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Strathclyde Business School

Business growth and culture shock in Zambia

By Elizabeth Irvine - Posted on 14 August 2015

Elizabeth Irvine, a business and enterprise management student at Strathclyde Business School, shares her experience of interning in Zambia as part of the Saltire Scholar programme.

I was determined to do something different this summer.  This was my initial inspiration for becoming a Saltire Scholar.  However, I had no idea I would experience something quite so out of the ordinary…

I applied to The Saltire Foundation because of its reputation for providing internships at some of the world’s most successful organisations. The Foundation selects a number of students to represent Scotland’s ‘best and brightest’, in an attempt to shape the nation’s future generation of global leaders.

I am interning in the capital city of Zambia, Lusaka, and it’s safe to say I’ve never visited anywhere like it.  You would think after a lengthy selection process you’d be prepared for what’s to come…this definitely isn’t the case.

ICS (International Citizen Service) Entrepreneur is a UK government funded programme, which aims to alleviate poverty in some of the world’s poorest areas by supporting small businesses and budding entrepreneurs. There are 20 of us working together in Lusaka: ten Zambians and nine fellow international students. Each international has been paired with a Zambian student to share knowledge and experience with the businesses the programme has assigned us to.  Our role is to boost their efficiency in three key areas; business operations, financial management and sales and marketing.

Today marks my first full week in Lusaka and I can already tell I’m in for the experience of a lifetime.  With regards to the business side of things, my initial expectations were low. I was prepared for reluctance, inefficiencies and poor timekeeping – all of which we had been told to be wary of. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

My placement ‘Prognet Ltd’ is located right in the centre of Lusaka’s Central Business District. My boss is very open and seems really pleased that we are there to help his business grow.  The CEO, Musonda, is very passionate about his company and this really encouraged me to feel the same.  The company culture made me reflect on the characteristics of a Saltire Scholar: determined, passionate, hard-working and open to new experiences in order to develop. The business has welcomed me with open arms.

Now onto my experience of Zambian life so far. I was unprepared for the culture shock. The Zambians seem surprised to see a white person walking down the street and the amount of attention I get can be intimidating at times.  Transport is another story.  Minibuses, the most common mode of transport, are to put it bluntly, terrifying.  I can only describe them as cars made for eight people maximum, with at least 20 squeezed on!

I’m starting to notice the daily challenges of life in Zambia and that I take quite a lot of things for granted at home.  Water, usually considered a necessity, only runs in the morning here - by 10am it’s gone.  As a result, it has to be collected, stored, and boiled if being used for drinking.  Electricity is another commodity I’ve always taken for granted. Power is very temperamental in the city and is usually out for several hours a day.  When this happens, charcoal stoves outside the house are used to cook dinner and heat up water and daily life just goes on.  It’s amazing how something so insignificant to one person is incredibly inspiring to another.

The experience thus far has already taught me so much about myself and it’s only going to get better.  It’s safe to say I’m definitely living up to my dream of doing something different this summer.

The Saltire Scholar programme is open to penultimate students at Scottish universities.  If you would like to apply click here.

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