Sometimes we forget our blessings. It’s easy to do when we live in a world that is obsessed with consumerism and self-, and instant-gratification. Looking at our friends lives on Facebook we can get caught up with envy and focusing on what we don’t have in our lives. It’s easy. But yet we need to be reminded of our blessings.

I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Juba, South Sudan on a project I’m working on about using participatory theatre for peace-building and conflict resolution/transformation.

Before I got to South Sudan, I had people not only ask me ‘why on earth’ I was going to South Sudan, but also caution on safety as it’s a country still at war. I can’t lie, I was a little fearful. But I felt I needed something to do, and getting out of the country to go to a country I’d never been to before seemed like an opportunity not to be passed up.

My first encounter was the process of getting an entry permit. As we don’t have a South Sudan embassy in Zambia, UNICEF in South Sudan had to facilitate getting an entry permit that we needed to have before arriving in Juba. I literally got mine enroute to the airport. But at the airport they needed a print out before they could allow me on the plane. Have you seen a business centre at KK International? Thankfully my grown grandson (it’s a cultural thing) was there to help and convinced a lovely lady at the courier office to help me get a print out – thanks Sekani and Bwalya!

My journey to South Sudan took me via a night’s stay in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and arriving in Juba lunch-time of the following day. As I waited in the old terminal (Terminal 1) at Addis International Airport, I feel somewhat at ease that so many people were flying to Juba. Then I noticed that most of them had light blue passports – the UN passport. Still, it was better than being on an empty flight to the unknown.

wfp plane

I arrived at Juba International Airport about an hour and a half later. A colleague from UNICEF Zambia had already given me a heads up about the airport but no one could truly prepare me for the chaos.

The international airport was tiny. It reminded me of the Solwezi airport (and Solwezi is our economic hub too, or was, so maybe that’s not saying much!). On arrival, as I queued to get my visa (not really sure the point of the entry permit to be honest), the first thing that hit me was the overwhelming stench of urine. This was after I already almost passed out by the extraordinary heat that hit me when I stepped off the plane! South Sudan is close to the equator after all.

There didn’t seem to be order in the way things were done but I patiently went to the section that said visa on arrival. In front of me was a white woman from the UK who was kind of flirting with the security officers/immigration officers but in a condescending kind of way. It is a thing that I notice even elite black people do – treat the ‘poor, unfortunate people’ with a friendly but condescending tone (i.e. I really believe you’re an idiot but I’ll use the simplest of English for you to understand and I’ll smile at you and treat you like a happy baby with my cooing and aaahing). I shook my head and rolled my eyes.

I finally got my passport stamped and out I went to collect my bag. There was no luggage carousel so I could easily identify my bag, have security rummage through it and put a sticker on it, verifying it had been checked, and good to go.

This was my first thought of being grateful. We spend so much time in Zambia complaining about our poor infrastructure and inefficiency but it’s miles ahead of the Juba airport! I was suddenly grateful for, or at least appreciative of what Zambia has.

I walked out of the hall, and I still hadn’t seen my pick up. I remembered the Welcome and Security Pack I had been sent that clearly said, ‘don’t get a cab, go to the other UN drivers and ask them to radio a UNICEF driver for you’. Which is exactly what I did!

The driver in that UN car was extremely helpful and offered to drop me off at my hotel that was literally round the corner. As we’re driving away we see the UNICEF driver. But the UN driver won’t let me exit the car until the UNICEF car was parked directly behind us and the UNICEF driver was out of the car – the robberies are real he said.

I was slightly startled by that – was my family and friend’s fear justified if I couldn’t just get out of the car?!

view from the room

I was three days late to getting to the workshop, and as my UNICEF colleague drove me from the hotel to the workshop venue, I looked around the city.  The first thing you notice is the amount of UN cars on the road, including UN hummers!  There was some presence of the military, not heavy, but considering the city was supposed to be demilitarized, there was a clear presence of them. I saw land cruiser pick up with army in there, and what was clearly a dead body. I hoped this was just the body of their own colleague and not some poor person killed – I decided it was best not to ask questions you might not want the answer to.

It was great getting to know the workshop participants, 17 of them representing 9 of the 10 states of South Sudan. All super friendly and ready to engage and participate. They got the methodology of the two methods of participatory theatre we were testing out, and quick to see how it could be applied to their own communities and situations. Brilliant!

As I was starting to praise these activists who all stated how much they wanted peace in their country, who felt deeply hurt by the injustices and violence inflicted on their people, that affected all of them, there was also something I noticed was similar to the Zambian participants, as we’d done the same workshop a week earlier in Lusaka; their addiction to their cellphones.

It was constant! Some at least had the decency to answer the phone out of the room, while others had no qualm answering it in the workshop room during the exercises or the facilitator explaining something. It wasn’t a big room, so all sound carried!

At first I thought, ‘how rude!’. I personally get offended when people take a phone call in the middle of a dinner or learning opportunity, just think it’s rude. I don’t know why people are obsessed with their phones. I’m not chained to my phone, I don’t stress about missed calls, people can text me, call me back or I can call them back! It’s not that serious. Hence the reason it’s called a ‘Cell-phone’ you get imprisoned by it! (I saw that on Facebook!)

Zambia was a similar thing; mainly their cellphones, but generally an inability to focus. And it led me to an overall problem we have: Indiscipline

Discipline gets a bad rap at times, probably because somehow our mind goes to the military when we think of discipline. But really discipline is about focus and self-control.

These are key areas we need to grow and develop generally. How are we going to develop or succeed if we’re indisciplined?

view from the lobby

To lose sight of your goal, or what you’re trying to achieve because you’re easily distracted is a bad thing, a sign of weakness. It takes strong will, determination, and lazer focus to stay on your course. You see examples of it all the time, the people who succeed have like a singular focus and drive; determination and discipline.

But generally, I see most people don’t have the focus or discipline to achieve the success we’re destined for. In fact, I think we’re getting distracted by tools and systems to stop us from achieving success – because of the power you hold when you have reached your full potential. So many people and organisations try to stop us from achieving this potential and we fall for it by not being disciplined.

Even in my own life, I realized that I wasn’t living up to my own potential because I was getting distracted by little things (and some pretty addictive TV). So when I saw the behavior of the people in both Zambia and South Sudan and thought, how can we achieve economic freedom or peace in our country if we can’t be disciplined? If we can’t focus on what we want, how on earth will we ever get it?

I believe in doing a lot of self-reflection, you can only control yourself and your actions, and becoming the best version of yourself requires constant reflection, away from external perceptions and distractions. So as I was getting disheartened by these displays of indiscipline and lack of focus, every time I went back to my hotel room, I would reflect on the day – the words I heard people say, and then think to my own life. What blessings has my lack of focus or discipline stopped? How many times do I say I want something and then struggle to pursue it, or stop midway through to pick up something that doesn’t take me further on my path to achieving what I desire?   Too many times to answer.

I’m back in Zambia now, grateful for my blessings, for my family and friends and their prayers. I’m also more focused on making 2016 the year of my making by leaving distractions and indiscipline in 2015!

Hope you’ll join me for the ride

(PS taking photos in Juba is illegal, but I took these photos before I knew that – for real!)

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So this happened. I was asked to speak on a career panel for Peace Corp Zamba’s first urban-based Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), which is a worldwide ignition to foster the global movement of gender equality and youth empowerment. This particular Camp GLOW was for 30 high achieving secondary school girls from compounds in Lusaka. I was supposed to talk to these young women (aged 15-17) about what my job is, benefits, challenges etc but also give them some career/life advice.

As you’re probably aware by now, empowering young girls and women gives me life. I find it so important, not only because of the empowering and inspirational women I know, but because I think it’s hard being a girl, those of us who have made it through to womanhood owe it to our younger selves and those coming up behind us, to light the way for them. So I was more than happy to attend.

No validation needed

The event was kind of like a speed dating session. I sat and every 5 minutes a group of 6 young girls came to sit with me and ask me questions. The problem (or the good thing for them) was that most of these girls already knew they wanted to be doctors or accountants. Funny how things haven’t changed in the last 50 or so years.

To be honest, they weren’t at all interested in what I did – ok one was – and they kept calling me a journalist, sigh. But I didn’t lose my temper with them – I have no problem with journalists, I may have been trained as one, but I’m not a journalist. Frustrated by the inability to ask me questions that challenged me – yes, I know, I was there for them, not for myself but I figured if I had to answer one more time what challenges I face in my work I was going to walk out of the room! – so instead I opened it up for them to ask me any question that interested them, not necessarily about my career. The young girl next to me was eager to ask ‘Why are you not married?

The question floored me.

I’m not used to people asking me why I’m not married – except for the men trying to hit on me. And I paused for a second. The truth? I told her.

In my twenties I was focused on my career, I never thought about marriage. Maybe this had to do with my father insisting I didn’t date while in secondary/high school so that I didn’t lose sight of my goals. Or it could just have been that deep down I knew that if I got into a serious relationship, I might be forced to compromise on my goals and dreams.

Now that I’m realizing my dreams, I think it’s more I simply haven’t found the right man – certainly not one that has asked the question, and I’m not the type of woman who’d ask a man.

And that’s how the day ended; me, uninspired by the young girls because of their lack of energy. But I don’t entirely blame them. There were some pretty amazing and inspiring women on the panel, powerful and super successful some of them were. But I don’t think the young girls truly understood the magnitude of these women so didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity they had to meet one on one with these women (myself included if I have to be honest).

Anyway, I tweeted my thoughts on the session and ended with the question the young girl asked me – I honestly thought it was amusing. When I read all the replies to that tweet, I was a little shocked, maybe even a bit disappointed that I had caused such a reaction. A lot of people, mainly women, thought it was sad that this girl trumped all questions to ask about marriage.

It got me thinking, why do we think it’s so wrong for women to want to get married above everything else? Does marriage, and aspiring to get married make you less of a woman? Did the feminist movement and now the girls’ empowerment movement get out of sync?

Perhaps I misunderstood it, but I thought the point of the feminist movement was to allow women to have choices to be what they wanted to be and to do what they wanted to do, freedom from judgment. And now, us women want to judge another woman for wanting to choose marriage over a high-powered career? If she’s getting an education and then chooses to get married is that so wrong?

What if her husband is a good match for her who supports her to be a better person than she is now, and if her partner is helping her reach those career goals, should she want to pursue them?

Empowered and married

Does being empowered mean you have to shun marriage and be a #BOSS only? We should be teaching young girls that marriage is an option, but one of many options and all are ok, as long as it makes them happy. I think that’s the most important thing – being happy, by your choices you make, not choices forced on you. It’s like now being empowered is making it difficult to just be a girl and be happy and like pink, and like cooking, and all the things that used to be gender specific to a girl. Now you’re the cool, empowered role model if you’re an engineer or a geek or something that used to be male dominated.

I remember one of the last words of advice a few of the women on the panel gave was ‘don’t be one of those women who just wants to look for a rich man to take care of her and buy her Brazilian weaves’. I didn’t say anything but thought to myself, ‘yes, make your own money so that you can look for a rich man to partner with you so you can both be doubly rich and buy Peruvian hair because who still wears Brazilian hair anyway?’ LOL. (sidebar:  money really isn’t that important ehem)

Serious talk though, must we be the women to judge the other woman? They are some women that I can judge (don’t get upset that people call you a ‘ho if you behave like a ‘ho), but these are girls getting ready to go into the world, there’s so much they are already going to be judged for, why should we add to that stress?

At the end of the day, like I told the girls, no matter what they choose to do, they are queens and no one can take that away from them, as long as they remember it and embrace it.

What an entrepreneur does

A couple weeks ago was the Nyamuka Zambia National Business Conference, I was fortunate enough to be involved in the design and implementation of the conference.

Prior to the conference I’d already been questioning, both to myself, and with friends, if Zambia really has entrepreneurs. This was brought about by a visiting British DFID (Department for International Development) key senior official, who had mentioned he’d had a conversation with other Zambians (or people living in Zambia), and put the same question to the small group of people (entrepreneurs/business owners and others) gathered for the private lunch at Latitude, ‘does Zambia have entrepreneurs?’. At first I think we were all vocal in our support for the Zambian entrepreneur, but as I thought about it more, I also began to wonder if it was true…

Merriam Webster dictionary defines an entrepreneur as ‘a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.

Hmmm well if we look at that definition, I question do the majority of ‘entrepreneurs’ here operate a business by taking on a great financial risk, or is it simply out of no other choice? We have a serious employment crisis and sometimes people have no choice but to start a business, but does that make them an entrepreneur?

I have fought with countless supplier and market stall holders about giving me a discount on mass purchase but they would rather I leave the entire purchase than give me a discount – is that willingness to risk loss in order to make money? Or is that stubbornness? I have too often seen people willing to lose a sale in the (miscalculated) hope that someone else will buy the product.

entrepreneur definition

Forbes.com in an article say Entrepreneurs, in the purest sense, are those who identify a need—any need—and fill it.”

So if you see your friends opening a car wash and you take the space next to it and open a car wash – does that make you an entrepreneur? Was there a need for another car wash? We see this a lot – it’s like that strip on the road to the Copperbelt, it’s like an endless stream of the same fresh produce, what makes the potatoes or the tomatoes at one stand different from the one right next to it?

An entrepreneur, as defined by, Sir Richard Branson is an ‘innovator, job creator, game changer, a business leader, a disrupter, and adventurer.’

This definition I prefer.

However, I don’t necessary ascribe to the need to create jobs, it’s a nice thing to do, especially in our economy, and to help bring people out of the cycle of poverty, but I’m not going to create jobs at the expense of my bottom line. I’m sure Sir Branson meant this too, but it’s easy to take things out of context to suit what you’re selling, especially if you’re an aid agencies.

As I already mentioned, a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of being part of the team to design and implement a business conference. The first thing that struck us was the criteria (or lack of) to determine the entrepreneurs who were to impart wisdom at this conference. The committee members were throwing out all sorts of names with nothing more than good publicity to back up their chosen candidates. Once we defined an entrepreneur by key terms, clear criteria, it got a little harder to choose.

But I then I understood where the British guy and his guests were coming from, perhaps we focus so much on the popularity of this term that any jim and jack can be called an entrepreneur now.

As I continued to struggle with this conundrum my sister sent me an article that really hit the nail on the head – 3 signs you’re a fake entrepreneur. It put even more things in perspective. The author, Dale Partridge, Founder and CEO of StartUpCamp.com, says you really shouldn’t even call yourself an entrepreneur until you have accomplished your first business goal. He added working for yourself does not necessarily make you an entrepreneur. According to Partridge, the three signs you’re not an entrepreneur (or you’re a fake entrepreneur) are:

You’re a freelance rockstar: You trade your time for money. That doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.

You’re an employee at your own company: I’mma just leave this here…(Ok this one made me cry…)

You’re employable under the right conditions: Let’s say government does create those 50,000 or whatever figure it is now jobs that they promise, and loads of other people are hiring, would you be able to get a job? Do you want a job? If you are willing to take a secure, well-paying job, over chasing your dream, you’re not an entrepreneur.

While there is nothing wrong with testing out your business as a side hustle while you still have a job, as Justin Chinyanta put it, “the lawyer who has a farm on the side, is not an entrepreneur, he is still a lawyer. Don’t confuse being an entrepreneur with a life-style choice.”

I could understand 1 and 3 but in my mind I tried to justify number 2. I mean, if we didn’t have such poor work ethics, and could find skilled labour, would this be such a problem here? It really is a bitter pill to swallow, hard as I’d like to, maybe it can’t really be justified, you’re simply not an entrepreneur if you’re an employee at your company.

So if I have to be asked again, are there entrepreneurs in Zambia? Yes. Just not as many as we think there are, and even those of us who call ourselves entrepreneurs need to examine ourselves closely.

I think I did start out as an entrepreneur – all my co-founders did. But at some point to ensure your survival (at least in the Zambian context), we had to become the technicians, the employees to ensure the business delievered. This happened more recently because of bad hires and then a fear of hiring the wrong people again! (Never underestimate the financial cost of hiring the wrong person).

entrepreneur quotes

But what do you think, do we have entrepreneurs in Zambia? And how do you define an entrepreneur?

Someone said to me ‘If I got recognized for my work by a white person, I’d be so upset, I wouldn’t even accept it’. I laughed at first thinking they were being silly or upset by something (race is becoming more and more of an issue, everywhere).

I actually didn’t think much more about it until about a week later, another colleague in the office mentioned ‘African privilege’.   We had a huge discussion about this in the office, about how African’s have the privilege of getting away with sub-standard, mediocre products and services because the West believes that’s as good as we can do.

The same colleague cited similar examples as the guy who didn’t want his work recognized, citing people who get put on a pedestal by the West, whose ‘work’ is lauded as good, when we secretly wonder if they are dyslexic (lots of people are successful and dyslexic) or don’t have spell check on their computer (all hail spell check!) and other questionable traits.

African privilege. It doesn’t even spur us to be greater than we are, and why should we, if we still get praise, financial and other rewards by being sub-standard?

Harvey Spec meme

Zambia is so different from places like Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria, not only because they have economies bigger than ours, but the nature of their work. In Zambia, so many people are making their living through government or donor cheques. But in places like South Africa, they’re not even about that life. But yet they are still getting paid!

Their work is not judged through the tainted glasses of the donor community, who paved the way for African privilege, but in the cut throat, competitive commercial world, where private sector have dollars to spend and expect to get what they paid for. In fact speak to a top South African production house about a USAID or other donor contract and they have no idea what you’re talking about ‘who or what is USAID?’ they’ll ask, while trying to negotiate their next multi-million dollar deal to do an award show.

Our private sector has not helped matters. They aren’t willing to through ad-spend to local agencies but have no problem paying top dollar for the same people we work with in South Africa to come here. Because the donor agencies are supposed to empower local capacities, they generally have no choice but to work with locals and rather than do their own due diligence they end up working with just about anyone – to be fair and all. But then complain, behind closed doors, ‘what do you expect? It is Africa, you can’t expect the same quality you’d get in the US’. Well…

African privilege. It makes the mediocre feel good about themselves, and gives us something to hide behind when we invariably also mess up – it’s hard to stay winning all the time. It makes us complacent.

Sometimes I wonder, when your work is being recognized and given accolades and all, do we laugh internally and say ‘it was pretty ish, but I’ll take your rewards anyway’, or do the same people actually think they did a good job?

I know I have extremely high standards, as my sister says, we shoot for the stars and land on the moon, but I’ll beat myself up about those missed opportunities, about the printer not printing the highest quality, about having to work with a low res jpeg.   One of my suppliers, and good friend said to me ‘your passion is not paid for nor appreciated so why do it?’ The answer was simple, because I know I can make it better.

Making it better because I don’t live by African privilege nor do I want to – I don’t plan on being on the cover of Forbes for some sub-standard crap. But I’m also learning that there is no point in my running the company to the ground because I’m working outside of the client’s budget. So in the last half of the year, I’m on some ‘If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense’, that and if you don’t want to innovate or be creative, I’m just not interested.

Life is too short to live it in beige. I also have my legacy to think about it, and it can’t be based on African privilege.

As Justin Chinyanta said last week, African entrepreneurs must run twice as hard as the entrepreneur in the West and East to just stay in the same place. I’m not trying to stay in the same place so that means running even harder.

Ok, enough ‘talk’ from me, time for me to put my money where my mouth is – see you soon!

It can be said that coming from a background of working in both USD and GBP currencies for a company like MTV, I am used to working with big budgets. But even then the budgets are not out of this world for the products we were trying to produce.  Costs are based on what it costs (and a profit margin of course), but not an infinity budget!

In Zambia, I’ve had several potential clients (and some former ones too) who complain we’re expensive and try to compare us with some other bog-standard agencies (I’m not naming names) because instead of comparing like for like, they’re happy to compare apples with oranges thinking we all do the same thing. We don’t.

Apple_and_Orange_-_they_do_not_compare

In the past I would try to compromise and cut my costs to focus on bringing in the revenue. Now I understand that revenue really is vanity. Doesn’t matter your revenue figures if your GP (gross profit) is negligible or worse still, you have no cash. But worse than that, I realized that not only were we compromising on quality, we were working harder in order to deliver a great service or product without adding to our bottom line, and affecting our overall productivity.

When talking with other creatives we discussed why is it that clients felt they could spend thousands on a workshop and then try to undercut you on a video production (especially in the donor community)? Was it really they didn’t understand the value of the product?

On the other hand, I’ve seen some dismal products that clients have spent loads on and I can see why they get reluctant to pay – but then again, don’t expect a Mercedes if you go to Toyota.   Toyota has great products, including the Lexus, but understand that when you go in to the shop, don’t try to buy more than you can afford and then blame the industry.

I’m not saying that everything nice has to be expensive. Not at all. But you need to understand the value of things to have an appropriate budget. And then understand the agency you’re going to, and what they can deliver.

I no longer apologize for not being the cheapest (and by the way, we are by no means the most expensive either), but I’m comfortable letting people know that we might not be the agency for them. Not only because of price points, but because I don’t like doing things that don’t add value, or that other people can easily do. As a friend of mine said about his agency ‘we don’t do beauty pageants’ !

I want to be constantly evolving, and being creative and doing stuff that hasn’t been done here before, or doing it better, and if a client wants a copy and paste solution, or a cookie-cutter approach, I’m not interested. I also don’t like to do ugly things. I know what is considered creative can be relative, but let’s be honest, there are things we can all agree are ugly! We have done ugly things because we got in bed with the client before we knew they liked ugly. Now I’m getting better at recognizing a client that isn’t prepared to innovate, or likes ugly things, and I stay away from them. It’s better to have a fit with your client, then to be trying to get money out of them only.

When you meet a client like that, who appreciate your value, money isn’t the issue, because they value your work and they trust you. Besides, at that point they’ll manage their expectations by understanding the value of what they’re paying for.

What I do resent is when you get a brief that says you must deliver to international standards but they want to pay local rates – determined by themselves, why can’t we charge international rates if we’re delivering international products and services?

My frustration isn’t the unwillingness to pay per se, my frustration is the lack of understanding of the value of the product or service you’re asking for. It is true that I don’t believe we should do things solely for the money, as I said, we look for ways to innovate and add value too, but I also run a company and must think of the bottom line.  And why can’t I be paid by worth?  I remember a financial consultant saying to us that we pay our suppliers too much.  On one hand I agree about some of them, but some of them are paid their worth – but in those regards our clients were underpaying!

We won’t always say no to a client because of their budget, we do look at the bigger picture. But if we can’t deliver a quality product within their budget, we respectfully decline.

I think when you’re growing and trying to prove yourself, you do have to take on all sorts of clients. But as you establish yourself and carve out your niche you can afford to be a bit more picky – to do the work that you want to proudly showcase in your portfolio. It’s difficult to do in this financially strained time but hard decisions have to be made for the long-term survival of your business.

It’s also like in the choices I make of where I expose myself and my brand, if you want to run with the big boys, you play with the big boys, if I I’m seen in the little leagues, what is it that I’m saying about my brand? It’s like that saying goes, ‘if you hang out with 5 broke people, you’ll be the 6th broke person’.

Like for like.

It is definitely hard in reality, but like the financial consultant told us, ‘the people who understand, value, and appreciate your work won’t complain about your fees.   The ones that do, probably aren’t worth being your client’.

It is an attitude thing, but you better deliver when you have that attitude – which is also why you have to be careful getting bogged down with the time-consuming projects that don’t add value to you or your business. People remember your failures as much as they remember your last success!

Words fail me when I think of the state of our healthcare in this country. It is nice to know that as old as he is, our first president, KK ,will still seek treatment locally rather than being flown out of the country, making us believe there is hope for our health care.

Sadly, I don’t think there is. Not unless government truly means to focus on, and commit to it. Development comes from having a healthy population. Your health shouldn’t be determined by your socio-economic status.

I have talked about healthcare in this country before, and I’m doing it again because of the injustice and unacceptable behaviours that I keep witnessing or hearing about to do with our health care. Last week Thursday, my niece was taken to Levy Mwanawasa General – the massive hospital by Chainama that was only recently built. This poor little 5 year old had fallen out of a tree and broken her arm – bone sticking out and all.

Friday we went through to the hospital to see her and found she had had the bone shaved, but that was about it. The doctors had all gone to march in the labour day parade (or so they said) and there was no one to attend to her.

Fast-forward to Monday and finally the child was seen by a doctor, who then said her arm was too swollen to be put in a cast, so they were going to have to wait another day before they could put the cast on.

Now I’m no medical doctor or expert in that sense, but surely there can be longer medical implications with not resetting the bone? Including possible other infections.

The worst part is that my cousin (whose child it was) is barely literate with limited education, not even understanding her basic rights. Though not that it would have helped her to know her rights because trying to enforce them at a Government clinic is probably just a waste of time to be honest. I understand that the medical stuff are overworked, but let’s be honest, they also have serious attitude problems – stank ass, rude ones.

I argue, would our medical care be any better if our ministers or government leaders went to these facilities for treatment? Or are they unconcerned because they are privileged enough to go to any healthcare facility they choose to go to – within or outside of Zambia?

And the reality is that since the masses don’t vote based on issues, the politicians don’t need to do anything about health care because people won’t vote them out of office because of it. Besides, how many of the masses know of any other way than long queues, absent medicine in hospitals, doctors who don’t talk to you, but talk down on you, dodgy linen (if there is an available bed), missing doctors, and nurses and just appalling services generally?

Would a proper voters education drive be useful to provide more understanding to voters on their value and what they need to be looking out for to get better voting going in Zambia, and to maybe light a fire under politician’s butt’s to get them to care enough to actually do the work that we can hold them accountable for?

These are just some of my thoughts thinking about this child – in fact I need to check in to see if finally she’s had the cast put it and let’s hope no complications have arisen.

My morning started with a 9am meeting with Adaobi and Gloria, the two women putting together the Fashion Master-class with leading stylist and fashion consultant Natalie Joos (if you watched House of DVF you’ll remember her during the challenge when the girls had to create their own photoshoots for a blog or something… episode 5 anyway).

Natalie_Joos

The meeting was interesting as we talked about the valuable lessons that could come out of attending this master class. And then Gloria pointed out a fundamental truth – ‘the problem I’ve seen is that people in Zambia don’t really like to invest in growing themselves professionally’. A girl after my own heart! It’s exactly what I’ve always thought.

It’s well known that in the West, people get degrees not only to learn stuff but to advance their career, and advancing it more so by going to an Ivy League college (particularly in the US) whose name alone sees you through the front door (remember in Suits they only hired lawyers from Harvard). In Zambia we tend to think that development ends at going to University – if you were fortunate enough (or wanted to) to go. I didn’t go to University initially and worked my way up. When I wanted to ensure my career climbing could progress and also came with the right salary to boot, I went to University to pursue my MBA (the great thing about the UK is how they value experience as much as degrees so I was able to go straight to a Masters without having done an undergraduate degree). Before that I’d taken courses in project management, in web development, post graduate diploma in journalism, management course, you name it.

Education isn’t just attained in the classroom of course, and I grabbed every opportunity I could find to better myself and therefore increase my career prospects.

In Zambia, I find that people are happy to drop hundreds on a night out, or on a swanky luxury car they probably can’t afford, than to say I’ll take a couple of days, or weeks out to learn something valuable to my career/profession/business. When I was sitting with Gloria and Adaobi, granted I’m not in the fashion industry, but I thought, what an amazing opportunity to get a masterclass from this woman! Natalie Joos! She’s been on House of DVF! Ok, I do watch waaay too much TV. So not only that Natalie Joos, but the one who has styled editorials and spreads for Vogue, and Elle, and Harpaar’s Bazaar (and yes she can still call Diane Von Furstenburg her friend – or at least call her!)

Can you imagine the wealth of knowledge you could get from her? Except for one thing… the cost of K700 (approximately $100). Last week I had a mani/pedi, a facial and a couple of bottles of wine, costing me, yup you guessed it, $100!

I’m not rushing to get a ticket mainly because it’s not directly my industry – however, if I had an in-house wardrobe mistress or art director I would for that employee! I even contemplated paying for a couple of freelancers we regularly use for them to have the knowledge that I could later benefit from, but the reality is if they don’t see the use in it already, won’t I just be throwing money down the toilet? (and why should I pay for my competitors to benefit when using that same freelancer?)

Freelancer abroad that I work with are constantly learning and perfecting their craft – I know this not only because they tell me, but I’ve seen their growth over the years – but in Zambia, because of our acceptance of mediocrity, local freelancers (and even some company owners) don’t see the need to invest in themselves. And that’s why they don’t grow and as the country opens up to the rest of the world – which it will (thanks to the instability of some of our neighbours – not that we’d ever take advantage of their misfortune! We’re a Christian nation for Pete’s sake!), if you can’t compete on a global level, you shouldn’t even come out to play.

Training and development is a big area we focus on at Media 365 because it adds value to our product offering to the client. It’s not always possible, and of course it’s scary to think of investing in someone who will ditch you as soon as they have the skills (though my experience has also shown that since they don’t value the training and development they might ditch you before you even get to train them! I’ll name no names… Ok maybe they just didn’t like working here…), but it’s always worth a try.

It’s true that development isn’t just about spending money; internships (oh I have a blog post about that coming up!), work placements, online education, reading professional or industry publications/articles, mentorships and more, are all opportunities that you get for free.

But where else are you going to ask that one on one question if you don’t spend the money to meet that person, to learn and grow? And who knows where a chance encounter will take you? I met Bill Roedy, then Chairman of MTV Networks Europe, when I was hosting a plenary session. We hit it off and two years later I embarked on my eight-year career at MTV (hashtag just saying).

 *By the way, if you do want to attend the Natalie Joos Master class on the 30th and 31st of May go to https://www.facebook.com/events/1418927278410021/ for more details, or get tickets from Vala at Foxdale Court in Lusaka

18927278410021/ for more details, or get tickets from Vala at Foxdale Court in Lusaka

*This post is not endorsed by the Nyamuka Zambia Business Plan Competition – All views are my own

There are a couple of things I’m very clear about when it comes to my entrepreneurial journey: Not everyone is (and should be) an entrepreneur; and you don’t need a business plan to get started. Imagine my surprise then, when I was asked to be a champion for the Nyamuka Business Plan competition! But it also spoke to my core belief that it is entrepreneurs that will build our nation and fix our economy – just look what entrepreneurs did for America, why can’t we do it too? Nyamuka Zambia logo However, had I not chosen to be a champion, I would have been submitting my own business plans right about now – I think, like my sister, I’m becoming a serial entrepreneur, I’ve got the bug now! Nothing gives me more joy than owning my own company and setting my own course, and making a difference in my community.  There are so many opportunities ripe for the picking, and technologies that allow us to do more, and do it better!  Today, innovation and disruption are really more than just buzzwords. Not unlike most people in Zambia (of my generation) my parents weren’t entrepreneurs or business people, they were public servants, so I didn’t have the spirit for business until I did my MBA (which I really started in order to move up the corporate ladder and make bank). But I was fascinated. I loved strategy, I loved hearing about the story your financials tell about your business, and I thought, why not me? Fast forward four years and while I wouldn’t trade a thing, I also wish I’d had way more practical experience than just theory. I met with someone from Bank of Zambia yesterday (on an unrelated matter) and he said something that struck a chord with me. He said, people say doing business in Zambia is hard, but those are people who haven’t tried to do business in other markets like South Africa or Nigeria. I kind of saw his point, but still, we have our own challenges. Getting financing is one of the biggest challenges in Zambia. Though I’m of the school of thought that you don’t need money to get started. Media 365 was started with just enough money to register the business. It’s not yet the success story I wish it would be, but it makes enough for us to still be in business! Obviously there are some businesses that you do need money, and a lot of it, to launch, but there are many that don’t. So when Shalin and Namaya (from Nyamuka Zambia) came telling me about the opportunity for start ups, or existing businesses wanting to expand to a new service or product line could apply to win K250,000 and it’s not a loan, happy days! Now what’s the excuse not to start your entrepreneur journey?! BIZ-PLAN-NYAMUKA-PRESS-phase1-app However, for me what was even more important than the money (because if there’s only a couple of winners…) was the mentoring and business coach support, to really ensure your business is sustainable. As an example, if you hired someone – a really good person – to write your business plan, expect to pay about 8-10% of the amount of money you’re looking for – so if you want the K250,000, you could easily pay K25,000 just for an expert to write your business plan. There are people who are cheaper – but remember you pay for what you get (in the simplest, most crude terms). Now through Nyamuka Zambia you also get business coaching and mentoring support to write your business plan– for free! Again, if you know my thoughts on entrepreneurship in Zambia, you know that I believe deeply in the need for mentorship, coaching (from those already in the game) to provide necessary and practical skills and techniques for success and sustainability far more than I think we need the money (though we do need the money too).  You can still get so much wrong with the money and no guidance. Sometimes when I’m asked to speak on entrepreneurship, I worry I come across suicidal! Not because I bemoan all the challenges and play the blame game and complain etc, but because I keep it real. It is not easy being an entrepreneur. They say you have to survive the first 1,000 days (do the maths that’s almost three years), and then after that it’s plain sailing. Well, again, is anything in life ever that simple? But in the four years that I’ve been managing Media 365 there are key things that I have learnt as an entrepreneur: Plan, plan, plan: I did just say that I don’t believe you need a business plan to start. I don’t. But you will need some sort of a plan that outlines your vision and how you plan to achieve it. As you get into the groove of your business you have no choice but to have a business plan so that everyone is on the same page and your investors and banks can understand where you’re going. Obviously the sooner you can do your business plan – even before you start the business – even better. Your clients are your life-line: It’s easy to just want high paying clients (especially when you’re in the service industry) but don’t treat your smaller clients badly too – they often pay on time and sustain you! Your suppliers are equally as crucial, the credit facilities they offer help manage your cashflow, and they can be instrumental in your ability to deliver to your clients. So treat them nice too. Always treat your clients nice! Word of mouth and bad reputations can kill your business, and especially if you’re in the creative industry – it’s a small industry. At the same time, know your worth and don’t allow clients to exploit you. Know your financials: Don’t make the mistake of leaving your finances to your finance manager, accountant, financial firm or your bank! Know what’s coming in, what your expenditure is, your gross profit margins, everything! Check your statements regularly and keep your bank charges in check. Understand your balance sheets, and all the financial reporting.  Know your money and know the story your accounts are telling you – and don’t be afraid to ask your accountants to explain things to you. Be complaint: As you move up in the world (get more and more clients and more established firms), your clients will want to make sure you’re complaint and the government will want its money! Compliance can make the difference between landing that job that makes you coins, or with potentially losing your business due to not being compliant! Growth and Sustainability: We always want to grow as business owners – ok maybe not all of us, but the more ambitious of us do! But don’t grow at the expense of risking the sustainability of your business. Plan your growth, and retain your profits to allow you to grow! However, in all things you do, think about sustainability. Mentors, Cheerleaders, Friends, Family: They are all important as you try to realize your dreams. Mentors are super important because they give you advice that’s important for your business – why make mistakes that can be avoided? – and they can open your eyes to other opportunities. Mentors can help you see above the noise – making sure you’re not getting lost by it all; when you can’t see the wood for the trees. Cheerleaders, family, friends can all support your vision and give you the motivating boost you need when things get tough and they are just the necessary support to keep you sane. And stay awake from the negative people. Nothing more ugly and energy sapping than negative people who don’t want to celebrate you. Though you also want to make sure your cheerleaders, friends, family tell you the truth – no point in someone flattering you to make you feel better when your product, service really is shite. Be passionate and have fun: Running a business is not all about doing what you want to do, when you want to do, and disrupting industries just for the fun of it. You have to pay the costs of running a business – staff, overheads, taxes etc.   So it’s not all fun and games! But if you don’t have the fun, if you don’t have the passionate, you’re not going to want to be there for the long-haul and the sleepless nights, the depression, the failures (because they will exist). You have to love what you do, be proud of your achievements and celebrate them, and be prepared to roll up your sleeves to work for that vision! That said, I wouldn’t change my career choices, including becoming an entrepreneur, for the world. So start yours, or strengthen it and apply for that business plan competition – download the forms today, deadline is on the 6th of May!

I feel I’m constantly behind in updating my blog. Every time there is an issue I feel passionate about, I get bogged down in work – that thing that helps pay my bills.

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So I might be late on the tomato issue – even though I did share thoughts on social media – I still want to talk about it in more detail, because it is something I felt very strongly about when the issue first came up.

Unless you’re not Zambia, or you have been living under a rock, you would have heard about Stella Sata’s tomato comment. In case of the above exception, let me recount it for you. University of Zambia graduates were protesting against the government’s failure to create jobs for educated Zambias – basically the premise of the students got educated, graduated and now can’t find employment and this is the government’s fault.

UNZA-Students job protest

Stella Sata, daughter of the late President Michael Sata took to her social media profile to condemn the protests and suggested that the students could create their own employment by selling tomatoes (I’m sure I’m paraphrasing).

This of course enraged students (not only the protesting ones), saying that Stella was entitled and what did she know of unemployment as the privilege of her name could open many doors and get her a job if she wanted. And other assertions to do with her perceived wealth etc. Soon after Stella bowed to the pressure and apologized.

Personally I didn’t see why she apologized. If anyone is entitled in this scenario, it’s the UNZA graduates. I won’t generalize all UNZA graduates but a lot of them believe they should be given a job simply on the merit of being the cream of the crop because they were fortunate enough to surpass all their classmates to gain enough points to get into UNZA. But that’s about it.

Some UNZA graduates who I have interviewed or who have even worked with us don’t do much to justify them having a long-term position with us. They might know the theory but they can’t do the work and find that the work is not as easy as they thought. Or because they are UNZA graduates they don’t believe they should intern or work their way up but instead should be given a managerial position simply because they have a degree from UNZA but nothing else.  Besides, it’s a very narrow minded person (and I would hope not the educated ones) that believe that going to university is about getting a job.  The very essence of education is to help you in life, develop you as a person, so why should you be bitter if you got educated but didn’t get a job, acting like your time at university was a waste?

Anyway, I’m digressing and don’t want to focus on the entitled attitude but rather on the tomatoes. I didn’t see why people were offended at being told to sell tomatoes but realized that it’s because of our myopic view of the world, and the fact that we still look to the government to solve our problems.

For me what Stella was talking about was about being an entrepreneur and creating jobs and wealth for yourself. Selling tomatoes didn’t necessarily mean at Soweto market (though why not? Elias Chimipo Jnr in his book talks about selling tomatoes at Soweto and later on eggs and cakes – he is now a presidential candidate after starting and running a very successful legal practice), but in fact, if you thought about it, why not sell tomatoes?

Everybody buys tomatoes so it’s a guaranteed market – albeit a crowded market. But I know people who grow acres and acres of tomatoes and make a killing. And then diversify – from ordinary tomatoes, to tomato juice, tomato sauce, sundried tomatoes – all sorts!

tomato field

The fact of the matter is while governments role to create jobs should be to create an enabling environment for private sector to create jobs, government itself can not create jobs – we already have a bloated public sector that the small tax base can not afford.

But more than this, it is time for us to look past government being the solution to our problems, but us solving our own problems. We have to move past the stage of relying on government because they have proved, time and time again, that they aren’t the public servants that we hoped for, but really are here to serve themselves. So as citizens we need to empower ourselves and then demand better from our government.

This is one of the reasons I’m supporting the Nyamuka business plan competition because it’s using the concept of entrepreneurship to take people out of poverty. For many years we have had donor agencies pour money into government programmes or NGO programmes to alleviate poverty and that hasn’t done much. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some achievements but not enough for the amount of money put in (yes I am in the anti-aid as it’s been done in the past camp).

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But if you can empower people with their own businesses, give them skills to ensure their businesses are sustainable and can grow, then you are taking that person, their family and their employees out of poverty. It’s a no-brainer.

I argue with some of my family members on what type of entrepreneur we should be supporting – the ones who just want to own one corner shop that supports them and their family or the one that wants to grow from one corner shop to a chain of stores and manufacturing/agriculture business that employs 100s to 1000s of people and supplies their shops and others. Obviously I’m a go big or go home kind of girl, but I do see their point of also empowering the one person who can look after themselves and their family and not need to hire loads of people and there’s no shame in that.

But I do think that if us Zambians can go to the model of the employer of 100s then we can take ourselves out of poverty. So we need more of these business plan competitions because getting money from banks is almost impossible. We then need to be our own angel investors too – disrupt the banking system and their crazy interest rates.

In order for these competitions to work though, the donor agency can’t operate like a donor and give the money to who they think are the most needy, or who looks good for PR photos. But to bankable businesses that we can go back to in 5 years time and see them ready for growth. Only then will the business plan competition be taken seriously.

It’s like a certain fellowship programme (yeah I was going to let it go but I can’t), or even award show, they don’t choose people based on merit but on popularity, losing all credibility for it. I remember someone saying, ‘if I was offered that, I would refuse it because it celebrates mediocrity, or given for effort as opposed to achievement”. We need to move past that and not settle for ‘ok’ but let’s strive for excellence and celebrate success. But not success at the cost of mediocrity. OK I went off on a tangent there, again.

For now, I say, all hail the tomato!

For now, I say, all hail the tomato!

I’ve always said that it’s not easy to be a woman in Zambia, maybe even Africa. It’s funny that just days after International Women’s Day the reality of being a woman hits home.

The fuel crisis hitting the country has meant long queues and the very clever setting up of the hashtag #petrolwatch on twitter to enable users to find petrol and alert others of where there is or isn’t fuel.

This morning, as we were trying to look for fuel, we randomly ended up at the airport – ok, not so random, my sister in law was travelling to South Africa where her mother is in a serious coma (more on the failings of our healthcare in my next blog), and right before we reached Engen at Chainama (were #patrolwatch confirmed there had been fuel at least 2 hours previously), my brother called and said, come to the airport, there is fuel here.

My brother held a place in the queue and when we arrived, we exchanged places. There was a car behind us, who then accused us of queue-barging, at which point, I explained that my brother was holding the spot for us and that really, it was not going to make a difference to them because it was switching one car out for another, not adding to the line.

At which point the woman in the passenger seat got out to complain to the fuel attendant, who kind of shrugged his shoulders. But the man in the drivers seat decided to bully his way in front of us to ensure he would get served before us. At which point, I was like ‘Dude, you’re still going to get served’ and then for some reason he started telling me to be mature. So I was like in which case, we should both be mature, I explained to you that my brother was holding this spot for us.

I don’t really know exactly what happened next but the fight escalated and my sister jumped out of the car to tell him off, the girl shouting at my sister as Mary is giving the example of being at the bank or Shoprite where someone says ‘I was holding this space for…’ or ‘I was already here…’ etc.   But they weren’t trying to hear it. I get out and told the guy to stop being an asshole, ok I did first ask him, ‘What kind of man are you?’ (Let me be clear, I don’t believe men should do things for me just because I’m a woman, but it was the gentlemanly thing to do because technically, we never did anything wrong)

At this point, the woman put her hand on me and said – ‘Don’t you know that he is a police officer, we’ll throw you in jail and you’ll spend the weekend there’.

Now I know my rights, and I hate abuse of power, corruption and all the other vices that plague our country, so I saw red and said ‘first of all, take your hands off me and don’t you dare threaten me’, so then she’s like ‘who were you insulting?’ ‘him!’, I yelled.

Mary tells him off for using his position of authority and cautioned him that he may be an officer of the law, but our father is a former Minister of Home Affairs, so does he really want to go down that road?  Her point being, don’t throw around these things, because it can end up being a who’s who, which is the exact behavior we need to stop in Zambia.

The owner then goes to the pump attendant and told him to serve the man in the Volvo.

The Volvo

I was already back in the car at this point as I realized there was no point because not one person came to try and diffuse the situation = except the pump attendant who told us there was enough fuel to serve everyone. He just didn’t understand that it wasn’t about the fuel at all.

After the guy got served he smirked at us and said sorry (with a huge smile) as he drove off. I gave him the middle finger (my anger knows no bounds sometimes)

When we got to the pump, I asked the attendant why he made the decision to serve the guy when he saw that we exchanged with a car already in the queue. He rolled his eyes and tried to ignore me. So I was like ‘hell no, I want an answer’, so he was like go ask my boss over there.

One thing I’ve noticed people in Zambia don’t do is complain to management. I don’t have a problem with this. If I don’t complain, you won’t know I felt wronged and you won’t do better next time. It’s exhausting because to be honest, most businesses here don’t understand the importance of customer care/service etc, so you say your piece and they basically look at you like you’re mad.

But anyway, we decided this was important to do. So when we asked the owner, Mr Nzila (if that’s his real name) he said, ‘I spoke to the woman to find out what was going on and I decided to let them get served first’. My response was, ‘But you didn’t hear our side, so how is that fair?’. He then went on to say that he didn’t need to hear our side because he decided that since we were the ones insulting, he decided to ‘punish us’. Punish us?!

We were being threatened to be thrown into jail, but we were punished because we raised our voices, got out of our car, and called the man (the officer of the law), who was sitting in his car an asshole… We were Punished.

What do you think would have happened if we were men?

That’s why Mary called it, the ‘conspiracy of men’. Not one man thought to hear us out, or to attempt to diffuse the situation, the filling station was full of men, instead they probably thought ‘How dare these women shout at a man, in public, and call him an asshole, who do they think they are? yes, they should be punished.’

Eventually the owner of the filling station apologized to Mary – I was back in the car at this point – after he initially refused to apologise – saying ‘it was his decision to make as a business owner’ (and fck his customers clearly – or at least the female ones). Mary had argued with him that surely if he felt it was so bad he should have ‘punished’ both of us and put both of us at the back of the queue – fair enough.

The reality is that I would have been quite happy to let them go first if he’d simply asked – I could understand their annoyance that we came in after they’d been waiting – about 20 minutes if that. But he and his ghetto chick decided they wanted to bully us, intimidate us and just wanted to be… assholes (yes I said it again).

There was some pent up frustration that came out, we always get shafted, whether you’re a woman, poor, or seem to have no power.

Just last night as I was lying in bed I was thinking about how helpful we are to people because we believe in them, or because we know it doesn’t cost us anything to help. But yet, I feel so few people here have our back. Whether it’s petty jealously, or envy, or whatever that I’ve never understood, it still frustrates and angers.

I believe working together, as a collective, is good for the industry but there are people who feel otherwise. But now I’m getting side-tracked.

My point was that despite having a female vice-president, despite having females in position of power, those of us on the street still get overlooked. I don’t know what else to do but tell my truth every time I see or am overlooked, or unseen as a woman. We all have to. Maybe then will people understand the daily injustices we face and want to get involved – I’ve always said, we need a heforshe campaign in Zambia – we can’t do it without men.  I wondered why we turned back to go to the airport when we were so close to Chainama were there were supposed to be fuel, Mary said it was God that made us go there, for us to get angry to remember that it’s only when you’re angry about injustice that you want to do something about it.  Food for thought

Now that I’ve calmed down, let me get back to work, and enjoy your Youth Day!