In May this year we launched Wisdom Exchange TV, which is a resource to help African women learn, lead and succeed in life, business and community. It is a forum where women of all disciplines will be inspired from the achievements of African women in business, education, philanthropy and politics. These are the women who are the Change Agents of African companies, communities, and countries. These women will inspire us to stretch our vision of what we can do, and what we can be. New interviews and Expert Perspective blogs are intended to be updated regularly with the insights of the women leaders of today for tomorrow.
Prior to investing a lot of time and money in creating, an Ignite Excellence Foundation initiative, Wisdom Exchange TV, I knew we were pioneering a web platform that may have limitations in Africa. Bandwidth is limited in many areas of Africa, making it a challenge to view a 45-minute video. To mitigate this shortcoming, we decided to create an audio stream and a written summary of the interviews.
What we were less aware was the limited use of social media in Africa. Note the word, “intended” when referring to updating the Expert Perspective blogs. Our original intention for Wisdom Exchange TV subscribers was to continuously educate them through syndicating the blogs of African women leaders. This was to continuously give our subscribers the perspectives and insights of these amazing women as we traveled through Africa. Although we acknowledged not everyone would have a blog, we didn’t realize how few individuals in Africa have embraced this social media.
This lacking became clearer after my recent interview with Gladys Muhunyo, director of African Programmes at Computer Aid Africa. Gladys was the first woman to be appointed head of an Information Communication Technology (ICT) network in the African Continent.
- Africans focus on the social element of business, not everything is about the bottom line. The human contact is very important, and social media is removed from the human contact.
- People are concerned about others having information about them.
- There is a lack of education on the impact social media can have on a business. Many Africans do not understand the power of the tool that is in their hands.
- Although the bottom line is not the most important thing to Africans, people haven’t embraced the medium because they haven’t seen how this will impact their business growth. We need to train people to understand the impact.
- Africans don’t like talking about themselves. They don’t blow their own trumpets, believing that you let other people talk well of you, but don’t talk well of yourself.
I would suggest that Gladys’s first four reasons would have been just as relevant in the West a couple years ago. I remember wondering, “Why would I Tweet? Who would possibly want to know what I am eating for breakfast? More importantly, why would I want to tell them I eat peanut butter on toast?” Until you learn how to engage your prospective followers, social media can be a waste of time.
Gladys’s fifth point, however, points to a definite cultural difference between Africa and the West. She mentions that Africans don’t tend to “blow their own trumpets.” Having been to Africa several times now, I have observed this characteristic firsthand. I also believe this is something we can learn from Africans. Years ago I was introduced to marketing practice where one of the philosophies was you always talk-up about your peers and people in higher positions. In doing this, people will think well of you. This is one of the major principles I have taken on board as part of my business and personal etiquette. How it has manifested itself is people often tell me how wonderful the people are around me and therefore contributed to business success.
I do think this is something that we, in all cultures, should be more conscious of – speaking well of others. We have heard our mothers say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” We should embrace this sentiment. Employees should be ambassadors of their companies and the people who lead them. As leaders, our job is to give our ambassadors reason to speak well of us and our organization.
So perhaps the answer to utilizing blogs and other social media is not to talk about yourself, but take the opportunity to lift up others. Provide insight to a skill or technique that others would be interested in learning. Share a perspective of someone you respect or provide a different perspective that challenges us to be better human beings. Perhaps you can do all of these.
I thank Gladys Muhunyo for this insight and the reminder. During our interview Gladys provided not only great insight about social media and cultural insights, but also what it takes to be a respected and inspiring leader. (http://wisdomexchangetv.com/gladys-muhunyo/)
The more we understand about diverse cultures, the more we can take the best elements of each and incorporate them into our own.
Action: Next time you write a blog, Tweet, or post on LinkedIn or Facebook, talk well of someone else. The rewards will be endless.
Visit our other Ignite Excellence Group of initiatives’ websites with corresponding blogs.
Suzanne F Stevens – Profiling women leaders who have pushed their edge to personal or professional potential from backpack to briefcase to boardroom
Ignite Excellence Foundation – Leadership, Advocacy, Education – following donations to scholarships for women in developing countries
Wisdom Exchange TV – A forum where women will be inspired from the achievements of African women in business, education, philanthropy and politics.
You Me & We – a husbands and wife’s journey through Africa in 2011/12
Ignite Excellence Inc. – Influence, Differentiate, Engage more people and more business – a training & development company