Posted by kari.petroschmidt
I had the opportunity recently to present a course on writing and presenting technical proposals and reports in Zimbabwe.
Even as I was flying into Victoria Falls in the far north of Zimbabwe I was not sure exactly where I was supposed to present the course. On arrival I was met by a friendly driver from ZPC (Joseph) who told me that we still had to drive about 80 km south to the town of Hwange. This area is rich in coal and obviously the ideal place to set up a power station. And what a fascinating place!
Those that are familiar with the recent history of Zimbabwe will know that it went into monetary meltdown a few years ago and people had to carry backpacks of Z$ around to buy small things like bread. It was impossible to get commodities in the shops, because none of the countries around Zimbabwe were willing to trade on the back of that weak currency. The ordinary citizens were in dire straits. About two years or so ago the government decided to shelve the Z$ and to adopt the use of the US$ and several other currencies from the region. These days you can get a reasonable meal for about US$12, and a good local beer for $1. Which meant that I went straight to the local pub to get my shot of ice cold beer. There is nothing like a beer to refresh after a trip through a dry and dusty countryside where the average temperature in the shade hits 32˚C around two in the afternoon this time of the year.
After five the locals started drifting in. Friendly and curious to know what this white guy from New Zealand was doing there, we started talking about the weather, the place, the large Baobab trees and also about their lives. What stood out for me was the incredible optimism of the people. Here they know real poverty. Poverty means that you may starve to death, or die of one of the many diseases that plague the continent of Africa. It does not mean that you cannot afford a modern mobile phone, no, it means death will knock on your door with a heavy fist.
A beer is only a dollar, but it is a dollar too much for many. Education is of primary importance. It is seen as the ticket to a better life. People are industrious, because there are not that many formal jobs. You have to make a plan, look for opportunities all the time, and you must be willing to take risks. But it does not weigh down their spirits. It invigorates them. It was one of the most enjoyable courses I have presented in many years. The physical conditions were not ideal: we had power outages, no air conditioning and flying and stinging insects to deal with. That did not dampen the spirits. People were willing to be exposed, to talk about their problems and keen to acquire new skills.
Back in South Africa and on my way back to stunning Dunedin I was suddenly aware of a heaviness and a tiredness amongst people. Here were people with so much more, but also so much less. My moment on the inside looking out sensitised me to all these things. Maybe we should spend more time in communities that have a tough time so that we can see their needs and see our privileges. That will sharpen our senses to see more opportunities than hurdles. It may expose us to what real business agility looks like. I know it taught me the value of being in the shoes of my customers. What a lovely experience.