Four Lessons from Kenya

 

My recent business trip to Nairobi was my first time in Kenya, and my reflections on the time are contained below.

1. Gratitude: I live in South Africa, and we do not shy away from complaining when our sports teams lose or our municipalities get things wrong – perhaps rightly so. It is good, though, to be reminded that we have much to be grateful for. I think, in particular, of  Joburg traffic. Yes, I have complained about the hour it might take to travel the 11km to Sandton, or the 90 minutes to reach ORTI airport at times. Having experienced Nairobi traffic, however, we are blessed! Locals recounted being in traffic for 5 hours from the airport to town – which is approximately 16km! A 2-hour trip in rush hour is considered normal, and the 6 km from town to a conference venue can take…you guessed it, 90 minutes. By the way, there are at least three rush hours a day, and LA has four! So, the next time I am impatient, please just remind me of Nairobi.

2. Awe: I am constantly reminded of  the resilience of the human spirit. In spite of considerable obstacles, we are able to bounce back, and learn from hardship. Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Nairobi, and I was taken aback by the scores of home/stores along Ngong Road. We tend to be hungry for employment in South Africa – perhaps our parents thought that this was the best way to be successful, as it was in their era. In reality, we need more more people to be creative. I am in the services industry, true, but I use physical products – some that I need and others that I just like – every day.

I saw every type of metalwork and woodwork, from beds and embellished gates to cupboards and couches, as well as food stalls, curios – near life-size giraffes prominent – and lawnmower services. All at the roadside, and all optimised for easy weekend shopping, in particular. Is it any wonder that there is less tangible poverty in Kenya? I would love to see more skilled craftsmen and craftswomen in South Africa, plying their trade, as opposed to hundreds challenging each other for three positions at Company X.

3. Diversity: How different,  and yet how similar, we are. Whilst our cultures, traditions and skin hues may differ, the love for family and the desire to learn and find meaning persists wherever I go. Our languages are diverse, yet love and encouragement resonate globally.

4. Security: I have long been troubled by our “blindspot-tainted” view of security in South Africa. As mentioned, I can sign in as a new celebrity each day at most organisations.  We hire the least-educated (i.e. cheapest) people possible to occupy the critical first touch-point of customer interaction! Many books in which . The Willows Estate has some of the best security, due to fingerprint scanners that affirm ID number and thus identity, but it is infuriating. Exactly because of cost-reduction: there are never sufficient machines or guards to service the many guests who are waiting to be interrogated. This is systemic, and easy to resolve. I saw good levels of security at my hotel in Nairobi: a boomed-off area where each vehicle entering must stop and be searched for explosives. (One of our clients in Johannesburg has something like this…on one side of their building. The other side welcomed me as Madonna recently).  Secondly, there was an airport-style metal detector for guests to clear before entering the lobby. And the elevators had a key-card slot, granting only legitimate entrants access to the residential floors. Of course, one could simply have used the steps…which is as easily overlooked as the issuing of metal cutlery to business-class “travellers” and plastic cutlery to the economy-class “criminals”.  Why have we not seen more “mystery-shopping” on security?

There is much to be learned from those around us, if we are willing to engage, and to challenge ourselves in the fine detail of our thinking.

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