Are we as Malawians too short-termistic and lacking in vision?
Many of us have been brought up to believe that the only or main reason anyone would pursue something is because it makes money. Not only should that thing make money, it needs to make money from day one.
If you tell your friends about a project you’re working on one of the very first questions you’re guaranteed to receive is, "So, how does that make money?" or "How much money are you making?" That is all people want to know.
Yet, if we look at the development of Western nations we see that a great part of their success can be attributed to people that pursued non-monetary passions. People like Einstein, Mendeleev, Newton and other scientists weren't hoping to make money, they enjoyed science and achieving scientific results was adequate compensation for them.
Even today there are a cornucopia of people in the West who will tell you they are not that interested in money they are only interested in whatever their passion is and if it produces money, great; if not, it's not a problem.
As a whole, we Malawians seem to only value education to the extent that it increases our income, beyond that, there is little intrinsic interest in the education itself. This is probably what will keep us poor.
"If it don't make money, it don't make sense," so the African American rap song goes – this line explains many people’s sentiments to the letter.
If you hear someone is furthering their education in some way you want to know how much more they will be paid with that extra piece of paper.
Perhaps this is a natural corollary of us being so poor for so long. We’ve been one of the ten poorest countries in the world for the longest time. Our mortality rate has also been very high, especially when death from AIDS was so rampant. Living for today could naturally result from those circumstances.
However, today, life expectancies are improving and knowledge is so easily available. So many young people are becoming something with nothing; for instance, our very own William Kamkwamba was a laughing stock when he was trying to create energy from wind power but look at him today – he’s spoken at the TED conference and his story has been widely read and told on international TV. Could he have envisioned that his interest in creating wind power would take him so far, never!
For many people there's a multi-year lag before their passion leads to a business. Yet others continue to pursue a hobby that will never make money but they enjoy it anyway.
A good number of us now have access to a cornucopia of information via the internet but for the most part we aren’t taking advantage of it; we’re still not seeing people forming clubs and societies to pursue a common interest.
People seem to get married, have kids, go to work and have no productive pursuits outside of that. Our men go to bars to watch sports and have a drink; the women go to weddings, baby showers and bridal showers.
If this is how we live our lives what hope does Malawi have? We can complain about the Malawian economy as much as we like but change starts from the individual. Do you represent the change you want to see in Malawi?
If you want to do something but fear you’ll be embarrassed if it fails, don’t be – just go for it.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
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For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.