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Recently I was asked to share my experience of TEDxEuston, it wasn’t hard to do.  It was a great experience.  Nonetheless, here is my testimonial of #myTEDxEustonStory (think you can find other stories with that hashtag on FB and Twitter).

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I share my experiences, my lessons learnt, from rising up the corporate ranks to trying to grow a business in Africa because I believe we all find lessons in everyone’s experiences. But when TEDxEuston asked me to speak on their stage, I was beyond ecstatic, if not a little afraid.

TEDxEuston is all about Africa. The Africa we wish the world would see. The Africa that isn’t about the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative, because we know that narrative is yet again a single narrative, but about the many facets of Africa, good and bad. But discussed among like-minded people who share a passion for the continent makes it more of a conversation than a single truth to be believed, no questions asked.

I was humbled. I didn’t know anyone was watching the work I was doing, the work we were doing here in little old Zambia. When you’re trying to be a game-changer, you get lost in the trenches working your butt off that you don’t know that other people have noticed your efforts.

I hope to do work that not only contributes to growing the creative industry in Zambia, but to help make us a better people to develop our country, to lift our people out of poverty. Ultimately, we are the ones who will drive our countries forward, not the government, as we have seen already.

Being able to not only speak to, but engage with, people who share a similar passion and desire for Africa was one of the best experiences of my life. I knew I was not wrong in my thinking, if other people felt the same, understood my truths, then I had to be on the right path.

Having that experience not only encourages you, but gives you the necessary motivation to keep striving to achieve your goals, sometimes pursuing something bigger than yourself is hard, and can be demotivating. The energy in that room, on that one day, is electrifying. It’s a room where different stories, different narratives, many untold, are being shared by us, for us.

Before speaking at TEDxEuston I was inspired by many TED talks (still am), I thought about how many exceptional people there are in the world (still do). I also never realized or thought, how difficult it is to step on that stage and share one thought and explain it in 18 minutes!

While I still feel that I didn’t quite get my point across, I still have people, years later, who have seen the video say it made sense to them and they shared my opinion. That still encourages me.  (The truth of the matter even in conversation I can’t stick to one thought – it evolves!  Sometimes I even forget what my point was…)

The fact that those ideas can happen on one stage and then be shared across the globe through online spaces, that is extremely powerful. It creates discussion, understanding and shared values and beliefs about the potential of Africa – an Africa that can truly rise. TEDxEuston does this in a way that hasn’t been done before – as far as I know. The focus on Africa only is the power of TEDxEuston. Who else has that singular focus and discipline? What else can be more special and important. Yes, that wasn’t a question.

My journey to my goals hasn’t ended, far from it, but speaking at TEDxEuston was a phenomenal step in cementing my future dreams and ambitions. And I met some great people that I still keep in touch with!

In fact the way the TEDxEuston was organized and the way the team connected with me, and mentored me through the process of getting ready to step on the stage, helped me when it came to me helping to organize a business conference here in Lusaka.

So the lessons from TEDxEuston were not just about sharing and connecting my vision with others, but were also so many lessons I learnt, from the other speakers (many of who I continue to follow their work online), to the organisation, to the people in the audience who I had the pleasure to speak to and learn about the great stuff they were doing too. TEDxEuston was so much more than just being a platform for the speakers, but the connections you make as an attendee too!

This is #myTEDxEustonstory.

Watch my TEDxEuston talk below:

 

 

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).

Yes, that was Lupita Nyong’o I was referring too. And the other two siblings I didn’t name check were Mary and Freddy – sorry about that, it’s just Tasha was there in the audience! 🙂

The whole premise of TED is about ideas worth spreading. When I was invited to speak at TEDXEuston, which is the premiere event on ideas worth spreading related to Africa, I was excited and anxious at the same time. Have you watched some of these TED talks? They are freakin awesome! So what was I going to talk about?

I had so many experiences, but what was worthy of sharing? I chose something a little bit controversial but true to who I was and what I was feeling (or going through) at that time. I’m less angry, but I still believe and stand by what I was talking about.

However, on the day, my nerves kind of got the better of me (plus 15-18 minutes is a lot less time than I thought!), so I’m not even sure I got my points across. My original topic was on how I believe that the development community kills creativity in Zambia (I couldn’t speak to other countries in Africa, though I did have similar experiences with my work in Kenya), yes I was having my Dambisa dead aid moment! But to be honest, that wasn’t going to be too helpful to sit around bitching about the problem, I needed to address it critically, to say so how do we change this?

Let me take you back a bit. My issue stems from when I look around at billboards, or TV adverts, posters etc related to some development issue, be it HIV, malaria, etc, and it’s bad. It’s not creative or compelling. It’s not comparable to the commercial ads (ok some local ones are questionable too), it’s not like coca cola, or FNB, or any other brand that’s doing some pretty awesome stuff. And don’t get it twisted, some of these ‘prosocial ads’ have a pretty good budget. Budget aside, they could still try and be creative.

But it was almost like there is a belief that because it’s made in Africa or made for Africa it needs to be, well, shit. Samsung do made (built) for Africa the best – it’s not shit, it’s innovative, and works for our terrain – which is what we need. But otherwise, we remain the dumping ground for rubbish.

It frustrates me because despite how many educated and skilled people are in the country, we still contend with Washington telling us what we can and can’t do. I’m not saying we have all the answers or that we can do everything, but we make a plan – that’s the point.

And why do they settle for substandard? There are creatives in this country (ourselves included) who want to deliver good quality and international products, who have pride in their own outputs and take exception to using low resolution photography, who won’t steal images off the internet, or not think through the use of colours etc. Rather than say ‘this is the best Zambia can do’, look around and find the best.

My bigger point though, was that as these development communication and/or marketing are supposed to improve our lives, we too have the power to say, ‘actually it’s crap, so I don’t want to buy what you’re selling – because it doesn’t speak to me, or my values’, and if these development agencies don’t want to work with us, or at least listen to what we have to say (regarding creativity and production values), then we have to do the communication our selves.

The same way we want to be responsible for the stories coming out of Africa, for us to tell our stories, is the same way that we should also get involved, and indeed be responsible for our development agenda, and our development messages. We don’t need to shortchange ourselves by putting out substandard products when it’s related to one of the most important product to sell – our health and our wellbeing.

Watch the full talk and I hope I didn’t miss my point!

I’ve spent the last couple of days in a room full of experts, researchers, communicators, donors, programme people discussing how to increase the uptake of voluntary medical male circumcision (vmmc as they called it) among men 25-49 years old in countries in east and southern Africa as a way to reduce the spread of HIV, and ultimately create an HIV free generation.

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It’s not really my area of specialisation, but I was fortunate to be invited as a person who has done a lot of communication work for awareness and prevention of HIV generally.  I learnt a lot.  They discussed things like maybe vmmc should be repositioned so it’s not so closely associated with HIV, but more so with Hygiene and maybe even sexual attractiveness, and reducing female cervical cancer.  They also discussed how to get female intimate partners more involved as a primary audience because they are influencers in men’s life.  Ok hold on – for years we’ve been talking about how women aren’t empowered to decide how, when, and where to have sex, with the man totally in control of that decision, they can’t get a man to wear a condom, but now they can influence a man to cut his penis?  Wow!  So what are we saying, did the health campaign’s empower women too much?

In that same discussion – which I was lucky to be a panelist on – Hally Mahler who works in Tanzania as the Chief of Party for JHIPEGO – a USAID Project – she explained that while women could be great influencers, they can also be deterants because they didn’t want to have six weeks of abstinence while their partner healed, so they’d rather go to another man for that sexual pleasure – and the men now this.  In Zambia, they say women are scared that the partners would find being circumcised as the reason for men to go out and be unfaithful!

Times have changed indeed – women in Africa are acknowledging that they have sexual needs and not afraid to admit it!  

Enough of my sidebar, going back to my observations of the conference, I’ve been at several of these meetings, conferences etc where all these different people come together and I find it’s usually the same things being said – researchers want more money for research, so that everything can be evidence based, donors are agreeing with this, but saying they want results now!  And programme people (or are they implementers) are wanting to put more money into communication, while there are the those in the middle – not sure who they are – who are naysers about putting money into communication/mass media programmes.

Obviously as a person who is into communications and content development, I’m a strong advocate for putting more money into good quality content.  But I think everyone has to work together.  The researchers have the information to inform the content, the implementers on the ground have the networks and links into the service providers to ensure that when the demand is created the services are there for the uptake.  Too often these groups, when designing a programme are not in the same room.

I’ve been to tenders where organisations say they want to launch a comprehensive communication campaign to get a certain behaviour adhered to and so they’re now putting out a tender for 2 billboards, 3 TV PSAs and 2 radio spots.  Erm yeah, that’s going to get you a comprehensive campaign.  Not to say that they need to have loads more, but if they don’t have the media spend to flood the market, then it’s not really worth it and their money is better spent in a cheaper medium like leaflets – as long as their target audience can read.  But I am a strong believer that communication campaigns done well and sustained can work – there is lots of evidence for this, especially in the commercial world.

My point is they should be engaging an agency in the begining to tell them what they need to do.  People bring agencies in at the last minute and then question the agency as to why their campaign isn’t working – which could be for a multiple reasons starting with they didn’t really do a proper communication brief to the agency.  If an agency clearly understands what it is you’re trying to achieve, it makes it easier for them to plan a campaign for you – and all aspects of the campaign.  That’s another thing I don’t really understand about public sector, why they do this whole piecemeal thing – splitting out a campaign isn’t about making it fair, it’s just complicates your campaign and makes it harder to manage and control and makes quality control a nightmare.

Another one of my observations was how little we heard from local people.  I’m a big believer in local knowledge.  As I sat with other African colleagues at lunch, or during tea breaks, we laughed about how African’s are too polite, they’d rather let their Western colleagues go down a path that is culturally inappropriate than tell them it won’t work – don’t want to hurt their feelings, and obviously a lot of people still having their insecurities that the West are more superior than us poor, little Africans, in fact one person observed that the conference was about ‘white women telling black men to cut their penis’ – (i found that funny).  But I did wonder why we’re not pushing our own solutions – I’m not talking about the to cut or not cut issue here – but even when I look at all the communication campaigns we do for our clients, we’ve never been approached by the Ministry of Health or any such entity (except on governance issues, then it is the Zambian government we work directly with), so why are locals not pushing their own health campaigns to ensure they are culturally relevant and appropriate?

We have enough experience now to say we can, why aren’t we discussing our own learners, our own challenges?  Why is it enough to let the West try to solve our problems?  I don’t know.

I met a lovely man from India, also in communications (in the private sector) Ram Prased from Final Miles.  Not only was he hilarious, and honest, but he told me about how his company didn’t wait for a client to come along, that they’d tackle issues that they thought were important to them.  And maybe that’s what we need to do.  It is hard because everything in Zambia is so expensive, but I think, certainly for us at Media 365, we’re too passionate about what we do to wait for someone to ask us our honest opinion on how we think things should be done, on what should be communicated and how it should be communicated (we do have this knowledge too – not saying we’re right, but we’re just not really asked to even try it out), and just go ahead and produce what we really want to.

I’m inspired to do it because we need to start shouting about our success not, some random campaign that frankly no one I know ever heard about.  When I sort out our cashflow, believe me, we’ll be on it!  Watch this space.  And at least I met interesting people at the conference!  

In the meantime, we should keep the conversation going about VMMC – it’s an interesting one for sure.

The reality of working and living in Zambia is finally hitting home – big time. When I first moved back, just over a year ago, I loved the fact that I had a work-life balance – well, that I had a life altogether!

But now I realise that I might have more of a life and less of a career. Welcome to Africa they say, or my personal favourite TIA (This Is Africa). Time is anything but of the essence. You can spend days on end waiting for feedback, approvals, quotes, suppliers showing you their work, and anything else you need to actually make anything happen.

We signed a contract with a new client in January, which was supposed to end at the end of July, out of the four deliveries, we have just delivered on one thing, while we wait in vain for feedback to allow us to move forward – the downside of being consultants or an agency, you can’t move ahead without an approval to do so!

This waiting game means that you lose the momentum, and in some cases the drive to do it. My boyfriend laughed at my two hour gym sessions – saying it would be hard for me to find the time to do it during the week – but the joke’s on him. I can take 2 hours off – say lunch time to be on the safe side (as if), and still come back to find myself still waiting.

Yesterday someone remarked that working in Zambia is like being on holiday. Yes that it is. But the frustrating thing is that once they give their approval, they expect the product/service to be delivered the next day! Really?

And this is why I think it is important to run a business with products or services you control – because you’ll have the time to!

But seriously if this behaviour of slow moving work-place environments continues is it no wonder we’re lagging behind in development (when we used to be ahead)? Or that employees are unmotivated to function productively?

I am glad I can go spend hours in the gym, or wander the mall at lunch time, or not work on weekends etc but you know what they say about an idle mind (and idle hands!). Plus it breeds frustration on my part. I’m not used to not doing stuff, not using my brain, not… functioning. But now that I’m getting used to this sad reality, I’m working on using the time constructively – not just seeing what’s going on online (besides I keep finding stuff on Kim-Ye, which is just boring), or catching up on twitter and facebook, I’m using it as an opportunity to develop my own stuff – stuff that is time-dependent only on me.

No point in sitting around complaining is it? The world is our oyster and only we can determine our future and our legacy – go out and take it!