By Torie Klocko, Guest Writer
While I’m open to new experiences, as I’ve gotten older, I find myself becoming more discriminating in the risks I’m willing to take. At best, I like to think of myself as “quasi-adventurous.” In fact, before March, I never would have considered Sub-Saharan Africa as a realistic career option. The Serengeti, Nairobi, Victoria Falls, Lagos, Mount Kilimanjaro—these were all places I wanted to visit, sure, but nowhere I had ever considered living and working.
Dr. Babarinde teaches a class called Regional Business Environments: Emerging Markets, which focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa. I can’t tell you how much I learned in that class—from the cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity to economics, private equity, and a fountain of entrepreneurial ideas, not to mention the endless proverbs—which helped the subcontinent materialize into a possibility for me. My classmates and I would always joke that Dr. B’s class was like an ongoing advertisement for Sub-Saharan Africa: visit Africa, live and work in Africa, invest in Africa. But the joke is on me, because that is exactly where I spent the last several months.
When a summer internship with Two Nine Group for project management in Zambia came across my radar, it took me by surprise how eager I was for the position. It beckoned back my fearless, adventurous side. After a few rounds of interviews and several weeks of preparation, Paul, Jonathan and I were getting off the plane in Livingstone, but the reality had still not set in. Dr. Babarinde’s class was about to turn into live action!
For our internship, our directive was to get a food processing and distribution factory operational, starting with honey, and then begin the process of international certification for export. However, the biggest lesson I learned was not about operations or determining feasibility or forecasting or sourcing and procurement. My most important takeaway was more than just project management; Zambia taught me that opportunities are everywhere—if you’re looking for them. That is also the reason I am certain I will return to Sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s one thing to read about a country or hear of someone’s personal account, and a completely different realization to live it with boots on the ground. There were aspects of Livingstone and Zambia that were simultaneously foreign and comfortably familiar. As someone who grew up between cultures, some things reminded me of Korea or France or the U.S. or Germany, while others were strange and new.
The more of the world I see, the more I find that people are the same everywhere; we all fear and hope for the same things and we’re all trying to do our best with the tools we have, in the circumstance in which we have found ourselves. What makes us different are the lenses through which we see said circumstance and tools: our perspectives.
One such perspective is the entrepreneurial spirit found throughout the world. When someone sees the world through an opportunistic lens, ideas are the path to freedom and everything becomes a potential venture to get there. In places where chances are few and far between, the prospect of profiting from entrepreneurialism seems to be the greatest. But here’s the catch: you have to see each situation within the lens of possibility.
On a mission to find supplies to help us organize and begin clearing the factory during our first week, we met Kizito. Kizito made homemade jams and jellies and sold them in plastic containers he bought in the market. Our factory happened to have hundreds of untouched, usable aluminium cans we needed to dispose of, so we saw a possible deal. He indicated he wanted to see the cans, so we gave him the address to the factory and told him to stop by any time during the week. He never visited. A month later, I received a text to see if the cans were still available, but by then we had already sold them for recycling. He was a little late to put his glasses on.
If you can only see your surroundings in their current state instead of their potential, you can miss opportunities because you don’t see them. A plank is a piece of wood, not a bench or picture frame. The potential in Zambia, and I imagine much of Sub-Saharan Africa, is great, but you have to be able to look beyond the roadblocks: lack of infrastructure, corruption, political instability. I’m not implying that these factors should be ignored; just that these factors should be weighed against the possibilities.
So, visit Africa, live and work in Africa, invest in Africa. Just make sure to bring the right glasses.
Torie is a second-year student in the MGM program.