Why Zimbabwean Businesses Need A Social Face

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | iZivisoMag.com

It’s unfortunate that in this day and age most Zimbabwean businesses are still relucntant to embrace the opportunities provided by the digital age. The reluctance to embrace change in the digital era only means that local businesses will continue to be relegated to the dustbin of history. According to a recent Ernst & Young report, Into the Cloud, Out of the Fog, 64 percent of surveyed business respondents in Zimbabwe have implemented limited or no access to social media sites as a control to mitigate risks related to the platforms. The global average is apparently 54 percent. While on the surface of it, it may appear that social media causes time wasting among employees it is unfortunate to have such a negative approach to its use within business.

Social media integration into business can indeed contribute to the bottomline if implemented properly – if anything, it can help business to stay in touch with their target audiences and customers. Executives must embrace new media in order to not only compete for the future, but for mind share, market share, and ultimately relevance.

Corporate entities in Zimbabwe need to recognise that social media is a goldmine that can facilitate the achievement of key business objectives. With over a billion people on social media it’s irresponsible for any brand not to have some sort of presence. Now is the time for brands to engage on a direct-to-many basis. Social media is changing everything about the way people relate socially, in commerce, and politics.

An effective social media strategy is more than just setting up a Twitter, YouTube and Facebook account – in other words, it’s more than just broadcasting advertising messages to accumulated fans. Social channels need to be treated as integral part of the communication process.

In particur, social media channels need to be used to humanize brands and/or businesses. Such channels – if used properly – can help to build stronger emotional connections with brands. The key for any successful social media campaign is to generate more and deeper involvement with the product or service. Social media can give voice, credibility, and connections to both companies an their customers.

For starters, Zimbabwean corporates need to identify great conversations about their brands, it all starts with conversation – the kind of conversations that engage, enthrall and enrapture audiences as well as influence the emotional connection and subsequently sales. Of course, social media is not a cure for bad products or services but it can sure help in eliciting rapid customer feedback.

Social media allows us to open up an invaluable dialogue with customers in a way that was simply not possible previously. It’s important to state that the execution of social media within the corporate set-up needs to prioritise substance over cheap thrills and style. While putting the brand in the middle of a conversation is key, it’s even more critical to be real and authentic.

For corporates, especially those involved in the publishing business, engaging audiences is an essential part of their continued success and relevance in an ever-connected universe. As people continue to turn to the Internet for information, businesses that continue to stick to the old ways of engagement will soon find themselves in the cold.

Connected Agriculture: An Opportunity for Smallholder Farmers

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Smallholder farmers’ lives and livelihoods can potentially be transformed by mobile telephony and wireless technology services such as weather forecasts, agricultural extension services, commodity market information and mobile banking.

Through mobile telephony, new business models can be developed that offer greater opportunities and reduce risks for smallholders and  help to meet the challenge of feeding an estimated 9.2 billion people by 2050.

According a new analysis conducted by Accenture for Vodafone, many farming communities in emerging markets are economically excluded with little or no access to capital or banking services. The report titled, Connected Agriculture, states that smallholder farmers lack the means to trade (beyond basic barter arrangements), borrow to acquire new assets or invest to provide their businesses with sufficient resilience to withstand macro-economic changes.

Against this background, the ubuquitous mobile telephone has potential to help the poorest farmers towards greater food and income security. The greatest potential benefits can be generated by enabling mobile financial payments and mobile information provision, each delivering almost 40% of the total estimated increase in agricultural income, according to the report.

“Mobile networks are now more widely established in emerging markets than traditional fixed networks and have the potential to transform market-led agricultural practices,” said Peter Lacy, Managing Director, Accenture Sustainability Services, Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Given that global population is expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, requiring a 70% increase in food production above 2006 levels, there will be need for increased yields, particulalrly in emerging economies. In remote and rural regions, mobile telephony is expected to play a greater role in improving the productivity and sustainability of agricultaral systems.

According to the report, mobile telecommunications can connect farmers to markets, finance and education, making it possible to monitor resources and track products. This will unlock productivity potential while helping to manage the impacts of increased production, such as increased water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“One third of humanity is fed through an estimated 500 million smallholder farms with less than two hectares of land. In Asia and sub-Saharan Africa the dependence is even higher, where small farms produce about 80% of the food consumed. These holdings are typically managed by families with limited technical and mechanical support and with poor access to finance. It is often difficult for them to make ends meet, let alone grow their business,” says Vittorio Colao, Vodafone Group Chief Executive Officer, in the foreword to the report.

“Looking ahead, the impact of climate change, water scarcity and increasing land scarcity will make this even more difficult. With the world’s population expected to grow by 750 million in 2020, and demand for food to increase by 70% by 2050, it is clear that something has to be done to improve the efficiency of food production and distribution.”

As access to mobile networks becomes increasingly available even in remote rural areas, the mobile phone can be used as a simple, inexpensive and convenient to not only stay in touch with friends and relatives but to also provide access to finance, improved healthcare solutions, supply chain efficiencies and increasingly automated mobility. In other words, mobile communications technology can be used as an enabler of sustainable growth particulalrly among marginalized and underprivileged populations.

“Mobile financial services can fill the banking gap felt by the poorest farmers. With access to savings or insurance services, farmers can reduce the impact of extreme weather events and invest in improving production. Meanwhile, mobile information platforms open up significant additional routes to potential markets, relaying information on prices for inputs and produce sales, as well as information on how to grow and respond to a context of climate change through the dissemination of reliable seasonal weather forecasts,” says Dame Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam in the report. 

ZUSAA Calls for Artists to Promote Tolerance

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – The Zimbabwe-United States Alumni Association (ZUSAA), which brings together Zimbabweans who have either lived, studied or participated in exchange programmes to the US and now resident in Zimbabwe, has called for support of programmes that use arts and culture to promote healing and tolerance in the country.

ZUSAA, which was established in 2009, currently has a membership of over a 1,000 alumni who have skills in different sectors ranging from business, government, non-profit organizations, trade unions, arts and culture among many other professions.

According to the ZUSAA National Coordinator, Michael Mabwe, the organization was formed to ensure that the skills and expertise of Zimbabweans who have been to the US are used for national development.

“We realized that after benefiting from rare experiences abroad, there was a need to continue with some of the concepts learned while in the US. Hence, the need for a platform which brings these leaders together and use their collective effort to give back to the various sectors in Zimbabwe,” said Mabwe, who is also a beneficiary of the US’s International Visitors’ Program on Promoting Tolerance through the Arts.

Mabwe, who is also a renowned human rights poet, said that artists have a big role to play in the national life of Zimbabwe.

“We want to see artists engaging more with the national question, particularly around promoting healing because as artists, they’re soul of the nation. With their art work – if done above political lines – artists can play a major role in diffusing tension that is currently being experienced locally. We want artists to be ambassadors of peace who in their collective effort can help spearhead an effective peace campaign,” he said.

Mabwe added that it is important for artists in the country to collaborate with the Organ on National Healing as well as the Church and Civil Society Forum to promote national healing.

“If the country is bleeding, there can be no development that can take place. Therefore, it means that we cannot improve the lives and livelihoods of our people. Political parties must put the needs of the general populace first before their narrow political ends,” said Mabwe.

“People limit the idea of national healing to political violence yet there are a number of sectors in our society that need  healing, apart from politics. From our industry, our education sector, our tourism, our politics among others, there is a need for healing to take place so that Zimbabwe can reclaim its status as a peaceful, and progressive country amongst the global family,” he said.

Mabwe said that ZUSAA will continue to contribute to different national processes by utilizing the broad skills base within its membership.

Stand-Up Comic Takes Zim Laughter to the World

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – IT’s not often that Zimbabwe is associated with laughter especially in light of the country’s decade-long political and socio-economic demise.

But stand-up comic, Carl Joshua Ncube, is set on a pioneering path to prove that Zimbabweans still value  good ole laughter and can get the rest of the world to laugh too. Ncube is currently embarking on a worldwide tour that will take him to different parts of the world. He said that he was embarking on the world tour in order to export Zimbabwean culture to the rest of the world as well as engage in cultural exchange and reposition the image of the country in the world consciousness.

Some of the cities that Ncube will take his comedy performance to include Lusaka, Blantyre, Nairobi, Kampala, Lagos, London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Amsterdam, New York, Texas, Los Angeles, Brisbane, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Durban and Johannesburg.

“I want to leave a cave painting in each city that I will visit which will show that there was one day that a comedian from a small country called Zimbabwe that made the world laugh,” he said.

Ncube’s repertoire of comedy consists of one-line jokes, anecdotes, punchlines, satire and off-the-cuff statements that are backed by sleek, high-tech presentations and hilarious commentary.

Already, his efforts have garnered world attention: Ncube made history recently by becoming the first Zimbabwean stand-up comic to be featured on CNN’s African Voices programming where he outlined why he is embarking on a journey to spread laughing gas round the globe.

“It was unreal – I expected CNN to be a huge monster but the crew was very gracious. They didn’t know much about the cultural vibe and revolution taking place in Zimbabwe,”  Ncube said of his appearance on the global television station.

Ncube said that the aim of his comedic act it to portray a Zimbabwe that is remove from the often repeated negative portrayal in the international media.

“For a long time, politics has been like a fashion trend in Zimbabwe, but as citizens we’ve our own part to play in influencing a new conversation. I am interested in proving that a comedian can be funny outside the realm of politics. We want to hear about hope and laughter – there’s so much more to Zimbabwe,” he said.

The stand-up comic revealed that part of what he is doing is to re-imagine and reshape the Zimbabwean identity which has undergone serious bashing over the past decade.

“If the arts simply focus on the politics then we’re doing ourselves a great disservice. We need to focus on things about love, hope and other things outside politics. I’m trying to paint a picture of Zimbabwe that our citizens can be proud of,” said Ncube.

He added that the paradigm shift taking place in Zimbabwe provided him with inspiration to craft his acts aimed at influencing the global culture.

“There’s a shift in thinking happening in Zimbabwe – there’s a new type of land reform taking place, albeit, in people’s minds. As a Zimbabwean, my aim is to contribute to the global culture so that if earth is destroyed today, there will be evidence of Zimbabwe in the global culture. “I want to take Zimbabwean culture to the world and occupy a place in the consciousness of the universe through laughter,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s Newspapers Shortchange Readers

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

SINCE June last year, Zimbabwe’s print media sector has experienced significant growth but how much of this growth is benefiting citizens’ right to information remains in doubt. Among the independently-owned daily newspapers registered and operating since 2010 up to date include: NewsDay, Daily News and The Mail. This bring to seven daily newspapers published in Zimbabwe including the two state-owned dailies, The Herald and The Chronicle and tabloids H-Metro and B-Metro.

Add to this a batch of weeklies including The Sunday Mail, The Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard, The ZimbabweanThe Worker, The Zimbabwean on Sunday, The Financial Gazette, The Manica Post and The Patriot among others.

In fact, according to media analysts, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), a government body responsible for media registrations, licensed a total of 22 publications but it’s telling that no broadcasting license has been issued as the same time.

However, the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation remains the sole broadcaster in the country and its coverage is largely in favour of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.  There is also a flurry of South African-based newspapers that are encroaching into the Zimbabwean market including The Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian and Business Day. At the same time, several Zimbabwe-focused online newspapers have emerged during the past ten years. Examples of online news platform include http://www.NewZimbabwe.com, http://www.ZimDaily.com; http://www.ZimEye.org; http://www.ZimOnline.co.za; http://www.ZWnews.com among others.

“The arrival of new players is refreshing but whether they are contributing to the public sphere is another matter. However, there’s an opportunity for more voices and opinions to be heard, but whether this is happening is another issue altogether,” said Eernest Mudzengi, Executive Direction at the Media Centre in Zimbabwe.

Suffice to state that while there’s a semblance of diversity in the print media sector, a critical analysis shows that the newspapers are not really serving the information needs of audiences. The coverage of issues in the newspapers is highly predictable.

“It has become very easy to predict what appears in most newspapers without reading the whole paper – save for sports pages, which actually give the best coverage despite the fact that most disciplines are not widely covered,” said Leonard Kari, an avid newspaper reader.

“On the first page of most of our newspapers we have not seen much diversity in terms of coverage. It largely more of the same. We need from the new papers a preferring of alternatives from the same-old polarised politics,” said Mudzengi, adding that much of the reportage in the local newspapers lacked exuberance and vibrancy. “There is a continuation of polarisation in the media. We need more media debate around political issues and key processes such as constitution-making in the country. We need more in terms of analysis because some of the stories especially on the first pages are predictable.”

Mudzengi said that it was not enough to only license newspapers because the most effective medium to reaching out to Zimbabweans was radio. He cautioned that the registration of the newspapers could be a cosmetic reform, and that the newspapers had to be vigilant in their coverage of issues.

Most of the newspapers merely mirror the polarized nature of Zimbabwe’s political arena which is dominated by ZANU PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at the expense of telling compelling stories that are of relevance to the lives and livelihoods of Zimbabweans.

Government-owned papers have exploited their hitherto dominance on the market to act as cheerleaders for Mugabe, 87, and to denigrate Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, according to a report on Zimbabwe’s new print media in the Global Post. On the other hand, the independently-owned media have a coverage stance to criticize President Mugabe and ZANU PF.

Further, experts and sources quoted in the newspapers are quite predictable. It appears that the newspapers lack ambition to expand the circle of the so-called experts that comment on issues of national relevance.

To make matters worse, the distribution of newspaper products in Zimbabwe is largely urban-centric. The majority of the population – approximately 70 percent of the population – are effectively left out. According to Dr. Ibbo Mandaza, a former newspaper publisher, 80 percent of the newspaper sales take place in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city. It is not surprising that the voices of rural folk are marginalized in newspaper reports. To state it bluntly, the rural folk are a missing voice in the new print media in Zimbabwe. One hardly gets to hear what is happening in Zimbabwe’s rural areas in the new print media.

Mandaza noted that the cost of many of the newspapers which range form US fifty cents to two dollar were still beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans. While there is batch of newspapers now the Zimbabwean market, advertising – the mainstay of newspapers – is very low in most of the publications raising questions about the sustainability of the enterprises.

“The arrival of new newspapers was long overdue but its too early to tell whether the papers will proffer and alternative and whether they will be financially viable. What is happening in Zimbabwe is not new – it happened in Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania but it’s to early to tell,” said Mandaza. “It’s hard to believe that many of the newspapers will survive beyond a year. The newspaper are limited in terms of reach and spread. The print media is limited in terms of its impact nationally.”

Mandaza said that there was a failure by the new print media to understand the reader. He added that in terms of technical capacity, the government-owned newspapers were far stronger that the new newspapers.

According to Kari, many voices are being left out in the national conversation.

“Many voices are left out in the national political dialogue and many voices have been silenced and have died a silent death. There are very few development stories which one can glean from our publications. Headlines are obsessed with politics yet very few people are benefitting from this kind of news coverage,” said Kari.

Kari suggested that local newspapers should revisit their mandate which is to inform, educate and entertain while ensuring a plurality of voices and a diversity of issues covered in order to influence a new conversation in the country.

How to Communicate In A Crowded Universe

IMAGINE how many unwanted messages you receive in your inbox each day; messages that you simply trash away without bothering to check. Yet some person at the other end of the chain is pampering themselves that they have done their job to communicate whatever it is they have at hand, so to speak. Is the golden age promised by the Internet for communicators over? Continue reading

The Great Vasectomy Fear

For most men, the idea of vasectomy, a surgical procedure to cut and close off the tubes that deliver sperm from the testicles, is a complete no-can-do associated with being sexually dysfunctional in the male psyche.

According to the latest issue of Population Reports, titled “Vasectomy: Reaching Out to New Users,” published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, vasectomy is simpler and more cost effective than female sterilization and offers men a way to share responsibility for family planning.

“The most entrenched and powerful rumors concern manhood, masculinity, and sexual performance. Many men confuse vasectomy with castration and fear, incorrectly, that vasectomy will make them impotent,” says the report.  But in fact, “Castration involves removal of the testicles. In contrast, vasectomy leaves the testicles intact, and they continue to produce male hormones.”

The procedure which typically takes from 15-30 minutes and usually causes few complications and no change in sexual function is one of the most reliable forms of contraception. Though it does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections or HIV, for couples it is a way for men to be directly involved in family planning. Family planning has been largely seen as the responsibility of women but vasectomies allow men to play a part.

The report states that the largest number of vasectomized men are in China, where almost 7% of women in relationships — or more than 17 million couples — rely on vasectomy for birth control. Continue reading