Ex-diasporan, Catherine Ndashe Phiri is part of an emerging group of creative Zambians who have returned home to change the Zambian creative industry. It’s often an industry that is undervalued and highly criticized in most African countries, yet it’s an industry that exudes hope; requires hard work and the ability to ignore scathing (warranted and unwarranted) critique.
For someone who was the former Vice President of MTV International’s Social Responsibility, Cathy’s decision to resign from MTV and return to Zambia to focus on the company she started with her siblings (Media 365 Zambia), was a little startling. She spoke to Diasporan Darlings about her reasons for leaving and whether she has had any regrets.
DD: You have a blog at www.cathyphiri.com which we have unashamedly read from beginning to end. It’s a very honest journal about your journey from London (quitting MTV) to arriving in Lusaka and the various issues you have had to deal with. What have been the benefits of having that blog?
CP: I love to write first and foremost. I started that blog when I was making the decision to leave MTV, not really sure what to do next. The blog was inspired by Paulo Coelho’s book, “The Alchemist”. You know how it is, you read a book at a particular phase in your life and it just makes sense, this is how I felt about The Alchemist, I was looking for my personal legend. Once I got back to Zambia, I carried on blogging as it was a good outlet for me to deal with the challenges of relocating to a country I hadn’t lived in for eight years.
I try not to look at the numbers, I don’t write for my ego, so it’s always great when someone comments on the blog, especially when I’ve posted some of my low points and get an encouraging word from someone. A blog is also great for your brand. I try not to go too personal, but use it as a platform to share insights from my experience here to inspire change and also provoke some issues from our industry.
DD: You attribute your move home to wanting more of a work-life balance (particularly wanting to spend more time with your family). How is it for you now to work, play and live with your family? What aspects would you change ?
CP: I absolutely love my work-life balance! I do love every minute of it, but being an entrepreneur is not easy. When I had a job, I didn’t really have much to worry about knowing I’d get paid at the end of the month. But as an entrepreneur, running your own business with staff, every day you have to think about how am I going to pay my staff, my overheads etc. If I could change anything I might have saved a lot more before my move to ensure I didn’t have any financial stress for at least a couple of years. But other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Oh well maybe I would have bought a house here before I moved back, I love my parents, but being a 30-something year old who still has her parents give her outfit a disapproving glance can be irritating! Sometimes I wear outfits ridiculously short just to annoy them. But really I love my family and parents so just happy to be around them.
DD: We love the strength and honesty that comes from you through your blog and tweets. Especially when talking about being a businesswoman in Lusaka, in the creative industry. What challenges as an ex-diasporan do you deal with on a daily basis that you didn’t deal with as a corporate Exec in London?
CP: People know their jobs in London! Here you hire a production company to produce something and you end up having to produce the thing and literally pay for a cameraman and editor – yet pay full production fee – does that make sense? People price themselves out of the market and still don’t deliver! I never found that in the UK – while maybe with a couple of our people!
That’s my biggest issue here – the work ethics, or lack of, frustrate me no end. Time is of no essence – the concept of time is money, is not understood here – or it is, as in time is your money, not mine. Understanding that no real success is achieved without hard work is also an issue for me, people don’t work that hard, we have a challenge with laziness.
DD: Media 365 Zambia are the creators and producers of Love Games, a new drama sponsored by USAID as part of their Safe Love campaign. You were the Executive producer on this and it was funny and interesting to read your tweets on crew members and their work ethic. Having also worked on MTV’s Shuga (which was located in Kenya), what are your thoughts on the “African” work ethic.
CP: I don’t think there is an ‘African’ work ethic, people are different. I have worked with people in South Africa who don’t sleep until the job is done, and then I’ve met people in Kenya who walk off sets, and Nigerians who make a plan where no one else can make a plan! I think it’s each individual person’s ethic, we need to move away from thinking it’s one ethic common to all of Africa. Those stereotypes exist but let’s ignore them and celebrate the changing work ethics we’re embracing now. Though I think bigger than work ethics is values, really understanding what is my value system to work and how do I want to be remembered when people think about my values when it comes to work.
DD: Your agency, “Media 365” is described as an agency that uses the guiding principles of social marketing to develop, implement and manage cause-related campaigns for local and international clients. What are some of the challenges you’ve come across in doing this and what are the triumphs?
CP: We are a boutique agency so it means that we do choose which clients we want to work with, because we put so much time and energy into our clients we can only take on a few clients at a time. There are quite a lot of organisations – private and otherwise – who have an interested in social issues in the country, so it’s definitely a growing market.
Problem is that because that market is growing, so are the players in it. A lot of people think that doing cause related campaigns is like doing any other advertising or marketing campaign, and it’s not – which is why we’re specialised. Sometimes even potential clients think that any old advertising firm can do it and they can’t really. I mean you can, but it might not have the same impact as if you had used a firm that specialises in it. So that’s the biggest challenge, having people understand and appreciate our specialisation.
DD: If you had the chance to speak to a room full of Africa’s brightest and youngest creative minds in the African creative industry, what would you tell them?
CP: Well since I know some of Africa’s brightest and young creatives, I would say exactly what I think: They inspire me. They continue to inspire me, with their talent, their focus and their ambition. It’s because of them that we are able to rebrand Africa with all the emerging talent that is coming out of the continent.
We are the future because they deem it so. And that they need to keep on doing them, because while the path ahead may be hard and full of hurdles, success was never achieved easily, and that’s why it’s all worth it in the end.
Website | www.media365.co.zm
Twitter | @media365Zambia