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By Laura Gossman
Editor’s Note: Many of the Praxis organizations that have been profiled in recent months are either based internationally with nationals and westerners leading the enterprise or have headquarters in the US, with national leadership abroad, or some combination of both. To continue with our international partnership series, we interviewed Mwewa Chikamba, Co-Founder and Director of Zambikes. For more information on the organization’s start-up story, read here. To consider some of the research that has been done on partnerships like these read here. Below, Mwewa reflects on both the strengths and challenges he has had throughout his experience with American partners.
While Americans have certainly come a long way in their mindsets and relationships with Africans over the last century, it is clear that there is significant progress still to be made as it relates to folding in African strengths and assets into the global marketplace. This was just one of the lessons I learned in a recent interview with Mwewa Chikamba. He co-founded Zambikes with three other individuals back in July 2007. One included another Zambian, Gershom Sikaala, and two Americans Dustin McBride and Vaughn Spethmann.
Mwewa’s role in the organization besides being a Co-Founder and Director has included Logistics Manger and currently he is the Managing Director. When Zambikes started, all four Co-Founders agreed to participate in the managerial side of things to keep the day-to-day operations moving.
Mwewa and his partners have also shared leadership throughout significant changes in how the enterprise runs. They started out as a non-profit, but without tax exemption. Under this model, it was impossible to remain sustainable. They then reverted to a normal business model with a social entity. Directors do not receive dividends; instead all portions of the profits are shared first by widows, the physically challenged, orphans, and then educational/entrepreneurial sponsorship for employees and their families. This sponsorship is based on level of skill and potential that is evident in the individual.
Strengths of the US – Zambian partnership:
1) A balance in understanding between two cultures helps one to think out of the box. No matter how great a system, it is always important to know why others do it differently.
2) Strengths of any/each culture and how to first identify those strengths and then draw from that to build better character and abilities.
3) Greater potential for viable ventures – Zambia in this case still remains raw in terms of technology, and a western influence in this area, with an indigenous blend helps tap into potentially viable ventures.
Challenges of the US – Zambian partnership:
1) Balance between operational and relational priorities – western and Zambian perspectives differ on this, and require constant input from one another so that neither suffers.
2) Harnessing strengths of each culture to such a degree that holistic growth increases.
3) Maintaining patience and listening skills on both sides.
Overall challenges between the ‘developing world’ and the ‘developed world’:
1) Acknowledgement of worthwhile economies – those in developing nations are increasingly aware that they belong to economies that are more stable than in the past and are worth investing in. Many developing countries are very rich in natural resources in which the developed world needs in volumes. There is a definite shift and the developed world needs to acknowledge this.
For example, Mwewa commented that even though China is known for its human rights abuses and many other issues, their emerging consumption alone does give Africa a wide variety of opportunities and choice.
2) Acknowledgement of reciprocal need – While developed nations have realized they need the west, the west also needs to realize it needs them politically, socially, and economically especially as it considers global businesses in all sectors.
As Mwewa considers the future of Zambikes, he has high hopes for both increased expansion and quality of their enterprise. He states, “I would love to see Zambikes grow into a company that makes up to 90% of the products locally. This, in turn, would enhance its foreign currency retains and help build a stronger economy.” In addition to this, he desires the enterprise to grow simultaneously with its employees and that personal, vocational development would be a key investment. Lastly, he envisions “Zambikes cultivating a stronger bicycle culture in his country for better economic growth per household, physical exercise, and less pollution.”
Mwewa’s reflections remind us that global change does begin with individual relationships, but it does beg further questions on behalf of those from the west. Do westerners, in greater positions of “power” in the global market, involved with international partnerships use the language of reciprocity in their conversations and decisions with other westerners who may not have the same cross-cultural relationships and ideals? Do we advocate for developing world businesses in such a way that sends the message we truly see our international friends as equal players? While change begins with each of us individually, I cannot help but wonder how issues of poverty and injustice would change if more western, corporate business leaders increasingly invited other cultural perspectives in their day-to-day decisions.
Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.
Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.
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