Greetings from Lusaka, Zambia
Greetings from Lusaka, Zambia. I’m sitting in my hotel room suffering from jet lag, which happens to be keeping me awake far past a reasonable bedtime, so I thought I’d draft my first blog for this trip.
It’s an exciting time to be investing in Africa. With economic growth for the Sub-Saharan region expected to exceed 5 percent in 2013-2015, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I walked across the street tonight to a big mall where I had my choice of various restaurants and take-out for dinner (I chose Chinese-which will come as no surprise to those of you who know my eating habits). The investment landscape spans from micro-finance to large scale infrastructure, and the beneficiaries range from the rural entrepreneurial farmer working to put food on the table for her family to the Lusaka suburbanite couple, part of the rapidly expanding middle class, putting their children in private schools and shopping at the Zambian equivalent of Whole Foods. But be assured, investing in emerging markets is not a slam dunk.
I’ve spent the last two days with the staff and board leadership of the Hope Poultry farm, Spark’s first business investment intended to create financial sustainability for our partners here in Zambia. Since the launch in 2011, the farm has sold more than 36,000 birds in 16 cycles and generated a modest profit. Quite an accomplishment for our partners at Hope, and certainly, Spark Ventures has played a critical role in this process with our financial investment and strategic guidance.
But it’s the people on the ground here day after day that rise to meet the challenges of a start-up business in a country that still struggles from the remnants of colonialism, the shadow of HIV/AIDS and the impact of 70% of its people still living under the poverty line. For the team at the farm, those challenges have been plentiful. Land disputes, power outages, stiff competition at the marketplace, a stolen water pump, a wind storm that blew part of the roof off killing hundreds of chicks, key personnel departures, sky-rocketing wood shaving prices, and a flood. At times, I’ve wondered how this small business will survive but as I spent five hours in a board meeting with the leadership, I was reminded how it will not only survive but thrive.
The people of Zambia are resilient. Resilience comes from the crucibles that life brings us and what we do with those opportunities. Resilience is developed as we face challenges with determination, humility and perseverance, and then turn around and use what we have learned to better ourselves and benefit those around us. The women and men on the board of Hope Ventures are some of the most resilient people I’ve met in my life and it was a privilege to sit around the table and work through the current challenges and begin to look to future plans and opportunities.
I have no doubt we’ll face more challenges around the corner – some quite painful and difficult. And after brutally long flights, followed by intense days and sleepless nights, any glamour associated with this job has worn off. But I am incredibly thankful that I get to invest my life in this collaborative and impactful work, linking economic development with social programs to create sustainable solutions that lift children out of poverty.