Women and Digital Enterprise

I recently had the pleasure of attending part of the Missing in Action : Women and Digital Enterprise in the UK conference as organised by Digital Women UK and University of Nottingham. It was encouraging and inspiring to listen to women who have succeeded at entreprenurship through maximising the potential and opportunities within digital spaces. Natalie Lue’s story of how her dating blog Baggage Reclaim , led her to being a world renowned published author particularly caught my attention – not because I blog, but because of the familiar challenge faced by many women across the world – returning to work after maternity break.


Dr Carol Ekinsmyth, a researcher from the University of Portsmouth, gave an interesting academic take on what motivates parents, especially women, to take up entrepreneurship in place of formal employment. It is, of course, not always motivation – in most cases, women have no choice but to seek alternative ways to earn income as the challenge of finding the perfect life and work balance can be consuming. Dr Ekinsmyth argued that women are more suitable to digital entrepreneurship as the internet is a 24/7 operation that can be manipulated without the need to be locked in an formal work environment. Digital space allows freedom and flexibility.

I was more intrigued by the argument that people, women in particular, turn to enterprise to solve a social problem, for instance: childcare costs. Entrepreneurship is also sold, by governments, as an ideal solution to lack of formal employment opportunities. This, in turn, highlights that women are having to find solutions to social problems that should not exist – failures of government one could argue. With focus on high growth businesses, women in digital enterprises face the risk of being ignored by government policy makers resulting in being undervalued.
My mind wandered to the African context, to my home of Zimbabwe where the economy is currently largely supported by the informal sector. I thought of how widespread internet usage would hugely and positively change the conduct of business. I was starting to dream of neatly laid out websites from women in business selling their wares and collecting payments through Paypal. For a second, my heart sank as I resigned this to being just a dream that many women, especially low income women, may never see as reality…
                                    …barded hope…
There is no better moment when despair turns to joy. How could I have forgotten about Facebook, Whatsapp and mobile money transfer service such as Ecocash. That is our Zimbawean and African digital space that many women are taking advantage of everyday! I was in Zimbabwe early this year and paid my hairdresser through mobile money transfer. A friend travels to Dubai every couple of weeks to buy clothes and shoes for resell with advertising and orders done on Facebook. Social media is Africa’s digital space. My fears of inequality of opportunity in digital spaces in the world suddenly disappeared. While privileged women are more able to fully take advantage of the digital landscape, there are other easily accessible and just as effective ways for the less privileged.
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Regardless of where we are, there is future in untapped opportunities in digital space. As we are glued on our phones half the time, we might as well make some money while we are at it.

An evening at the ZIWAs…

I spent the evening of the 3rd October 2015 at the grand Council House in Birmingham celebrating ordinary extraordinary Zimbabwean women doing wonderful and inspiring things in all spheres of life. The Zimbabwe International Women’s Awards is in its second year and proving to be a fantastic platform to honouring women. I did not attend last year’s ceremony and so I went with no preconceived notions but with an aim to have a wonderful evening. 

As I was also a nominee for general Blogger of the Year, I had had pre event communication with the ZIWA team. I have to commend the professionalism in their communication. Looking at the way the team is set up , with allocated tasks and specialty, I found no fault. The use of social media, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, most definitely helped spread the word about what the ZIWAs are about. I would have preferred a more robust press campaign in the call for nominees stage, particularly for people based in Zimbabwe, to ensure that there is no discontent at how nominees came about. Perhaps for next year, the ZIWA team should look to work with the print and broadcast media to widen their reach. 

I arrived at the venue just after 5pm as had been requested to come early.  While I was not expecting everyone to be there at 5pm on the dot, I was disappointed to have found a few people waiting outside the venue with doors shut. We did eventually get in and were warmly welcomed by hosts. The checking in was fairly simple and quick and as nominees we got lovely bracelets..

  
Walking up the grand stairs into the hall was a beautiful sight. The table setting was pleasing to the eye and the background music was carefully selected to meet various tastes.

   

  
For someone who had arrived two hours before, I was disappointed to have had to wait for the awards ceremony to eventually start later than previously communicated. It also would have been lovely to have the founders of ZIWA to arrive earlier than guests to allow a smooth small talk and networking opportunity before formalities. Once the ceremony started, all ills were forgotten. The Master of Ceremonies was lively and engaging enough although she could have been more assertive in dealing with guests who were at times loud. 

I absolutely loved the food, most certainly because it was ready to eat warm – a challenge at most events. 

   
    
    
 
For future events, it would be best if the ZIWA team could ensure a quick dining experience by avoiding long awkward waits in between the starter, main course and dessert. It would also be best to have performances while guests are dining both for entertainment purposes and to shorten the long ceremony. The choice of performers was fantastic. 

I felt that the awards ceremony needed to have started earlier than it did. The long intermittent wait for food had changed the atmosphere as guests found ways to fill the gaps. A programme detailing the order of categories would be helpful in the future – perhaps a screen by the stage not necessarily an individual programme. The ZIWA team should also ensure that nominees or their representatives, should be seated near the stage area. The photo background banner had creases which did not look good on photos. Last award was called out just after 11pm.

ZIWA must be commended for a fantastic and admirable effort. It was a beautiful evening, a good night out with great food and company. The idea is there and it’s execution is one that will improve with experience. The stories of the nominees are inspiring and deserving of the attention, appreciation and celebration – and ZIWA is doing that. The best part of the evening for me was when 12 year old Tanya won her Sports award, when young Paida shared her Courage award with her mum and when the guests joined sang along to Busi Ncube’s True Love in honour of her Lifetime Achievement award. 

I look forward to a bigger and better ZIWA 2016! 

A language of curses

How many sweets have you got? 

I got 5, have you also got 5?

No, just 3. Can I have one more so it can me fair?

No! They’re all mine!

And it begins..a song erupts, the voice is as innocent as an child’s is. Soft. The song is catchy. You hum along and even cross your fingers as is the required gesture of the song …

Kumbira kumbira garema uchazvara mwana akadai…

Many of us are familiar with that scene and with the song. We innocently sang along, in an effort to guilt trip our friends and siblings to share with us whatever it is we wanted from them. Why would you not share when one throws a curse that if you do not share, you will have disabled children? Our young minds would not need to think this through, that threat was enough.

I am not sure why, but I randomly thought of this seemingly innocent song this morning. I even sang it and crossed my fingers. Obviously I was not cursing anyone but my thoughts had drifted to my childhood. I understand now that of course, finger crossing has not power on whether one has a disabled child or not. I now realise that, this, like many other taboos, we’re not real but just mechanisms in which to encourage young people to listen and to conform.  William Chigida’s paper on Shona Taboos: The Language if Manufacturing Fears for Sustainable Development immensely improved my understanding. However, with intentions being good, I can’t help but be annoyed with how the “taboos” or “curses” actually perpetuate stigma. If you grew up singing this seemingly innocent song, is it automatic that your views change as you grow? I do not think so. 

A few years ago, Siamese twins were born and successfully separated in Zimbabwe in what was a great medical triumph. I noted that, while we all celebrated the success, there were some who viewed these precious babies as a curse. I remember criticising the way some news reporting on the matter was handled. It made me wonder, why are we quick to label what we do not understand as bad, evil or curse? Why must we instil fear in others while actively resisting the opportunity to learn? Why must, our cultures and traditions, not be dynamic? 

In many developing countries, it is fairly common to see disabled people roaming the streets begging and homeless. It is also fairly right to say that it is as a result of being shunned by families and society for “they do not conform” to what we have always thought to be the “right way” to be. I am taken aback to the song….

It saddens me that, our ancestors, felt the need to scare for an audience. We are a terrified people and we pass on our fears to the next generation for fear of facing our our lack. 

             random thoughts, of barbed hope. 
Image : Getty Images 

Video : #50Africans1Question

Hona Media has done it again! I absolutely love this vibrant, simple but fun short film asking people one question. Filmed at Covent Garden in London at the African Summer Festival 2015, I absolutely love this vibrant fun short film were 50 people answer one simple question. 

Join the conversation using #50Africans1Answer on Twitter and Instagram. 

Watch it here…

#50Questions1Question

Book Review : Eyebags & Dimples by Bonnie Henna

There are some books that, if you were to read with a highlighter, you would have to highlight every single line. This is one such book. The last time I felt so involved with a book is when I read Chimamanda’s Half of Yellow Sun. 

I didn’t know much about Bonnie Henna (Mbuli), a popular South African actress and presenter. While reading a copy of True Love magazine, I came across the book recommendation section where Eyebags & Dimples was being hailed as true and candid tale on depression and its effects. The title of the book was eye catching enough that I bought the book. 

  
Bonnie Henna narrates her story in a way that is so personal, with no holds barred. She talks of a difficult childhood hugely influenced by her mother’s’ undiagnosed and untreated post natal depression which, coupled with constant suicidal thoughts, led to a difficult mother and daughter relationship. Additionally, growing up in apartheid South Africa resulted in both the home and outside environments being unwelcoming and confusing. After being spotted at a bus stop, Bonnie was introduced to the entertainment industry that brought mixed results of success, challenged and controversy in both career and personal relationships. After a difficult time in America, Bonnie tells of how through chance, she learnt to accept and acknowledge the dark cloud of depression which had forever been looming in her life. She chronicles the journey to recovery with hard truths on both a personal and medical perspective. 

While reading this book, I had to pause and ponder on many aspects. It made me think of how our society deals with mental illness and how we are not encouraged or empowered to seek help. While the attitudes are shifting, it made me wonder how perhaps the issues we have today, were influenced by our own parents (mothers) undiagnosed and ignored mental illness.

It baffled me that this behaviour was so similar to the things Mom had told me her mother did to her; some were in fact identical. She’d related numerous stories of my grandmother’s cruel words, and the deep hurt and sadness she’d experienced when her mother treated her with such contempt. Yet here she was, visiting the very same horrors upon me. Why, if it had made her feel so bad, did she want me to go through the same thing? A subtle distrust began to creep into my bones.

 Bonnie’s story is at times difficult to read especially when she goes into detail about how her mother treated her when she was young. Did I feel uncomfortable because we aren’t allowed to speak about our mothers in that way? Is this the cultural systematic silencing and brushing under carpet? It maybe so but I sure was glad to realise that even though the childhood was harsh and burdensome for her, she could still appreciate that her mother still loved her just that depression had stripped her off the chance to show it properly. 

Perhaps what is more heartbreaking for me is the guilt that Bonnie (and many depression sufferers) felt when she realised that something was wrong 

My cultural disposition and world view couldn’t allow this train of thought. I’d never known a black person who was depressed. My cultural legacy demanded that I stop feeling sorry for myself; things were far worse for most black Africans, and I didn’t have to look far for proof. Black people didn’t sit around bemoaning their misfortune; they were professional sufferers, and just kept doing what they had to do…

Sigh. 

While Bonnie talks of how her mother’s depression influenced the mood in the home, her admission of how this was the same in her own personal relationships made it more apparent that mental illness affects everyone around us, more so to people more closest to us. Her journey to recovery included spiritual healing as well as the medical route of “happy pills”, an admission that depression is like any other illness that requires medication amongst other interventions. 

I truly believe that every African woman needs to read this book for it has incredible life lessons as well as providing a foundation in understanding our mothers. As women, mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, aunts and friends, I believe that the book sheds light on how the way we interact with our children and our peers, can majorly shape their mental wellbeing. I’m more than recommending this emotional roller coaster. 

No one can take our freedom unless we give it away 

VIDEO: A Portrait of an African Activist

If you have not been to another persons’ farmland, you will claim that your fathers’ farm is the biggest in the world”

Continuing the portrait profiling portrait series on Africans in the UK diaspora, Hona Media have released a short interview with well known Nigerian activist, Kayode Ogundamise, the host of Politricks With KO aired on BEN TV (SKY 182). Kayode brilliantly discusses what motivates his honest and candid views on African politics. He encourages genuine conversation without fear of criticism. The interview was recorded in between breaks of filming Politriks with KO.

The diaspora voice on home politics is just as important as the local voice. It allows a somewhat different angle influenced by new experiences.

Watch it here (and share) http://youtu.be/sfM6v3mPU5I

Brain drain, Health decline

Almost spilt my first cup of tea of the day when I read that Uganda plans to barter trade with Trinidad & Tobago in a deal involving healthcare workers and oil exploration.

Of course, Uganda has an opportunity to create wealth through exploitation of the oil fields and that is admirable especially when the deal is between two developing countries. However, I was astonished to find that the deal requires Uganda to hand over 20 of its 28 radiologists, 15 of its 92 paediatricians and 4 of only 11 psychiatrists! How can this be right? It is clear that the healthcare system in Uganda will be greatly compromised (as is already the case) with crystal ball faith placed on the oil deal. Is it right for a government to willingly expose its citizens to a crisis in the present for possible future prosperity? Is healthcare ever a justifiable collateral damage in any government policy? Government sponsored brain drain…

Interestingly, this article excellently exposes the intricate issues surrounding mass migration of health workers from developing countries. While the most common reason for leaving is low wages, the writer makes a good case of how poor working conditions are restrictive to health workers’ professional and personal development goals which, ultimately, will make the Uganda deal seem favourable to some. It therefore battles my mind though how, by further crippling the healthcare system, Uganda seeks to improve the situation for the people. I am reminded of the situation in Zimbabwe that saw thousands of qualified doctors and nurses leave in the early 2000s to settle in neighbouring South Africa and further afield in United Kingdom and Australia. As Uganda lays its hope in possible oil wealth, I wonder what happened to the much hyped diamond wealth in Zimbabwe as the healthcare system there is just as crippled as before this natural resource was discovered. It raises questions of good ideas not being well executed at the expense of the ordinary people. Again, government sponsored collateral damage…

It is almost like there is no intention, well at present, to remove, let alone reduce, the brain drain and as always, the people are short-changed. Barbed hope.