BOOK REVIEW: What I Learnt As A Youth by Choolwe M. Choolwe

What I Learnt As A Youth: Tried, Tested and Timeless Wisdom for Life is a book by Choolwe M. Choolwe, who is also well known as Pastor Choolwe. This book is a reflection on his life as the title suggests. The book was written at a time that Choolwe crossed the line to no longer be considered a youth which is above 35 years old in Zambia. This is a loaded book with 35 chapters which I am guessing was deliberately done to match the reflections he gives over his past 35 years. He talks about his upbringing, family, education, career, ministry, and the life lessons he acquired along the way. In his words he says, "I am sure given a chance to meet me in person, many of you might want to ask me the question I have heard over and over again; "how did you achieve all you have achieved at such a young age?"" Choolwe gives us the answer in this book.

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He uses the Bible as a reference point for many of his held beliefs, advice from people he has met and also life’s experience. The book does have wisdom that any youth and even those past, can utilise in their lives. As expected some of the lessons are what you would find in other books of its kind like- As A Man Thinketh by James Allen, The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason, Man in the Mirror by Patrick Morley, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and others. The information isn't necessarily new just repackaged. The book serves as a remainder on how we can be motivated to make ourselves better and change the world around us.


For someone who is the founder and president of Gospel Envoys Church, which has 35 churches, a membership of over 5,000 within a space of eight years, Choolwe does possesses the clout to grab the attention of the reader. His achievements are no mean feat especially coupled with his academic qualifications and work experience. The book is written in short chapters in a simple style that makes it easy to understand the points he wants to put across. Because most of the examples are based on his life the material is relatable and not a distant figure on another continent.


What I Learnt As A Youth is a book with a wealth of information, but I do have a few issues with it. The chapters could have been arranged in a more coherent manner. By this, I mean that chapters talking about friends and family could have been grouped together and likewise, chapters to do with ministry grouped together. Instead, what is in the book is one chapter talks about family, the next money, followed by academics then returns to relationships in a choppy way. In an effort to have 35 chapters to signify 35 years, there is quite a bit of repetition and some chapters did not need to be chapters rather would have been fine as subheadings. Some of the chapters would have done well been combined, for instance, the chapters on laziness and leadership.


When you read this book, you cannot help but be inspired by what Choolwe achieved during his time as a youth. There is a reason why he is widely considered as one of the leading leaders in our country. He says, “When many of you remember my life as a youth, you will say what happened to your life through my ministry.” I believe many will say they were inspired.



When A Business Order Goes Wrong

There are business orders you get that feel like manna from heaven, only for them to turn into something from Friday the 13th movie. This is how my 2018 started off, after a challenging first year of business and wondering whether to fold it or re-think the business model. We landed the biggest order in the company’s infancy. Butali House has a service called Book Buy, which essentially is getting books you cannot find in the local bookshops. This service began sometime in July 2017 with a lot of trial and error as we were perfecting the process. It was like training for this order that would come our way, and we were ready for it. But then the unexpected happened the nightmare began.  


The order we received was from an education institution who needed the books urgently, and we understood this very well. We had the confidence of an undefeated heavyweight boxer and assured the client that we would deliver the books in time. They paid us in full, and we promised to fulfil the end of our bargain. Now, there are two third parties involved in the Book Buy service, the sellers of the books who are primarily in the UK and the logistics company that transports the books to us. It is a fairly straight-forward process, and since we had been doing this for like six months, we could estimate delivery times. We told the client within two weeks the books would be in their hands.


After ordering the books we spent the next two weeks dreaming of possibilities and opportunities that hang over the horizon. We began to count the number of institutions that would need our service. This was the sign from God to continue just as we were about to give up. However, it was the calm before the nightmare that was brewing on the shores. The two weeks elapsed and the logistics company was only able to deliver 50% of the books ordered. They promised the rest the following week.


The following week arrived, no books only another shift in date. Once again, I had to write an apology email to the client for the change in delivery date and give a confident assurance that the books would be delivered. When the latest date came, the logistics company informed me that the books were not yet in, and they did not know when they would be delivered. This is the point during the film where it is dark, full moon and something is chasing you in the woods. At that moment it felt like someone had sucked the air out of my gut, I imagined the uncomfortable phone calls and another apology. They explained that there was some problem with space on the planes, but it did not comfort me. I told them the urgency of the situation and the dilemma they were not only putting me in but the company, but it yielded nothing. I wouldn’t have minded as much if the logistics company screwed up on any other order but the one order that needed to go flawless because a lot hinged on it, was the one they messed up.



I sent another apology email with all manner of adjectives, ‘extremely sorry,’ ‘sincerely apologise’, and the one cliched excuse I despised ‘due to unforeseen circumstances, we are unable…’. When you have the heads of five different departments calling then you know it just got real. It reached a point where I wanted to refund the client, but we did not have the cash. I woke up in the middle of the night concerned about daybreak. The phone ringing caused the heart to beat faster and switching off the phone felt like the best escape (I never did that though).


At this point, I was feeling hopeless because this business transaction was now at the mercy of the logistics company. I could not retrieve the books and use another company because the books were in transit and stuck in Dubai. It was now a waiting game and wishing that a miracle happens in the midst of countless apologies. Eventually, the situation had to be escalated to the managerial level of the logistics company just to get some assurances, and we had to drive close to 300 km to the institution to explain the delay. And at the beginning of the fifth week, it was all over. The books were delivered.


As much as I am relieved that this episode is over, it did present itself some valuable lessons. I would like to share four of them.


Things Will Go Wrong

I do not want to be the messenger of doom but in the cycle of a business, it is inevitable that things will go wrong at some point. It is just the gravity of the situation that will differ. For large corporations, they may be able to weather the storms whereas for small businesses it can be disastrous. I never foresaw that the books we ordered would be stuck with the logistics company for close to a month. Neither did they foresee that there would be no space in the plane. In the end, it is to realise that no matter how prepared we are some things will happen beyond our control, we just have to accept it and manage the situation. Remember to share what you are going through with friends and family for not only will you need the support, but they may provide a solution.


Take a Step Back

If I look back at the events now perhaps I should have been wiser. It is risky purchasing things during the festive season because of the backlog that is created as a result of increased traffic. The books were delivered to the logistics company a week after New Year, therefore, it was unlikely that the backlog would have been sorted by then. I was obviously clouded by the size of the order and the expected profits. Next time, I hope to be more patient take a step back, have upfront discussions with the logistic company and place a caveat for clients who want books during the festive season of possible delays.


Second Chance

Looking at the circumstance in the way this all unfolded, I would have a concrete reason to switch to another logistics company. However, I am cautious about taking that step as I am considering that this was the first time that I was disappointed. I acknowledge the situation could have been handled better from their side. However, I understand that a portion of the chaos was beyond their control. They did their best to expedite my collection of the books once they arrived. I would like the education institution to give us a second chance too, so I will be extending the same grace to the logistics company.


Customer Service Matters

Managing a crisis like the one we had is very critical to avoiding a bigger mess. I do think I have said as many apologies and sorries in my entire life like I did during those weeks. I have become quite good at writing apology emails. I believe that the client did appreciate us driving to them and explain the predicament. The in-person interaction helped calm the nerves and also provide assurances that we would deliver the books. Based on this experience, I have become more understandings of other business's shortcomings. It doesn’t mean that I am lowering my customer experience expectations but sometimes cutting some businesses that are trying some slack is ok.


This is one situation that I know I will recall when I give business advice, speeches and the challenges I have encountered. I have got my sleep back but time I am faced with a difficult encounter, I will remind myself that this too shall pass.




Why Sharing 'Fire and Fury' is Wrong

When it comes to piracy, the ones with the loudest voices are people in the music and television industries. It is common to hear a musician complain about the high levels of piracy and what needs to be done to curb the vice. However, is it any different for individuals who write books? Are they also at risk of piracy?

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A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a WhatsApp message which also had an attachment of a PDF copy of The President’s Keepers by Jacques Pauw. It is the book that was leaked after there were attempts by the security service in South Africa to have the hard copies recalled from the book stores because of Jacob Zuma revelations it has. This past weekend friends sent me a PDF copy of the book 'Fire and Fury- Inside the Trump White House' by Michael Wolff and WhatsApp groups have been flooded with the same copy. It is an  exposé of Donald Trump's first nine months in office. Wolff had deep access to the White House and was able to provide revealing details of the US president. Trump keeps discrediting the book's accounts on Twitter and as result fueled interest in it. Now regardless of what Trump thinks of the book what is the legality of sharing it?


The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) describes copyright as the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. These rights can be both economic and moral rights. Economic rights are those where the creator derives economics benefits from his or her work. On the other hand, moral rights protect the non-economic interests of the author. According to USA copyright laws, writers have copyright of their published work, which lasts during the life of the author and an additional 70 years after their death. In Zambia, the Copyright and Performance Rights Act states that “…copyright in literary, musical or artistic work or compilation shall expire at the end of the period of fifty years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.”


Books whose copyrights have expired are popularly known as public domain books. Public domain books are the ones whose intellectual property rights have expired, and someone does not need to obtain permission for their use or distribution from the author or publisher. Some famous public domain books include, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason among others. Many of these books are available online as free downloads. 


Fire and Fury was officially released on 5 January, 2018 and using the copyright laws of both Zambia and America is not a public domain book and there is a copyright infringement by sharing the book. Michael Wolff is alive; therefore, the copyright laws in both countries protect him. Fire and Fury being shared on the various platforms prevents him from acquiring financial benefits out of the sale of his book. A benefit he would have gotten if the book was bought from a book store or online.


Do you find anything wrong with sharing the book?


The book can be purchased here >>>




My Year in 36 Books- Top 7 Reads of 2017

From the books I read selecting my top seven books was difficult. There are definitely books that would not have made even the top 15 but over half the books I read were memorable in their own right. It all came down to which books entertained, motivated, upset or educated me and then which books will I remember five years from today. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my top seven reads of 2017.

7. It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong

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When I heard that this book had been banned in Kenya during Mwai Kibaki’s administration it tickled my interest. One of the blurbs for the book says, “Wrong tells a tale that is in parts biographical, spy story, memoir and contemporary political history…” and the book does not disappoint. This book could be the plot of any John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer novel, but it was no fiction. John Githongo who was appointed to lead the anti-corruption agenda found that the people who appointed him were actually at the forefront of looting state resources. This book charts his journey towards exposing the corruption in the Kenyan government. It tips with him secretly recording ministers talking about their corrupt activities. Even though Wrong is telling John’s story, she does her own additional research that adds a whole new dimension to this book. Why this book mattered to me was because I saw parallels with Zambia, from the corruption, to the politics and the part tribalism plays in society. It also shows the price you should be willing to pay when you try to take on the system.

6. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

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Heartbreaking. There is no other way to begin this review than getting that out the way first. We read Ishmael Beah’s debut fiction book 'Radiance of Tomorrow' at the Lusaka Book Club. As I read the novel, it was as if the author was leaving something out. There was a part to the story he did not want to step into. The novel felt guarded. I wanted to know more about the author. This prompted me to get a hold of A Long Way Gone, and then I understood why. Beah had his childhood snatched from him when he was 12 years old during the Sierra Leone civil war in which he lost his entire family. He was later captured by the rebels and turned into a child soldier who killed civilians while high on drugs. This is his account of that period in his life where after having experienced such a great loss, he finds redemption even though it is scarred. This book shows that in a war no one wins, but it leaves a trail of loss, pain, destruction, and wounds that may never heal.

5. Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo


I know that I am late to the party on this book because it has been out since 2009. However, I have a very good explanation why I did not read it sooner. The book was everywhere; it made such a splash that everyone was talking about it-even Bill Gates, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs got into the fray calling the book evil. It worked out rather well that I have read it now because so much has happened since its release. Zambia entered the capital markets; we are back at the knees of the IMF asking for a bailout, and the poverty levels still remain the same. Between the two camps of aid or no aid, I am with Dambisa on this one. Even though in the short run it might be painful for countries to wean themselves off aid but the accountability, strengthening of institutions and focus on trade that it creates can make the difference we need. She cites examples where this has happened. This book is a good starting point for any debate on whether Africa needs more aid.

4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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I have already explained why The Color Purple was my top fiction read in 2017. You can read about it at My Year in 36 Books- Top 3 Fiction Reads of 2017. Therefore, for this part I will just add the synopsis of the book. "Set in the deep American South between the wars, THE COLOR PURPLE is the classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls 'father', she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker - a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves".

3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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What do you expect when your career has begun the upward trajectory, you are winning the highest awards in your field, and you have the passion for what you do? Normally, you would expect a glorious full life, but what happens when you discover that you have cancer. Paul Kalanithi went ahead and blessed us with the book that is When Breath Becomes Air. Paul was a neurosurgeon who graduated from Stanford University, who also happened to have studied philosophy and literature at Cambridge University. When he discovers that he has lung cancer and may not have much time left he pens a book about the meaning of life and death. Seeing it explained in Paul’s words is something special. One striking thing is where in such a situation, he would be forgiven for blaming God, the devil, karma or even the tree in the back yard, he does not do that. He accepts his diagnosis bravely. Even though we know how this story ends from the first page it is the journey of how we get there that is valuable. It is beautifully summed up by his wife Lucy, “Paul confronted death, examined it, wrestled with it, accepted it, as a physician and a patient.” There is a reason why this book was a worldwide bestseller and made Bill Gates cry.

2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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Once again, I have already praised this book in a previous post. You can read why this made my top seven list at My Year in 36 Books- The Heroes I Met. Here I will leave you with the synopsis of the book. "The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. One in every 15 people born there today is expected to go to prison. For black men this figure rises to one in 3. And Death Row is disproportionately black too. Bryan Stevenson grew up poor in the racially segregated South. His innate sense of justice made him a brilliant young lawyer, and one of his first defendants was Walter McMillian, a black man sentenced to die for the murder of a white woman- a crime he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, startling racial inequality, and legal brinkmanship and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever".

1.      Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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This doesn’t need a drum roll it deserves a full orchestra ensemble playing like their ticket to heaven depended on it (ok I am exaggerating here). Ladies and gentlemen, my top read for 2017 without an ounce of doubt is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. This book was so good that not only did I read it but also went ahead and listened to the audiobook (who does that?). I have been a speaking billboard for this book to the tune of over 20 copies sold based on my recommendation. This book is ridiculously funny, it will leave you in stitches; yet it is also an intelligent one with its social commentary that will leave you wiser. He tackles subjects of racism, poverty, gender-based violence, or single parenthood in such a blasé fashion yet he provides a sucker punch that gets you thinking that things should not be this way. Even though this book is about Trevor the real hero is the mother. She has been the anchor throughout his life, and that comes across in the book. The topping on the dessert is that Trevor Noah narrates the audio version which is brilliant. If you haven’t yet read Born a Crime, treat yourself to a little goodness and get your hands on it.

At the beginning of 2017, I challenged myself to read 36 books across fiction and non-fiction. A large proportion  of the books I read were from the Lusaka Book Club and Butali House Book Club reading lists while the rest were selected out of interest. I did read 36 books with a few days to spare. In the My Year in 36 Books, I give a review of some of the books I read.


1.      It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong

2.      The Shack by Paul Young

3.      Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah

4.      The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

5.      Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

6.      Good Morning Holy Spirit by Benny Hinn

7.      Dust by Yvonne Owuor

8.      Things to Remember Not to Forget by Francis Kaunda

9.      Originals by Adam Grant

10.   The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

11.   A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

12.   Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

13.   The Looting Machine by Tom Burgis

14.   On Writing by Stephen King

15.   Zero to One by Peter Thiel

16.   When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

17.   Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

18.   The Children Act by Ian McEwan

19.   Tried and Tested My First Fifty Years by Maureen Nkandu

20.   Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

21.   The Color Purple by Alice Walker

22.   The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

23.   China’s Second Continent by Howard French

24.   The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Poole

25.   The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God & Other Stories by Etgar Keret

26.   Good to Great by Jim Collins

27.   The Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

28.   Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

29.   Michael Chilufya Sata by Kasonde Mwenda and Mubanga Sata

30.   Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John

31.   Born to Win by Antonia Mwanamuke

32.   Start-up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer

33.   Tram 83 by Fiston Mujila

34.   Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo

35.   David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

36.   The Sellout by Paul Beatty



My Year in 36 Books- Top 3 Fiction Reads of 2017

This year has been an introduction to new writers on my fiction list. It was rather difficult to come up with my top three fiction reads not because I read some great books more like most were okay books. When it comes to fiction, characters and plot really matters, these are the things that keep me most engaged. There is also nothing worse than a predictable story or one that is longer than it needs to be. (I did attempt to read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and miserably failed). The three books I have selected as my top three fiction reads presented me with something different.

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3. The Shack by Paul Young
I watched the trailer of The Shack earlier in the year, and it intrigued me. A friend recommended the book, but I was always sceptical because I doubted his taste in books. So, when I learnt that it was being made into a movie, I decided to give it a chance. The Shack can best be described as Christian fiction, and even though it has sold over 18 million copies, it has not gone down well with everyone in the faith. It follows a man’s struggle in coming to terms with the loss of his daughter who was abducted during a family vacation. In the process there are life changing lessons that take place at the shack. This book spins everything on its head and brings a different dimension to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The ending is also one that is not expected. This book will leave you with a lot of questions, you seeking for answers, and I understand why it may have rubbed some Christians the wrong way. It is not the most brilliant of writing but in terms of plotline it does the job.  I will not divulge too much lest I give away the story. By the way, I did watch the film and as expected the book was better.

2. Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John

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Like with movies and music, Nigeria is the powerhouse of African literature, and they seem to have an endless supply coming off the assembly line. (I think I need to pay Naija a visit to discover what they put in their fufu). This debut despite being a short read is packed with punch that is weaved with some wonderful prose laced with tinges of humour and tragedy. The story is set in Northern Nigeria, and it is about a boy called Dantala, who is a student at an Islamic school. It charts the rise of Islamic extremism in the area, and it explores friendships, brotherhood and love. This book ticked the box for me because it explored a culture that I am not familiar with, getting to experience a way of life albeit it being for a moment has always interested me.

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1.  The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I need to confess that had this book not been on the Lusaka Book Club reading list, I probably would never have read it. I do not watch the movie then read the book. The Color Purple is the first book that I have done that. The Steven Spielberg directed film did stay true to the book. It is a story set in the American deep south about a black girl who had to endure poverty, abuse and separation from her sister yet find a way to live. The girl is Celie, and she uses letters to God to narrate her life. The characters are multidimensional, interesting and engaging; the dialogue takes you to the period, the language reads like poetry in parts and the sub-plots are just as captivating. You know that an author has done a tremendous job when as a reader you feel like jumping into the book so you can shake Celie and tell her, “Fight. Fight back.” The consequences of watching the movie first before reading the book is that I was denied the opportunity to imagine what Celie looked like in my mind. It was impossible not to think of Whoopi Goldberg, who plays the main character in the movie as I read the book. As at now, I will stick to book first, movie later.


At the beginning of 2017, I challenged myself to read 36 books across fiction and non-fiction. A large proportion  of the books I read were from the Lusaka Book Club and Butali House Book Club reading lists while the rest were selected out of interest. I did read 36 books with a few days to spare. In the My Year in 36 Books, I give a review of some of the books I read.



My Year in 36 Books- The Heroes I Met

There are selfish people, there are people like me and then there are heroes like the two men I read about in 2017. I do not know if there are sufficient adjectives to describe the amazing work that they do. I said after I read about their lives that if ever there was a Nobel Prize for Selflessness, Bryan Stevenson and Paul Farmer would have been laureates by now. And this is why.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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I first came to know of Bryan Stevenson a few years ago through a TED talk he gave entitled ‘We need to talk about injustice’. It was an eloquent talk, and it is said that it received the longest standing ovation in TED history (that says a lot). When a friend recommended that I read ‘Just Mercy,’ I was pleasantly surprised to know that the author was Bryan Stevenson. Bryan studied law and instead of taking a job at one of the high-profile law firms, he chose to work for a small one in Alabama. He soon found his mission primarily defending African Americans who were wrongly convicted, given unfair sentences and also helping to exonerate those on death row. Through the organisation, he started Equal Justice Initiative, he has represented hundreds of black men in prison. He has also advocated for amendment of certain laws such as how juvenile cases are handled. He gives some emotional and chilling accounts of how difficult his work is, and yet he still does it. He has experienced bomb threats for the work he is doing and also endured listening to the words of a man before execution. In one account after failing to save a man from execution Bryan laments, “For the first time I realized that my life was just full of brokenness. I worked in a broken system of justice. My clients were broken by mental illness, poverty, and racism. They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear, and anger. I thought of Joe Sullivan and of Trina, Antonio, Ian, and dozens of other broken children we worked with, struggling to survive in prison.” Reading ‘Just Mercy’ you come to understand that Mr. Steveson is made from a different fibre, defending and fighting for people who he shouldn’t really be caring about. He doesn’t need to do what he does yet he does it anyway. And I as I read the book I kept on asking myself, can I do what this man is doing? And the honest answer is, No. To get to understand why he does it, he sums it up beautifully himself, “After working for more than twenty-five years, I understood that I don’t do what I do because it’s required or necessary or important. I don’t do it because I have no choice. I do what I do because I’m broken too.”

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

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Pulitzer Prize-winning writer chronicled Dr. Paul Farmers life in Mountains Beyond Mountains. Paul Farmer graduated from Harvard University and went to work at a clinic in Haiti called Zanmi Lasante. Here he treated patients who could not afford health care from a myriad of diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, HIV/AIDS etc. He also formed an organisation called Partners In Health (PIH) to raise funds for his work in Haiti. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, you get introduced to a man who left a comfortable life in the USA to go and spend most of his life in Haiti helping the poor and attempting to improve the Herculean task of transforming a health system that was collapsing. When he worked as a professor at Harvard and at the Brigham Hospital his paycheck went to the clinic he ran. “He made about $125,000 a year from Harvard and Brigham, but never saw his paychecks or the honoraria or royalties,” (Where do these people come from honestly?). This man [Paul] would trek kilometres up a mountain just to treat a single patient, risked his life in a military regime and national disasters. His efforts in public health have spilt into Peru, Cuba and Russia. PIH managed to raise $45 million from the Gates Foundation to wipe out MDR-TB in Peru. At the PIH organisation, only 5% of the funds go towards administration the rest goes to the intended target who the funds are meant for. One of PIHs greatest achievement was getting the World Health Organisation to adopt its prescriptions for dealing with MDR- TB. This book is a collection of Paul Farmers tireless effort to get health care to the poorest people he comes into contact with.

Reading Just Mercy and Mountains Beyond Mountains allowed me to have a glimpse into the worlds of Bryan Stevenson and Paul Farmer. It is a world that I think words cannot fully describe; however, I am privileged to have been introduced to these two gentlemen. As I read the final chapters of those books in a way it exposed my own selfishness but also led me to ask how am I making a difference?

At the beginning of 2017, I challenged myself to read 36 books across fiction and non-fiction. A large proportion  of the books I read were from the Lusaka Book Club and Butali House Book Club reading lists while the rest were selected out of interest. I did read 36 books with a few days to spare. In the My Year in 36 Books, I give a review of some of the books I read.



My Year in 36 Books- Top 3 Business Book Reads of 2017

There are times when reading business books there is the risk that it can feel like watching a film whose conclusion is known. We already know whether a business succeeded and made millions for its founders or flopped and became a case study. The business books I read this year were either on the Butali House Book Club reading list, or I stumbled upon them by chance. Choosing my top three books, however, is based on which book made me do things differently, which one have I used in arguments as a reference and also which books have I recommended the most throughout the year. My top three business book reads for 2017 are:

1.      Good to Great by Jim Collins

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This is a book I would recommend for any manager, supervisor, team leader or anyone who hopes to become one in the future. Jim Collins bases this book on five years of research studying over 1,400 Fortune 500 companies to come up with his findings. He delves into what separates companies from Good to Great, and it has something to do with the people at the helm. He also explores ideas such as Level 5 Leadership and the Hedgehog Concept. Jim says, “The key is to understand what your organization can be the best in the world at, and equally important what it cannot be the best at- not what it “wants” to be the best at. The Hedgehog Concept is not a goal, strategy, or intention; it is an understanding. This book focuses on the people who lead and work for the companies, unlike other business books that are revenue or idea driven. In one part, the author says, “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed.” It is a well-researched and written book worth your time.

2.      Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

This is a book I stumbled upon and am I glad I did. Success is celebrated, applauded and publicly recognised. On the other hand, failure is often shameful, embarrassing and concealed. There are far more books on success than there are on failure and that is what makes this book a gem. Matthew Syed draws comparisons between the aviation and health sector to drive home his analysis of failure. He says, “… the aviation industry has made dramatic improvements by learning from failure. Investigators have examined data from accidents and reformed procedures. As a result, the number of crashes has fallen.” The black box contains data that can reveal what happened before a plane crashed. The aviation industry can determine what caused the accident and make improvements.  According to Syed, “If we edit our failure, if we reframe our mistakes, we are effectively destroying one of the most precious learning opportunities that exist.” He advocates that rather than punishing failure like most institutions do, it is better to be open and investigate whether the failure was as a result of a flaw in the system or the person involved. As someone who has encountered my fair share of failure in 2017, this book is a welcome reminder that the grind continues even in the midst of a small bump called failure.

3.      Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

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The fascinating thing about this book is that its idea was birthed out of someone’s [Blake Masters] lecture notes. Peter Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal and among the first investors in Facebook and SpaceX; therefore, he has a story to tell. Peter taught a class at Stanford University and Blake, who was a student in that class took down lecture notes. He later posted them online, and they became an internet hit. Perhaps we should be thanking Blake Masters for the gift of Zero to One. After reading the first paragraph from the book I was sold. You be the judge, “Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.” If I could sum up this book in one word, it would be SCALE. How do businesses scale? Growth is important for many factors such as investors, survival of the business and innovation among a few others. This book covers aspects of technology, competition, monopolies and venture capital and Peter largely draws from his own experience to articulate his points. My favourite advice is the one he gives in his chapter on company founders. He says, “Choosing a co-founder is like getting married, and founders conflict is just as ugly as divorce.” In a country like Zambia where you can count on one hand multinational companies owned by Zambians, this book leaves you with hope, possibility and belief that it can be done.  


There you have it my top three business book reads of 2017. By the way, I must mention that after years on my to-read list, I finally read The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. I am not sure whether it was my high expectations or the book’s message was diluted because of other business books I have read previously. It was an ok book not amazing as most people have referred to it. The one hopefully I will cross off my to-read list next year will be Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

At the beginning of 2017, I challenged myself to read 36 books across fiction and non-fiction. A large proportion  of the books I read were from the Lusaka Book Club and Butali House Book Club reading lists while the rest were selected out of interest. I did read 36 books with a few days to spare. In the My Year in 36 Books, I give a review of some of the books I read.


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Step by Step Guide to Getting Your TPIN

Everyone who owns a bank account in Zambia, is required to present their Tax Payers Identification Number (TPIN) to their banks. This is a legal requirement. Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) has given 31 March 2017 as the registration deadline, after which bank accounts without TPINs are supposed to be frozen.


Here is a step by step guide in how to get your TPIN without leaving your chair. Before we start you will need a soft copy of your NRC (PDF preferably) and a sketch of where you stay (you can draw this on a plain paper and scan it). Once you have those items you are good to go.

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So, that is how you get a TPIN. You should receive the certificate within 48 hours. If you do not receive by then you can give ZRA a call on 0971-281111 or 0962-225111. They have great customer service and will help. 

If you found this post help, let me know in the comments.

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I'm Tired of Giving Out Quotations

I have asked for countless quotations in my life time. I am certain that I am going to ask for many more in the future. The businesses I have asked for quotations from are as wide and varied as the stars. Some of my requests have been genuine and others just to settle my curiosity. Occasionally, I have been frustrated by a business that either denied my request or the person writing it sulked when they did so. I never quite understood why anyone would not want to give me a quotation, why on earth do they have a quotation book then? Like I said, I never quite understood until now.


People use quotations for different reasons, but one of the most common is to make a final decision, whether to acquire a product or service based on price. On the other hand, a business hopes that the quotation would translate into future business. So with my start-up I have found myself at the other end of the table, giving out quotations either via email or phone. For the past three months, I have been dishing out quite a lot of quotations without reasonable translation into business. I do not know what research says about the conversion rate of quotations, but I am guessing whatever percentage it is; I am probably below it. Everything at this stage is ending at potential. Potential client, potential business or potential sale but potential does not pay the bills.


The other challenging thing about handing out quotations especially for a start-up is that they give that element of hope. Hope there is interest in the service, hope that someone will walk through the door with a cheque and hope that the first step to your million dollars is around the corner. But then when the days turn to weeks and weeks into months without a reply to your quote, that hope evaporates. As soon as it evaporates someone else calls you for a quotation, and the cycle begins.


Even though I have stated that I am tired of giving out quotations, I am grateful that at least it shows that there is a need for the services we provide. However, I have also been presented with a revelation this past week. I had to ask myself one critical question, why aren’t I converting? This brings about an assessment of what we do as a business and how we do what we do. Are our prices too high? Maybe they are too low? Should I sign off the quotation differently with the statement price negotiable? Are our services packaged right? Are we showing people value in what they are paying for? Should someone more persuasive be giving out the quotations? Are we missing a customer segment? Perhaps I am just lousy with following up on quotations. These are some of the numerous questions that have arisen that need answers and find the answers I will. I do not know whether they will be the answers I want.


They say that the best way to deal with a problem is to acknowledge its existence and not live in denial. In this vein, I am acknowledging that I’m tired of giving out quotations. Likewise, only when a problem has been acknowledged can we then seek the help we need. So now I am in surgery trying to mend this problem I have identified. The ultimate testimony to know whether the prescriptions I take are working is translating those quotations to money in the bank.


Do you have any tips for me?





Cheers to the Year of Risk Taker

Every new year begins with many people making resolutions to achieve and accomplish set goals. There are targets set, milestones to be reached and promises to be kept. Like many others, when 1 January 2016 came around, I mentally had my resolutions. There was no need to write them down because they had featured on my list for the past four to three years that they were permanently chiseled into my mind. They were a constant reminder of how another year drifted by with none of the goals realised. For the past four years when 31 December came around I would be struck with disappointment at how miserably I had failed at achieving the goals I had set and promised to do better the following year. 2016 was different; however, I began it with one short statement, “What If….”


I sat on my laptop, typed a few sentences and posted it on Facebook under the banner ‘Cheers to the Year of the Risk Taker.” Even though it looked like an encouragement to my family and friends to dare and dream, it was more a call to convince myself to take the plunge into the unknown. It was a cry to take a journey knowing the destination but moving with a broken compass. The challenge was not in taking the step; I have done some risky stuff in my lifetime. It was the fear of what would happen if I did not take it. I could not bear the thought of regret. Regretting what my life would have turned out to be if I was bolder, braver, unafraid and reckless. I did not want to look back 10 years later and resent the younger me. I had reached my watershed and there was one thing I just had to know. Having spent a five-year working career most of which was in financial audit, I decided to find out one truth. If I spent the 8+ hours I gave to my employer on starting my own business and doing something that I loved, would I succeed?


I had pretty much made up my decision during the finalisation of my master’s degree in September 2015 that I would not look for a job when I returned to Zambia. I just did not know whether I would actually go through with my plans when I did return. Therefore, I did the most logical thing I knew, I did not apply for any single job and I haven’t done so for the past 15 months. I did not want the temptation of having to look at the salary figures that would be offered to me. I had stubbornly decided that I would finally put to bed the “What Ifs” in my life and I had the next 12 months to do so. The one question I get asked is how I managed to survive these 12 months without a job? The answer is simple, I saved up. Remember I had been planning to do this for the past four years. So I saved enough to survive for a year without a job.


I set out on a journey like I mentioned earlier with a broken compass, hope and a prayer that I would arrive at my destination. Every single day I woke up and braced myself for the hurdles, rejections, and successes ahead. If someone had told me in January that I would achieve half the things that I have done in 2016, I would have kindly asked them to look for a different person because not me. Even though I consider myself loaded with optimism, it does have its limits and I know where the boundaries are. Trust me a whole lot of what I did was seizing the opportunities that presented themselves and created opportunities where none existed. I had numerous board meetings with me, myself and I. Questioned every step but continued to move either way. Perhaps a little optimism is all we need, to borrow a phrase from Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist, “When you really want something, the world conspires to make a dream come true.” And so it did, and so it did.


It all began towards the end of January with the release of my book HIRED- Find the Job, Keep the Job & Quit the Job. This was followed by being awarded second prize for the Chinese Embassy/ZWWA National Short Story Competition in April. Then I got selected to be part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship and became one of 1,000 Africans selected out of over 42,000 who applied. I had the opportunity to spend seven weeks in the United States of America. During my time in the USA I was also participating in the Nyamuka Zambia Business Plan Competition. This culminated in me getting the third prize which came with a handsome cash prize of K175, 000 in October.  Then in November something that was on my resolution list for years was finally ticked off, a company which I co-own Butali House was born. I have read 24 books in 2016 more books than I have ever read in a single year. I have attended and participated in more activities which previously I would not have been able to because of work commitments. I was part of the TEDxLusaka organising team, blogged at the AfDB Annual General Meeting, organised events for the Chevening Alumni Association, I began the P.W. Nawa Jobs Report and perhaps most importantly I began to volunteer at church once again and joined a small group.


In 2016, I have met some incredible people who have inspired, motivated, blessed and changed my perspective on life. I began this year with a focus of starting a business so that I could be rich, and perhaps be on the cover of Forbes magazine. Through my interactions with amazing people, the feedback I have gotten from people who have read my book or deeper reflection on what really matters by focus is now shifting from the riches to the impact I can make in people’s lives. If I have the capacity within me to help someone, make a difference in someone’s life, then why shouldn’t I?


I have had both support and questions from family and friends throughout this year based on the decision I have made. Many have told me straight in my face, “You are wasting time, go and get a job.” But when I ask them why, the response is, “Just get a job.” Many people even gave me a timeline when this foray of mine would come to an end. Some said February, others said March, and some said when I got broke. Trust me each word was a dent in my armour of optimism. One thing that I have come to confirm, is that I do not care much about what people think of the decisions I make. I have learnt to take advice and discard most of it as soon as it is given. The precious gems of advice, I have kept. This advice has been from people who have not questioned why I am doing what I am doing but rather how can I go further with their help.


Other friends who are working have shared their desires to quit their jobs and some have asked how they can do it. I almost tell them all the same thing, “Do not quit.” There is no blue print for the best time to quit your job or when to try out something different and new. Your “What If” has to be strong enough that it cannot, and it refuses to be ignored. It hounds you every day and night that you get no rest. Then when you come to peace with the fact that you could possibly be making the biggest mistake of your life and you are ready to face everything that comes with that decision, maybe then you are ready to quit.


My circumstances and good fortune will not fall the same way for everyone. I have learnt many lessons in this year, none is more important than to be ready for opportunities that present themselves. I should not deny myself an opportunity because I feel unqualified, inadequate or afraid; I should at least give others the opportunity to reject me. I did not embark on this journey to prove something to anyone; I wanted to answer one question in my life. “What if…?” If I choose to find a job today or tomorrow, I will not ever have to wonder what would happen if chose to take 12 months to do what I love. All I will have to do is look at 2016, and tell myself that is what can happen. When 2016, finally comes to an end, I will raise a glass and toast, “Cheers to the year of the risk taker, shall we do this again next year?”



Why Does Scaling Up A Business Matter?

Sometime in June, I had the opportunity to visit the United States of America (USA) under the Mandela Washington Fellowship programme. I went under the Business and Entrepreneurship track and I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Throughout my interactions with business owners, professors and entrepreneurs each time I explained my publishing business to them, I would receive a similar response. How do you scale this up? I often mumbled through an unconvincing response.


I began to gather the notion that in America, unless a business can be scaled up then it is not a business worth investing in. I got where they were coming from with the successes of AirBnB, Uber, Facebook and many other businesses. Scaling up meant can it go beyond the town or country in which the business exists? Can someone in India, Mexico or Burundi use the service or whatever product you have created? It also implies that can the expansion take place without the hurdle of having to build large scale infrastructure. This has often meant that can my business take advantage of technology to grow. For investors who want a return on their investment as soon as possible scalability of a business matters. An investor should be able to see the growth trajectory and in most cases an exit plan too. If any of the two are missing the less attractive the investment.


Since that trip I have been struggling with that one question, “How do I scale up my business?” I have gone to bed thinking about this question and it has crept up like an ugly nightmare every time I try to forget it. I have rattled my brain, had brainstorming sessions with me, myself and I, and gone to the internet for inspiration. But I have come out with close to nothing each time. This exhausting endeavour to somehow prove that my business can be beneficial for someone in Spain or Algeria has not borne any tangible fruits. And this past week someone reiterated my concerns when I explained my business to them. They said they did not see how it would grow beyond a certain ceiling. It was at that moment that I said, “To Hell with it,” (well I said it to myself actually). It was then that I had to face the hard cold truth.


It suddenly dawned on me that I did not start my current business with the goal of going global. I did not start Butali House to solve problems for writers in other countries; I came up with it to solve the problems Zambian writers faced. It was the foundation upon which the business was built; therefore, I was trying to build a skyscraper on a foundation meant for a one storey building. In this vein, it was absolutely fine to accept that my business in its current state was not scalable. This means that if I am to look for investors I would have to offer them more than the promise of scaling up the business. 


I have decided that rather than grappling with the question of whether the business is scalable or not, I should be concerned with whether it is profitable or not.  I should worry about how I can add other revenue streams to the current existing one. Not every business is meant to be a billion dollar company others are just meant to niche businesses that cater to a select group of customers. Perhaps in this business journey I will come up with that idea that I can call a scalable business opportunity until then having a non-scalable business is fine.



So, How Is Business?

There was a time in my life whenever I met a friend or acquaintance at a mall or at some merry function like a wedding, we would exchange customary pleasantries, "How are you?" It would then be followed by the next question, "How is work?" I would go into this monologue of the stress, exhaustion and the typical desire for greener pastures. I haven't been in formal employment for two years now, yet it feels like ages ago. Today, when I meet a friend after our customary pleasantries the next question is not "How is work?" but "How is business?" For a few seconds I am stuck searching for the appropriate response.


Quite frankly, I do not know how to respond to this question because in those few seconds after the question, I ask myself half a dozen questions. What part do they want to know? The money part, the marketing part, the growth part, the part that I wonder if it will succeed, the part I want to give up, or admit I do not know what I am doing. But those are not the replies I give. I probably say, "It is FINE."


"It is FINE," is such a vague response because sometimes I wonder does the other person really want to know how bad business is. If I tell them they will go on and remind me that I made a mistake to leave formal employment. I should consider going back and do this business thing on the side (making it sound like a hobby). They will tell me what business venture they are planning, plots they are buying, vacations they are taking and all this sustained from their job. I fear they will give me all the statistics of how bad the economic situation is with the high inflation, high interest rates, low purchasing power, loadshedding and every other business calamity. As if that is not enough they will attempt to explain the dynamics of the business I am in and arrive at the conclusion it is hard. Then they will move to suggest places where I could consider applying for a job with the academic qualifications and work experience I have. But perhaps what I fear most is that by saying how business really is I will convince myself that maybe just maybe I made a MISTAKE.  


I have read books and articles, watched documentaries and heard people speak about their business pitfalls and hurdles. The difference between them and I is I know that whatever book I read or documentary I watch,  I know it eventually leads to a happy ending. I do not know how my book will end;  the chapters are still being written. Yes, there are days when I wonder where the money will come from, or when a client will call. There are mornings I wake up overwhelmed by the bills to pay, a broken down car or no health insurance. Then you get that flicker of hope that maybe I did not make a bad decision when I win some prize, I receive a thank you email, or the sheer belief that it will all be fine.  


So, when someone asks me, "How is business?" I want to say do you have thirty minutes or an hour, I explain to you how business is. I have just sorted out our accounting and the business model but now I have to sort out the marketing and branding. The branding I am absolutely clueless about so I am going to research and read all about it for the next week. A client who promised to come have their book edited hasn't called me for two weeks. I constantly check the exchange rates fearing that they will go crazy once again. My car needs a new paint job and the brakes are squeaking.  Can I tell you about the times I go to bed past 1 am just finishing off the business plan? My friend does not have time to listen to all this. In then end, all I do is smile and respond, "Business is fine."





Turning Talent into Employment Opportunities

One of the reasons parents pressure their children to go to school and concentrate on their studies is because of the perception that a good education will get them a job later. However, the dilemma is that with more people graduating from high and tertiary school it is presenting a problem for governments. There are not enough jobs available to assimilate the millions of graduates offloaded on Africa's labour market annually. According to the United Nations there are an estimated 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 in Africa. These are individuals who are energetic, creative and make up a significant labour force. Governments have recognised that they have limited capacity to create jobs for millions of unemployed youth. Many of the governments have begun to push and encourage entrepreneurship programmes by providing general skills training and access to finance.


Entrepreneurship has been seen as the panacea to the youth unemployment challenges the continent is facing. However, each country faces different challenges such as the cost of business, inadequate electricity, transport and distribution challenges, high interest rates and general technical skills. Very often when African governments speak of entrepreneurship the focus is on agriculture which in countries like Zambia over 70% of the labour force is the agricultural sector. Other focus areas have included tourism, mining and construction. Even though governments are attempting to solve some of the challenges mentioned by deliberate policy action, there is one aspect that is often ignored. Governments need to establish mechanisms for the identification and development of individual talent and how it can fit into the broader spectrum of employment creation. The plethora of talent on the continent is diverse, but its economic potential has been largely unexploited.  The talent in the scope of this piece is referencing sports and creative talent.

Unlike in developed countries where talent whether in sport or the creative space are seen as industries in Africa they are still largely considered as hobbies and recreational activities. For example, Select USA says that the U.S. film industry posted US$29 billion in revenue in 2015.  The lack of support for the development of talent is one that stems from the household level and it ultimately translates at government level. Anything that is seen to shift children's attention from academics is not viewed as investment. This results in a jobs funnel where you have hundreds of thousands of school graduates competing for the few formal jobs, instead of a situation where an individual's talent can be leveraged to create their own employment. African governments need to start harnessing their country's talent as a means of chipping away at the unemployment Goliath. This can be done in a number of ways:-

Talent Identification and Development

Talent identification can be done in collaboration with schools. According children an opportunity to participate in as many activities as they can while they are young can be used to identify talent. As a child grows older it can be expected that they will gravitate towards a talent that they connect the most with. Teachers and parents have a critical role to play in this process as they are the adults in most contact with the children during this formative period. When the talent is identified it is important to develop it. This is where deliberate measures can be taken to introduce talent development programmes. The development programmes should not just be about improving the skills of the individuals but also how they can generate income from them.

Create Opportunities

The frustrating part about most youth who partake in sports or are creative in nature are that there are not enough opportunities for them to showcase their talents. Both government and the private sector can play a part by creating opportunities for the youth with talent, by introducing policies to utilise local talent for its activities and programmes as much as possible. In the event that the expertise is not available efforts must be made to build the capacity among the youth. Once these opportunities are created the youth must be made aware of them and also trained on how to identify opportunities. A person cannot seize an opportunity that they are not aware of.


Domino Effect

The growth of one industry in the sports or creative sphere results in the development of other supporting industries. For example, music industry creates jobs for make-up artists, photographers, event organisers, advertisers, instrument players and the domino effect continues. This creates jobs in sectors that previously did not exist. It further results in fewer youth competing for the same pie but are seeking a totally different pie altogether. In terms of supporting creative and sports industries there needs to be diversity. In the initial stages it is fine to support limited industries through finances and policy measures but the overall plan should be to diversify. It is through this diversification that more job opportunities will be created.


Mindset Change

It will take society changing the notion that formal employment is the pinnacle of career achievement. Efforts towards the changing beliefs that people who do not find formal employment or voluntarily choose to take alternative career paths are failures need to be made. Societal pressure fostered by family and friends cannot be under estimated in youth recognising that they have alternatives to employment. This is important because as long as youth still see formal employment as the ultimate goal, they close themselves out to an endless world of possibility that can come from using their talents. This is where role models can play a pivotal role by providing youth in the same space an example, inspiration and also a road map of what can be achieved with an individual's talent.


There are already millions of unemployed youth and millions more expected to join the statistics in the coming years. African governments need to be more proactive in the quest to create jobs for their citizens. This means using both the conventional methods of civil service recruitment but also the push of the entrepreneurship agenda. Further, encouraging youth to view their talents not only has hobbies but also job creation opportunities will be fundamental. Like the growth of every other industry on the continent it will need investment and support from all stakeholders from the household level to government level for it to succeed.


Ideas Grow Wings

Have you ever thought of something that would make a brilliant business idea? An idea that your gut feeling tells you that it can make you money and probably a lot of it. You get the rush of excitement and you cannot wait to get working on it. This rush lasts for a few minutes before you begin to hear the voices. The voices that tell you that it cannot succeed, it is too capital intensive, you do not have the time or what if you fail? Then you pack the idea and convince yourself that you will return to it when you are ready. Days, months or even years pass without getting back to the idea, then one day you see someone executing the very idea you had thought about.

 Image courtesy of shutterstock

Image courtesy of shutterstock


Yes, you thought that the idea was unique and had been dropped from the heavens into your mind. Yet the discovery that someone else is doing what you had thought almost feels like you have been robbed. It is especially more painful if you kept it a secret and you wonder how they got into to mind to snatch it out. This is a familiar scene that has happened to me far to often. I would get business ideas in one of my Eureka moments and think what an amazing brain I have that churns out such ideas. For one reason or another, however, I would come up with 99 reasons why it would not succeed or why I should not follow through with the idea. Almost as if just to torture me, I always remember the business ideas vividly once I see someone doing what I had hoped I would do.


The reality is that most of the business ideas we come up with may have already crossed someone else's mind already. It is just a matter of who is bold and courageous enough to step out and pursue them. If there is one thing that I have learnt in my business adventures, there is rarely a perfect time to turn an idea into a business. The stars will not align, your heart will never be doubt free and a voice from heaven will not come. On the other hand, you may need to throw yourself and hope that the opportunity will hold you tight. Ideas get trapped and need to be released. How far they go and take us with them is something we cannot know in advance.


Since I have experienced a number of my ideas being fulfilled by another person. I have had to cry on lost opportunities and question myself, why I dared to doubt. I have now trained myself not to think too much on an idea. I should not waste so much time in writing the business proposal, getting the numbers airtight or until I have found the sufficient financial resources. These days my motto is, START. Someone once said something that has resonated with me. He said, "When starting a business, the goal is to fail fast. So that you can learn what works and what does not." This statement is so true because unless an idea is tested by it being birthed into existence, we shall never know its real potential.  


So when those ideas do drop into your mind. Seize them and discard those that you think cannot work. For the good ideas do not hold on to them for too long, because they are floating above someone else's head. They might just be courageous enough to quiet those voices of fear, doubt and anxiety and actually act on their ideas. It is a gamble, your idea may fail dismally or it soar you up to the mountains of success. Remember when you fail you become experienced to teach someone else.



Why Don't Mines & SMEs Do More Business Together?

Zambia is a country whose economy is still heavily dependent on the copper mining industry. Between 2010-2014 on average the copper industry accounted for 66 percent of total exports, 11 percent contribution towards GDP, 16 percent revenue collected from the mines in terms of taxes and royalties and it also accounts for 21 percent formal private sector employment in the country. It is evident that the mines play a critical role in the economy of Zambia. The large mines in the country are operated by multinational corporations (MNCs). Due to the fact that most mines are owned by MNCs it adds another dimension and complexity to the interaction between the mines and the SMEs.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


SMEs make-up the economic backbone of most developing countries and Zambia is no exception. They are a source of employment, revenue, contribute towards poverty reduction and economic development. Government has recognised that linkages between the mines and SMEs can yield benefits for the country. The question many people ask is that why aren't the perceived benefits coming to fruition?


Where is the Problem?

Governments usually strengthen and implement their development programmes through policies. Zambia uses policy in attempting to steer sectors in the direction that they should go in line with their objectives. This has been witnessed in the transport, agricultural, tourism and mining sectors. The number of policies in relation to SMEs and the mines include the Mining Resources Development Policy (MRDP), the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Policy (MSMEDP), National Policy on Science and Technology (NPST) and the Investment Policy.


The MRDP and MSMEDP do mention that linkage programmes should be promoted. It is the implementation of the set policies that are questionable. The country does not appear to have the capacity or the will to carry out the implementation of the policies. The Zambian government is perhaps limited in its policy influence, by prevailing copper prices. Higher copper prices give the government better bargaining power while low prices have the reverse effect. During the economic crisis of 2008, between July and December the copper price dropped from $4.00 per pound to approximately $1.00 per pound. This forced many of the copper mines in the country to trim down their operations. One of Zambia's oldest mine Mopani Copper Mine was put under 'care and maintenance'. This led to mining business opportunities disappearing and SME contracts being suspended.


It is estimated that in 2012 the largest four mining companies purchased goods and services worth US$3 billion. While it is considered that most services (transportation, security, catering, waste disposal, machinery and vehicle maintenance, and electrical installation) are procured from Zambia on the other hand manufactured products are not. About 95% of manufactured goods procured by the mining companies are not produced in Zambia. Unlike the service sector, SMEs in the manufacturing sector face greater constraints to supply the mines.


There are a number of challenges that prevent SMEs in the manufacturing sector from doing more business with mines. The manufacturing sector in Zambia is lacking in both soft and hard skills, which are critical success factors. The skills that are available within the SMEs are limited because they do not have the practical experience with the latest technology in the mining sector. Majority of SMEs in Zambia are still utilising old and outdated equipment because they do not have the financial resources to upgrade. The quality of products which encompasses performance, reliability, durability, conformity to agreed specification are key decision factors for procurement departments in mines. Unfortunately, not all SMEs in Zambia have the capacity to meet the set standards because it is costly and they may have to change their production operations. The capability to meet quality and other standards is essential as it can have fatal consequences if not met. The cost element for having a manufacturing presence for some products in Zambia is also not economically feasible.


Closely linked to capacity is the inability for the SMEs to be in a position to supply products in bulk rather than in small batches. Supplying in small batches has the potential to increase the cost for MNCs as it includes transaction costs (paper work, administration, monitoring) each time an order is placed.


SMEs require finance for both operational and expansion purposes. The lack of access to finance impedes local suppliers from purchasing suitable equipment, increase production; improve on the quality of manufactured products and to maintain sustainable growth. Finance for SMEs in Zambia is sourced from a number of places such as personal savings, friends and family, profits from the business, banks and microfinance institutions. Usually these some of the sources of funding come with high interest rates.


There does not appear to be much of a challenge for SMEs in the provision of services from doing business with the mines. It is the SMEs in the manufacturing sphere who have greater challenges to face. The main obstacles in the manufacturing sector are within skills, capacity and capabilities and finance.  SMEs need to be assisted in the areas that are deficient and the mines can assist in meeting some of them. The Zambian government needs to consider various approaches to filling in the gaps and part of this can be done through the consideration of the policies and the strong implementation of these policies. 


Who Wins & Loses in Network Marketing?


Who Wins & Loses in Network Marketing?

It is a business that promises increased income, freedom and a happy life, a reality that many dream of but find it hard to attain. This business has caught on like a wave in Zambia, with companies opening their doors and inviting people to the prospects of this good life. The business is Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) or popularly known as network marketing. Despite its elaborate promises, there are some that believe that there is more beneath the business than is currently presented.

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Most people are more familiar with the companies that are involved in network marketing than the term itself. Edmark, Forever Living, Amway, Avon and Angel Lifestyle are among the popular network companies that have entered the Zambian market. Network marketing can be described as the supposed income opportunity, in which persons are recruited and incentivised to buy products and to recruit others in endless chains of recruits, all of whom must buy products and/or recruit others in order to qualify for commissions and to advance upward through multiple levels.


For a country where over 60% of its population live in poverty, some people will always be looking for ways to escape the grip of poverty or find other sources of income to supplement the ones they get from their jobs. This is what makes network marketing very appealing to many people because it not only offers a source of income but it can be done according to an individual's schedule. In as much as network marketing has many supporters, there are many who have questioned its fundamentals.


The Pitch

Most network marketing companies present themselves as direct sales opportunities. Some scholars have said that network marketing is not your typical direct sales companies. Where traditional direct sales companies will give you their products to sell on their behalf network marketing companies require you to purchase the inventory. Therefore, whether or not you manage to the sell the products the company would have already profited from the purchase of their product. This has led to some people having inventory that they are unable to sell. One of the reasons for this is the business model which also is one identified flaw.


Business Model

The model survives on an endless stream of recruitment of new people to sell the products. Likewise the recruited individuals are empowered and incentivised to recruit other participants, without regard to market saturation. In typical business models there is the acknowledgement of the laws of supply and demand which network marketing seems to ignore. As the constant recruitment continues it would soon lead to saturation where there are no more people to recruit. Individuals who sign up with the companies have to recruit new sellers are a means advancing up the multiple levels and this also comes with commissions. The person who recruits an individual partakes of the commissions that will follow in the event that the individuals do their own recruitment too. The commissions are not continual but dependant on the recruit continuing to place orders and remain at an active status in the company. Hence, this is the reason why network marketing has often been regard as a pyramid scheme.



The products that are typical of network marketing companies are generally pills, beverages, and lotions. The pills and beverages will purport to have some health benefits as a result of a special ingredient.  The consumables will be attesting to provide multiple benefits if they are consumed regularly. Since supplements are not considered as drugs, hence, they are not regulated by the pharmaceutical regulatory body. The products are designed in such a way that it would generate repeat business. The products are also supposed to be relatively easy to sell. The prices for these products are usually high priced and require to be purchased either from the company or the person who recruited them into the programme.


Success Rates

For all that network marketing promises to be there is very little show for it. There are very few people who have actually made something out of it. These are the individuals who make up the top 1% who have made it to the top. Unfortunately, for the majority who are at the bottom levels network marketing is still a struggle. There have been reports of people who have invested their savings in the network marketing companies' products which they are unable to sell. Network marketing will usually blame the lack of success of people in their programme due to poor marketing skills and will attempt to sell other programmes to improve this. 


Network marketing will have its praise-singers and its doomsayers. There those who support it and those that are against, this makes it difficult for people who are contemplating to join. Of course there are success stories to show for network marketing and there have been failures. The failures definitely far outweigh the success stories. This is not a business you jump into because of the promises made, but it requires sufficient market research and looking beyond the gold being dangled.