Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On Being Each Other's Keepers...

I’ve been writing this for weeks on end and I’m sure it will still not be as coherent as I’d like it to be.  I’m sharing now because ;

 I receive those quite often but these days I just buckle up and wait for the next opportunity to apply. But a dear friend of mine can’t even go so far as applying. Why? Simple. Fear. This might seem like a flippant reason but it’s not. See, I was her just a few months ago.  Self-doubt plagued (still does) me till it crippled me. I was my own worst enemy. The only reason I got (still getting) over it is that I have an amazing support network. God created the most passionate cheerleaders a girl could ever need and placed them in my yard. From my co-founders, my friends to my family (in its own interesting way). 

I got possibly the biggest rejection of my life recently (professionally). I was thousands of miles away from my troupe, my army. I couldn’t leave my bed. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I had failed myself, my daughter, the company, everyone. Somehow, one of them (my awesome cheer-leading troupe) managed to get through to me and what followed was a whirlwind of crying on Skype together, pep talks and lectures for the entire duration I was huddled in my bed. Slowly as the day went on, it didn’t feel so terrible. My jar of hope started to be refilled. I managed to get out of my room at the end of the day and face the world again.

But that is not all that this troupe provides, emotional support is great but man cannot eat hope. I don’t know how many emails I receive in a week with opportunities, people to meet, and customer referrals. Frankly, it overwhelms me sometimes. (I’m not complaining ooh. Don’t stop!) But yes, people out there really have my back. And that is why I fiercely (sometimes too much) support the entrepreneurs around me. Because I know what I have, not many people do. In fact, I’m the exception. 

Entrepreneurship is a lonely lonely journey.So it befuddles me to see entrepreneurs tear each other down, knowing this first hand. There’s been a lot of talk lately about African startups not sharing, first it was being whispered in hushed tones but now we are out and proud (See Tech Cabal article here). I’ve ranted several times on twitter about this. My tipping point; I just got invited to a B2B event with investors/business owners from the UAE. The RSVP had strict instructions; COME ALONE. DO NOT SHARE! What the hell! This mind you is a not a private function. It is organized by an agency that is run by tax payer shillings. So I wonder at the secrecy. Why are we hoarding investors (and other resources) from each other? To what end?  What is this poverty mentality?! Why are we so bent as a society on holding each other back?  

But then I guess misery revels in company and we are a miserable lot. I thought I’d tell this story when I’m old and grey and when it has seized to be relevant but apparently not. It seems, it needs to be told and told urgently. Just months into launching Zimba, someone I highly respect(ed) in the Tech Community dared to try and bad mouth the company to one of our partners, luckily for us, our partners saw through their lies and petty and paid them no mind. But this baffled me, why would someone go out of their way to try and sabotage a company that wasn’t even 6 months old. We already have so much working against us (lack of funding, novelty hard to understand product), there is no need for vindictiveness to get to us. Thankfully, this just spurred us on. But I will wonder to my grave.(No, being me, there will be a confrontation. I’m just bidding my time) The target market for our companies is very different and even if it were the same, I’m sure as Zimba we are never going to reach even 40% of the people we would like to reach, and here is someone squabbling over virgin territory. What shall happen when the market is saturated, shall we turn to physical violence then?

Anyway, I digress. I truly believe that the only way we will get to be competitive as the rest of the world is when we start to work together as opposed to silos. We have to so much to learn and gain from each other, different strengths that if brought together would be formidable. Across startups, across ecosystems even. There are components of Zimba and The Baby Store that I’m happily handing over to other startups, business for them and time for me to focus on my core strengths. Imagine if instead of duplicating each other’s ideas, we just complimented each other. Even across borders, I’d be happier to help another African startup scale to Uganda than set up local competition for them.

The gist of this long incoherent tirade; we need each other. Urgently. Desperately. We need to be our brother’s keepers.


“Once on a yellow piece of paper with green lines
he wrote a poem
And he called it "Chops"
because that was the name of his dog

And that's what it was all about
And his teacher gave him an A
and a gold star
And his mother hung it on the kitchen door
and read it to his aunts
That was the year Father Tracy
took all the kids to the zoo

And he let them sing on the bus
And his little sister was born
with tiny toenails and no hair
And his mother and father kissed a lot
And the girl around the corner sent him a
Valentine signed with a row of X's

and he had to ask his father what the X's meant
And his father always tucked him in bed at night
And was always there to do it

Once on a piece of white paper with blue lines
he wrote a poem
And he called it "Autumn"

because that was the name of the season
And that's what it was all about
And his teacher gave him an A
and asked him to write more clearly
And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door
because of its new paint

And the kids told him
that Father Tracy smoked cigars
And left butts on the pews
And sometimes they would burn holes
That was the year his sister got glasses
with thick lenses and black frames
And the girl around the corner laughed

when he asked her to go see Santa Claus
And the kids told him why
his mother and father kissed a lot
And his father never tucked him in bed at night
And his father got mad
when he cried for him to do it.

Once on a paper torn from his notebook
he wrote a poem
And he called it "Innocence: A Question"
because that was the question about his girl
And that's what it was all about
And his professor gave him an A

and a strange steady look
And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door
because he never showed her
That was the year that Father Tracy died
And he forgot how the end
of the Apostle's Creed went

And he caught his sister
making out on the back porch
And his mother and father never kissed
or even talked
And the girl around the corner
wore too much makeup
That made him cough when he kissed her

but he kissed her anyway
because that was the thing to do
And at three a.m. he tucked himself into bed
his father snoring soundly

That's why on the back of a brown paper bag
he tried another poem

And he called it "Absolutely Nothing"
Because that's what it was really all about
And he gave himself an A
and a slash on each damned wrist
And he hung it on the bathroom door
because this time he didn't think

he could reach the kitchen.”

― Stephen ChboskyThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

Monday, November 2, 2015

On Women, Business and the Society

Compared to other regions of the world, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female entrepreneurs. These women are mostly owners of small businesses and local community shops serving the unmet needs of their homes and consumers. This reshapes the incorrect perception that African women have marginal input in overall economic output.

But for all this input, women are still getting the short end of the stick, Women do 66% of the world's work but earn 10% of the world's income yet they reinvest 90% of their income into family & community. There’s a famous meme that say that if wealth was created by working hard, all African women would be millionaires. When women have access to opportunities and resources, we all benefit. So then if business is about creating wealth and opportunity, why then are we shortchanging women?  Even though legal gender parity has improved around the world, major differences persist. Many laws continue to prevent women from improving their own well-being and that of their families by working or running a business. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, inequality in economic participation and opportunity “lags stubbornly behind” areas like education. Women’s work is undervalued and women face barriers to owning property or getting into business.

As President Obama famously said during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit earlier this year, “If half of your team is not playing, you have a problem. In many countries, half of the team is women and youth.” So how do we get the other half of the team to play? Because empowering women should not be charity. It is an investment with returns for any business and the society at large. Equal opportunities for women in business and the workplace depend on a miasma of economic, social and cultural factors. For example, there is evidence that women lag behind men in technology adoption owing to the high costs of acquiring and maintaining new technologies, as well as the lack of information and training. If they are unable to adopt new technologies, women are prevented from expanding their businesses because, for example, existing distribution systems may be unable to handle higher turnover.  Women also cannot migrate as easily as men to towns and cities where training in new technologies is more available. They then have the added responsibilities of caring for children and the elderly as the primary caregivers.

With this in mind, Zimba Women was founded to pursue inclusive market systems initiatives that can empower women and create more benefits for women and men, their families, and the whole of society. Our mission is to enable empowerment and development for women entrepreneurs in Africa by providing access to digital platforms that provide affordable market accessibility and capacity building. In this way we achieve our goal of adding value to women owned businesses using technology and thus making them more sustainable. And when women win, we all win!

“Women are powerhouse entrepreneurs. When women succeed, they invest more in their families and communities.” – President Obama.