My name is Angelo Leone and I’m a student of Management at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan. This year I’ve decided to do an internship in Kampala (Uganda) and here’s my experience.
Three months. 92 days. It’s a strange time: no too long no too short. Just the time to leave your habitual comfort zone to move in another one, that you have to go out of it again and you soon realize that you can’t get back to the one you were at the beginning (the comfort zones have the propriety to disappear and change completely when you leave them). When we speak about comfort zones, we are not talking about comfort rooms. The comfort zones are not only physical places: the bar, the habitual gym, the pub where you are used to drink the same beer. The comfort zone is something simple and undefined, it’s your status quo, your way of living your here and now.
Your here and now
Let’s start with here. My here is accustomed to change: Lecce, Florence, Rome, Milan, Palestine, Uganda… all in less then 10 years. And if I tell you that the here throws you out from the comfort zone, you have to trust me. You move in new places, you meet new travel companions thus you change your habits and, believe me, adaptation is a long process.
Let’s continue with now. Changing cities in Italy is not so different, we almost live the same situation. The time is the same, maybe what changes is the speed at which you live it.
What does this has to do with Africa? Getting to Africa changes both your Here and your Now. If life was a video game, at my landing in Uganda it would have appeared on my screen the word: COMBO. And if you don’t hurry, if you don’t put all of your efforts in understanding what is happening around you, KO FATALITY would be very likely to appear.
How the here changes.
You are in a different Country, you know no one and you know that your new colleagues are waiting for you, but you have never seen them or talked to them before. Basically, what remains of your Here is only you and your luggage.
You don’t live in a flat anymore, but in a guesthouse, your room mates change each week and at supermarket you don’t find what you are used to see and buy. If you want to go out for a drink, you haven’t various shortlists, if you need to move through the city you cannot use the metro green line o red line, or bus line 90 or 91, but you can choose between Matatu or Boda Boda.
While you were used to spend your time with university and football colleagues, now, in the new country, you have to relate with managers and entrepreneurs. And even though your work accuracy and reliability don’t change, you are forced to change your problem solving attitude: because the real problems are not written on your copybook where the solution in yet to come, but they can have a positive or negative impact on a business project in which you are putting all your efforts.
How the now changes.
In the era of the internet the first thing that throws you in another era is the connection speed or the lack of connection. In Kampala you can forget about watching movies in streaming at night or sending emails from your office without problem. In Uganda the price of a good connection is very high and not everyone can afford it. Moreover the connection disappears every time it rains and have you ever heard about the rainy season? You got it! If there are elections… well, you can forget about the internet for weeks.
But what if your company has to order features or needs important files? You take a car and reach what you need. There are streets and roadways of course, but crossing the city is complicated and you need long time because of the traffic jam and the bad conditions of the streets.
A new comfort zone
After the first impact, you understand that it is time to accept the new perspective and after short time what was “strange” becomes “normal”. You start to create a new comfort zone and your eyes, day by day, become less European and more African. The advantage is that you can compare the two worlds, find the difference and admire strengths and weaknesses of this new one that is becoming a bit yours. You realize that the globalization has reached also this Country and that everything is changing also here: the old values are disappearing, the traditional habits are moving out to let space to the social networks, to the US pop music (guys, Justin Bieber stalked me even in Kampala!), to the jeans and t-shirt with the global brands.
But if you are a good observer you soon understand that there is something very different. If the globalization needs short time to uniform the style, the fashion and the way to buy, it isn’t able to change the mindset of people at the same speed. Because it’ s impossible to move out of the secular culture in short time. It’s like they are living at two different speeds: tradition and innovation; two opposing forces which can blast or work like an engine. It depends on how they are mixed together and how they work together… it’s an equilibrium matter.
Yes, but which equilibrium?
I think that the balance between technological innovation, customer standardization and respect of cultural differences is the most important issue of our times.
To be or not to be. Where “to be” means being standardized and equal to the rest of the world and the “Not to be” means becoming a ghost because different and not standardized? What is the equilibrium and how to find it?
I don’t have the answer. But I think the first step could be going out from the comfort zone and stop thinking that our way of living, working and buying is the best one, or worse, believing that we have the right to export our modus vivendi.
I remember a story I’ve heard during a typical dance show in Kampala. Maybe it is a legend, but behind a legend, there is always something true…
The president of IMF visited Uganda and after the formal meeting, the President of Uganda and his staff decided to bring him to Gabs Beach, just to show him the beauties of Uganda: its lake, its resorts… Gabs Beach is inhabited by fisherman. The president of IMF started walking and admired the spectacular nature around him. It was 9.00 am and he noticed that lots of fishermen were sleeping on the beach. So he decided to speak with one of them.
President: Why you are sleeping and you aren’t fishing?
Fisherman: I fished two fish…. why should I catch others?
P.: Because if you catch more fish you can sell more fish and you can increase your income!
F:: And then?
P.: With the money earned you can buy a bigger boat.
F.: And then?
P.: With a bigger boat you can catch even more fish and earn more money!
F.: And then?
P.: Then you can buy another boat and hire someone to work for you!
P.: If someone works for you, you can rest….
F.: Excuse me President, but what do you think I was doing before you disturbed me?