One of the things that I really used to admire about my former boss’ boss, was his ability to see things from the audience perspective. It wasn’t about whether he liked or understood the product but whether it would resonate with the audience. And he trusted the teams he had to know the product and to know the audience. It worked. It kept the brand in the top 4 of global brands.

Now that I’m in the business of delivering creative solutions to clients trying to reach their audiences, it shocks me how few businesses think about their audience but think about themselves. I’ve met clients who market their products, that are targeted to people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, with billboards in Kabulonga. Or other businesses that base creative designed on their own personal preferences. It becomes less about the brand and the product and more about them, and perhaps how they look to their peers.

In all my experience – and that of all the industry leaders who I’ve read about – the beginning of success is with knowing your audience. From a deep understanding of your audience can you know what they need and what they want, and then deliver it successfully to them. Perhaps if you yourself are your target audience, then maybe your personal wants and insights are indeed useful, but if you’re not, then it’s really not about you.

It is definitely a hard thing to do – to put the needs of others above your own – but that’s why having a marketing team or agency that understands your brand and your audience is paramount.

Another example I often face is when we’re editing a video for a client. Despite them filling in the creative brief and outlining the objectives of the video, the audience it’s supposed to reach etc, when it comes to the first offline, and the first chance they get to edit it, it’s like they forget their brief and their audience! Sometimes this can be seen when the team reviewing the materials have very different opinions on the direction of the creative or the edit changes. That’s when you should know that somewhere along the line, someone is not in tune with the audience or the objective of the creative.

I find whenever I’m coming up with a concept, and following it through, I have to pause several times to ask myself if this is right for the audience. Having a litmus person or group also helps, I can check in with them if we’re going in the right direction.

Of course the problem with the focus groups, or litmus person is that you have to make sure they don’t feel the need to tell you what they think you want to here. In this regard, this is probably why Media 365’s immersion process is so useful. It’s partly based on observational research. Rather than asking people specific questions, watching their behavior, how they interact with things and their products.

Even sometimes that’s why listening can be more useful than talking. I remember once, during all the election campaigning and the candidates kept talking about their agriculture promise being about paying the farmers on time, my aunt from the village in Lundazi scoffed and said while that was important, even just having a place to store their grains was important. Turned out that they lost a lot of their harvest because the nearest distribution point was too far for them to get to.

It was another aha moment for me. While the papers were reporting about the farmers complaining about late payments, no one was talking about any other problems the farmers were facing, so it became an easy campaign promise to jack, without talking to any farmers. I’m not saying the presidential candidates didn’t do their research but perhaps they chose the ones that made more sense in the media, than to the voting farmers.

It reminds me of another story about a man who tried to sell me a bicycle (don’t ask), the thing was he sold me on the benefits, but couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t buy the bicycle. That’s because he never even asked me if I knew how to ride a bike – which I don’t (don’t judge me).

I fight a lot with my clients – I do because I’m passionate about my work and delivering a good product – on seeing things from their audience’s point of view (I’d also like to win some awards in the process, but that’s another story!). Sometimes the client will listen when I point to the data, but sometimes they’ll ignore it in favor of pleasing their MD – this is probably also because they have yet to convince their MD that when marketing works, it does translate into sales and therefore your profitability.

When your business is up and coming, it’s probably even more important to understand your audience as you develop products and services for them. But as you grow, it’s equally important not to lose sight of who they are. Not knowing your audience and how to reach them will ultimately cost you financially and give your competitor an advantage over you.

Healthcare should always be a priority of ours as we look to develop our country. The last week I’ve mourned two deaths – one of a child, the other of a senior citizen and when I hear the stories of their death, I can’t help but wonder if there was negligence that played a part in their deaths. iv

Let me rewind to a couple of weeks ago, to my own experience. My parents thought my high fever, lack of appetite and feeling of weakness was due to malaria and insisted I go to the clinic. En-route to my usual clinic, I decided that the popularity of that clinic would mean it would take hours for me to see a doctor, and I simply didn’t have the energy for it. I instructed my nephew, who was driving me as I was too weak to drive myself, to take me to a nearer clinic that I knew my siblings had been to before. True enough, I was seen within 15 minutes and to my amazement the doctor ordered a full blood test – which was a shocker when I too thought I only had malaria. 20 minutes later the results were in, I had bacteria in my blood – my stats were off the charts – and I was admitted.

The first day wasn’t so bad – could also have been that I was in and out of sleep the whole day. The next day, I was the only patient in the ward (it was a very interesting private clinic, where you don’t get a private room, but rather each patient is separated by curtains across your entire area for you and your visitors). I was quite glad to be the only patient in the ward that day as I was over the noise from the other patient’s visitors! But the thing I did notice was the nurses came to check on me less as there was no one else to check. In fact, as I had one drip out and waiting for the next one to be put in, the nurse comes in saying ‘Oh, I forgot to come back to put in your new drip!’, like it was no big thing. At this point, my temperature had stabilized and my blood pressure was going up (it had been 90/50 when I was admitted), so I guess they were less worried about me. I felt pretty much ok too, but doctor was not ready to discharge me.

Later that evening, around 8pm, my temperature shot up to 38.2 degrees and my bp was fast dropping. The nurse came in with all sorts of injections and stuff to help my temperature go down and lord knows what else – because if you don’t ask doctors or nurses you just get given any sort of medication! That was the last time I saw any nurse until 6am. I hardly slept that night, my drip stopped working at some point, and I was deeply regretting telling my family members I didn’t need anyone to spend the night with me.

Ok, since my return to Zambia, I have never been admitted to hospital – generally I don’t get sick, maybe occasionally I’ll get a cold but that’s about it. So anyway, I didn’t understand the need to have someone by your bedside, after all, if you’re paying for private healthcare, surely that should include a nurse to check in on you at night. 6am rolls along and the nurse realizes that the IV was not working as it should have been and the doctor was coming through in two hours time. She decided to put it in overdrive, the drip passed through me so quickly I was dizzy! Eventually I threw up.

When the doctors finally came through I berated the duty of care of the nurses. I spoke of my actual fear that I could have died during the night – by this time I knew just how serious bacteria in blood is. I was close to tears with emotion at this point – it had just been a rough two days for me, only my immediate family and closest friends knew I was in hospital. The lack of understanding of the seriousness of my infection coupled with the fact that I’m known to be strong and independent probably didn’t help, with people thinking their visit was not necessary. Instead I just felt lonely – eek! Anyway, so as I went off on the doctor – who I believed to be in management of the clinic, my emotions were taking over. The doctor did listen to my concerns, but was quick to have me discharged after that!

Forward a week later and as I’m listening to the story of the older man who died after an operation because of water build up in his lungs followed by sepsis, I couldn’t help but wonder if the round the clock checking in on a patient after surgery was observed – how did he get fluids in his lungs without anyone noticing?

A few days later, the story of the child dying after being sent home despite having a fever, it all seemed to point to our health care staff just not being fully attentive. At the funeral for this beautiful child, one lady remarked that there was no point in going to private facilities because ultimately the good doctors are at UTH. And I thought, if you’re going to get pretty much the same treatment – i.e. inattentive nurses, you may as well go to UTH! Besides, they too have fee paying wings so what is the real difference? Ultimately the bigger worry is where is the oversight in this case? Who really are these health care professionals accountable, who keeps them in check? Are you not outraged by this? I know I am. We cannot truly develop until we have a healthcare system that we can trust. Even look at the issue over the ‘missing’ drugs, that weren’t missing but were at Medical Stores!  What level of corruption is that that you don’t mind risking the lives of your own citizens for?

These are things that we need our politicians to be held accountable for, and to really demand this level of care when we’re voting them into office. 2016 is the year of issues, the year we should demand more from our leaders, and lets see the number of preventable deaths reduce drastically, or someone is brought to task for them!

Happy New Year!  It’s almost the end of January but I feel we can still celebrate the new year.

Red-Roses

I had made a conscious decision to blog more this year, and then struggled to decide what to blog about.  I find blogging is cathartic for me.  But I also want it to be useful for people who take the time to read it and not find it just being about me, me, me.  I also want it to be meaningful.  There is no point of complaining and doing nothing about what gripes you.

The struggle of what to write ended when I listened into a radio interview with opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema (last week now).  HH, as he is popularly known as, did overwhelmingly well in the just ended presidential by-election, but he is going hard on how he was cheated by ‘known’ people at the electoral commission.

I don’t think that it’s impossible that there was election misconduct, but I think we choose what we need to focus on.  I think for the allegations to hold any water, HH needs to take this case through the courts of law – though they might be corrupt too right?  The point is don’t complain without doing anything about it.

But more than that for me was really a concern of how bitter he sounded about losing – and he lost by 2%!  How can he not be proud or grateful of that considering that it was the same electoral roll as 2011 and that only 37% of people voted!

It made me think of the mindset of a lot of Zambians I have encountered over the last 4 years.  Generally speaking they come across as negative people, the ones who see the glass as half empty ALL the time.  And they are anything but supportive, especially of other’s success.

It makes me think of the role that our leaders play, especially our political leaders and how that influences our way of thinking and behaviour.

When I speak to my friends and other enlightened people we all speak in amazement of how well HH did in this campaign.  The reality is when you count all the numbers there were more people who wanted PF out than wanted them in.  BUT there are some fundamental issues that HH has to overcome, but let me not get side tracked, that’s not my point here.

HH can’t seem to appreciate the success he gained, and I think he should be focusing on how well they ran the race, and that there is still work to be done and that that’s what we need to focus on.  Don’t be a sore loser.  Show what true character and leadership is about, you don’t stop to complain and moan, we roll with the punches and keep moving.  Roll up your sleeves and get back to work.

We’ve all been there, feel like something is unfair, and we want to cry about it – and we do, just in the privacy of our homes, but to the world we put a strong confident front.  I would have respected him more if he’d done that – and if he’d shown up at the inauguration.  It shows strength of character, maturity and integrity.

So if a person who is standing to run this nation is bitter and negative, how will I, the person on the street know to be any different?

I’m not negating our own responsibility, or that of parents to teach us to have a positive, appreciative, supportive outlook on life, I’m just saying it’s hard to fight against the grain.  Having leaders that perpetrate the negative cycle is a problem for me.

Leadership is not only limited to politicians, or people with power, money etc, it’s within all of us to be a leader;   A leader in your community, in your school, in your household.  Character building is so important for that leadership role.

I try not to steep down to the negativity, but sometimes you do get caught up in it, I try really hard not to surround myself with negativity – and what I define as negativity is complaining, lazy, can’t do attitude, unsupportive and the world owes me a favour types.  I find it draining and all consuming, almost to the point of inaction to progress.

As a type A person I don’t deal with failure very well – my personal failure that is, and as a type A overachiever, I have very high standards for myself.  But I always remember my sister saying to me – ‘Don’t forget to smell the roses’.  At the time I thought it was such random advice – of all things she could have told me as my older, wiser sister!  But it has been among the best advise I have ever received.

When you smell the roses you are grateful, you are happy, and you are at peace.  In that state, you can achieve pretty much anything you want – or at least find the strength to deal with the tough times.  You learn that to fail is to learn.  It builds character and resilience (“What is resilience: Once you have been through hardships, grievances and disappointments, only then will you understand what is resilience.” – Jack Ma).

End of last year (and beginning of 2015 too) I felt so out of control, so many emotions as a result of not feeling that I’d met half my goals, and slightly (if I have to be honest) envious of my amazing sister-friends and their achievements.  I felt my life was not how I’d envisioned it.  I wasn’t smelling the roses.  I got down on my knees, prayed for guidance and I let go of the negative feelings to focus more on the roses and the blank page 2015 provided.  I now feel happier, have some clarity, and I’m excited for what the year has in store.

I think all of us need to take up our personal leadership role (while still holding our political leaders accountable) and question the characters we want to surround ourselves with, as well as those of our leaders.

And smell the roses every day!

zed decides blog

So much has happened in the last month that it’s almost hard to believe it all happened! Our fifth President, Michael Sata died, and an election date to choose our new president has been set for end of January (you can tell I’ve forgotten the exact date). In between that we had the widely debated issue about having a white acting-president (it was never a problem when he was considered to be Sata’s chola boy i.e. errand boy, but became a massive issue when ‘Zambia returned to colonisation’! – I won’t get people worked up about that phrase again), and now we’re dealing with a fight for power in both PF and MMD. Oh and who could forget the ‘opportunistic’ title given to Dr Kaseba for not mourning her husband when she decided to join the race for the seat of power. (personally i see lots of opportunist, don’t know why they reserved it for her)

It’s all too much like Zambia’s very own Game of Thrones.

I’ve given up trying to keep up with who is suspending who, or who is supporting who, or who isn’t in the cartel, and who is, and other distracting issues. Though occasionally I get amused to see Miles Sampa’s political adverts on TV like he has already won the PF candidacy. But otherwise I’ve stopped trying to read the nonsense in the papers or the reports on ZNBC and yearn for someone in mainstream media to start asking the hard questions that we need answers to ahead of the 2015 by-elections. Side-bar, is MMD isn’t still a contender now that they’ve brought back RB? Is that even confirmed or it’s still wait and see? I have no issue against RB as a person, but there’s a lot of questions I’d ask about what it means to have him back in power – some I won’t ask on here right now.

I’m not a politician, I’m not an economist, I’m really not any sort of analytical professional actually, but I am very passionate about Zambia. So I read with horror some of the ‘campaign’ promises of the presidential aspirants, reminding me of the PF 90 day promises, can we really be hoodwinked again?

I understand the dilemma of being a politician – you want to win, by any means necessary (ok maybe they’ll draw the line at downright illegal behaviour… ehem), so a little lie here and there won’t hurt, after all it worked for PF. But at some point, as the public can’t we also say ‘hold on, exactly how do you plan on doing this?’

Both HH and Elias Chipimo Jnr have said they will lift the public servant wage freeze. More than 50% of our budget goes to salaries, in no way does this make sense, or can be sustainable. I can’t imagine spending that much of my operating budget (as a business) on wages. I’m not an expert but it doesn’t make sense to me, so how can it make sense to HH and Elias who have both run successful and profitable businesses. To life the wage freeze means that another area needs to pay for it – will that be health, education? We can slash the defense budget I suppose – since we’re such a peaceful nation.

Education, as HH promises, will be free up to tertiary level, again, where is the money to pay for this? And why up to tertiary level? We need to invest more in our early grade years, where kids learn literacy, reading and numeracy – key skills needed for development and to compete. We need to train better teachers and focus our energies there.

Reduce tax. As a tax payer nothing more would make me happy! As a concerned citizen, I question where government will get it’s income to pay for all the great free services and public servant wages if not through tax revenue. There is already so few people in the formal sector paying taxes to support the masses – but who would ever dare to suggest a way to tax the informal sector?! The voting populace.

So they are great for campaign messages, but please show me how to make it a reality (and please don’t suggest it will be paid for by all the taxes you’ll get the mine to pay – oh yeah, is any aspirant singing that song?)

Can we have campaign promises that can actually be delivered on? Job creation needs to happen but can realistically only come from the private sector. Where is the campaign promises to help develop businesses more? And I’m not talking about reducing the cost of doing business here (thank you HH, that promise I’m all for, especially if it’ll help the indigenous Zambian and not just the foreign investors as it usually does), but about ensuring that business grow and become sustainable, and that we can encourage people to really be serious about agriculture and mining and help them do that. I’d restructure a whole section of ZDA to be consultants that work with business to build them up – can’t do all, but find promising ones and take them to scale. I’d make the Business Partners International model available to more people – on top of the financing they give you they add 30% more for you to get available training to build your capacity – they want to ensure they get their money back and that means not making your fail!

While we’re at it, ensure that the public servants also have the capacity to do their job – efficiency across all levels. Maybe then they can justify their 50% of our budget (they can’t but at least if they were capable I’d feel more sympathy for them).

Maybe we can have trade-offs. Create understanding that if we keep the wage freeze then we can have more drugs available in hospitals? More clean water in compounds. Whatever we could achieve by government being more fiscally responsible, otherwise won’t we just get into more debt?

But none of this can be done overnight. Which brings me to my next question, why is the opposition even participating in the 2015 elections?

Three years of the PF being in power, how many of the 90 day promises fell by the wayside? So what more an opposition government that has a year to show results before the next election?

Aren’t they spending a lot of money campaigning right now? They should be focussed on 2016 – in my humble opinion – and leverage all their resources for that, because this by-election is considered a term is it not? So if they win, they’ll only have an opportunity to drive development for 6 years as opposed to 10.

And now to address an even more sensitive issue that concerns me about our politicians. All the signs were there that MCS was not going to survive his term – sorry to say it, but it’s true, we all thought it but due to our strange relationship with death (if I suggest to a terminally ill person to have a will, I’m wishing them death… *rolls eyes*), no one said it. For this reason it probably was the right thing to do – keep publicly quiet about it – but behind closed doors you hadn’t thought through a campaign strategy in the off-chance this was going to happen? Or are they just messing with us?

I’m very concerned about choosing a leader who can’t plan ahead. Zambia’s development challenges are not about today, they’re about where the country will be in 5 years, in 10 years. Where are the strategic plans that outline the vision for the future from each of these presidential aspirants?

The time for pipe dreams should be over. But then again, the educated, or middle class, or intelligent ones (not necessarily one and the same person) are in the minority when it comes to the vote that decides the presidency. It shouldn’t stop us from helping our brothers and sisters to ask questions that will help them make the best decision for this country – because that’s what we need, the best decision for the country, not for the individual.

Since working on our 64WD project, I’ve read up a lot about getting the country to independence and it struck me that those people, the first lot (before they got corrupted), did what they did for the people of Zambia, they understood the government worked for the people, not the other way round. Right now, we have a government that acts with impunity. People need to take their rights back and understand the power of their vote.

I can’t vote in this by-election (thanks to the continuous by-elections that meant no new voters could be added to the electoral roll), but that won’t stop me for using my voice to participate in the election, by addressing issues that I care about, that I hope other Zambians will care about it.

Next month we’ll be celebrating our 50th year of independence! Eeek! How exciting.

Media 365 decided to develop a project to honour this momentous occasion. I won’t bore you with the backstory – you can read it on the website, but we basically decided to develop a documentary and music project to tell our story of independence.

64WD logo

When I say ‘our’ story, I mean one of the many versions that should matter to young people – the story of how to drive independence forward, how to get equitable wealth and development, how to determine our next 50 years. We’re doing this by talking to the people who lived through independence, the people who brought our nation to where it is today, and the ones who are here working for the next 50 years – the 64wders we’re dubbing them. I’ve had the pleasure of being present at some of the interviews and they have have been inspiring and led to other questions.

One such interview was with Kapumpe Musakanya, son of Valentine Musakanya, who did a lot for this country but was ultimately remembered by some as one of the key people in the 1980 coup attempt. Though the documentary doesn’t talk about any of that history, a pre and post interview chat with Kapumpe, and browsing through his dad’s book, The Musakanya Papers, led me to wonder more about this incidence in our history, and therefore others. Kapumpe did have a good point, we need to hear more of our STORIES of independence and not just ONE narrative.

I’m hardly an expert on our history, in fact I’d be hard pressed to remember anything I learnt in school about it, and the trip to national archives wasn’t that interesting – ok to be fair at the time we were only looking for photos – and so doing these interviews has been interesting. We have yet to interview the bulk of the freedom fighters and early politicians, but already it has been wondering…

Even when I was watching some of the Zamtel Road to Independence Day programming, I was worried about how much of it was fact checked, it seems all too easy to create and push the narrative you want.

The other day I was reading the Times of Zambia, where there was an article on the great friendship of KK and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, it was written in a way that implied Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe was our first Vice President. To my shock, a young person in the office at the time asked me who it was if not Mr Kapwepwe! Poor Mr Kamanga.

In an interview with Mr Elias Chipimo Snr (and Jnr), he talked about early days of governing Zambia, and listening to him, and my father, it dawn on me just how innovative they had to be. These guys were about 40 years old running a country for the first time, still working with people who didn’t even want them to be independent and making it difficult for them when they could.

We spoke to Mrs Petronella Chisanga, who was one of the youngest women, in the UNIP Central Committee who spoke about running an entire secondary school, one of only two at the time, at the age of 25! I couldn’t even imagine such responsibility at 25. But to speak to her, she is an amazingly intelligent and talented woman – plus she later went on to be MD of ZECO. She was truly one powerful woman and a force to recon with!

Through our interviews and conversations with our parents – it’s always easy to forget the wealth of information parents have! – is how I learnt that UNZA was crowd funded. People actually gave money and whatever else they had to build the university because they understood or desired the education that would take them forward. Amazing.

So launching our crowd-funding campaign to put this documentary together is nothing new for Zambia! I’m excited by this documentary and even more excited about the legs it has, should we raise enough money and then some to keep producing content that speaks to our stories, all the stories of Zambia.

Look out for the launch of our Indiegogo campaign on Facebook and twitter and keep updated on the project at the project blog.

Watch the pitch video/teaser

Running your own business can sometimes turn from fun to thinking in numbers. I use this phrase and people think it’s funny, but it’s true. When you start out it’s all fun and games, your overheads are low – maybe you only have your salary to think about – but as you start to grow, and plan to grow, those numbers become very real.

In a society where people are uncomfortable to talk about money openly, it almost seems like a crime to insist on upfront payment or payment in full before you do work, for some people they even worry it makes you look desperate! But cashflow is the lifeline of a business (I know I blog about this a lot because it’s so critical to business yet continues to be a challenge in Zambia for most SMEs). And clients (and other people) can sometimes take the piss. I have one job as an example where the client didn’t want to pay anything upfront and insisted on paying on deliverable, and because they are a Fortune 500 company, it didn’t seem like a bad idea. What we didn’t bank on was their silence on delivery and their constant shifting goalposts. We signed and delivered the product in December 2013 and we’re still waiting for a final sign off to get paid (yes that would be 8 months later…).

And that’s one extreme example but there are similar examples I can give. The other condition that also boggles the mind is the 30 day payment after delivery. I understand it where you’re the middleman like we often are, because you’re relying on a client to pay you so you can honour your commitment and don’t want to over promise only to not be able to honour your word. But I don’t understand it when you are the direct client. You knew you wanted the product, you knew how much it cost, and you knew the time in which it was going to be delivered – why is the money not ready for payment? And where is your obligation to pay me when I have delivered the product?

So why should I assume all the risk for you? The client is not God and we need to stop acting like they are. Yes we depend on them for our survival but as an established business they also depend on you for their own deliverables, and in some cases, justification!

Last month we decided that due to these conditions and the environment we operate in, as well as the reality is that as a boutique agency we have to pick and choose which clients we can work with (we’re just not big enough to take on lots of clients at any given time, and we dedicate a lot of our energy, creativity, solutions etc to a client), so we decided that clients had to pay either a percentage or the whole amount (depending on the job) upfront in order for us to proceed with the work.

Of course this didn’t sit well with some of our clients, they felt it was a trust issue, or to some that it was a desperate move, but the reality was we just needed to spread the risk, and that way also ensure the client themselves were committed.

I feel like, as we are a small agency, doing a lot of administrative work ourselves, it was not the best use of our time to be chasing clients to get paid. And quite honestly, if it means we’ll lose some clients in the process, I doesn’t bother me as much as it will finally give us time to focus on our R&D for our internal projects! And will eventually lead to a bigger pay day! I truly believe that when one door closes, God opens another. So it might hurt at the time when you have to turn down the job, but use the time to focus on growing your own business by focusing on your strategy and strengthening your own internal skills and systems. That’s how I look at it – preparing yourself for the clients who respect your work and your business.

Money is such a sensitive issue. I have lost friends and even family over it! People do irrational things when they are stressed over money. I know, I’ve been there. But step away from the situation and take the emotions out of it. It’s not personal, and don’t treat it personal. I’m too grown to let money get in the way of relationships, but others aren’t always so. There is nothing you can do but wait it out, if the relationship was important enough they’re come back (clients, friends, family).

In Zambia, there are very few people and businesses, who are 100% financially stable all the time. Most of us are going through stuff and we need to understand that, so try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and don’t make assumptions. But you have to protect yourself first, if you can’t afford something – financially, personal time etc – then don’t do it. It’s better to be honest that to expect something that doesn’t come to fruition. People may hate you at first, but when the emotions pass, and they’re mature enough, they’ll understand.

I’ll try and stop talking about money matters on my blog, but it really does impact a lot that goes on in my professional and personal life in Zambia. Hmmm I’m pretty sure I’ve written this exact blog before – that’s how bad it is.

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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I was really thrilled to get a ticket to Slap Dee’s Unplugged last night. Slap Dee is one of my favourite artists, I think he is consistent in releasing hits and is one of the hardest working artists in Zambia (my impression of him). So this piece is not to diminish anything about Slap Dee, or to be on a hater tip, but I believe it’s enough of talking about mediocrity, we have to tell it like it is, and hope it will help improve our creative industry. Also I’m not an expert in the music industry, I speak as a person who wants to see the industry grow and who also appreciates a good live show. So I can’t help but ask, when attending these events that have been done before, why in Zambia, we choose to learn the hard way and not go to those who have tried and tested it already?

Firstly I think Slap Dee had a great idea of doing an unplugged show. It wasn’t the usual concept of unplugged, but it was different. So I commend him for trying something different.

So as it was after work, we got to Nasdec on time – early even, we got to the venue just after 7, the tickets said the event started at 7.30.

By 8.30 I was tired and irritable and Slap Dee was no where to be seen. The band came on briefly and played a couple of tracks to entertain the small crowd. But soon after, they too went off stage! At this point I decided if Slap Dee wasn’t on stage by 9.30 I was going to leave – I had work in the morning, I live out of Lusaka city, and hey, it was cold, my warm bed was waiting!

Shortly before 9.30 Slap Dee arrives on stage! Just as well, as I really was going to leave, even if Mary was in a much more supportive mood than I was!

It was by no means a massive turnout, but there were enough people to support him and feel the energy of love and appreciation. This is the second time I’ve been to an event that has not started on time because the artist, or the artist management has wanted more of a crowd. My experience is you lose people in the wait. Also there were people in the bar waiting for the show to start, so everyone was waiting for something! Personally I think it’s rude and you disrespect your fans (no matter how few of them are there), and it becomes a catch 22. You earn a reputation of not being able to start on time, so why should people show up on time? This is probably why, in Zambia, people choose not to show up on time – there is an expectation that the event won’t start on time, so why should we be hanging around waiting?

You can’t get away with that in developed countries anymore. If the ticket or event did not state that the doors open at 7.30 and show starts at 9.30, then it’s unacceptable to start two hours late! The audience is less forgiving in the west – they spent money to see a show, not to be disrespected. The least the artist can do is sincerely apologise for keeping people waiting. Don’t take the piss.

But despite what perhaps artist management might have considered a ‘low’ turnout, I thought it was a great vibe, and it made it feel intimate. Slap Dee really engaged with the crowd and I think it was easier because it was a smaller crowd (by small I’d say there was just under 100 people there). One of my favourite moments was when Slap called this young kid (ok in his 20s) to the stage to rap the lyrics of one of Slap Dee’s tracks and the guy knew the lyrics word for word. Priceless!

However, the next thing that was appalling was the sound. This was sound provided by the well known Ringman. I’ve never met the guy, but heard about the good quality sound he’s supposed to provide. The sound was terrible. Nasdec is not the greatest venue for sound, but as always, the best solution to deal with the problem should be identified, rather than focus on the problem. It was as if Ringman couldn’t be bothered to find that solution. I may be hard on him as this is my observation as a bystander. Despite the sound being bad, he left his station to go and sit with his friends in the bleachers. To me that’s unacceptable. But I’m a solution oriented person, I believe it’s not enough to shrug your shoulders and walk away, but that’s just me, I’m passionate about what I do and always want to be the best I can be.

And I do think there are enough people who have good expertise – and care about their reputation or are passionate enough to give the best possible services and who are solution oriented. Those are the people you should be looking for if you care enough about your brand and the experience you want to deliver.

There were so many things that could have been done better with just a little consultation, and there are enough people (Media 365 included) who, with enough notice, would be happy to help with free advice to ensure the show is the best it can be. Not for the credit, but because they care about the industry. Including with stage design – his stage was far too small for the number of people on it, and there was only a scoreboard as the backdrop (well it’s on the wall at Nasedec!) – was still so random.

Partnerships, or certainly more people to share ideas, experiences, lessons learnt etc stops us from learning the hard way. A case in point, when I try to do something new, I don’t trust on my own judgement or through prayer alone (!), I look to people in my network, or extended network and see who has done what I want to do before, or who can provide me with relevant insight, and then how I use that insight to improve what I want to do. We employ this approach at Media 365 too – not everyone knows everything, but there are lots of people who know a little about something, put that together and you get valuable information!

I don’t put the onus all on the artist’s feet – our industry is so small so yes the talent does get more involved that perhaps they would in some other countries, but his management team also need to take some of the heat for the botched up issues. I think sometimes this is the problem of the entertainment industry, it’s full of egos, it’s glamorous, it’s sexy, but there is hardwork to be done, and someone has to do it.

I’m sure the lessons learnt from last night’s show will be applied to tonight’s show, so a lot of my issues and experiences will not be the same for the show-goers tonight, and so should enjoy it far more. I just don’t feel that there is any need to learn the hard way and it’s time we really focus on bringing our A game and competing, even if it’s just at a regional level.

Being an entrepreneur is not easy. It’s so easy to get caught up in the glamour – everyone speaks about being an entrepreneur like it’s sexy and so cool. But it’s not easy (yep I said easy three times!).

Even when you read or hear about times when entrepreneurs fail (usually the ones who are now super successful), you think, it can’t have been that bad because, well look at them now. Their definition of failure must be that they had to drink sparkling wine rather than Veuve Clicquot.

But failure is a part of the journey of being an entrepreneur and the definition of failure is different for everyone. Sometimes it’s the feeling of personal failure.

This feeling is what prompted my hiatus this month. Failure might be too strong a word, maybe dissatisfaction is what it was. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, the company wasn’t where I wanted it to be right now. But these were my personal ambitions so it’s easier to beat yourself up.

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Either way my close friend’s wedding was a good excuse to travel and do some internal house keeping. Not quite a yoga holiday, but I envisioned lots of soul searching, reflecting and exercising.

What I did not expect was to attend a conference.

I believe pretty much all my time is valuable and it should be spent enriching myself – even if that is lying on the couch watching a movie to still my mind. But I also thought being in a city as vibrant as London, I should find ways to stimulate my brain. Reaching out to my contacts to go into their companies and find out new innovative technologies they are using, new approaches, just something that would re-energise me.

My sister asked me to visit her in Oxford – see her new apartment – ok it was more than that, she wanted me to visit – her dose of home to keep her sane. Honestly I wanted to stay in London – mope if I didn’t have anything else to do (which I didn’t). But I knew my father would never leave me alone if he knew I never went to check in on his baby girl.

She had arranged for me to go with her and her friend to this conference on Africa put together by the Said Business School and the Oxford African Society. iROKOtv were going to be present and I’m truly fascinated by them as a business. They really are proving that there is a demand for African content and online is a platform to feed this need. So I figured going wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

The conference started shortly after lunch with a keynote speech from Kennedy Bungane CEO of Barclays Africa (i.e. heads up all Barclays outside of South Africa). Mr Bungane did speak a lot of sense – actually his response to questions were better than his speech – but I have real issues with the lack of creativity and risk taking of the banking sector in Africa so I was a bit hostile to that talk. It’s great for banks to talk about supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs but it really is just talk, they need to put their money where their mouth is! My question – that I only thought about after his talk – was why can’t relationship managers have more of a function of helping to develop SME’s – helping them getting their ducks in order so that they can remain in business and therefore be more profitable for the bank? He did challenge those in the disapora to help local entrepreneurs by providing them with non-financial support, such as processes to operationalise their businesses etc – but why can’t the bank do that? That bank would add more value to their clients and might even take the lead with the number of banks they have to compete with in market – I’d pay more to have those services too.

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The next session we attended was on how technology was helping businesses transform. This session surprised me as it really focussed on the internet – which I didn’t expect – I thought it would be all about mobile phones, as that’s usually what is talked about when referring to digital technology and Africa. John Mathwasa CEO and founder of SEACOM really blew me away in his talk. It’s so amazing to listen to African’s working on the ground, succeeding and challenging the way we think about things. His big idea was about the skies above us, the fact that are orbital space is already owned by foreign entities with their satellites, but how else will we connect the rural masses if not with satellites?

He talked about the disruptive entrepreneurs who find an opportunity in chaos. For Africa this is particularly important because let’s face it, we live in a chaotic society. It reminded me of a talk I attended at Bongo Hive with Irene Banda from FSDZ talked about how as entrepreneurs we should be looking to address a problem (not, as Bob Collymore put it find a solution and then look for the problem to apply it to!).

But John didn’t stop there, he talked about the challenges of start up capital and how we could all become Angel investors, even if it means investing in your young nephew. It’s kind of that idea again of bringing people up as we come up – isn’t that just another definition of Ubuntu which we inherently believe in? We just need to act on it more.

This is something I’m also passionate about – seeing that the financial sector isn’t really working for us (to an extent), we do need to see a new way to support each other’s businesses and get businesses lending to one another, bringing each other up.

After the short coffee break, we went onto the Thinking Digital, Delivering Entertainment – the one I was really looking forward to – the iROKOtv panel. It was an interesting panel. There was Jessica Hope Head of Global Comms iROKOtv, Arthur Bastings EVP for Millicom and Audu Maikori CEO Chocolate City Group. Three different and interesting perspectives.

Audu Maikori CEO Chocolate City

iROKOtv are seeing huge traction especially with Africans in the diaspora, but the reality is that again, so many people on the continent are yet to access their services because of the challenges of the internet. Audu’s answer – for Africa, we still need a hybrid offering. We also talked about training. At the end of the day, the capabilities of the internet and other mobile technologies are a great platform, but we need the content for the platform, and the reality is that, a lot of people simply don’t have the formal training to produce the high quality exportable content (actually the moderator asked what we needed to do to make the content exportable, i was thinking, lady where have you been, it’s been exportable for ages! we just didn’t have the platform or the believed interest to sell it!). Audu agreed and spoke of his conversation with Nigerian officials to look into developing more centres of excellence for the arts.

I left the conference making new connections and feeling totally inspired. We can’t forget the numerous challenges that Africa still faces, but the reality is the opportunities are even greater! As entrepreneurs we need to be focusing on how to find those opportunities that also bring others out of poverty – either through job and wealth creation, or by creating opportunities for better qualities of life and that the African transformation is now. We need to take hold of it, or allow others (i.e. those not of the soil) to do it and make money off us, our rich resources, our creativity and everything else Africa has going for it.

I’ll have to write a part two of this blog as I have to run now – people waiting for me! For now, I’m inspired, and everyone should attend the Oxford Africa Conference at least once if they can!

Happy Africa (Freedom) Day (well weekend now).

The other day I swelled with pride when a trusted and respected associate of mine mentioned the name of someone who had once worked with Youth Media (a not for profit we founded long time before Media 365). It’s always so rewarding to have others talk fondly and with equal respect for someone you helped shape. I guess this is how mentors feel about their mentees.

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A few days later, I had another entrepreneur I know well visit us – we like having like-minded people come to the office where we engage in conversation for hours (I try to keep these visits to Saturdays for obvious reasons!), and we spoke about the role of stewardship in our respective businesses.

The principle of stewardship is very much linked to Christian teachings (if you google it). But in general it really is about shepherding and safe guarding something that is valuable. One of the things we set out to do from the very beginning – when we were still a not for profit, non-governmental organisation – was to bring up young people as we came up, being that they really are the most valuable thing in your organisation. It wasn’t just about paying it forward, but it was about empowering others to help them achieve their potential. We didn’t just want them to compete, but to truly stand out in the market.

This could be another reason I’m so passionate about mentorship. It’s not enough to be the best that you can be, you have to help bring up those coming behind you. I know some people are scared of that approach, scared if you teach people what you know, then you become redundant and they can take your job, your career etc. But to us that is a myopic view. If anything it helps better the environment we operate it. If you have a lot of like minded people, able to work efficiently, and professionally, with relatively similar skill and ambitions, ethics and other quality attribute, isn’t that just the greatest environment to operate in?

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I think it also speaks to our own beginnings. The people who believed in us and were willing to teach us what they knew to up our skills and make us compete competitively and on a broader platform than the Zambian landscape helped instill that value in us too. And that’s what we always strive to do with our own staff and the younger people we come into contact with, make them better today to compete tomorrow. And it’s deeply rewarding as I said before. I think that’s what can be said about all aspects of giving back, because it’s not just about you (though it is kind of selfish to want to have that rewarding feeling… maybe in a small way it is about you!), but a social initiative.

This is one of the ways our business will always differentiate. And it is my hope that the people who have worked with us, whether at Youth Media or at Media 365 will take that principle of stewardship into their own careers and professional environments as well. Some of Zambia’s brightest (in my opinion) and recognized young people cut their teeth with us, and it’s great to see them succeeding and really making their mark. Allow me to highlight a few:

Kachepa Mtumbi who owns and runs KPR Consulting. It is one of the few PR agencies in Zambia and his client base boasts one of the biggest brands in the world, Samsung. He is not only one to watch but giving the other more established PR companies a run for their money!

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Masuka Mutenda is an accomplished communications specialist working with international organisations making a difference in Zambian people’s lives across the country. She also founded Zedhair a business targeted at the ever growing natural hair industry, a space few (if any) operate in.

Masuzyo Matwali not only does multimedia designs for all sorts of businesses and recording artists alike, he also runs his own design studio, Graphic 404, and is probably one of the most talented designers in Zambia right now.

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Janice Matwi now the Brand and Communications Manager at Airtel, also founder of Corporate Heelz, a business that aims to inspire and motivate career focussed women to achieve their potential.

Muchemwa Sichone (I knew him as Robert!) now runs his own company, Global Link Communications. They can be credited with various of communications work, not least the simplified (i.e. people friendly) version of the draft constitution.

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Magg44 – not so much from Youth Media days (he’s probably too young :)) but from our early start with Media 365 he did some great score and sound engineering with us and just to see him, as an artist, and his business with IM Studios really flourish is also inspiring.

I could do a laundry list of all the people that came up the ranks at Youth Media/Media 365 and continue to inspire me with their personal and professional success but there are too many to mention – some who were here when I wasn’t, but are spoken of fondly by my other co-directors.

But just the few examples I’ve given above really speak to the importance of stewardship, mentorship, and investing in young people – when they are still young too. That’s one reason we will not stop.

Just recently we had a young guy who came to us as an intern, more or less straight out of high school. He left after two years as a competent video editor, with skills in sound and lighting techniques.

I see businesses today scared to invest in their staff, worrying (as is the norm in Zambia, where loyalty is such a coveted asset) that their staff will leave to work with their competitors or start out on their own, taking their client base, which are all real possibilities. The principle of stewardship is not just about training on hard skills but advising and mentoring with soft skills and advise. And that is far worth more than worrying about something that may or may not happen in the future!

Anyway, this is something I’m passionate about so I could speak about it for ages, so I’ll stop here and hope it gives you pause to think about how you can apply stewardship into your own life.