I have often said that some of the most important qualities for running a business, I learnt from my mother. She was a businesswoman in the diaspora. When our family, like thousands of others, fled Ian Smith’s racist, supremacist government of Rhodesia in the nineteen sixties, to live in the newly independent African nation of Zambia; we were essentially refugees. Whilst we did not use the now popular term “diaspora”, that is what it was. The Zambians welcomed us with open arms, and allowed us to work or even start small businesses, to sustain our families. Then as now, locals, sometimes see people coming from outside as “crowding out”, their own opportunities for jobs, and even businesses. This can lead to resentment, and even outright legislative measures being put in place. If you think it is hard to raise capital to start a small business, spare a thought for those who are from the other countries; for them it Is impossible:You cannot go to even talk to a bank.Little has changed, even in 40 years.Now here are some lessons, I learnt from my mother, in those days:
There is nothing gained by complaining
She never, ever complained, and she never allowed us to complain, but always insisted that we show respect and gratitude to our hosts.The Tentmaker, says, “whatever is good, set your mind on that…”. We were taught to see “good”… Years, later I was to learn that she was teaching us to practice something she had been taught at a mission school.It was from her, that I first learnt that YOUR ATTITUDE SETS YOUR ALTITUDE.Never allow yourself, to feel bitter,or angry, because you feel, you are not being treated right, by others.
You must save
Because we did not have access to banks, or investors, we saved everything we laid our hands on. My mother was like a little ‘squirrel’, always hiding away small amounts of money. If she made a little money, she made sure that she saved as much of it as possible, for a “rainy day”.This capacity to save money, and live within one’s means, was always taken to the extreme in our household.When I got a scholarship to go to college. My mother told me to save some of it! She would always ask me, so how much did you save? Friends, you must develop a savings culture. Even when things, are good, don’t behave, as though there is no tomorrow. Have the discipline, to save from whatever little you get, even if it is a dollar! Whenever I have seen people fail in business, sadly I usually find that they were not disciplined, in this basic and foundational area, of success:Saving must be a culture.
Be frugal with your money
My mother would be quick to rebuke me, if I did anything that was “showy”, or an attempt to impress others.We never owned a new car, as all our cars were bought as used cars. Years later, I discovered that the old lady could easily have bought herself a Mercedes anytime; she was just frugal!
Avoid Borrowing money
Relationships were incredibly precious, because they were hard to come by. And one sure way of breaking a relationship is borrowing money, and failing to give it back. We just never borrowed money from people. If we could not do something with what we had, we either waited until we had saved enough, or we did not do it. It was that simple.If you do borrow money, at some point,then be quick to give it back, but don’t make borrowing a habit.
Spare no effort in the education of your children
The other day, I read an article in an American newspaper, about Nigerians living in America. It was full of amazing statistics, about how well they are educating their children. It was an amazing story, and would have made us all proud. And that is how it should be.I could easily recognise that story, because I saw my own upbringing:If you are living in the diaspora, spare no effort in the education of your children.
Stay out of local politics, and don’t insult your hosts
I lived in South Africa, for about 10 years, before moving to London. If you go through every interview I ever gave, you will not find a single comment, I ever made about local politics.
It is far better to focus your attention on things like being a member of a good church, which links you to others, in your community, particularly one which has a lot of local members, rather than just your own countrymen, or other foreigners.
Never stop reaching out to locals
My mother always insisted that we reach out to our local Zambian neighbours, and make friends. She did not want us just hanging out with people from our own country. We were also to reach out to people of other races. Now decades later, I find that some of my oldest and most trusted friends are Zambians, I met in my childhood…… Some have done rather well for themselves, I dare say!
By Strive Masiyiwa