People are often interested in knowing what makes great men tick. We are featuring Zimbabwe’s own Masiyiwa. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine, so interest in Africa’s telecom baron reaches far and wide. Strive Masiyiwa fought in Zimbabwe’s highest court for the right to launch a mobile telecoms business Econet. He was contested by the state monopoly. That was in 1993, when he was just 32. Now, he says, nearly 70 per cent of Africans own a telephone – with a good proportion of them tapping into networks provided by Econet Wireless, the company he founded. Mr Masiyiwa studied at Cardiff university and came back to Zimbabwe to rebuild his nation. He worked for the nations telephone service provide, who would later contest him for the license. After eventually getting the license, Econet Wireless went on to become the biggest telecoms company in Zimbabwe. His company has branched of across Africa and has left a huge footprint as their company changes the lives of ordinary Africans.
Ten years ago 70% of the nation had never heard a phone ring, now more than 70% own phones. Ten years ago communicating with rural folk involved sending letters on bus, or having it delivered in person. You need to bear in mind that rural transportation has severe limitations and involves walking for hours to the nearest bus stop at an obscene hour. Now rural boys herd cattle and sheep while listening the latest beats, not on their radios, but on their phones. I recon that in a few years time, they will be on face book, chatting to other boys in the next villages. Facebooking has become popular as it is easy to communicate and stay in touch with friends and family members around the world.
Telecoms is growing at an alarming rate in Africa and Econet has enjoyed a fair share of this growth. It is assumed that US$500 million invested into Zimbabwe in 2010 was responsible for the 4.5% economic growth experienced by the country.
One man’s vision can change the course of an entire nation. With work across Africa one can understand why Mr Masiyiwa needs a private jet. You cannot do this amount of work while flying commercial.
PBA have been given the awesome opportunity or responsibility by the Harare City Council to train 12 000 informal traders at Harare’s largest market, Mupedza Nhamo. Mupedza Nhamo translates- Finsher of Poverty. We shall certainly do our bit to FINISH POVERTY! After we finish initial training here, we will move around the city to the City’s major centres and do more work there. With not much business support or training available in Harare this is an amazing opportunity to grow informal businesses in Zimbabwe.
This work is challenging as it hasn’t been done in Zimbabwe on a large scale. In a country where 95% of people are working in the informal sector, support and training is vital to the growth of informal businesses. The government is doing great work in sourcing funding for business and encouraging entrepreneurship but these efforts do not usually affect the informal business man on the streets of Harare. Research does show that for SME development to work, a government and various stakeholders must be actively involved.
Mupedza Nhamo is the largest market in Harare with over 12000 traders doing their bit there. This is the go-to place, if you need anything and everything. Round the corner is Siya So (meaning leave it as it is) where cars parts are sold. It is almost like a car breaker, but more of a flea market sort of breaker with thousands of traders selling anything used nuts and bolts to car bumpers and trailers. A lot of these traders have lived the same life, without really making any progress, their businesses haven’t grown and they are just practically surviving in existence mode. This is ok, but for a thousand businesses to be stagnant for twenty years is a bit scandalous. There is currently US$2.3 billion circulating in the informal sector while another US$2.3 billion circulates in the formal sector.
Challenges of growing informal businesses
1. Resistance to education
Where the broader population has been educated and has been taking advantage of the drive for education in the last three decades, those who were left behind are still stuck without an education. Most of them are parents who sacrificed to get their children educated, but they themselves have not partaken of the education drive. This group poses some resistance to education. Maybe the fact that they have missed out has made them calloused and they feel that their street smarts are more important than any training can give them. Some cannot read or write and do not want to expose themselves by going for training.
2. I know what I am doing!
Having plied this trade all their lives, they feel they have what it takes and know all there is to run a business. The sad part is that they do not even know how to draw up a budget, how to manage their money; keep records and all the basic skills required to make a business work.
3. I am ok; I feed my family, what more do I need?
What is amazing is when reaching out to these people, is they often do not realize the need for assistance and feel a bit resigned to their situations. They feel there is no way to get out of their situation, I was born poor and I will die poor. I was born in the ghetto and will die in the ghetto. It is mostly in the mind, some great ideas are sitting in these markets without any way of being realized. Great minds and ideas are hiding in the informal sector, they need to be discovered.
4. Resistance to change
Maybe all these reasons above are all masking the biggest reason of all. People are afraid of change. That is why all the markets sell the same clothes, shoes, blankets at exactly the same price. All traders are followers, following the market leader, because they prefer to do what has been tested before.
Associated with resistance, fear keeps people trapped in their own little world afraid to do anything different.
This is the biggest hurdle of all. We really need to throw money at this project and we don’t have any to throw at it. I believe that freebies are more damaging and people do not appreciate them so we are set up as a social enterprise and not as a charity. This however gives us another challenge, because the moment one speaks of paying for a service, people recoil. They would rather an NGO come in and give them free money, but according to me, this hasn’t really helped and micro loans can be more damaging than liberating. While our services are priced very low, $2 for a course, to the trader at Mupedza Nhamo that is one sadza, meaning that is my lunch money or dinner for my kids.
I have to admit that when I look at this list of challenges, I myself am challenged. They do say, feel the fear, but go for it!!! Its like sky diving, before you get onto the plane, adrenalin is rushing, but as soon as you get airborne, fear hits you and you hang on to the corner of the door for dear life. Think I won’t be going sky diving any time soon if it feels like this. But hey, life without challenges isn’t really worth living. This is quite exciting. This is our big break into development in Zimbabwe.
How do you reach out to them?
Our strategy involves renewal of minds, to change their thinking patterns and limiting patterns. The mind is very powerful and is keeping them out of true success. The last decade has been tough on business and as a result, they are more resistant to change. People are interested in the here and now and are not looking for the long term benefits that training and support give. We are dealing with skeptics who analyse and find fault with everything as long as it doesn’t fit into their mould. Their mould is really small so what we need is to get them to think outside the box, to see the value that they get from learning how to run their businesses. Surely one would realize that if you have been running the same business for twenty years without change that maybe you need to try something different. Like they say, Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
I have come to realize that people have been given raw deals in the past and are very cautious about who to get involved with. When you have been lied to for a long time it is difficult to trust anyone. People have come in with all sorts of promises and failed to deliver. It is always better to keep expectation low and then over deliver, than to promise the world and then fail to deliver. Working with people is complex. We have the hard task of proving that we are interested in their best interests and that we are not here to steal their money from them. We have to build the relationships one step at a time. I guess we are in for the long haul. It will not happen over night, but eventually the fruits of our labour will show. In the mean time, we will keep on doing what we do best.