IMG_3514I’m about to buy a bicycle from Bee Bikes, a ‘Not for Profit’ social enterprise with UK connections. I will probably buy their  top-of-the-range refurbished ex.UK Royal Mail bike with a three speed hub gear set and rear pannier. I thought about the one with the front basket, but there are limits!

Business ventures in Blantyre are probably typical for much of the continent. There are the large multi-nationals, often South African such as the big supermarkets, a range of smaller but still relatively formal shops and businesses that are dominated by Asians, and then the ultra-small businesses often relying on micro-finance. The ‘social enterprise’ sector is a further addition to the mix, often supported by charities and the formal NGO sector. Concern Universal has a fuel efficient stove project where interested villagers learn how to make the stoves, and subsequently sell them to their friends and neighbours. The project is also linked to a UK organisation that is claiming carbon credits for the carbon efficiencies that someone using one of these stoves provides.

I find it curious how Africans are often dismissed as not having a business sense, yet all around there are examples of entrepreneurialism that belies this perception as a myth. Almost all my colleagues have small side ventures such as tailoring, selling beans and rice or running some form of repair business. Every lunch time a lady comes to the office with meals she made the night before. It is her own business, and she supplies 4 offices.


The statistics are that 50% of small businesses in Australia fail in their first year, 95% within ten years. Through micro-loans such as run by CUMO the statistics are that only 3% of these micro-businesses fail, a statistic that makes some in the developed world look to seek their secret to success.

Entrepreneurialism is a form of action learning, demanding reflective practice. By combining it with a desire for social harmony, perhaps it is a good foundation for the future. In an essay I wrote a few years ago (Joining the dots. Linkages between Sustainable cities, Action Research, Complexity and an emerging role for Technical Professionals) I suggest that we need more people to become proficient entrepreneurs (capable of good Abstract Rational Thinking) before we can seriously think at a systems level.


Developing a Learning Culture

“Culture” has many meanings, a definition that I like is; ‘The way we do things around here’ and I wonder if developing a ‘learning culture’  in an organisation is any different to any other form of ‘cultural change’ effort. The expectation is that someone else will do things differently to how they are doing it now.

developing a learning cultureMy first steps to promote a learning culture through participatory development or PAR principles has been to generate discussion by asking CU staff (as they passed by) to map the various CU projects against a matrix of three outcomes – good health; sustainable environment; economic development. This process also identified the key other organisations operating in similar areas (cards in blue).

The result seems to indicate that there is a strong emphasis on projects and ‘key reporting areas’ towards ‘good health’. Something else the activity opened up was the considerable overlap of many activities in what are nominally different projects. The matrix on the top right is the start of mapping the time and resources by each of the thirteen major projects according to activities carried out. These activities include:

  • Conservation agriculture
  • Tree planting
  • Environmental, HIV, Gender & Rights training and awareness activities
  • Training entrepreneurs (stoves, sugar, latrines)
  • Construction and rehabilitation of boreholes.

Interestingly an item in the 2012 CU Impact study found that:  ‘Most important for people’s well being were: food security, harmonious relationships, health and housing. Money was considered less significant by most people’. I hope that group facilitation and PAR activities will help enable change whilst also meeting the Malawian cultural desire for ‘harmonious relationships’.

Home Sweet Home



The ‘hood.

No.s 1 & 2 vacant

#3: Esadu: from Ethiopia working for World Vision, it is not a family posting. He has mentioned that he is lonely and would like to chat. Haven’t managed that yet.

#4 Us:  Debs and Helen will be arriving next week.

#5 : A family from South Korea. I have not met them yet as they are on leave, returning in a few days

#6 George: from the Cameroons, CEO of a bank. His wife sometimes visits, but according to his house boy she has a good job back in the Cameroons.

#7 CEO of MTN, one of the largest telecom companies in Malawi. I think he lives there on his own, but he does have his own 24hr guard at his house. I haven’t met him yet.

#8 Andrew: From Ghana. He is the Manager of the ECO bank in town. He is here with wife  Elizabeth and their small daughter. They also have a house girl who I think lives in the house with them.  She cleans the cars almost every other day.

#9 A lady from South Africa. I’m not sure why she is here.

#10 Vacant

I still find the security issue hard to understand, if it ever can be understood. We have a high wall topped with four strands of electric fence all around the compound, guard (and friends) on the front gate and grills on all the windows, and deadlocks on every (including interior) door. A lot don’t work properly. The AVI security advisors suggest locking the doors etc. constantly. However just over the other side of the gully is a very similar development (with green roofs) with no guards on the front gate (which is permanently open) and not much of a wall around it. The AVI security people also say that if you do get robbed, it will be the guards who have done it.

Another paradox is that (apart from road deaths – 3000/yr) the most dangerous aspect of living in Malawi is malaria. But there are no insect screens on any windows.