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Hear ‘no’, go ahead

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Take time to listen to successful people. If you judge them on the basis of where they come from and how they grew up, you would suddenly think that they may end up being nothing in life. Consider what the successful entrepreneur Newton Kambala says about himself: ‘I grew up in the village. I first saw a tarmac road when I was selected to secondary school. I first knew and tasted a sausage when I was in first year at The Polytechnic and I did not like it. In fact, when I was selected to study engineering, I really didn’t understand what it was. I thought I would be repairing maize mills. I sat for supplementary examinations in the first year and final year’

Who would have thought that Kambala would be running a company that has seen its activities expanding in several countries in the Southern African Development Community region? What makes Kambala a different person from you and me? Probably, the answer is simply that we easily give up and are never ready to take calculated risks. Let us face it; if we do not take a risk, we have nothing to lose. If we take risks, we also have nothing to lose.

Successful people are positive minded, they change conventional thinking and that makes a difference. While you and I take too long to weigh options, successful people risk it all and are ready to lose everything in one go if it all fails and that makes the difference. Here is the story: When Kambala borrowed $3 million to expand his business, people thought he was crazy. The educated people of figures said he lacked insights on risk analysis. Further to this, extending footprints of Mkaka to Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola was considered by many to be insane. But the insanity paid off. When Malawi had the fuel crisis in 2010/11, businesses in the country came to a standstill and the survival of Mkaka solely depended on its Zambia operations. If Mkaka had not extended its long hands into Zambia, it would have been history by now. In his own words, “Zambia investment inali thandizo munthawi ya msautso”.

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If you and I are failing to emulate Kambala, it is not because we do not have capital but because we have set limits for our minds, in terms of what we can do. We consider ourselves to be smart, and think that people in neckties that cannot sell dry fish in the sun. It is not surprising, therefore, that the yoke of employment can never lift itself above our necks. We are enslaved in the chains of the employment comfort zone.

What are you good at? Transform that into business, it is that simple. You are the best in your field; use the same knowledge to grow yourself. Otherwise, you will always be the hoe that tills the soil but never partakes in the meal. If you are in engineering, start a small business in that field, the same is true with accounting. Lawyers seem to have mastered that lesson. Law firms easily sprout, yet the risk averse accountants are better enslaved in employment. We are a country that is agro-based, yet our agriculture graduates confine themselves to offices where, at times, they are frustrated. These are people that can inject a breathe of change in the agriculture sector, operating businesses in livestock for export. We are not putting our wonderful education to good use.

We have a wrong perception of business as being for those that failed in school. We went to schools where we were taught that we had to be educated to be employed. We were never told to stand alone. It is not, surprising, therefore, that when people lose jobs, they lament horribly because they do not realise that their education is the best capital they have. Imagine that you are fired from your job today, will you survive? Sooner or later, the guillotine of job chopping will fall on your neck and, when that comes, please ensure you have somewhere to lean on. Consider your employment and salary as capital. Give yourself a timeframe to move out. You do not have to keep on working forever. Build your money and let it work for you. Surprisingly, we fail to believe that we are working for the companies of others that even started from very humble beginnings. We are carrying on the vision of others. What vision shall we leave behind for others to carry on?

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We have boundless investment opportunities. Start seeing what you have not been seeing before and you will make it. The plain truth is, there are many Burundians in our country who are refugees, yet they saw opportunities, grabbed them, and have become successful people and, because we did not see the same opportunities, all we can do is hating them. Dr PLO Lumumba was right: “In Africa, we do not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Invest, invest, invest now.

Be an entrepreneur and entrepreneurship is all about risk taking. This is what Jeffrey Fox says: “The entrepreneur can hear the word ‘no’ ninety-nine times, and the word ‘yes’ but once, and go ahead”.

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