You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Zambia’ tag.

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!

It’s been awhile since I wrote here.  Teetering somewhere between exhaustion, stressed and overwhelmingly busy, I haven’t had much time to blog.  The last few months the emotional roller-coaster that has become my life has continued.  

I don’t want to blog about the things that are still draining me – you might think my life is really that bad!  So I’m going to focus on the things that make me happy.

 As terrible (financially and emotionally) as the Love Games experience was for us, it has helped raise our platform – both as a company, as producers and even as Zambia!  Love Games got picked up by Africa Magic, so now the show is airing across Africa!  How exciting is that?  It’s probably also allowing more people in Zambia (all those who don’t watch ZNBC) to watch it too!  And they get to see the great quality which somehow ZNBC never managed to get right when broadcasting.

If that wasn’t enough to excite us – and it really was – it’s also been picked up in the US and can be seen on Hulu as well as online at Reel African.  Last I heard there was also a Nigerian TV station launching it this month on their channel – all very exciting!  And a few days ago it was announced that Love Games has been nominated for THREE Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards – Best Television Series, Best Video Editor, Best Supporting Actress!  Yay team! 

The success of Love Games, has got us recognised abroad too, and I’m so honored and humbled to have been asked to speak at TEDxEuston, which I did yesterday.

The last few weeks have been so nerve wrecking as I’ve tried to figure out what to talk about.  TEDx talks are so inspiring, how on earth can I do one?!  I’ve focused on something I’m passionate about and just hoped and prayed, for the best!  (That’s for another blog, soon coming) 

We also got to shoot a short spot with the First Lady – that was actually fun – and it was at State House.  It’s great to do things like that every once in awhile.  She was really friendly and all – genuinely so.  It makes you wonder… ehem.  Anyway the end result of the spot looks great! 

After having done what I do for the last 16 years, I’m more passionate than ever about controlling the messages we put out.  Earlier this month we joined forces with IM Studios – and super star producer Mag 44, to produce a song featuring Cleo Ice Queen, Lulu Hangala, Judy-oh and Kantu to address the message we think we should be putting out to women – rise and realise your potential.  Every time this year we recognise the 16 days of activism against gender violence, and while talking about what we could do about it, we asked ourselves, well what do we want women to do about it?  People talk about standing up and joining the fight against this terrible act but then want?

 And if you’ve faced abuse, then what?  

We all really liked that ‘Women are strong’ advert from Sure, so that was our starting point – women are strong.  Let’s pay homage to these strong women, and recognise this strength lives within all of us (women).  Inspired by the Young Lions competition (Cannes Lions Festival), we thought, why don’t we get people in the creative industry to come together on an issue that we think is important and put our creative minds to it – without interference from development organisations and their respective agendas.  

So we’ve started with IM studios and Bongo Hive and hoping to bring in more creatives in the next few weeks.  We feel this is something that can live a long time – until women realise their potential even!  Look out for the song Nyamuka next week and the start of the campaign soon after (I hope!)

As we’re getting to the end of the year, it’s time to focus on next year.  2013 has been a huge learning for me, I can’t underscore all the lessons that have come my way.  I’m learning to focus on the positive and not the negative.  I can complain and whine all day about how unfair life is, on how everything seems to be going wrong blah blah blah, or I can take the lemons and make margaritas from it.  And I do like margaritas!

And I’m learning to be grateful.  This year we have done so much and worked with a great team.  Our focus might have been on Love Games, but we also produced a great video for the Brothers for Life song which aired across the entire three floors of the UNICEF HQ in New York, Love Games travelled and started so many discussions, while also rising the bar for dramas in Zambia.  We got to travel to Luapula to do a documentary for a client, we did the first informercial that set off a chain reaction with other agencies doing their own type of informercials.  Not mentioning the work I’ve already talked about above.  So while my accountant might not be happy with us this year, I’m so grateful for the great products we’ve released.

Take a look at our reel.

Stay Blessed

An entrepreneur, according to Dictionary.com, is defined as “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”  Forbes goes a step further to state that ‘entrepreneurs find a need – any need – and they fill it’.

An entrepreneur is said to be a money multiplier – they invest to gain rewards, but at the end of the day, they run businesses.  What is the point of a business if it’s not going to make a profit?  In that case it’s not a business, it’s a charity, or a non profit organisation or maybe even a non-governmental organisation.

The reason I’m banging on about this is because I’m not sure if the point of being an entrepreneur is really understood in Zambia.  Some of my clients think I should lower my prices or discount everything for them because they work in developmental work and so I’ll be aiding in national development if I do this work for free!  Erm, no, I’ll be aiding national development if I am successful enough to provide jobs for other citizens of this country and pay taxes (more than I pay now due to more revenue :)).

Or the other day I was told about a three day event from a foreign government to learn about how entrepreneurs can aid in sustainable development.  I was baffled.  I costed out the potential lose of business to the company – as in my line of work, everyone’s time is charged out – and the outcome of this venture was for the business to understand its role in sustainable development?  Not the potential to win a really large contract?  Not an opportunity to pitch a sale?  Not an opportunity to showcase our work (so that we can attract new clients)? Potentially an opportunity to network (which is never a bad idea, but can be done in one day).

 It got me thinking – is it that we have a different role as entrepreneurs in Zambia?  Is entrepreneurs seen as the new darlings of development, the NGOs and non-for profit have had their day so now it’s all about the cute, fuzzy entrepreneurs cropping up around Africa trying to make it on their own?  

 Ok perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, I’m sure the thinking behind these entrepreneur workshops are well intentioned, and maybe if the workshop was specific to my industry, or just a bit more clearer on its objectives as a whole I won’t think of it as so ‘insulting’ to my entrepreneurial spirit!  

 I guess it came at a time where I was just angry, angry at how difficult the path is for an entrepreneur with challenges that can’t solely be solved by workshops (though you can make great connections).  Unless the workshops are targeted at real business challenges that all SMEs face, about operational cash flow, about access to finance (and not the BS ones the bank tries to sell you), on management, on product development, processes and whatever else entrepreneurs get caught up on, it’s just time away from growing my business. 

 The entrepreneur in Zambia is not applauded, despite the fact that in our economic climate, it might be the only way to go, it’s certainly not easy to get a job!

 Though with some of the young people out there, who think it is easy to get a job, maybe this is why being an entrepreneur is not such a big deal.  I have had two young people work with us recently, who frustrated me no end – it’s amazing how kids today can say they want to be the best of the best and then not actually do the work or learning to make them the best of the best.  Anyway, there was a real disconnect, as if they were doing us a favour by working here!  In fact one who left recently was totally chuffed that they were going to work as a PA for a start up they know nothing about!  It was like being here was a holiday, and now they suddenly have a real job.  I shrugged my shoulders, thinking was I really than vacuous at 21?

 Don’t get me wrong, by no means do I believe that we’re the best of the best (yet), or the number one choice place to work (yet), or the super successful, trail blazing business (yet), but hey, I do know potential when I see it!  And I think for some businesses maybe those type of workshops are necessary and important for them, they’re just not for the type of business I want to be.

 Ok perhaps if they asked me to speak at the event I would have gone 🙂  Seriously though, I think when you set out to run your own business, you have to know what you’re in it for, and there are lots of reasons to run your own business that aren’t based on profits alone, but at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, if your business isn’t making a profit, and it can’t sustain your needs, then why have the business?

Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.  It’s hard, it’s long hours, it’s emotionally draining and there is so much failure involved.  But it’s also fun, rewarding, and life affirming!  I just wish that people in Zambia would regard it as a serious endeavor instead of some new craze.

 Oh dear, am I beginning to sound just a little bit too angry?!

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.

Time flies! I can’t believe that it’s been almost a month since I last blogged, just been so hectic. I feel like I say this every time I blog! Time moves on and so much happens, good and bad.

Season two of Love Games is finally being broadcast, which is great! I’m really excited about season two. I went back and forth on this season, it was a hard one for us as it’s the last season of the show, so it’s pretty heavy. We learned a lot from producing season one, so season two is the result of all these learnings, so I’m super proud of that.

I can’t even begin to discussing the difference between shooting season one and season two. The sleepless nights I faced during season one, weren’t there in two! But it came from the experience. I think even the crew who worked on both seasons can say this. And that’s something that I’m big on – constant learning. We can’t sit on our laurels and say ‘it’s good enough, therefore I don’t need to learn any more.’ And it’s also important to listen to the critics (not the haters, the critics), listen to it, take it in, and do what needs to be done. I don’t believe in listening to the negativity that makes you beat yourself up, but honestly dissect it and say, does that add value? And if it does, take it on board.

You can never please everyone, you have to ensure that you are happy first and foremost. Because you have to live with your decisions and your work is your legacy after all, if that’s your calling card, are you 100% happy with it? If so, then don’t sweat it. But if you’re not, then keep it 100 and do something about it.

But Love Games has come to an end and there are lots of changes at Media 365, which at first had me in serious worry mode, but then I remembered my motto ‘start with the end in mind’. I had to check myself to remember where this journey is going to end, and that excited me again. We’re fighters, we don’t stay down for long!

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that apart from business, the next thing I’m passionate about is empowering women. I’m so pro-women that it hearts my heart when I hear about other women not supporting each other, and I’ve seen it in practice, so I’m not foolish enough to claim it’s just a man-made thing to keep us women down (but it’s tempting to say it!), but I’ve also seen amazing women that support each other. This is no truer than in Octavia Goredema.

Twenty Ten Club logo

I get so proud when I look at the strong women in my life and their trailblazing success. Octavia is one such woman. She started the Twenty Ten Club in London to inspire and connect with like minded black business woman to get them to reach their true potential and grow their businesses. When I started running Media 365 a couple of years ago, I reached out to Octavia to share with her my own frustrations of not only running a business, but of being a business woman in a country that didn’t necessarily respect women in the first place. I spoke to her of the challenges I found of being taken seriously and finding my space in this male dominated society. And I mused about how great it would be to have a supportive organisation like the Twenty Ten Club.

Little did I know that it was just at that time that Octavia, who had not only received an MBE from the Queen, but had also started another business, while also relocated back to the States, was already toying with the idea of expanding her network into Africa. Talk about the right timing!

Recently, I was honoured to champion the ideals and values of the Twenty Ten Club, by becoming the Chair of the Twenty Ten Club Zambia – the first one in Africa.
On one hand, I worried about where I’d find the time to take this on as well, with everything going on at Media 365, but then I also know that not only will it help me be a better business woman, it also allows me to pursue my other passion – empowering women to achieve the success they deserve.

While there are other networking organisations that connect woman who are climbing up the corporate ladder, or helping them achieve their dreams, there isn’t one that is specifically for business owners. I think as career women, we all have similar ‘issues’ but as business owners we also have specific issues that corporate employees don’t necessarily have. So I thrilled to be taking on this challenge and really hope that I can mirror the success of the Twenty Ten Club in the UK.

I’ll obviously keep you posted! In the meantime, I hope you’re getting your Love Games fix too!

The last month has been very interesting. We have spent time looking for the production crew to work on the second season of the highly successful Love Games. A lot of people don’t have the experience or the education for working in TV production, not surprisingly, Zambia doesn’t really have a TV industry. It is definitely one that is growing, but not yet as mature as our neighbors, especially not like South Africa, or Kenya even.

Career vs Job

But I looked at some cvs of people who’d had the opportunity to study abroad, and they all have degrees in stable career paths, like economics, law, business etc. When asked why they wanted to work on the production as say a make up artist, they said it was because it was their passion. So my follow up question was, ‘then why didn’t you study it in school?’

Most people had the stock answer, ‘I needed a back up just in case.’ Erm, you have no experience, or education in the field you’re passionate about, so how does that show it’s your plan A?

As an African child raised by a very African father, I understand the not doing what you really want to do. My father wanted all of us to go to university and get a degree in something traditional like economics, law, business etc. I said, ‘nah, I think I want to study film.’ He sighed and told me to prepare myself for a life of unemployment.

Plan-A

It didn’t deter me though. I didn’t necessarily go on to study film for many reasons, but I did ingrain myself in the industry where I could. My former boss at MTV has no qualms telling anyone who’ll listen how much I bugged her to get a job there – I was pretty bad. I’m sure she hired me just out of frustration! Lol. Now, I’m not sure that type of persistence will always get you what you need, but you do have to have some persistence for people to take you seriously.

And then it’s not all glamourous to start with. There is real grunt work to do when you’re on the come up in the TV industry. It’s hard work, it’s late nights, and all for not much pay… or pretty much any industry really. It’s all about determination and focus – you know what you want, and you work towards that.

My whole career has been focussed on working in the media arena in one way or another and honing my skills to make me better each day – I keep telling people, every day is a learning day!

The last couple of years (well will be 2 years on Sunday) in Lusaka I’ve been shocked by the work ethics of most people I’ve met. People be like give me a job and let me show you want I can do. And then they show up to work late, write in text speech, they expect you to accept their shoddy work, and get surprised (and upset) when you fire them. Actually in most cases they fire themselves! Walk off set, or don’t show up at call time for no valid reason. They saunter back on set when they’re ready and expect to find a job waiting for them!

After my stint at MTV I’m used to people working like slaves to get ahead – ok it didn’t help that it was fairly obvious that there was a queue of hundreds of people waiting to take your job if you didn’t perform. But I do truly believe that fortune favors those that put in the effort for their career. And there were countless examples of the interns who rose to SVPs (senior vice presidents) at MTV, exemplifying that anything is possible.

Yet, here, just working past 7pm is a problem for people. And can’t be dedicated to one thing… I don’t know, it’s frustrating.

success

Again I understand it’s scary to commit to one thing, especially when there is no industry to show that it’s worth the commitment, but how do you know for sure if you don’t try?

There will be many that come, but only few will remain. And these few will be the ones that establish a real tv and entertainment media industry for the country.

Right now I have little tolerance left, and like America, I refuse to negotiate with terrorists. If it means I have to fire someone even if I don’t have a back-up person, so be it, we make an alternate plan, terrorists can’t hold us to ransom!

For me there is no going back because I don’t have the back up plan. Plan A has always been my plan, so I might fail at times, but I always have to get up and dust myself and keep it moving. I don’t quit. I might let go of things when I’ve tried every means to make it work, but I won’t quit. And I like to surround myself with the people who have the same spirit. It’s not always easy, those close to me have seen when I’ve fallen apart, frustrated, not knowing what to do, but we get up, we solider on. No one said it would be easy – and they do say anything worth having is not easy.

Maybe I do push people too hard, or expect too much, but I do truly believe that everyone can achieve greatness – or at least what they want in life. I just don’t have the patience for anyone not trying to achieve what they can, with some hardwork, focus, and determination.

In the words of my friend Believe + Achieve! (though ok you need a little bit more than believe, but you know what I mean!

I’ve now been in Zambia for two years – well it will be two years next month, boy does time fly fast! I’m still getting used to both the way of life and the way people work here.

Zambia is an interesting place. We’ve suffered no real conflict since we gained our independence in 1964. While political leaders may have overstayed their use in power, by and large all our elections have been peaceful with power handover being free from any violence or unrest. This seems to be a good thing. But perhaps it talks to the passive nature we have as a people.

Most people I have met in Zambia are very laid back, hoping that somehow the work will do itself, and we’ll get paid for doing next to nothing, and one day we’ll be rich and financial secure. Sigh, if only.

Zambia operates as a cash based society, though most companies operate with a 30-45 day payment policy. The problem being that it’s a vicious cycle, clients have to pay, so that you can pay your suppliers, so they can pay their employees, so they can pay their employees and their kids school fees and so on and so on. When any part of that chain doesn’t work, it screws someone.

cash-flow-management

If you’re an up and coming company you don’t really have the cashflow to deal with late payments. The banks don’t extend credit unless you’re giving them something in exchange – i.e. cash or property to secure an overdraft or facility (zero risk for the bank, yet you still get charged a hefty interest fee), so if your clients don’t pay you, it puts you in a tricky situation.

This was a situation we found ourselves in the last month or so, our clients just weren’t paying and we couldn’t pay all our suppliers.

The first thing that I felt was huge embarrassment. There is nothing worse than not being able to pay your bills. It makes you feel almost like a failure, how did you not manage your cashflow, why are the client’s not paying, and not to mention the sleepless nights.

Then I started to talk to more experienced business owners, who asked me one question, what can you do about it? The reality was nothing. You can’t control when the clients pay, you can hope to manage your cashflow better – which you do learn – and you have to communicate with your suppliers.

At the end of day repeat business is better and cheaper than looking for new business. So you too want to manage your client relationships. Suppliers sadly to say are easier to replace, every day there is someone vying for new business. I’d prefer to keep my suppliers happy but when they too decide that they’re not interested in you as a client and treat you that way, why would you bother sticking to doing business with them once you’ve paid them?

I’ve talked about this many times – building relationships for long term growth – but I find it’s a recurring issue when doing business in Zambia, people just don’t value that relationship. It works even with friends and family you have credit terms with. As long as you sell a product, regardless of who the person is, you have to engage them as a customer and aim for repeat business.

Sadly most people don’t realise this. Today, I decided to stop buying shoes from someone who was supplying me. I don’t for one second doubt this doesn’t bother her, yet now she’ll have to find someone else willing to spend the x amount (:0) I was paying every time she brought shoes. Again I’m not doubting she will eventually find someone, but rather than adding to her bottom line, she now has to find more clients to keep her bottom line as it is now. But again, I doubt she’ll realise this or care right now.

This is how I feel about other suppliers who no longer enjoy our business – was the disregard for the company worth the loss of business? Perhaps it was worth it for them, but I know that when I’m dealing with my clients I swallow my pride a lot because my bottom line is worth it to me. I want my company to be here not only tomorrow but in 20 odd years and then some.

And when it comes to suppliers, I take the American stance, I simply refuse to deal with terrorists! It is never the intention of good businesses to not pay people or suppliers, sometimes ish beyond your control happens. And happens to all growing businesses. What is important is your word, which is why in situations like this communication is super important. Keeping everyone abreast of the situation helps, though not everyone cares for this, they just want to get paid! But what you going to do?

Then the hard decisions also come in to play. As a business that started really small, (we’re still small, just growing), we got to where we are because of hardwork and determination yes, but also because of the faith other bigger organizations had in us, this is something we’d like to pass on to smaller companies trying to come up. But if they can’t afford to give you the 45 days credit terms we need for cashflow management, does that mean we don’t work with them, and don’t give them the opportunity to grow too?

I guess there are other businesses out there more established, who can give the small businesses coming up the cash they also need to grow. Ultimately as business leaders, we always have to put the needs of the businesses first, regardless of the sacrifice – well, depending on your end goal.

I’m a bit obsessed with male circumcision (mc) now – it was an interesting conference that I attended last week by invitation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and it got me speaking to a lot of men that I know about mc.

I get a lot of people tweeting me or commenting on the blog whenever I write about circumcision – it’s a really controversial subject – so I want to be clear here, I don’t have a stand on circumcision. As I’m not the one who has to have a piece of their body snipped off, I only have an interest in further the debate and understanding more so that I can be informed when talking to the men in my life.

One of the issues that someone observed in this 3 day conference was not to focus solely more communication channels, and indeed more communication programmes to educate men (and women alike) on the importance of mc, but about the quality of that content. I don’t think he meant in terms of good quality productions or visuals on posters – though this does help too, but the quality of the message – what exactly are you saying?

When I spoke to men – both circumcised and not – I asked them if they’d ever consider it, and why not if they weren’t already circumcised or if they were thinking hell no to being circumcised. Quite frankly, they never understood the point in it. If we look on the HIV prevention side, circumcision reduces your risk of infection by as much as 60% BUT you still have to use a condom. Eh? So why not save yourself the bother (and the 6 week recuperation with no sex!) and just use a condom? And in the case of a man I know who does not slip, he uses condoms like they’re going out of fashion, why would circumcision ever cross his mind?

The one guy I spoke to who voluntarily got circumcised said all the right reasons – he did it because it’s hygienic, reduces risk of STIs (including HIV), reduces the risk of cervical cancer for his partner. I was getting quite impressed that here was a guy who really responded to the messages! He then went on to say that the added bonus (his words not mine) was that acquiring a few milli-inches (hmmm and he put this out on twitter! lol) and that the fellow looks more handsome! I’m not sure how he got a few more mili-inches – I don’t know how this happened as I’m not a surgeon or anything.

Ok so MC was tooted as an effective way to reduce the spread of HIV. But problem is that, try as we might, not enough men are getting circumcised and there’s a reason for this, linked back to HIV. Despite HIV having been around for like 25+ years (isn’t it over 30 now?), there is still a huge stigma attached to it. And people at the conference were talking about how people needed a cover story to get circumcised. There were also stories about women scared that if their husband’s got circumcised, then they would most likely end up being unfaithful. Erm circumcision will make a man cheat? Honey, if your man is a cheat, he’ll cheat whether he is circumcised or not.

So the next conversation was about changing the key benefit of getting circumcised, so that’s it’s not so closely linked to HIV. Hygiene for example. It is a long-term benefit after all. It’s much easier to clean a penis without a foreskin – no pulling back to clean within! This makes sense… not that I know men who don’t clean their penis’… but you never know.

I’m not a fan of changing the key benefit, reducing your chances of getting HIV is a big benefit, realistically no one knowingly wants to get HIV. But it’s got to be a no-brianer to make sex – I’m not sure 60% is good enough. Chances are still better off with a condom. Or better still no sex at all! Ok, I know, calm down, that’s not an option for many.

I think I got lost in my thoughts again – I told you I’m fascinated by this conversation about MC… oh yes, quality of content. I think I mentioned Ram in my last post. Ram is the co-founder of Final Mile (they’re behaviour architects – love that!), and he basically talked about positioning risk and rewards. Looking at the rewards of circumcision he said, and I’ll paraphrase on the issue that mc (I must stress this is medical male circumcision as opposed to traditional circumcision) may reduce risk of infection of HIV by 60%’- to which he said for ordinary people all that means is that it’s better than 50%! Which when you think about it… what does that mean? 40% is still a big risk if you ask me…

Then other rewards (that is benefits) include can reduce risk of cervical cancer, can aide in hygiene – as discussed above. After a brief pause he read out the risks! Ok – I’ll leave that for you to google.

Basically, I think when it comes to promoting medical male circumcision, if you want more men to get circumcised we need to understand what is stoping them from moving from motivation to action, and deal with that in the messaging. Yeah that was an obvious one, I know… but you’ll be surprised how few messages deal with this, probably because programme managers can be scared of what happens when you deal with the unknown, but that’s what life is about isn’t it – sometimes we have to take a calculated risk to reap the benefits – hey that could be a circumcision slogan right there!

I believe that the path for personal development and growth has many stops for internal reflection. I frequently find my self grabbing a comfy chair and pouring a glass of wine for a long hard look at myself. Only when we can identify our weakness can we do something about it.

The latest one I’ve been dealing with is empathy. I know that that shouldn’t really be a problem – unless you’re that girl in X-Man, then it could be a problem… or was it Heroes? Aaah who remembers? *shrugs shoulders*

Empathy, defined by Psychology Today, is ‘the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors.’

Looks like a good thing, so why is that a bad thing to have? In theory it isn’t, but if you empathise too much, you can’t see your responsibility in the situation.

Recently the company got into a situation where for no fault of our own we couldn’t pay certain suppliers for services they had provided. For legal reasons I can’t give too much backstory. I had the suppliers calling me and explaining their situation. Now for anyone who has worked and lived in Africa long enough, you’ll understand the cashflow cycle – we run on a cash based economy, with limited access to credit, if one person isn’t paid it trickles down the chain. We talk about developing our economy, our economy can’t be developed if businesses and individuals can’t get paid, or have access to other sources of finance.

Our business was impacted by this breakdown in cashflow. But my first thought was the suppliers who couldn’t get paid. As I argued and fought to collect the finances to pay these suppliers, I never put myself and our business in the picture, just wanting to ensure the needs of these suppliers were met – to the point where I almost tarnished the reputation of my company.

But yet, I still faced a level of abuse from the suppliers, who didn’t quite have the same level of, or any, empathy as myself. Instead the company was lumped into the category of ‘business as usual’ companies in Zambia. It was a lesson learnt by myself. You can build all the bridges you want, but when it comes to money in Zambia (and I’m sure many other developing countries), one mistake and that bridge can be burnt completely.

Yes in more developed markets it’s all about long term growth and strategy, but how can you focus on long term when the problems of today are on your doorstep? So with this in mind, what is the long term strategy for doing business in Zambia when cash is such a problem and relationships so precarious and fickle?

I am known as a very strong, passionate, and opinionated (bull-headed even) woman, but I also I am fiercely loyal, to my business, my brand, my family (and family is not only blood related). When I feel any of those things are being threatened I react like a lioness protecting her cubs (I think that’s what lioness’ do…sigh, I should watch Animal Planet more often). And when the threat is from someone I respect and trust, that’s just unforgivable.

Ok I might forgive, but I can’t forget the wrong done…. Wait… Doesn’t that technically mean I don’t forgive? Ok let’s just say that I become wary and you might find yourself on our blacklisted list.

Business is tricky and sometimes you have to work with your ‘enemies’ in taking your business to your next level, but then I’ll know you’re an enemy and won’t trust you as far as I can throw you. And that’s not how I like to work, but maybe that’s just the reality of doing business. I don’t know… As Queen Bey says ‘you can’t be nice in business’.

Anyway, that was some of my inner reflections, I need to carry on reflecting and developing myself on my journey to growth and inner peace 🙂

So I’ve never thought of myself as a social marketing anything, let alone a guru (but I like the sound of guru, might throw the term around a bit to see if it sticks 🙂 ), but the lovely lady from Diasporan Darlings decided that that was a deserving title for me in a new interview they did. I’ve posted the first few questions, but to read the full interview do go here

Ex-diasporan, Catherine Ndashe Phiri is part of an emerging group of creative Zambians who have returned home to change the Zambian creative industry. It’s often an industry that is undervalued and highly criticized in most African countries, yet it’s an industry that exudes hope; requires hard work and the ability to ignore scathing (warranted and unwarranted) critique.

For someone who was the former Vice President of MTV International’s Social Responsibility, Cathy’s decision to resign from MTV and return to Zambia to focus on the company she started with her siblings (Media 365 Zambia), was a little startling. She spoke to Diasporan Darlings about her reasons for leaving and whether she has had any regrets.

————————————————————

DD: You have a blog at http://www.cathyphiri.com which we have unashamedly read from beginning to end. It’s a very honest journal about your journey from London (quitting MTV) to arriving in Lusaka and the various issues you have had to deal with. What have been the benefits of having that blog?

CP: I love to write first and foremost. I started that blog when I was making the decision to leave MTV, not really sure what to do next. The blog was inspired by Paulo Coelho’s book, “The Alchemist”. You know how it is, you read a book at a particular phase in your life and it just makes sense, this is how I felt about The Alchemist, I was looking for my personal legend. Once I got back to Zambia, I carried on blogging as it was a good outlet for me to deal with the challenges of relocating to a country I hadn’t lived in for eight years.

I try not to look at the numbers, I don’t write for my ego, so it’s always great when someone comments on the blog, especially when I’ve posted some of my low points and get an encouraging word from someone. A blog is also great for your brand. I try not to go too personal, but use it as a platform to share insights from my experience here to inspire change and also provoke some issues from our industry.

DD: You attribute your move home to wanting more of a work-life balance (particularly wanting to spend more time with your family). How is it for you now to work, play and live with your family? What aspects would you change ?

CP: I absolutely love my work-life balance! I do love every minute of it, but being an entrepreneur is not easy. When I had a job, I didn’t really have much to worry about knowing I’d get paid at the end of the month. But as an entrepreneur, running your own business with staff, every day you have to think about how am I going to pay my staff, my overheads etc. If I could change anything I might have saved a lot more before my move to ensure I didn’t have any financial stress for at least a couple of years. But other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Oh well maybe I would have bought a house here before I moved back, I love my parents, but being a 30-something year old who still has her parents give her outfit a disapproving glance can be irritating! Sometimes I wear outfits ridiculously short just to annoy them. But really I love my family and parents so just happy to be around them.

DD: We love the strength and honesty that comes from you through your blog and tweets. Especially when talking about being a businesswoman in Lusaka, in the creative industry. What challenges as an ex-diasporan do you deal with on a daily basis that you didn’t deal with as a corporate Exec in London?

—————————————

To find out what I said to this question – and for the rest of the article, go to Diasporan Darlings to read the full interview.

Once again, thanks for the support!