Tuesday, February 1, 2011

3 years

3 years

This seems to be the time it takes to really know a new place. After 3 years of living in Zambia, I now feel settled, the relationships that started long ago are now strong, knowing how to make things happen is clear, and I now know what it’s like living away from home. Last week I returned to Zambia from another one of my one month trip to Canada, which I now do twice a year. Every time I go things there have changed, and I also see how I have changed. For example, in the past six months, I’ve transformed from being an NGO worker to a business owner. The business has 105 people living in rural Zambia who owe us over $100,000, and my team of people are working hard to collect this money and grow this amount to $300,000 by October.

One thing I noticed while in Canada, was the persistent lack of jobs. Extremely capable people are deciding to go back to school in hopes that maybe two years from now, with even more academic credentials, they’ll be able to find a nice job. The contrast to Zambia couldn’t be more stark. Anyone with any skills or education in Zambia is in high demand.

I recently read about the “emerging emerging markets” in the Economist. They show the statistics behind my anecdotal conclusion. They show that growth in developed countries will continue to flat-line, and that Brazil, China and India are everyone’s favourites and over-highlighted. Meanwhile, impressive growth rates exist in other countries. “The biggest concentration of overlooked markets is in Africa” where they mention Nigeria and Kenya, alongside Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan as emerging frontier markets.

The world is becoming globalized, and it is for the long term benefit of all of us. There’s no doubt in my mind. I can’t help but feel lucky to have gotten into the action a little early, and I can’t help but see a trend where supply and demand for skilled labour start to balance out – supply in the developed countries and demand in the developing. Life abroad isn’t easy, but it is exciting. Here I get to dream an idea and make it happen, all on a shoe-string budget, and all the while helping thousands of people lift themselves out of poverty.

My old job, as manager of my Dad’s cheese company, is really interesting to see now. The jobs are simple, and require nothing more than a high-school education to do well, yet all of the staff are either working on their university degrees, or have already finished one if not two degrees. These people are better educated that the average CEO or government official in Zambia, meanwhile they’re working the til and sticking labels onto blocks of cheese. (if not better educated, equally educated) Maybe they have figured it out, and a simple job is a beautiful job, but for those with ambition who aren’t quite sure where to direct their attention – I have to suggest the “frontier” countries where anything is possible, and where your skills are much needed. Before long, I expect to have the experience needed to apply for those jobs that say ask for 5-10 years experience.


Anonymous said...

Great post! A lot of times I hear people say "but isn't that taking away a Zambian's/Ghanaian's job. The truth is, it sure isn't, not if there aren't people in that country ready to take on that role in that capacity. It totally depends on the nature of the work. Employment isn't only about what the employee gets out but also what the employee puts in. Great words brother.

Ben said...

Hey Mark;

Good to hear that your strategy of doing 'different things' seems to be working out. Best of luck to you and the company over the next year and I look forward to seeing you in the summer, hopefully.

Mark Hemsworth said...

Ben & Brown, thanks for the comments. I rarely reply, but here goes.

Reverse Brain Drain. More brian power coming into Zambia is so important. I view it as being at the other end of the spectrum, from taking away jobs. This is job creation. Some counties get this right, they advertise in places like the economist asking for businesses from abroad to open up operations to create jobs. Zambia however, seems to have it all mixed up - foreigners opening new businesses is difficult.

I cant say they got it all wrong though, at least the currency is stable, and a little networking can get you around some of the red tape.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

What exactly are you doing and where are you operating from?
What's your company called?

You sound so positive and passionate about what you are doing.

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