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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.

It’s been a minute since I’ve blogged.  It’s just been too difficult for me to come on here.  After the excitement and pride I felt for producing what I think is a great season of Love Games, we were hit with a very harsh reality, a shock that had me questioning whether we’d be forced to shut down the business.  I can’t go into detail for legal reasons, but there were things that happened in our finance department that made me spiral into depression.

Forgetting about the qualification of people, I beat myself up for being so trusting and not a harsher micro-manager.  Anyone who knows me, who has been managed by me knows that I believe people should take responsibility for their work and have a sense of pride and ownership, and that given trust and respect anyone can flourish.  Perhaps I looked through rose coloured glasses, or perhaps they are some areas that you can’t afford to have that outlook on.  Whatever the answer might be, I spent months not sleeping, working hard, seeking advice, just trying to figure a way out.  I haven’t got that answer yet.

 I then got an opportunity to talk about some of these issues when Janice Matwi decided to do a piece on sibling business – and therefore on Media 365 – for her e-zine Corporate Heelz.  While I could only allude to some of the issues we were facing it made me want to open up more. 

What I did find when I opened up to my friends, and some of the women that inspire me including Octavia from the Twenty Ten Club,and Yvonne from Al Jazeera, was this incredible support.  I felt like I was on the edge, and through their words of encouragement and helpful suggestions, they slowly talked me off the ledge.

My very good friend – also an entrepreneur – Mutale, sent me an article that really pointed to how I was not alone in this situation.  Many entrepreneurs have got to the point of nearly (if not actually) losing everything.  But they stuck it out, and when they made it back, they learnt from their lessons.  It was really useful.  But I also felt that we’d been here before – ok not as bad, but definitely here, and I thought we had learnt.  Perhaps it was just my turn to learn the lesson to appreciate how tough it was for those that came before me, and for us to bond further in the growth of this company.  (Now I understand why there are so many wantrepreneurs – it’s safer!)

I looked around me and realised that many of those closest and dearest to me were in the same boat, all suffering severe financial issues, with no sign of how to get out.  The depression getting the better of them.  This is a real issue that we take for granted – depression is real my friends.

Depression is not new to me, I think for the larger part of my life I have suffered with depression – I read somewhere that it’s a common affliction of Type A people – we’re too hard on our selves – our harshest and worst critics.  But over the years I’ve learnt how to deal with it.

To some the answer seems to lie in crawling back into bed and shutting yourself out from the world.  And you know, that’s really tempting and inviting – there are no problems in your bed, under your comfy duvet, watching bad day time TV with the phone off and a bottle of wine in reach. (Sounds great even now).  But the reality is that wallowing in misery actually just intensifies the misery.  You have to get up and face the world with your fighting spirit and never give up.  These are some tips that I have learnt that I encourage others to use when the feeling of sadness begins to take grip – but you have to be aware of it to catch it early.  

Get Up and Move

Exercise is one of those things that is like a super everything.  For almost any problem you have you find that exercise is suggested to address it.  There is something about getting your body moving that lifts your mood.  It also helps clear your mind so that you can think clearly.  There is a couple of things that I find can happen when you’re depressed – either you have knee jerk reactions and make decisions that don’t help you in the long run, or you get frozen and can’t make any decision.  Exercise allows you to have options.  And remember, if you don’t take care of your body, it won’t take care of you!

Do Something!

Addressing your problems head on is always a good idea.  Seek expert opinions if you have to – with your bank manager, financial advisors, lawyers, whoever you need to – or even people who have gone through the same thing before.  Maybe you’re not in the position to get that kind of expert advise yet, but then tackle your problem another way.  Begin by writing a to-do list of all you can do to get out of your problems and then start working your way down the list – try the smaller things first – those immediate wins will help boost your confidence and give you energy to tackle the big tasks.  It may seem insurmountable now, but it really isn’t.

Talk to your creditors too.  Let them understand your situation.  This is really difficult in Zambia for a couple of reasons: 

    • Being broke is a laughable offense.  Or an insult.  It is scandalous to be broke in Zambia, people would rather pretend to afford a livestyle or a business that they can’t.  Behind the scenes they are drowning in debt but are trying to ‘save face’.  Having a better understanding of money, and being comfortable with it will allow us to all have healthier conversations about finance, debt, budgeting etc.  It’s better to be honest about your situation than ruin yourself further or hide from your creditors.
    • Everyone is in the same boat.  Because of the fact that Zambia is a cash based society, with very few people having access to credit there is a knock on affect when the cycle of payments is broken. If my client doesn’t pay me, I can’t pay my suppliers (or employees), they can’t pay their employees, the employees can’t pay their landlords, or maids, the maid can’t send her kids to school and so on, and so on.  Most people don’t have excess cash to put towards savings or anything, excess cash is used to pay a bill, pay a debt, or get better food in the house.

But we have to just deal with facts, if you can’t afford to pay your bills, get on a debt plan and begin to trade out of your debts.

Get Creative

Taking your mind off your problems and doing something creative can help you find a creative solution to your problem.  Paint a painting, paint a wall, do some gardening, go dancing, read a book.  Anything that will put a smile on your face.  The distraction helps so that you also don’t tire yourself thinking about your problem – this will also drain you and make you more susceptible to depression.

Get Spiritual

I’m not ‘religious’ by any means.  I was brought up a Christian and did Sunday school as a child.  I don’t think I’ve been to church regularly since I was about 12.  But I don’t knock the power of faith.  And when I’m down, I do turn to God.  Prayer is my way to have someone to talk to, and I do think God listens to us all deep down.  I find it comforting and relaxing, it allows me to also put my problems in someone else’s hands and let’s me focus on what I can control.

If you’re not a praying person (or prayful as they say in Zambia), you can also try meditation.  It’s all about being still and quiet and focused.

 

Call your Cheerleaders

Your support network is absolutely crucial at this time.  You need the people who will surround you with love and encouragement.  These people help remind you why you are special and highlight your great points.  This positivity boost is also another way to keep you encouraged and ready to take on the world.  I’m am eternally grateful for my sister-friends, my family, and my boyfriend that drives me insane.

Don’t be Scared (I tried to say it with a American southern drawl)

Talking about a mental illness of any kind is quite taboo in the black community – saying you have depression is like admitting you’re mad!  But the moment we talk about it we allow others to also talk about, and to start acknowledging that it might not be such an insane thing after all.  I’m sure people will spread this around like crazy – OMG Cathy suffers from depression, shame, maybe she should be committed. (I wouldn’t mind being committed if it means creditors will stop calling me and I can rest :))

This isn’t a long term solution sadly, and sometimes you might get depression when it’s past the point where any of those help.  And then you do need to take your day of hopelessness (as we call it) and just veg.  But then put back on your fighting gloves and get back to winning.  If you’re still a live, you still have the fight in you and the opportunity to succeed.  

And it’s not an easy path to walk.  You’ll find that one day you’ll be fine, feeling you can do this, you can conquer it all, and then the next day you’ll find that your water has been cut off and you’ll burst into tears, and think it’s all too hard and want to give up.

I’m still struggling with this but I don’t plan on giving up.  I have to go back to figuring out how we do come back but I’ll try to keep you posted on my life in Zambia and what I learn and any other strategies that work for me too.

Thanks for listening.