In the last year or so I’ve seen more Proudly Zambian labels than ever before. I never really thought much about it until the other day when I heard about a foreign agency that was in Zambia to help an NGO with a reproductive health challenge for young Zambians.

First I was furious – this is exactly what Media 365 does – and then I thought, ‘ok, Media 365 does need to brand itself better so that people know we exist and what we do’. I did have a fleeting thought that this NGO did know us because we had done some random posters for them back in the day but more to the point, I never even saw them put in a bid in the papers for a local agency to undertake this work.

I’ve never been one to bow down to the blame game so really did look within ourselves (as in the company) to understand how we missed out on this opportunity but at the back of my mind I couldn’t help question why it is that we simply don’t support or buy local.

It then reminded me of a topic of conversation that I’d been part of about this false economy we’re buying into of this 6% growth and being one of the fastest growing economies in the region. Except for the fact that a lot of that money is going to foreign owned companies, sometimes not even within the company!

Ok so they are two separate but related thoughts. Let’s start with local and the proudly Zambian concept.

A lot of countries have used this technique to boost local business and I suppose instill a sense of national pride. At first I used to ignore it. I’d buy the best product at the best price regardless of where it was manufactured/produced etc. But as a business owner I started thinking about where my money was going. If I bought local, I was empowering a business owner who could then pay his employees. It is hard to think in those terms when you’re only spending K20 (less than $3) on something. But those K20s add up.

My other gripe with supporting and buying local was that local needed to be good enough to compete. I still believe this but how will they get good enough if we don’t support them enough to grow? Look at YoYo crisps. I like to use them as an example because if you compare their packaging to say Amigos’, it’s like night and day. YoYo’s can easily compete with international packaging, I actually bought a pack before I knew they were Zambian! Or think about Boom. Boom has been around for longer than I can remember, but their packaging has definitely improved again comparable to international brand’s packaging. The support of their mass market consumer allowed them to get to the next level. So if we don’t support local today – and give them honest feedback – how will they grow tomorrow?

So unless it’s truly bad, I do try my best to support local. How else will we stimulate our economy if we don’t support local?

And that goes back to the 6% growth and fastest growing economy thing. I think it’s now a given that the economy will be stimulated and grown by entrepreneurs, and that job creation will be done not by government, but by private sector. So if we’re not supporting local, how will local entrepreneurs help with sustainable wealth creation?

There is so much talent locally – and yes I’ve gone back to my irritation with competing with foreign agencies – but we don’t support this local talent. Even think back to our local TV and film industry. People like Mingeli Palata are continuously putting out films – and I admire this because the response is often so poor, as in poor turnout to watch the film, but we’ll go out for some other big budget movie. Bollywood and then Nollywood are some of the biggest industries in the world because the citizens support it. No one is going to tell our stories and get the nuances that make us Zambian, so why aren’t we going out more to support local productions?

Instead we look for something negative to say, some way to bring down that person, that product, that company. It’s like it’s something in the air. There is just way too much negativity in Zambia, that even one with the most positive disposition can’t help but find themselves bowing down to some of the conspiracy theories – ‘that person hates you’ ‘there is a group of people – a cartel – trying to bring you down’ and that then takes away your responsibility to do better and be better. We only have ourselves to blame for the fact that our economy may be owned by foreigner, or the poor turnout for our shows (film and music alike) because we don’t support each other, and we’re not striving for the best. We all start from somewhere.

I always remember the fact that people would look for a reason Love Games was good – oh they had foreign crew on it, oh they got money from this donor blah blah blah. The foreign crew were here to help, but answered to a local director, a local producer – they weren’t calling the shots. And the local crew who worked with them increased their skillset. Learning is part of the process of getting better, to getting ‘good enough’ to compete internationally – seeing as some people think we can’t right now.

I wish government would also get better at supporting local, and being more proudly Zambian. Ok the idea of now tenders going to companies that own at least 50% (i think) of the company is a good one. But more often than not, government is still awarded things to foreign companies.

A few months ago, I went to a talk at StartUp Junction where our deputy commerce minister Miles Sampa was the featured guest. There were several things that were shocking about what he said but the key one that stood out (or at least related to this post) was that he said he got the logo for his constituents football team logo done by someone in Pakistan!

I get it, it was probably cheaper to do it in Pakistan. But you’re in government, you of all people should be supporting local businesses! And there are loads of kids who could do a logo for next to nothing – hell he could have held a competition to get one done for free!

I think it’s our collective responsibility to support local, this is how we’ll see our economy really grow, how there will be equitable wealth creation and will stimulate better local products and services. So if there is one thing I’d ask you to do is go out and buy something local – and I’m not just talking about bread, but be more conscious of your purchasing power and use it to grow your own economy so that we can grow it.

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