Many of us pay little attention to the world around us. We are so focussed with our day to day jobs that we do not create a little time to study and observe the small but important matters of the world around us.
We face the world through a very narrow window that is immediately before our face. It would take very little effort to look beyond the narrow window or to look through several narrow windows in order to expand the total view of the world.
When we look at only a small part of the world around us, we lose out on potential opportunities that we can discover and exploit out there.
Look at the European explorers who went out of Europe a few centuries ago. In the end, they found opportunities far from home—not just opportunities to have access to resources but also opportunities for civilising the rest of the world, bringing the Bible, education and commerce to the many peoples of the world.
If we develop the mindset to always explore and study the world around us, we will have a constant flow of opportunities that we can exploit for our success and for the betterment of the world around us. This is typical of what I call ‘natural entrepreneurs’. I have a few friends who are good entrepreneurs. They have a few things in common even though they don’t know each other. One of their common factors is that they take keen interest to study the world around them. They observe and study people’s interest, people’s buying behaviour and how people conduct their daily lives.
Towards the end of my study programme at the Polytechnic, about 15 years ago, a friend of mine Michael Mhagama enticed me to join him in a bid to take over and run the student tuck-shop. Luckily, we won the bid! I was impressed with how Michael had studied the students behaviour, including what made students go out of campus to buy at the Ginnery Corner which he found as an opportunity for us to start stocking in the tuck-shop thereby increasing our revenues and profitability. He also studied their behaviours and habits and interests to come up with a range of NEW products that we could offer which our predecessors did not stock.
We introduced selling of tobacco cigarettes because Michael had observed, beyond the simple view, that in fact there were many students who were smoking on campus and struggling to find cigarettes. The cigarettes alone gave us enough profits to pay rentals for our tuck-shop every month!
As a result of Michael’s study of the world around us, our revenues went up nearly double of what our predecessors used to make every month.
Even today, Michael studies the world around him and regularly finds very interesting opportunities which he exploits to his advantage. But he is just an example of successful people that use a free natural resource – study of the environment or world around us. It costs nothing but can potentially give you big upside in opportunity, success and wealth.
Even in the work environment, you can study the world around you to find problems impacting your company or organisation. Then you can volunteer to help resolve those underlying challenges. Your boss or employers will not keep looking at you without considering to promote or reward you if you regularly surprise them positively with game changer actions that turn the company or organisation in a good direction. It all starts with you studying the world around you.
The good thing is that it costs nothing but also take no time to study the world around us. We can study the world around us without spending any additional time. Just using the time we move around and the idle time that we get between appointments and between actions. This way, we become even more efficient because we are using idle time to productivity and we are doing other things in parallel. If you keep doing this, you will surely rise and shine!
Before the Tripartite FTA ink dries up…
There is an African proverb that goes: “If you want to go fast [quickly], go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that it was in line with this saying that African leaders on June 10 2015 put pen to paper in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt to create the historic Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA) comprising 26 African countries.
The Tripartite FTA has brought into one fold the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the East African Community (EAC).
Through the grand FTA, the 26 African countries have created a bigger market for their goods and services.
FTA refers to a region comprising a trade bloc with member States agreeing to the provisions of the agreement such as reducing trade barriers and increasing trade among themselves.
I have always advocated for increased intra-Africa trade as they say charity begins at home. Hence, my sincere congratulations to leaders of the 26 African countries, including our own President Peter Mutharika, for making the Grand FTA a reality. It is important that African countries trade more among themselves through such trade blocs as FTA.
The importance of trade among nations cannot be overemphasised. Trade, especially international trade, keeps the world alive. It grows or slows down economic growth depending on activity.
Sadly, the African continent’s share of the world trade cake is very negligible at around three percent, according to World Trade Organisation (WTO) statistics. Trade experts have alluded that this is not surprising considering that Africa’s trade is mostly dependent on a narrow range of primary products.
But, when all is said and done, my gentle reminder to the Malawi Government is that it is one thing to sign trade agreements as we have done with the Grand FTA or Tripartite FTA. However, it is a different ball game altogether to reap the benefits from such agreements.
Malawi is a signatory to several trade agreements at bilateral, regional and international level. We have had trade agreements with the European Union (EU), Sadc and Comesa. What has Malawi gained from trading with Sadc members States? Comesa States? And world trade in general?
I am not being pessimistic, but I am just being honest. These are simple questions our government needs to reflect on before the ink on the Tripartite FTA dries up.
What should be borne in mind is that trade agreements are mere pieces of paper. The key to reaping the benefits lies in improving one’s competitive advantages over competitors.
With interest rates of around 50 percent, can our businesses effectively borrow for production and compete on the international market? Given the unpredictable foreign exchange and inflation rates, can they effectively plan? What about unreliable supply of electricity and water to industry? Poor infrastructure?
Malawi’s other key challenge is its landlocked nature. How have other countries in similar situations such as Rwanda and Zambia managed to gain competitive edge? These are realities we have to face as, in the current state, our imports and exports will continue being expensive.
Malawi also relies mostly on imported inputs which make manufactured goods expensive. Given that tariff barriers have been scrapped under the new trade agreement, how do we intend to move forward?
These are some of the issues to reflect on before the ink dries up or we will continue being a ‘trading centre’ for other economies while killing our own industry.
Now that the Tripartite FTA is in place, it is a point of no return, but I still believe we can, as a country, improve on our weaknesses to fully benefit from the wider market.