Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Bruce Robertson, the boss at Plexus Cotton brought a new perspective to the challenge of our rising population.

Speaking during last week’s Pakasa Forum, Roberston pointed out that with a population growth rate of about three percent and a population of about 35 million, about one million workers join the job market annually.

That is a daunting figure in itself. But he went a step further. He pointed out that the Madhvani’s Kakire Sugar Works employs about 10,000 workers therefore we will have to create 100 company’s like the Madhvani group annually to only just absorb these numbers.

“It’s never going to happen,” Robertson declared.

Even the US struggles to create a million non-farm jobs a year.

The Pakasa Forum is a spinoff from the wildly successful Pakasa weekly pull out published by the New Vision. The pull-out steps away from corporate Uganda and looks to profile everyday people making a difference through their own ingenuity and perseverance.

The first Pakasa Forum ---which it is expected will be at least an annual event, tried to bring together entrepreneurs, bankers, public servants and politicians to hold a conversation about the challenge facing the nation and what needs to be done about it.

Seating through the session this is what I gleaned from the discussion. This is by no means a conclusive summary of proceedings.

1.       Don’t look for money, look to build value – If the youth came to Pakasa looking for a turnkey solution to their problems they were sorely disappointed. What they got instead was some inspiration and some basic principles by which to live. A running theme through the conversations was: focus on creating value and the money will follow.  Value is built up in through the acquisition of knowledge and experience, which is then used to create products and services. Value is what the market pays for, enduring value is what the market will pay for over and over again.

2.       Money is a coward – It is a persistent complaint that sourcing finance is very difficult and even when access is afforded it’s too pricey. But Stanbic boss Philip Odera was quite succinct in his response to this perennial lament. Money will only go where it feels safe, so the challenge for the entrepreneur is how to make the money feel safe, he said. What kind of environment does money find a home? “It needs a plan. It needs organisation. It needs structure. Then it will feel safe,” Odera counselled. Often times when we are rejected by the money men we dismiss them as stodgy, unimaginative, pen pushers who cant see a good thing if it hit them in the face when the problem is really our plan – or lack of one.

3.       Take time to build the intangibles – We often think we just have to turn up and sell. But the selling process starts well before you lay your wares out for the market. We need to build a personal brand or a reputation which is known for positive attributes in the market’s mind. This takes time and patience, MTN CEO Mazen Mroue said. Don’t ignore qualities of reliability, trustworthiness and integrity. You might see people around you ignoring these and making a quick buck they never last the season, they are soon found out. The market can be very unforgiving.

4.       Don’t underestimate the power of a vision --  KCCA executive director, Jennifer Musisi, a business person in her own right, started small, hoarding and selling bars of soap during a time of erratic supply. She was driven by a desire to make money, to be self-sufficient. Prime minster Amama Mbabazi, while not claiming any business acumen, told of his vision to be a lawyer forged in the disappointment of the loss of the family land when he was still a child, and how clinging to that vision has elevated to the higher reaches of politics despite his humble background – he never owned a pair of shoes until he was in P5, and even they were hand me downs from his mother. The lesson have a vision and start from wherever you are.

5.       You have to keep moving, if problems find you standing they will knock you down – was the winning quote from entrepreneur Marino Pagril. That we should be determined and of unflagging resolve is so clich├ęd and well-worn advice, but it sounds much better if you think of it as staying in motion, making progress in the direction of your goals by whatever means necessary.

Failure is always stalking us, but if we don’t try we fail for sure. If we try and still fail, we can learn from the experience and move on. To roll over and die, to lament that the government is not doing this, that or the other for you or to choose to be a heckler on the sidelines, these are not options the youth – or anyone for that matter should entertain.

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