Of cultural norms and small business performance in Malawi

Malawi continues to face a lot of social, political and economic challenges in its twenty years of democracy. One major challenge is that of growing unemployment, which is mostly evident among the country’s youth. The escalating body of qualified unemployed and increasingly underqualified unemployable young people continues to place a substantial burden on an already limited government budget that also has to manage many other afflictions. Our existing formal sector does not have the capacity to absorb the growing labour force and this, tied with mushrooming youth unemployment, continues to create enormous pressures. Youth unemployment remains one key challenge that needs urgent attention given the impact that it has on crime, poverty, prostitution, productivity and economic growth.

Tomato trader
Tomato trader

However, it must be noted that unemployment is a multifaceted issue, and in a country such as Malawi, where skill levels in large sections of the population are awfully low, the number of lower-skilled individuals that can be absorbed into the workforce continues to be limited. For a long time now, Small  businesses have failed to flourish in Malawi living many people poor.

Malawi’s economy has mainly been dominated by large corporations and the public sector and very little attention has been paid to small enterprise promotion in public policy. We are now living in an age, which continues to witness the growth of universities and colleges such that at least after six months we are guaranteed that the number of qualified individuals will rise while the existing formal sector cannot absorb all these people. Therefore, it does not make sense to keep on relying on employment, when we can bring up ideas so that upon completion of studies, the youth can venture into small businesses than just rotting at home.

Many are the youth who venture into small businesses. However, while a small percentage flourishes, majority give up along the way and continue to suffer in poverty. My question is: what continues to stand in the way of success of these small businesses in Malawi? My recent mini research discovered one loophole.

One big silent drawback to small businesses success is cultural norms. Unlike our colleagues in developed countries such as Britain who do not fear to take a risk, Malawian youths are afraid to take risks. Thus, ‘fear of failure’ is one barrier that hinders small businesses thriving. I have discovered that many youths tend to be afraid of losing. For instance, a young fellow may have the capital to start a business of a barbershop.

However, without even an edge of taking a risk, he asks himself ‘am I going to make profits? If I fail, how will my community look at me?’ Such questions tend to be a setback to starting up their businesses. In addition, our society has created a belief that it is better to get a job in order to be secure. There is a huge sense of claim and an anticipation that it is the role of big businesses and government to create jobs for us, rather than creating our own occupation. The lack of this ‘can do’ attitude, if not treated now will continue to lock down many youths in poverty.

Furthermore, Malawi lacks a co-operative support culture as people are unwilling to share skills and facilities in order to foster the possible success of other fellow’s businesses. Usually, people are jealousy of one another saying that if I help them then they will better me so many people would rather live their friend struggling and yet their ideas would help the other. We cannot develop with such mentality! I always admire the Asians ‘amwenye’ when it comes to business as they support each other. I wish Malawians would borrow a leaf from these fellows, let us share ideas and see how we can transform each other’s business.

One way of dealing with this is the impartation of a societal spirit of self-sufficiency rather than state dependence and this must be instilled into the youth from primary school. Starting your own business and employing others should be the custom rather than the expectation. The youth should be encouraged to think freely through let’s say business studies subject in primary and secondary schools, which will help in inculcating a positive and vibrant attitude towards investment as a viable employment option.

Lastly, there is a need to ensure an increased female participation in the small businesses sector since females are still under-represented in opportunity oriented businesses and show a lower interest in starting a business. Females, make a large percentage of the population, therefore sidelining them in these issues would just be absurd.

Therefore, I am of the view that it is time government stepped in. Its pragmatic assistance in form of loans to these girls will aid them in coming up with a small business which will eventually help them in sustaining themselves.

However, I have noted that there is lack of knowledge of where to obtain the loans. Thus, information on loan sources is not known to many. Therefore, I would suggest that all institutions that offer loans should try their best to reach out to the masses by either providing up to date information on their services through either their websites or the radio so that majority of the people who do not know how to use computers can learn of these sources and apply for a loan.

All in all, the challenges being faced by the youths in terms of unemployment cannot be overcome in just a night. It will take time. But instead of just sitting down, murmuring and complaining the youth can be helped to start small businesses which will help them in self- sustenance. Thus, sustaining and growing the number of successful small businesses is very vital to the long-term well-being of Malawi, which in the end will lead to creating employment hence alleviating poverty.

As more small businesses are created it means more youths will also be employed hence assisting in reducing crimes and encouraging productivity which will boost investor confidence and encourage capital flow.

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6 years ago

Allan kindly provide your email for further discussion.

6 years ago

This is a gr at article indeed. The real problem is that Malawians are not informed fully on how to create opportunities. Our pholilosophy is work alone and get rich alone. That does not work at all. People have to learn to work in teams and based on complementarity theories. For example people have to learn to sell shares of their small businesses. Complementarity means I have a restaurant and my friend serves my customers with soft drinks, another serves fruits after meal and yet another sells tea/coffee etc…just for example… Another example. I have a car and my friend… Read more »

6 years ago

Ungolemba eti? Iwe unayamba wachitapo bizimesi?


6 years ago

Great article!
Malawi needs to embrace the power of SMEs in developing the economy.

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