Opinion: on entrepreneurship, jobs and Government…as well as DStv.

The Famous 6 “Graduates.”

The now “Famous 6”, UNZA graduates who protested about the lack of employment in the country and were subsequently arrested, have created a very heated debate in Zambia around employment, the role of government in job creation and entrepreneurship. And this topic has clearly divided the country with many hurling insults and criticisms at the “Famous 6,’ while others are coming to their defence.

In all this, the bigger picture is being lost, because the Famous 6, represent any trained and skilled youth out there that has had an education and training and can’t find employment to apply or develop those skills in their chosen field, and there is nothing wrong with standing up and demanding more from your Leaders and asking for them for improvement, done the right way of course than an impromptu demonstration.

We seem to have no problems petitioning DStv,  which by the way, is 49% owned by ZNBC in addition to their 75% ownership of GoTV, and that revenue share is the biggest reason why ZNBC is no longer dependent on the taxpayer and why the TV levy has remained at K3. (Personally I think there are more important causes and issues out there than making sure my ability to watch Telemundo is affordable, not to mention, I don’t have a TV in my apartment, which is my choice).

Everyone can universally agree that Governments play a strong role in shaping the employment situation in the country as the country’s biggest employer and their ability to create an environment for businesses to succeed. The Employment landscape in Zambia is going to be driven by four areas, all of which can be impacted by Government.

1) Government’s own ability to hire
2) Heavy Industry- Only heavy industries like mining have the ability to provide mass employment as well as agriculture as a collective industry.
3) Manufacturing and Processing- The biggest gap and opportunity in the Zambian economy currently is the lack of manufacturing and agro-processing happening

The fourth area is entrepreneurship- especially Zambian owned sustainable businesses that have the opportunity to be scaled- but today’s entrepreneur in Zambia faces a lot of challenges with access to capital being the biggest one that I hear, and that has merit, capital is hard to get and if you can get capital, the cost of that capital is enormous at 24% plus, why don’t you hear about Zambian Entrepreneurs owning a mine or a manufacturing plant? As an entrepreneur, there are plenty of things I would like to see done and changed to help my business thrive.

Kennedy Mulenga once posted the following comment on my facebook page a few months ago and it stuck with me.

The Zambian culture needs to change with respect to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship should no longer be seen as a route for those who have failed in education [or failed to finds jobs]. Entrepreneurship is the engine of economic development.

Kennedy’s words have merit; we should not push people in entrepreneurship because they have no other options. All you get is hundreds of people doing the same thing, people being entrepreneurs for survival purposes or “hustling” until things get better, not everyone can be an entrepreneur, but it seems to be the default answer for people who can’t find jobs. How many times have you gone to the market or roadside and there are 20 women all selling tomatoes and vegetables? What is wrong with that picture? Now I am not saying that giving people SME loans to go and sell tomatoes or start a kantemba is wrong. And my deepest respect goes out to those people who are making a living this way as it is hard out here, not to mention there are people who are millionaires selling tomatoes. But for the purposes of Zambia would you not prefer to have a strategic entrepreneur or visionary who actually creates a sustainable business that then goes on and employs 20, 30 or even a 100 people?

The Strategic Entrepreneur – This is the entrepreneur who creates a business because he or she identifies a gap or trend in the market and then capitalizes on that opportunity. This applies to the majority of entrepreneurs. This is the person finds a better way of doing something ((like the Facebook founder), the person who builds a filling station because they realize the nearest one is 50km away. It is also the person who opens up a bar; because the nearest bar is 10 meters away (Yes we do have a lot of bars in Zambia alongside car washes, restaurants, salons and barbershops to name a few!!!!).

The Visionaries – These are the entrepreneurs who discover or help develop ideas that change our way of life (culture, behaviour etc). Let’s not forget by doing this, they end up making a lot of money in the process. The late Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are all examples of visionaries. It is fair to say that these visionaries are rare, and they are not all American.

So today I want to create a strategic entrepreneur. It starts with noticing a gap in the market, observing and correcting a flaw in a process, or finding a way to improve an existing process.
For our engineers from UNZA, Let’s take an everyday process in Zambia, like washing clothes which is still done by hand by a majority of Zambians. This is a task that requires human capital (taking up their time and energy) and in terms of material resources it requires water (which can be a challenge at times) and soap (which does cost money).

How do we improve the process of washing clothes for the average Zambian? This could come in three formats:
1) An idea to reduce the human capital cost of the process by making the process of washing clothes quicker and less labour intensive (keep in mind in the developed world, the solution was washing machines, which won’t work in Zambia for the masses, So what is the solution for Zambia?)

2) If water is a challenge when washing, how do you solve for that problem?

3) If soap is expensive, can a cheaper or longer lasting soap be developed than what is out there in the market?

This line of thinking and challenge can be applied to anything, not just washing and not just small business. It could be applied to your current job if your are in formal employment, it’s all about the ability to think critically and add value, that is what will move us as a country forward and away from survival entrepreneurship to sustainable entrepreneurship, where the doctors, lawyers, carpenters, accountants and engineers can be hired by these entrepreneurs.

Nyamuka Business Competition

And for those of you who want to take up my challenge, or have new business ideas or wish to expand your existing business and capital is a challenge, then take part in the Nyamuka Business Plan Competition (www.nyamukazambia.com), an initiative that is doing its part to transform the entrepreneurship environment in Zambia by training and offering resources to over 60 entrepreneurs who make it pass the application phase and eventually awarding K75,000 to 19 businesses and K250,000 to the grand prize winner.

Editor’s Note:

Mawano Kambeu is a renowned global, yet local figure among Zambian Entrepreneurs whose startup DotCom Zambia offers online shopping convenience that has grown from ‘$17,000 in processing volume in 2009 to hundreds of thousand today with 4 offices around the world, including 18 in Zambia.’ Asides his contribution to the digital economy of Zambia, he has won “Africa’s Best New Venture” from Harvard, regularly gives talks including an appearance at the Ivy League Havard Business School and our own local Start-Up Junction.

Follow him @dczambia.com and his blog zambianentrepreneur.wordpress.com