Be Zambitious

The title of this blog was from one of the phone networks’ (an awful one) tagline. I really wish I had thought of it myself though.

I am still adapting to the culture here and this week I decided to make a list of observations I have made in the past two weeks:


  1. They like to stare.
  2. They eat with their hands.
  3. They pronounce crisps – cris-ips
  4. They pronounce sixty – sickis=ty
  5. They struggle with the concept of that my name can be Steph or Stephanie, but instead meet in the middle and consistently call me Stephan, causing me to feel more and more masculine day by day.
  6. Timing – they learnt how to tell the time with the 24 hour clock so a regular sentence could be “oh today I knocked off from work at seventeen thirty.”; or “hey we will meet at twenty:twenty five”.
  7. Younger members of the family are expected to fetch things for elders, and to clear up after them, get them drinks.
  8. The prices of products are not reflective of the wage. One beer or coffee can cost you 20 Kwacha, whereas the minimum wage is 500 Kwacha a month.
  9. They find it extremely difficult to deliver a direct question. During the conferences, the interaction between the Swedish and the Zambians was nothing short of hilarious. “So that was a statement, more of a question right”.
  10. Metaphors can be tricky E.g. During the conference while the speaker was discussing the difference between fire fighting management (Always reacting quickly to change) vs structured management. One lady then stood up and spent the next 5 minutes explaining to the room of 50 business professionals about the correct way to use a fire extinguisher. You just can’t make this stuff up.
  11. They really like to sugar coat the truth. E.g. within the businesses it is hard to get a true reflection of what is actually happening vs what they would like to be happening.
  12. The culture is similar to the latin culture, including how welcoming they are and their mindsets.
  13. They say ‘I’m asking for water’ instead of ‘Can I have water.’

So this week we started our work at Pumuna Ltd. Turns out the ‘6 employees’ is actually two, a man and his wife and their fruit juice (Squash) company. Unfortunately, the company is actually no longer in operation due to the lack of premises to produce the goods and financial difficulties – this was obstacle one. There were many other following obstacles such as their big ambitions to do fresh fruit juices, export, open a health food shop, sell low income products to rural areas. We eventually emphasised that they needed to focus on one product and one product alone to make that successful before doing other ranges. We found this To be a common theme amongst all the companies, that the Zambians do not want to “put all their eggs in one basket”, however, they eventually end up not being able to focus on one business and really make that succeed. Consequently, it is very exciting for us as this is what we will be doing and hopefully all our work will help the long term success of the companies, and we will be putting the theory we learnt at University into practise. Vivian and I went to our directors’ house and found the branding materials and recipes etc which made it seem a lot more promising.

This week on Wednesday and Thursday Vivian and I were able to go to conference at the Intercontinental hotel with ZACCI (Zambian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) which was run by ZACCI and Chamber Trade Sweden on ‘Factors affecting competitiveness of Zambia’s private sector’. Odd pairing initially but they went into how they wanted to develop an international platform to create trade especially in developing countries and Sweden have had to overcome some similar obstacles to Zambia in the past. Now Sweden has a very strong private sector but there has been a lot of focus on SME’s as these are ‘the tools to stimulate the economy and national employment’ (similar to the mission statement of Challenges worldwide). Whilst Sweden has some huge global companies that are recognised worldwide, these companies tend to focus on expanding internationally and do not necessarily have a specific focus on job creation within their native country.

The brochure at the conference had a ‘Fun fact page’ which completed my day.

Did you know?

  •  Zambia’s corporate tax rate is 35% – the highest in sub-saharan Africa
  • The average child rate in Zambia is 6.2 children TO EACH WOMAN.
  • Samsung accounts for 20% of Korea’s GDP.
  • Yahoo is an acronym for ‘Yet another Hierarchical Officious Oracle’.

Anyway, we learnt a lot from the conference and it was great to network with other SME’s. For me especially, I found the talks on Zambia’s competitive and political environment very insightful as it gave me more ideas, and showed me routes I shouldn’t go down with our project. The second day was more of a workshop to help open the minds of the Directors and make them rethink their strategies and suggest possible opportunities for growth.

I have been for a couple of runs whilst being in my host family now. On my last run I was running along the road and ran past a group of about 10 boys aged 5-9 and they decided to run with me for about 100m. Me being very competitive, obviously wanted to keep up and go faster than them!

Later in the day I sat outside in the garden reading my book which was great, albeit a completely alien concept to the Zambians to willingly sit in the sun. Shortly after a quick nap, I woke up with an ant crawling in my ear. Beautiful.

My favourite mishap of the trip so far, which also made my mistakes somewhat less ridiculous, was when Jo – part of the UK team – had forgotten to buy insect repellent so bought some from the nearby supermarket. I was a little shocked at the fact it was the equivalent of 50p but thought it just must be cheap over here. After a week of dousing her skin with it, she got around to reading the bottle, and discovered it was INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH INSECT KILLER (specifically ants). There was a big warning on the side of the bottle reading ‘extremely harmful to human skin’. Best part of the story is that this brand is called DOOM.

We have a lunch at the British Embassy on Monday and then it is into the office until Thursday as Friday is a national holiday for Independence Day celebrations (50 years jubilee), we are still working out what we are going to do but we want to go and see the official celebrations. I am still really enjoying it and learning a lot about the culture and the business environment!

Hope you’re all enjoying sunny UK. Have a quote to brighten your day (also found in the conference brochure) “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone” Pablo Picasso





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s