Wednesday 5th March was the day I set off on my Secret Millionaire journey, and when Michael dropped me and Ashley off at the station, I had no idea where we were going. I went to the ticket office and asked for the reservation for Caroline Mwansa – I had to use my maiden name as I was supposed to be a single mother – and when they gave me a ticket for Liverpool, my first thoughts were slightly panicked: I’ve never been there before, how am I going to get on with a young baby that many hours away from home, how are we going to get on?…
I never realised Liverpool was such a beautiful place – as we travelled thorough the city to my ‘mystery destination’ I actually quite liked the infrastructure – the buildings were just fantastic and I thought perhaps my life was going to be fairly easy. Then as we approached Toxteth we saw some people protesting, and the buildings and feel of the place changed. I hadn’t heard of the Toxteth riots, so was quite shocked by the desperation of the area. As we drove in it looked so deserted – buildings boarded up, no shops, pubs closed – there was nothing going on, no life, it was just ‘dead’. I honestly felt a bit scared, but knew I had to get on with what I’d gone there for.
I was a bit shocked at how basic the flat was, but Ashley and I were both so tired I decided we’d skip dinner, have a quick bath and get ready for bed. Guess what? No hot water. Poor Ashley, I had to boil the kettle and bath him in the sink! It was awful, there was no heating, it was freezing cold and I thought ‘how can people be expected to stay in a place like this, without heating, with a young baby?’
About half past midnight the boiler sprang to life and the heating came on – who needs heating at midnight?! I was suddenly boiling, tried to turn it off, but couldn’t find the thermostat, so I woke up in the morning with a splitting headache. But Ashley was all excited and about eight o’clock the crew arrived at my doorstep, so I went to find a shop to buy something for breakfast. Eventually I found this little place called ‘Spend Well’ – you had to spend very well, it was terrible! I just wanted some bread, jam and butter, but the man looked at me like I was from another planet:
“Have you got any jam?” “Eh?” “Have you got any jam?” “Jam?” “Strawberry jam, raspberry jam…” “No.” “Oh, okay.” So we just had to have toast with butter! – dry, but it did for that time in the morning.
I needed to find out where there was for kids to go, and more than anything else I was interested in meeting other single mothers and seeing how they coped on their own without help, so that was the mission for the day. We spent a while looking for somewhere for Ashley to play, but all we found was a little bare area that looked sort of like a park, but there was nothing in there and part of it was vandalised – it looked so rough.
I headed for the library, hoping they might have toddler groups. They did have a few things on offer but you had to pay, and I was on a very tight budget, so Ashley missed out. It did give me hope, though, that there were clearly people around me with children and there was bound to be something I could find that would excite me and make me want to get involved. I remembered seeing a little project on a corner when we were first on our way in through Liverpool, so I asked if we could go back there.
It was called the Greenhouse Project and had been set up about 13 years ago by a woman called Debbie, who found herself a young single mother with nowhere to take her children. She discovered there was funding available for the community through the local authorities, so put in a bid to get some money to set up a place where children and parents could spend time together colouring and painting, and she was successful. She was given a large plot of land by the council, with the condition that she built on it as she went on, and is presently operating out of containers converted into offices.
Visiting the project really brought the need home to me. There were mothers there with six or seven children, struggling, and you think is this ever going to come to an end or is that going to be their lives for ever? How are they going to get educated if they’re always having that many babies and not giving themselves the chance to explore anything else to improve their lives – will there ever be an opportunity for a better life for their children?
I didn’t go out to criticise, I went there purposefully to find someone else that I would be able to inspire and motivate in whatever they’re doing and give them a boost. Obviously money helps, but I wanted to give them more than that. It was quite clear there was a great need in Toxteth for support and activities for all different ages – from very young people, through teenagers and on to young adults, they all needed motivation and
encouragement – and I knew I could really help and make a difference.
Debbie was doing great work with the Greenhouse Project, running summer arts activities for children, after-school activities during term-time, and renting out some of the space to young parents who want to run toddler groups. Extra funding from the government also pays for a tutor so that the project can hold drop-in sessions for asylum seekers and ethnic minorities who don’t speak good English. But the fact that Debbie already had the project running so well meant that she wasn’t actually the kind of person I was looking to help. Sure, she could have done with more money, but I was looking for someone who needed more than just cash – someone who really needed encouragement and some training on business acumen – so I carried on
looking, and then I came across this young lady called Dijuana.
Dijuana sadly lost her young son when he was 2 and a half, the same age as Ashley. He had been playing in the street where Dijuana lived with her mum and her brothers, when a young guy messing about on a motorbike accidentally knocked him down, killing him. I could sense the pain of losing a son, and was drawn to Dijuana’s good heart – even after that tragedy she wanted to do something for the community to avoid the same things happening to someone else. So she’d gone out there and organised activities to keep these children out of trouble, bringing the community together with an after-school club for younger children aged 5-12, then activities for 12-15 year-olds and 16-25 year-olds, to give them direction, hope and some sort of kick-start to their lives.
Shortly after meeting Dijuana I knew I wanted to work with her. She just had so much potential and I thought this is what I’ve been looking for, someone I can help with refining business skills and personal development, spending time coaching and mentoring her, and working on mindset and goal setting so she can become even better at what she’s doing. It was really hard getting to know her when I couldn’t be honest about who I was, but I spoke to her husband and kids – just casual conversations – and thought, I really like this girl and I’d like to work with her not just for now, but forever; to be there even just as a friend, and carry on working together for the community.
Meeting all these different people who were doing so much, voluntarily, for other people made me look at myself and think about what I was really doing for other people. I decided that when I went back to Swindon, I’d change how I do things, because the Secret Millionaire experience made me realise that it’s a good world we live in – we live to serve other people, we live to serve one another – and if I’m just doing stuff for myself then something has definitely gone wrong.
I do give to charities and I’ve got 20 close relations back in Africa who are orphans, and help out as and when I can, but I don’t purposefully go out in Swindon thinking ‘What can I actually do to help somebody else?’ And it’s not just about money, it’s about spending time talking to people and sharing your skills and expertise – that can be life changing.
As well as Dijuana, I found a company called DCLP: Dingle Community Learning Programme. It’s based in an old converted pub, and offers all kinds of things for the community. Children can go there for after-school activities and keep themselves out of trouble, there’s practical therapy for families with young children with disabilities, there’s a learning area with computers where people can access information and train, and there are group sharing, counselling and support sessions. One of the founders, June, has a severely disabled child, so the motivation to organise that programme came from personal experience. They provide a professional masseuse and therapy sessions for mothers and carers of young disabled children, and give them the opportunity to talk and share their concerns and experiences.
DCLP also rents out the premises to people like Dijuana, who doesn’t have buildings herself. When I was there, Dijuana had just got funding for the summer, which went directly to DCLP and paid for healthy snacks to be provided to children after school, and one day I helped out with making soup there. Joining in and helping was so rewarding, but very hard work. As well as making soup I also helped out with dancing and other activities. When there were a lot of children it was quite exhausting and looking back, a lot of the week was really hard-going. There were some days when I thought ‘when is this going to end… I’m tired and I need to go home’, but then I’d see what everyone else was doing and remind myself how lucky I am.
Ashley wasn’t happy a lot of the time and was crying, but I had the luxury of a nanny who would take him so I could get on with what I’d gone there to do, whereas so many of the people I came across were single parents, doing everything on their own and still finding the time and generosity of spirit to help others.
I feel immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to experience a way of life that is so alien to me and so far removed from my life in Swindon. These people have realised they’ve got to do something for Toxteth, and they’re fighting to bring back love, to encourage and nurture talent, and give the next generation hope and the opportunity to make the best of themselves. To have been a part of a community that has so much goodness, strength and spirit within it, has been so rewarding, and I’m honoured and incredibly pleased to be able to make a real difference to Dijuana and to the DCLP, not just financially, but with ongoing mentoring and support for many years to come.