Saturday 15 October 2016

What we learned at school

It only seems a few days ago that we closed the 2016 Consumer Watchdog Conference. All of us are still slightly high on the adrenaline that was pumping throughout the event and certainly my sense of time has gone a little screwy.

So many people deserve thanks for helping us to get it working but rather than list them all here you can see everything about them as well as photos in our Facebook group. Instead I think it’s worth revisiting some of the messages that were sent at the conference.

The conference was opened by the Honorable Minister of Basic Education, Dr Unity Dow. When you think about it, who else could open a conference calling itself “Back to School”? Her remarks were remarkably appropriate. Education is obviously about what goes on in schools but it’s also about a lifetime’s journey of personal development. As adults it’s just as important that we learn new things that will help us life happy, prosperous, healthy lives. Education isn’t just for kids, it’s for everyone.

Dr Patrick Benon, the CEO of Orange, the primary sponsor of the conference, spoke to the conference about the importance of technology in education. In a world rapidly approaching “the internet of things”, where more and more devices are going to be connected to the internet and therefore to each other, it’s important that as consumers we know what’s going on. The future offers us wonderful new technological facilities but it can also be used to cheat and harm us. The only way to get just the good things is to be educated about how this new world works.

Another lesson cam from Bilkiss Moorad, CEO of Botswana Life Insurance Ltd. Anyone who knows Bilkiss will know that she’s not a typical leader. Far from it. There are many words that spring to mind. Eccentric. Disruptive. Energizing. Different.

All of these are good things. As a business leader you really should ask yourself this. Do you want to be normal? Or do you want to be different? Do you want to compete head-to-head with your competitors or do you want to stand apart from them? Both are acceptable options but most of us yearn for companies that are brave enough to be different.

TK Tekane, MD of Botswana Savings Bank is another eccentric leader. His sheer drive and willingness to adopt and embrace change is wonderful to watch. His commitment to putting service and relationships at the core of a business is also remarkably admirable.

Then a hero of mine spoke. Someone who is prepared “to stand up and be counted” when it matters, even when the matter might not please everyone. Uyapo Ndadi needs little introduction. He’s a lawyer with a drive to campaign, lobby, bother and persuade those in power and “to stand up for the little guy”. His talk, that I’d asked him to limit to 20 minutes, ended up as an hour-long free legal clinic.

And then came Adam Jones, publisher of Wealth magazine. Adam is one of the country’s natural motivational speakers although I suspect he’d hate being called that. So many so-called motivational speakers have never actually run a business themselves, they just pontificate about doing so. Adam is an example of Marshall Mcluhan’s observation that “the medium is the message”. Wealth magazine offers vast amounts of advice and guidance on being successful but is also itself an example of that success.

Then a force of nature was unleashed. Anyone who knows Percy Raditladi will know at least some of his history, having created YaronaFM, managed G4S here in Botswana and later in Nigeria and being a serial entrepreneur. His willingness to take risks and, most importantly, to learn from every mistake he makes is an example to us all. Calculated risk-taking and conscientious learning can help you achieve almost anything. Percy is a perfect example of that.

He’s also the first person I’ve ever heard beginning to describe how he came up with a new business idea with the words “As I was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from being stabbed…”

Percy was followed by another example of how so many people are wrong about Botswana. Those pessimists who say we have no business-spirit in Botswana need to meet my former colleague, friend and hero, Nkata Seleka of Sleek Foods. Nkata is a perfect example of the fact that you are never too late to learn new things. Abandoning a career in IT, she started a food production company that now produces a range of relishes and sauces, here in Botswana, that you can find on the shelves of Spar, Choppies and Sefcash. Her story isn’t just about being a local food producer, or a lifelong learner, it’s about excellence. Her products are fantastic. Go out and buy some today. Just leave some of the Hot Tomato relish for me, OK?

We finished the first day of the conference with a regular speaker. The unique Kabelo Binns from Hotwire was on stage again. You only have to spend a little time with Kabelo to relaise you’re with someone who isn’t just happy to be different, he embraces it, it’s part of his personal and corporate brand. Energy, passion, drive, commitment and excellence were there as he spoke, living his brand.

And this was just the first day. Another day of workshops followed.

What we tried to do at the conference was to prove that all the skills, expertise and resources we need to offer the very best customer service in the world are already here in Botswana. That’s why we don’t import speakers from across borders. We’re trying to make a point. We have the experts already. We have the passion already. We have the skills already.

So let’s just use them!

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