Lemons have international recognition because of their usefulness

One of my many Zambian heroes is the guy who sells lemons on the street below my office. It might be the marketer in me but I am in awe of the effort he makes to distinguish his wares from the row of vendors on the street. He only has one product – lemons – but as they old saying goes, boy does he make lemonade from them. Each week there is a new hand crafted sign – clearly  written and carefully spelt – extolling the virtues of lemons to the passing shopping public. The title of this blog is stolen directly from this week’s campaign.

I love the effort that this guy goes to, I love the fact that he attempts to draw customers in with messages beyond the normal and I love the fact that in a street where every stall and every shop sells exactly the same food stuffs, he is smart enough to let himself stand out from the crowd. I can only hope that one day he manages to trade himself up to commodity where the returns are more suited to his clearly evident commercial genius.

Lemons

Marketing Genius at Work

Jobs are incredibly hard for Zambians to come by, regardless of their skills and even their education. By recent estimates about 50% of the working age population is unemployed easily placing it in the top ten most jobless countries in the world. A  recruitment day for the Zambian Air Force this week saw hundreds of men forming queue’s at offices across the county, some travelling to far flung districts to give themselves a better chance, many waiting overnight, all for the ultimate disappointment of being told that they could only consider the first ten people in line. It says something to me about the inequalities of this world that Zambians queue for jobs the way we queue for iPhones.

In truth, economic growth and with it employment has been in freefall in Zambia since the 1970’s. There were some marginal improvements in the early years of this century as the price of copper soared and the government began to get a handle on the economy but copper has now fallen along with the global economy and the rate of un and under employment remains staggeringly high. Given this dire state, you would think that entrepreneurs and those who are in the business of stimulating the economy would be nurtured and supported like the delicate tender buds of growth that they are. You would be wrong.

Which leads me on to another Zambian hero of mine, my house-mate Angelo. He is a 28 year old with a fearsome intellect and a decent education who has done two mightily unusual of things for someone in his position:

  1. Not left the country to seek a very attainable fortune elsewhere
  2. Not taken a job in a government agency (the source of 40% of employment) for a life of tedious drudgery enlivened only by the extended tea and lunch breaks that are the norm

Instead, Angelo has chosen to stay in his native land to try and build a better future for himself and those he employs through building his various businesses. It would make you weep if, like me, you could see the amount of time, money and energy that he has to spend each every day navigating the unceasing bureaucracies of the many different government departments, regulatory bodies and other assorted jobsworths to complete even the smallest transaction. And this is without a word on the dark and murky world of implicit and sometimes explicit requirements for other ‘concessions’ before business can progress.

Angelo is a hero of mine because in spite of all of this he perseveres, he continues to find new and interesting ways to grow his businesses (look out for a new line of pure mango juice hitting your shelves in the future) and with his perseverance so grows the chances for those who work with and for him and in its own small way so too the Zambian economy.

Both of these guys are making lemonade from lemons and both deserve the support, encouragement and protection of the Zambian government to demonstrate its understanding that perhaps more than lemons, entrepreneurship has international recognition because of its usefulness too.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Lemons have international recognition because of their usefulness”
  1. Cathal says:

    fair play berkeley. haven’t been on the blog in a while – you have been busy. interesting stuff, keep it up.

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  1. […] Angelo – my housemate and greatest friend throughout the year with whom I have learned so much and enjoyed so many fantastic adventures […]



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