Real solution to our socio-economic challenges!

Everyone has become an economist of one form or another offering all sorts of explanations for socio-economic challenges facing our beloved country. Radical decisions have been taken in business, in politics, in churches etc., but we seem stuck, with problems manifesting themselves in different forms at different times.

Now cities and offices are full of vendors. In the corridors people say everyone is now a vendor. Many people have joined the blame game for the situation we are in and the media is awash with news about the vending problems we face. Many people are in waiting mode for miracles of sorts while some say we have not yet seen the worst. Many Zimbabweans no longer dream about a better country and a better tomorrow but make the best out of the current situation to see an improvement rather than wait for someone to come and rescue the situation, hence the mushrooming of informal traders and informal settlements as part of coping mechanisms.

Few organisations have a good time in the country. Many businesses do not know what is happening and what to do with their products. One client of mine said to me “. . . to be honest I do not know who is buying my product . . . we are seeing funny trends every time”. If this is the case then it means even companies are not doing well because they are now targeting the “wrong consumer” with the “wrong product”.

Companies now compete with vendors who are bringing in various imports at cheaper prices. As the economy continues shrink, it appears, people (consumers) now make lifestyle decisions and not necessary brand driven decisions. This trend is not good for business because traditional business/marketing plans do not work anymore.

To the naked eye, it seems change in demographics also explains many of the surprises we see in the country in terms of people (consumer) behaviours and even in terms of social challenges we read about daily. In other words there are wrong people at wrong places. Some people are at their best residing in a rural setting. Others are best in urban settings depending on their upbringing. As Zimbabweans, one thing that has made us resilient is the concept of dual homes i.e. an urban and a rural home. When we were growing up, an urban home was where dad worked while the family resided at a rural home. Rural home is what is home. If it did not work well in the urban area, dad would always be bailed out by his rural home. Now the ZAMPS (Zimbabwe All Media and Products Survey) we conducted recently says 45 percent of Zimbabweans survive on remittances. It should not be for as long as we have functioning rural homes. Even today, when you meet a typical Zimbabwean in Moscow or New York and after greetings you ask: “Where do you come from?” a real Zimbabwean will never say, “I come from Harare” but rather “I come from Hurungwe kwaNhari” or “I come from kwaGutu paMupandawana”. Now, is rural home still the “running away to” setting or it’s the “run away from” setting? The homes are no longer as entrepreneurial as they are meant to be. I would advocate for incentives (or even policies) that would promote urban-rural migration. This is long overdue and a cheap solution to many of the pressures felt in urban areas.

The problem came about when success was defined, by the Western system, almost entirely in terms of academic passes (especially O’ levels) and relocating from rural home to some urban area for formal employment. So even if there was something more lucrative to do at a rural home, we were influenced to want to leave and look for something else in the urban areas. Staying in urban areas was thus glorified as a sign of success. No wonder when the white employers left Zimbabwean urban areas, very few Zimbabweans went back ‘home’. Instead, we looked for other urban homes in foreign land. This is the disease we need to cure. Rural-urban migration is colonial mentality.

My proposition is those who started the trend (the “educated successful” i.e. those who passed Ordinary Levels and left rural homes, need to reverse it. I would argue that many unemployed youth and commercial sex workers we see in urban areas today would have much better lifestyles if they could be rehabilitated within their own homes (rural) and given salaried jobs (projects) by their own educated successful brothers and sisters who stay in urban areas. Prisons and even churches alone are not going to win. There is need for family level interventions led by the educated successful, always seen as role models.

By virtue of being a researcher, I always ask questions and make several observations before I believe what I believe. Now from the research I have done over a couple of years, at home and among Zimbabweans in the 12 Southern African countries I am privileged to do research in, I now believe that those who started leaving rural homes because of success (or passing O’ Levels) need to start the journey back home (rural home) and show some success behaviour and leadership behaviour there by confronting issues the country faces at family level. It is as simple as that. I am not talking of driving home on a Saturday morning and coming back in the evening. I am talking of the educated brothers and cousins collaborating on developmental initiatives e.g. forming a “board” and starting viable in-come generating companies (not just projects) at rural homes. If we don’t, the Chinese shall take over our rural homes whilst we enjoy temporary comfort in “foreign” environments. Rural homes are assets we inherit from our parents for free but are not generating income for families hence the desire to go to town, whether there is a job or not. It is the only way we are going to see our brothers and sisters (who copied others by coming to town yet they do not have full time employment), go back home from the urban streets.

Vending in urban areas is not going to be stopped by legislation. The authorities may enforce what they enforce. However, the solution lies in urban-rural migration led by the educated successful. When they see us setting up companies in rural homes, the other people in the rural areas will emulate. Remember 70 percent of the Zimbabwean population is in the rural areas and is literate with basic survival skills. They just lack leadership at family level. The good thing about our rural homes is there is lots of space (land), educated labour and other untapped resources. Slowly we need to utilise those resources and turn those rural homes into future urban areas before someone comes and colonises them.


Barriers to SMEs

One of the fundamental lessons to draw from small businesses (SMEs) in Zimbabwe and Africa in general is that there is more talk and statistics about businesses that die than those that survive.

This is quite evident in the prevailing situation in Zimbabwe where we read more of company closures than successful stories. This trend has forced me to explore why Zimbabweans start businesses in the first place.

I conducted a couple of qualitative group discussions and in-depth interviews with Zimbabwean SME business owners in Zimbabwe and in South Africa. Listening carefully to all, I distilled four distinct theories, among others, for what triggers business start-ups in Zimbabwe, namely:

Knowledge (kuziva/ulwazi);
Unemployable personality and
Unemployable credentials.

Most people start businesses because they feel they have reached a stage in their working life where they now know enough technically to stand on their own. So they leave their employer and set-up their own shop.

This, it appears, is the commonest reason why Zimbabweans start own businesses. A second category of business owners who started businesses because they had capital they wished to invest in a business of one form or another.

A common sentiment is that a significant number of Zimbabweans in the limelight have over the past few years, amassed significant money through both orthodox and unorthodox means. The third motivation for starting businesses is an unemployable personality.

These are people who cannot work under anyone because of their character.

They always fight or clash with all sorts of superiors. So their profession becomes job hopping until they ultimately resort to setting up own shop. These are entrepreneurs who can succeed with exposure and skilling on the dynamic of business. They tend to fail as they have the will and technical know-how but lack other business traits.

The last reason for starting business is also employability but this time, it is because the people involved are unemployable because they tend to not have adequate formal academic qualifications or formal skills needed for formal employment but are innovative. If you bother to check, one can see that there are many such in Zimbabwe and many African countries. Most of such organisations have low entry barriers and attract huge following (“customers”) very easily.

What is, however, mind boggling is that when you analyse chief reasons why many African businesses die prematurely. You come to the conclusion that it is also academic knowledge without experience of running a business along proper and basic business principles.

In other words, the business owners tend to listen to themselves and themselves alone.

Some experts say for success, business need ‘critical mass’ at the top. In street lingo this means you cannot do it alone. You need diverse skills at the top to be able to mitigate risk sufficiently as well as pull necessary resources.

Most successful businessmen tend to have one thing in common, that is they have a perfect blend of three crucial skills namely, technical, interpersonal and conceptual, the ability to apply long-term mindset and see opportunities today that will be enjoyed in the future.

However, all this must translate into a customer-centric approach to business.

The customer is king philosophy seems glaringly lacking in many business in Zimbabwe today.

Just do an audit of a few available businesses and see how easy it is to associate the word arrogance with them.

Arrogance comes from a self-centric strategy, that is the “I know what I am doing, you don’t know what I went through” mentality. The world is no longer about Mr Know it All. It is now about Mr Find it All.

A strategy that has no genuine mechanisms for listening to crucial customers is certainly on a downward spiral no matter how it looks today.

The online platform is not making it any easier for self-serving organisations. Looking at the much documented and much talked about Zimbabwe’s socio-economic challenges, many local organisations would do well to introduce mechanisms to formally listen to customers to remain relevant.