The Internet of Women – Bringing Zambian Women into the Digital Age

Below is a featured story of the upcoming book, The Internet of Women, shared by our company CEO.

In July 2015, President Obama, during his visit to Kenya, brought attention to the issue of female employment in Africa, saying, “If half your team is not playing, you’ve got a problem. In too many countries, half the team is women and youth.” Accomplishing gender equality in the workspace takes more than just proactively hiring more women. It requires breaking down barriers to resources, social pressures, and personal confidence that many women in Africa face, as we aptly learned in Zambia.

When we launched Impact Enterprises, supporting female entrepreneurs wasn’t the first thing on our mind. We just wanted to create good jobs. Back in 2008, our company president, Dan Sutera, took a trip to visit rural Zambia with his friend David Seidenfeld, who had spent years in the country between the Peace Corps and PhD work. After 10 years of growing startup companies, two of which cracked the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies in America, Dan was looking for his next challenge. Together, they launched Impact Network in eastern Zambia to deliver an e-learning curriculum, called eSchool 360, to rural village schools.

After a few years of building schools and educating thousands of children, Dan realized a quality education it isn’t much use if there are no jobs upon graduation. In Zambia, a southern-African country of about 15 million people, unemployment for 20-24 year olds is at 59%. Those who can’t find work often go into the informal economy, the majority being agriculture.

Harnessing this untapped population, in an English-based country with a stable political and economic climate, had to be possible, and it was outsourcing that brought the solution. Over the last decade, a movement known as “impact sourcing” has emerged in the business process outsourcing industry with the goal of bringing sustainable jobs to untouched communities. Thanks to the diminishing costs of technology, companies were now moving into tier 2 and 3 locations in rural India, away from the established tech megacities. They were building centers in frontier markets in southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Our goal was to bring the same potential to Zambia.

I met Dan back in 2012 while working at a financial software company in New York City. Years ago, I had worked as a director for the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, which ran a world-class K-12 boarding school for dalit children – the untouchable caste – in rural India. I was inspired by how the students’ lives had been the transformed thanks to the quality of education they received, and I was eager to apply my business background to a social venture of my own.

By mid-2013, we launched Impact Enterprises with our first client project, becoming the first socially-conscious digital outsourcing company in Zambia. By bringing digital jobs to a developing country, we aren’t just pioneering a new industry but we’re also creating equal opportunities for talented youth.

Setting up a high-quality service company requires a huge investment in employee training. For the majority of our employees, this job is their first time working in a formal company. Beyond just learning hard skills like computer operations and web research, they take part in ongoing workshops around teamwork, communication skills, career planning, financial management, and healthy living. Cecilia, one of our earliest employees, told us her jobs is teaching her “how to be responsible, how to keep time, how to have discipline. The feeling of having some responsibilities keeps me going. Now I know, wherever I go, I have to work hard.”

At Impact Enterprises, we strive to keep an equal male to female ratio of employees to demonstrate that women have an equal opportunity to succeed in the digital economy.  In fact, we’ve found that in the first months of training, the female hires tend to be more responsible, attentive, and timely than their male counterparts. Realizing the unique career opportunity they’ve been given – one that few women in the country could possibly have – they don’t take anything for granted.

However, despite the close and supportive community we had fostered at Impact Enterprises, our young women were still struggling. Their personal charisma and determination seemed to disintegrate when put in a public group setting. Growing up in a patriarchal society meant their self-confidence was deeply undermined. During company-wide discussions, the women would go mute around men and were hesitant to share their opinions, even among just their fellow females. Something had to be done.

In mid-2015, we decided to launch a weekly support group exclusively for our female employees. They quickly made it their own, naming it Ladies of Victory and Encouragement (LOVE). As Dinah, one of the group leaders, explained, “We want this to be a space where we can share our ideas and learn from one another. Building our communication skills is really important.”

For their first assignment, they required every member to speak up in a workshop debate without being prompted. While initially they were nervous, after just one month, participation skyrocketed and they became more engaged in the company. The self-directed group has expanded to topics ranging from entrepreneurship and career advice to self-esteem, gender equality, and maternal health.

“I know that in the future, maybe I will be managing other people,” Catherine, one of the members, said. “What I learn here from the managers really inspires me.” Debra, one of the newer employees, said that she felt the group brought back the energy she used to have in secondary school.

As a company overall, the workshops have significantly strengthened our workforce and services. “It has helped in numerous ways to reestablish my self-esteem and confidence as a woman,” Debra told us after one of the session. “When a person is surrounded by positive minded, dream-oriented, enthusiastic individuals, life is worth living because you know you can make it everywhere.”

Developing the young-adult female demographic is particularly valuable, since they can immediately contribute to the workforce with their skills and perseverance. Unfortunately, existing social initiatives either focus on adolescent girls, in an effort to impact them at an early age, or working adults, who need simpler career mentorship. Meanwhile, few resources are available to young adults out of school, who require a higher investment to impact their lives – they are more mature and sophisticated than adolescents but lack the experience of their adult counterparts.

Empowering young women is crucial for struggling countries such as Zambia. While Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana have emerged as tech destinations in Africa, Zambia has failed to embrace the promise of new industries over the years. Even still, riskier ventures are usually led by men. If Zambia hopes to be competitive internationally, a holistic support system must be created with the collaboration of various stakeholders to empower women at work.

In early 2015, the U.S. State Department launched the WECREATE program to establish physical entrepreneurial community centers across Africa. Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, was fortunate enough to have been chosen, and the center provides programs for training, pitch competitions, and grant funding, while also providing family support. Establishing similar facilities is critical, in lieu of the currently inadequate school system.

Providing access to digital information is an easier, less resource intensive method of creating access to education and training. Currently, Zambia is limited in internet bandwidth, resulting in high data costs and unreliable access. While the Zambia Information & Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) was created with the intention of acting as a watchdog, today it lacks any influence. Investing in fiber optic infrastructure and promoting competition with ISPs will dramatically improve the reach of digital resources.

Women must also have the standard resources outside of work. Health services and family planning must be accessible so they can live healthy lives and raise their families without interfering with their careers. Early education must focus on soft skills to build confidence in girls so they can boldly tackle their careers and interact with teammates. Even family members must be supportive of their sisters and daughters so they can compete with men. Antiquated values such as jealousy and gender stereotyping don’t belong in the modern community.

Unfortunately, the reality is Zambia’s government is saddled with debt and a devalued currency has attenuated the abilities of local companies. Realistically, progress is going to come externally, either through foreign investment or “re-patriates”, who are returning to their native country. For us to see real progress, at least in the interim, the private sector will have to take on the responsibility of multiple stakeholders – both employer and educator – as we’ve demonstrated at Impact Enterprises.

The LOVE workshops at Impact Enterprises teach our female employees skills that are invaluable to entrepreneurship and allow them overcome the psychological barriers many of them face. I’m particularly proud of one of our members, Nelicy. She’s only 19 years old but one of our most determined employees. From the beginning, Nelicy put in great hours and quickly advanced through her projects. During breaks, she was gregarious and carried a bright smile, but in group discussions, she closed up. Just by looking at her, I could tell she had ideas to share, but couldn’t get them out.

Later in the year, we held a workshop on financial planning to teach key concepts like savings, interest rates, and inflation. Rising prices is a major issue in Zambia (inflation reach over 20% in December 2015 due to slowdown in Chinese demand) and Nelicy aptly understood the implication for her pay. The following Monday, during our weekly company morning talk, I had opened the floor to questions. After a long pause, Nelicy raised her hand and boldly requested we raise wages, eloquently explaining how inflation is impacting everyone.

She was absolutely right, and we recalculated our pay structure that week. I admire her courage to stand up for her team. When we featured Nelicy in our company blog, she told us, “Actually, the time I came to Impact I was kind of a shy person. Being here I have had to open up to people.”

When I think back to that Monday meeting, I remember how the long silence before Nelicy spoke up was just as loud as her voice. It demonstrates the reality of President Obama’s remark about missing half our team, and I worry what else we’re missing in that silence.

Dimitri Zakharov is CEO & Co-Founder of Impact Enterprises, a socially-conscious outsourcing company that provides lead generation, content moderation, and order management services with the mission of providing digital jobs for skilled youth in Zambia.

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IT guru of Impact Enterprises Steve tells us about his work, dreams and passions

Today we talked to Steve, IT guru of Impact Enterprises. Read about what he enjoys at work and his passions and big dreams.

How long have you been with Impact Enterprises?

2 years

What do you like about working in Impact Enterprises?

I face new challenges every day. Sometimes I meet a hard task but people believe I can do it so it gives me a great push and I do things I never thought I was capable of doing.

What are you passionate about?

I want to learn structural engineering and architecture. That’s my passion.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I want to go and study in USA, Russia, China or Japan. Then I want to come back to Zambia and work for a big company. I want to become a big man so that everybody will know who I am. And I want to build the first skyscraper in Zambia!

What do you do in your free time?

I used to play soccer and I like to play chess. I also enjoy writing code, just for learning.

Healthy March at Impact Enterprises as part of youth development initiative in Zambia

March is over and it was a very special month at Impact Enterprises. First, we introduced new activity workshop to our employees – Active Fridays!  We now kick off every Friday with some exercise and yoga early in the morning to get more energy for the last day of the working week. Apart from our employees getting health benefits and an extra energy boost, our employees are flashing lots of smiles and happy laughs.

Masida: I really love our Active Fridays! It gives me energy to start the day, and also helps to stay fit.

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After that success we decided to dedicate the whole month of March to becoming more healthy and introduced a new initiative – Healthy March. Apart from Friday yoga morning sessions we held a series of special educational workshops. The first focused on basic nutrition. We had discussions about types of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, why sugar is bad, and what are the 10 healthiest foods. We had lots of great questions from our employees and lots of fun. Who said healthy eating is boring?

Buchy: After the nutrition workshop I feel more educated. I learned new things about food I absolutely didn’t know before. It took me from bad to good in terms of food habits. I taught my family about that because I want them to be healthy too.

The results have been very positive: many employees lowered their sugar intake and started drinking more water; others limited the amount of processed food they consume every day. A great help is that Impact Enterprises provides daily free nutritious lunch to the employees, which consists of meat, vegetables and nsima (the local specialty made from maize flower, the main source of carbohydrates in Zambia).

Thabita: I never thought before about what is inside the food that I’m eating, what it does to my body, we’ve never learned this in school. And learning in a group is fun and we get clear explanations and can ask questions, much more effectively than just reading a book.

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Another week we had discussions about health tips which are easy and effective. We talked about food, sleep, exercising, how to start the day, how to get energized and relax. We also had special female workshops about prenatal care and women’s cycle.

Why are we investing so much time into these activities? First of all, because we really care about our employees. On a bigger picture we believe that any private sector company should implement a holistic approach in engaging their employees. Youth today need more than just jobs and basic skills. They need holistic training and guidance, both professionally and personally, to achieve their full potential.

This is especially important in developing countries. Youth in places like Zambia have fallen behind on their health  because they have very few resources available to them.. Few people have access to internet due to high costs, there are few libraries, these subjects are not taught in schools, and youth are often embarrassed or shy to talk about those things with their parents or doctors at the hospital.

Companies like Impact Enterprises can provide a valuable forum for youth to improve their physical and mental health. Implementing a well-rounded support system within the private sector can create synergies and empower working youth in ways not seen today. Governments and formal educational institutions fail to provide that approach to the development of youth. However, the private sector has immense power, through their existing access and economies of scale, to impact youth.

We hope to continue expanding our workshops to fully develop our employees and prepare them to be vibrant leaders in the world. Let’s work together to improve ourselves and each other!

Mukala: New workshops were another reminder for me that I need to take better care of myself if I want to stay healthy and productive.

Sibongile about working at Impact Enterprises and becoming a successful woman

Today we talked to our employee Sibongile who is very passionate about her work and wants to show women that they can achieve whatever they want.

How long have you been with Impact Enterprises?

4 month.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I want to achieve all my goals. By that time, I will already have a degree. I want to study abroad, in Indonesia, China, USA or Australia.

What do you want to study?

I want to study information science and become an informationist. I want to be able to help with management in any organization.

How working in Impact Enterprises helps you towards your goal?

I learn many things, develop my skills and can save money. Also, work keeps us busy and away from the street things like alcohol and drugs.

What are you passionate about?

Women empowerment. I want to become a successful woman. I want to show girls that they can achieve anything.

Impact Stories: Moving from X to Y

In 1960, Douglas McGregor at MIT’s Sloan School of Business formulated the Theory X and Y management structures. According to Theory X, workers inherently dislike their jobs. People must be coerced, controlled, or punished to accomplish their tasks. It’s all about the money. Sound familiar?

Theory Y, conversely, states people are actually motivated by higher achievements. Workers seek responsibility and can feel fulfilled by their work beyond their paycheck. In this mindset, everyone has a unique contribution to the team and company, if only their interests can be aligned with their work.

Our first year of operation at Impact Enterprises felt like a Theory X environment. We had launched a completely new type of company with nothing to guide our way. Employees daily were concerned with their pay target. Managers were commending or penalizing performance only through bonuses, which brought down overall morale. We were pushing our way day to day through the work without seeing the bigger picture.

Even though projects were being accomplished, we were in a rut. This wasn’t the company we sought to establish.

At the end of 2014, we conducted anonymous surveys with all of our employees to gauge their job satisfaction, goals, and achievements. The results were both encouraging and poignant. 84% of employees said they had gained new skills, while 92% said their experience will help them get a new job in the future.

Conversely, the general sentiment was Impact Enterprises was not providing them opportunities to advance. For 57% of them, this was their first job and they expressed a new sense of responsibility thanks to being employed. Our Data Specialists were hungry to improve themselves and we simply were failing them.

We immediately set off to launch a comprehensive curriculum of workshops to develop our employees beyond their daily tasks. Thanks to the help of a diverse group of advisors, we devised an ongoing internal program focused on 5 modules: management skills, personal wellbeing, career planning, self-assessment, and community engagement.

The workshops cover myriad topics, ranging from communication skills to conflict resolution, stress management to personal motivation, health and wellness to goal setting. Employees study their Myers Briggs personality type to become self-aware of their core strengths and weaknesses.  Local business leaders give talks about their success stories. Through the process, employees will gain a better understanding of their capacities in a way they never considered before.

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All this follows in the spirit that every employee, given the right guidance, can contribute to the greater team. Henry Ford realized the value of investing in employees when he introduced the $5, 8 hour work day in 1914. Up until that point, his factory was hiring 300 employees a year for 100 spots on the production line. Turnover was costing the company a fortune. By doubling the daily wage and shortening the hours, employees no longer were an expendable good. He broke through the “dark clouds of the present industrial depression” by proving his commitment to his workers.

Employee engagement rings just as true today. From 1998-2005, the average stock price of Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ rose 14% per year, compared to 6% for the overall market. The bottom line is, employee engagement works.

Supporting our employees is especially necessary in Africa,DSC04438 where high unemployment means an unlimited supply of labor. The typical contract for a young graduate in Zambia is 6-12 months, allowing for an employer to avoid paying benefits while ensuring cheap salaries.  For a low-skill company like a grocery store, this might not be harmful, but for a high-skill digital service company like Impact Enterprises, ensuring the quality and sustainability of our employees is critical.

As McGregor stated, a successful company cannot thrive without adopting a Theory Y mindset of management. Developing our employees ensures they better align their skills, lowers turnover, and improves overall productivity.

Furthermore, we are demonstrating to our community and the region at large that establishing an employee-focused service company is an incredibly positive business model. We expect our employees to go on to bigger and better career opportunities and we want their time at Impact Enterprises to serve as a beacon of inspiration for their future endeavors. We have no doubt that many will become leaders in their workplaces, families, and this country. Giving them every opportunity to learn and grow is how Impact Enterprises is providing valuable employment to these Zambian youth.

New interview with our CEO Dimitri Zakharov on IdeaMensch

Recently a great online community for people with ideas IdeaMensch published an interview with our CEO Dimitri Zakharov. We post it on our blog as well so that you can read interesting facts about early days of Impact Enterprises and learn about Dimitri’s professional ups and downs and his insights on simple living.

Dimitri Zakharov is CEO and Co-Founder of Impact Enterprises, the first socially conscious outsourcing company in Zambia. Over the last two and a half years, he has helped pioneer the impact sourcing model for social entrepreneurship in southern Africa as a means of providing valuable employment to underserved communities. As an outsourcing provider, Impact Enterprises works with start-ups to manage their content, support their customer outreach and reduce their cost. To date, Impact Enterprises has employed over 115 Zambian graduates and have worked with over 40 companies across 4 continents.

Before coming to Zambia, Dimitri served as a Kiva Fellow in Azerbaijan, working with microfinance institutions to create new loan products for start-up businesses. He also worked for S&P Capital IQ, a leading financial technology company, managing sales for financial institutions in New York City. He has served as Director of Fundraising and Administration for the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, an Indian NGO providing high quality education for vulnerable children.

Dimitri graduated from NYU’s Stern School of Business with a degree in Finance and International Business.

Where did the idea for Impact Enterprises come from?

Our story starts with our President, Dan Sutera, who launched our partner non-profit, Impact Network, 5 years ago in Zambia to run an e-learning program in village community schools. As a six-time tech entrepreneur, being on the founding team of Yext and Sharefile, he was always looking out for business opportunities in Zambia to address the huge unemployment problem.

Zambia is a southern Africa country of about 14 million people where unemployment for 20-24 year olds is at 59%. Those who can’t find work often go into the informal economy, the majority being agriculture. But Zambia is a politically and economically relatively stable country with few tech competitors.

In 2012, Dan came across the idea of “impact sourcing” thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation’s recently launched Digital Jobs Africa initiative. By the beginning of 2013, he had brought on our COO Brett Stickels, who was previously working in Namibia, and myself, with a background in financial management, to launch the first impact sourcing services provider in Zambia.

At Impact Enterprises, beyond simply providing jobs, as a social enterprise we are committed to the professional development of our employees. Through internal workshops, lectures, and assignments, we strengthen their work during employment with the company and function as a springboard for pursuing higher education or better employment opportunities.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My role has significantly changed thanks to our internal operations becoming much more formalized. For the first two years, I lived in Zambia focusing on structuring all aspects of our operations. I woke up before 6AM every day to open the office, spent all day managing client projects and handling training, and stayed until 10PM corresponding with clients. Back then, I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor and didn’t even have a fridge for the first 6 weeks! Luckily things improved.

Now my role is mostly focused on business development, so I’ve been splitting my time between New York and London. I’m by no means a morning person so I prefer to listen to my body’s rhythm. I set my sleeping around a sleep clock and I don’t drink coffee. I find I’m much more productive if I’m not forcing myself awake. It makes for a slow morning, but I use that time to catch up on news and email digests, with the exception of any immediate work priorities that may come in overnight.

I try to fill my days with meetings, so my week varies depending on what my schedule looks like. We’re often working on several internal projects, such as an application, writing a media piece, putting together a presentation, creating new training materials, so I work on these between my meetings. This might be for quick blocks between meetings, but I like working from various locations. It gives me a fresh mind. This can make for a very haphazard schedule so I have several to-do lists that I carefully follow.

My work hours vary daily depending on what’s happening at any time. Some weeks we’re flooded with new client requests and I can barely keep up with my inbox. Others we might be cruising. I use that free time to explore – reading articles, watching lecture videos, brainstorming ideas for the operations. We get inspiration from all sorts of places so it’s nice to have that space to really think about something other than my daily tasks.

How do you bring ideas to life?

My first experience working in social development was the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project which runs a world-class K-12 boarding school for Dalit (untouchable) children. We saw such amazing transformations in the lives of the students thanks to the quality of education they provided. I’ve always had a passion for education and I’ve tried to implement the same values I saw at Shanti Bhavan in my work.

When we were getting our operations in order on the ground in Zambia for the first couple years, I really took on a role of being a teacher and mentor. We had to train our employees on radically new project tasks, devise curriculums for new hires, created a management training program to prepare our middle managers, and reviewed daily issues to learn from our mistakes. I love helping people improve – my passion really comes through when I’m leading through teaching. We have such a great community of people in Zambia that are hungry for career opportunities, so we’re doing the most we can to help them learn and improve themselves.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Having worked from the front lines in Africa, it’s fantastic to see the growing confidence and awareness of the tech and entrepreneurship scene in Africa. It’s been said Africa has a major PR problem. Luckily, social media is providing better transparency of what life really is like in far off places, and it’s really much more normal than we imagine it! This means entrepreneurs are being taken more seriously, which is opening broad new opportunities for these economies. Since 2000, the sub-Saharan economy has quadrupled.

There’s a survey from EY called the Africa Attractiveness survey that asked 500 executives where they think the best and worst market opportunities in the world are. The ones who had never worked in Africa said it had the worst, while the ones who had operations there said it had the best. Once you’ve been there, you immediately realize the potential.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I believe in simplicity. I travel between 3 continents throughout the year, so I’m often living out of a suitcase and that forces me to simplify my life to the extreme. You have to minimize your distractions and focus on what’s really valuable to you. To me, that’s improving myself personally and benefiting the people around me. I don’t bother holding on to material things, like souvenirs, anymore. I stay off social media and rarely post anything. Even when I take pictures, I try to capture just the really precious moments. The superficial things we try to collect often just clutter our lives.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I did an internship at a relocation consulting company. They essentially planned all the logistics for companies moving offices. It was really slow work – there weren’t enough tasks in the day, and even those were simple. (That’s what I got for applying to internships at the last minute.) But this was a family business that had been in operation for over 20 years, and they were the best, and you got to see the nuance that they approached these assignments with. Down to things like where on boxes the labels would be applied to or pour over blueprints to figure out the most efficient way to use the freight elevators. You really come to appreciate someone who thinks at that level of detail – it’s like an expert watch maker. It’s more than just making everyone’s job more efficient. There’s a real beauty in that.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Oh man, probably everything! It seems like every day we were making mistakes and putting out fires. That’s what happens when you try to launch such an ambitious business in a brand new setting.

When we were first launching, we had the idea that we would focus on transcription work and phone support. These are high value services and Zambia, with its English based population, seemed like a reasonable fit. But when we started our first projects we realized these were far too advanced for us to handle, even with our best employees. For instance, our guys had a very slow typing speed because Zambians don’t get enough exposure on computers.

After our first 6 months, we had to do a big pivot and reconsider our service portfolio. We refocused on what we call medium-skilled tasks – things like lead generation research, media moderation, data entry, and shipping processing. Even still, when we were taking on these new projects, our guys were making what seemed like rudimentary mistakes. So we had to develop a training program that started from the ground up, down to the basics of using the internet and effectively doing research.

That first year we played a lot of catch up to get our team properly prepared for what we were asking of them. This was an intensive process to develop the curriculum on the spot, which was made even more difficult because we were already up and running and had to manage our normal day to day. In retrospect, we could have been better prepared to understand the talent we were bringing in and what we needed to do to close the skills gap.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I’m constantly learning, especially on topics that have nothing to do with my work or background. As the CEO, it’s incredibly important to see things from multiple perspectives. Recently I’ve been rereading my old high school textbooks on U.S. and European history. When I was in school, this stuff just seemed like useless facts, but now that I’ve actually traveled and lived in Europe and Asia and Africa, it’s amazing to understand the foundations of these cultures and underlying forces of society. You start realizing that our current situations, movements, problems, and ideologies are a result of phenomenal changes over time.

I especially love these ‘artisan videos’ on the internet of experts working on their craft. It’s mesmerizing and gives you so much appreciation for how they see the world. Often times, we silo ourselves with our peers, like in shared office spaces, and forget how much more there is to the world.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

The most difficult question I’ve ever asked my employees is, “What do you want this company to be?” This is a deeply unnerving question. At the heart of it is the notion that you are giving up control to the vision that is so personally meaningful to you. But you have to give ownership to the employees, particularly in our case as a social enterprise. When our employees came back to us, they offered an even richer vision that my own, approaching the challenge from different perspectives and attempting to accomplish more than I had even considered. Letting go on my proprietary control proved why we accomplish more together and why employee participation is the key to sustainability for businesses.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

There’s so much activity happening around startups and tech, and as head of our company I often compare myself to others in the news. There are so many stellar stories every day about young, ambitious, super talented leaders who are building the greatest companies ever and you can’t help feeling inferior. This is my first time being a CEO. When we were first starting, I had no idea how it was possible to create a successful business like theirs and have anyone care. As we started picking up new clients and getting more attention, it felt like I was pulling back the curtain. I realized how informally a lot of things work and even the superstars deal with the same issues as us.

When I’m feeling down about myself, I try to remember the quote, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Just one? I’ve got a hundred! What many developing countries are lacking is quality goods and services for the rising middle class. Africa already has the youngest population in the world and will have the fastest growing economy in the next 5 years. The problem is the market is flooded with cheap, low quality goods, particularly from China, and the education system isn’t training the workforce to meet the growing demand of services. Pretty much look at any business that we take for granted in the West – plumber, car mechanic, real estate broker, hardware store, movie theater, late night convenience store – and it’s probably still lacking in developing countries. These aren’t sexy, cutting edge ideas; they’re basic, staple businesses that provide for our daily needs. Best of all, they’re stable, tried and true industries that are in growing demand.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I have two. I was in London for a few weeks, and spent $75 on a one month membership to a rock climbing gym. I really loathe exercising, but I’ve recently been getting into rock climbing – it’s like a playground for adults and there’s this problem solving aspect to it. You spend loads of time trying to make it through a route and you don’t even realize how great a workout you’re getting. Really works you mentally and physically. Plus you meet great people who are helping each other out. It’s a really social sport.

I also bought a used piano keyboard for $75. I’ve been playing music since I was 7 years old, mostly guitar and saxophone, and I never really learned piano. It gives me a new hobby to learn and is a nice break when I need it to switch off my brain from work.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I’m all about simplicity, so I barely use any tools beyond the basics. My phone has the bare minimum of apps, and I’ll delete something if I find I have no need for it.

Keeping lists is absolutely essential for me to stay organized. We keep a list of internal tasks inInsightly, which I’ve found to be the simplest CRM platform. I have Rainmeter installed on my Windows computer, which runs beautiful desktop widgets. I use that to keep a very clean to-do list on my desktop. Also, I have my daily errands list on my phone using just the native phone notes app – nothing special. I’m constantly reviewing and revising those lists, otherwise I’d never be able to keep track of my day.

I also love Pushbullet. This allows sending content between my devices, and I find it much easier than different sync options between applications.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Working Poor by David Shipler (and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich). Everyone should read this. It’s such a powerful account of the realities of the lower class today and how inequality has put them into a harrowing position. We have millions of people struggling to get by and provide just the basic needs for their families, and they haven’t received the dignity they deserve. I’ve seen some terrible social conditions in places like India and Africa, but we forget life for many isn’t that different here at home. These are good people who are doing the best they can, but often it’s not enough due to factors outside their control. If we can lend them that voice and empathize with their situation, we can realize how we’re all collectively responsible for shaping our reality.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

My background is in economics and finance and I really like NakedCapitalism.com, by Susan Webber. She does a great job chronicling socioeconomic events and the daily links post is fantastic. I also enjoy James Altucher’s blog. He provides some really good no-nonsense advice from his life lessons, even if it is a bit snarky.

I love listening to Intelligence Squared, particularly how John Donvan moderates the U.S. debates. There’s a great interview with him on Slate’s Working podcast and it’s astounding how well he handles these incredibly complex discussions. He makes a great point how important it is to be as prepared as the debaters and actively listen to both sides throughout the event. I think we can all learn from his skill.

I also get a daily email newsletter called ‘Now I Know’ by Dan Lewis. Every day he sends out an amazing story of something interesting. He started writing the newsletter as a side hobby and puts in so much effort to make every story fascinating.

Our Managing Director Mukala tells us about his passions and the future of IT sector

Today we talked to Mukala, Managing Director of Impact Enterprises. Read about his passions inside and outside the company and his thoughts on the importance of growing the IT sector in Africa.

How long have you been with Impact Enterprises?

1,5 years

What is your educational background?

I studied Applied computer science and economics in Russia

What do you like about working in Impact Enterprises?

The projects are very diverse so I’m constantly learning new things. There are lots of challenges every day but there is also a lot of fun. 2 years ago I read an article about outsourcing in India and that idea was very appealing to me. So when I learned that there was an impact sourcing company in Zambia, I immediately knew I wanted to work there.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about IT sector and how it can grow in Zambia and Africa. When I have free time, I help my friends to create their own startups.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I am passionate about working at Impact Enterprises, so I want to stay in the company and help it grow. I dream that one day it will work not only with Western clients but with Zambian companies as well. I want to make the Government pay more attention to IT sector and its importance for the growth of the country. I also want to invest in other IT startups in Africa.

What do you do in your free time?

I like watching TV series, my favorite one is Friends. Oh and write some poetry.