I was born in Zambia, Africa in a small mission hospital, located deep in the bush surrounded by villages. My dad was raised in Zambia, but made his way over to Ontario to complete his post secondary education, where he met my mom. They decided to travel back to his home country and voila, I was born. Their marriage couldn’t survive the bush life, my mom being a metropolitan woman who didn’t subscribe to pre-freezing 50 chickens every month and staying home in the middle of nowhere while my dad went off on his adventures. So shortly after I was born, she brought me back to Canada.
At the age of 10, I started to make yearly pilgrimages back to Zambia to visit my dad for two months each summer. It was here that my ten year old world began to flip on its side as I learned about the importance of community in a way I never would have if I hadn’t strayed from the western world...
My dad owns a company that exports organic, unpasteurized, non-GMO honey across the world. The honey is extracted in a 500-year old method, with no pesticides or chemicals. Fires of twigs and leaves are used to ward off the bees and the honey is gravity-filtered to ensure the healthy components are kept intact (unlike the high-heat method used by the majority of Canadian honey processing plants).
My dad created his company solely to provide jobs to an area that otherwise had no way for villagers to make money and feed their families. He now employs 7,000 beekeepers and provides free reading, writing, and math training to the beekeepers and their families.
I helped with office duties and created an entire company culture plan. I assisted a marketing rep and accompanied her to Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa to understand how the company could better support the wholesalers. I was a field worker and at one point I lived in a village for a week, documenting by photo, video, and interviews the life of the beekeepers and their families, and the entire process of how honey moves from hive to table.
Through these experiences, I learned that you are nothing without your community. You cannot make it on your own and thrive. The western world seems to look at developing countries and think that they are less, that they have a long way to go to meet us at the level that we’re at and though this may be true with many issues like equality, child marriages/forced marriages, minimum wage and corruption, our western world actually lacks many of the fundamental building blocks to happiness.
Think about it, we are connected more than ever through social media, but the majority of our society feels depressed, isolated, and unmotivated. We feel unsupported, living our lives to work to pay the bills, to put food on the table. And after a long day of working where people most likely don't show much interest in your life, you get back home, veg in front of your TV while you eat, head to bed, and do it all over again.
Pretty isolating isn’t it?
In Zambia - in the majority of the developing countries in the world actually - community is the main thing that people have. No, scratch that - it’s the only thing they have to lean on in difficult times. You help build your network, you support them, you nurture them. They are you and you are them. When you thrive, your community can’t help but absorb some of that success. You’ve heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” countless times but do you stop to think about its substance? A child is not meant to be raised in isolation, with just Mom and Dad. The village is in charge of helping Mom and Dad shape that child into a well rounded human.
Each member of the village contributes their values and beliefs to the child, to create a being that isn’t jaded and set up to live in only one mould. Instead, the individual is to be flexible and flowing, to incorporate all sides of the village. All of the community contained in one person. It’s an amazing guide to live by. In Zambia, if a family member of an employee passes away, it is the business owner’s legal responsibility to cover the costs of the funeral, including a wooden casket, food, and transportation to and from the service. Businesses are required to either provide lunch to their staff or give them money to purchase food every day, and women are given paid leave on the days that they are menstruating if they are in too much pain.
My dad’s company also offers full coverage for HIV/AIDS medication, interest free loans, coverage for much needed surgeries (there is no insurance), coverage for any kind of mental health medication. He covers costs for schooling and additional courses that benefit his workers. He actually paid the whole tuition amount for his General Manager’s degree in business. He invites his employees to come in at any time to talk about their professional and personal lives. He takes the time to get to know his employees, what their dreams and fears are, what they have to face everyday in their home lives, all of which lets him see who is helping him to run his company. There is a ridiculous amount of trust that he has to give his employees because laws, rules, and guidelines are not well developed. A lot of things can go wrong and he has to rely on people and believe that they are going to be honest about handling company money, products, and machinery.
My dad chose to create this company in order to make Zambia a better, stronger country. He grew up in the villages, he is a Zambian, this is his home, he feels it in his core and what he wants more than anything - more than money, more than the spotlight - is for the livelihood of his community to be stable. Because he is genuine in this, his employees, his community works as hard as possible for him. They stay true, they stay honest, and they stay positive, qualities which are rare commodities in employees in any country. Now, I understand that there is a difference between his world and this one but my father has tapped into something: that employers can’t treat their ecosystem as a pyramid. It’s a circle. You are nothing without your employees and they are nothing without you.
More employers need to see their community as a circle, as a way of making both their dreams and their employees’ dreams come true. You, dear employer, are an equal. No matter how many millions you have in your account. No matter how many years you are a senior. No matter how many countries you have visited. No matter how many influential people you have in your little black book. It’s a simple equation: if you treat people well, they will hold you in their best interest.
So whether you’re in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, anywhere - if you want to succeed in anything you do, you need to rely on your village.