After this fabulous safari, we started our short week on Wednesday in Eastern Province, in Chipata city, where the NGO settled another Live Well office to get into more rural areas. Compared to the Lusaka capital, the town is much smaller reaching up to 60 000 inhabitants. This city is very close to Malawi country by approximately 50 minutes driving. What is interesting is the fact that the Live Well team performs much better sales figures here in Eastern Province than in Lusaka capital: maybe the model of Community Health Entrepreneurs is more appropriate to rural areas than urban areas like Lusaka? Lusaka offers plenty of stores, small groceries where you can find various panel of healthcare products, which competes with Live Well business model a lot. Indeed, access to these products is much easier in urbanized areas… whereas in rural Eastern province, this is less easy and therefore a model such as Avon seller system with sales representatives might be more suitable. For the two coming days, we followed the sales team on the field and discovered other commercial techniques that I will detail later on.
By the coming evening, we were quite disappointed by the lack of hospitality from our colleagues… Despite the nice great smile we can see on every friendly zambian face, we were left on our own in an unknown city, an unknown region… It is our first time in Africa! We were expecting our colleagues to propose going out for a drink and/or to recommend a restaurant nearby all together… and they did not even propose. In Europe, this is not our culture… when you receive a colleague from another country joining an unknown area or country, we would offer naturally to accompany the colleague and have some drinks or food in a recommended place. We found by ourselves thanks to our new network of expats a good French restaurant! However, despite this lack of hospitality, Zambians seem very peaceful people and they do keep a joy of living on their face! Well, I guess this is the first cultural difference I need to get used to!
Tomorrow is another day… We started a new day in the fields and visited a new Health Center with a nurse. Doctors are rare specie here if I can say so… They are very few in those rural areas and people count mainly on 2 to 3 nurses. The rest of the clinic staff is mainly made of volunteers that rotate when they are not working in the farms and fields in this peak harvest season! This community is grouping 27 villages which represents approximately 10 000 inhabitants. In the community, there is one palace dedicated to the chef. Then, I discovered the Family planning and they give 28 births per month. Here, women have on average between 5 and 6 children. Figures are quite alarming with 1 child below 5 years old dying out of 16! Therefore, the community is extremely interested in birth control products from Live Well to prevent from massive pregnancy amongst women but also teenagers. Indeed, here mummies are extremely young…. I suspect a majority of young mothers are less than 14 years old! There, the community was expecting this new product (Birth control) for a while. With the sales team, we introduced the Safe Plan product (birth control) to the local Health entrepreneurs.
We insisted in showing the products directly and get them out of the car trunk. The sales team assumed that the Community Health Entrepreneurs know all Live Well products but we told them that one key sales basic rule to remember is “By showing the product lively and putting it in the hands of the customer, then 50% of your sales deal is done!”… And that worked! I showed the Safe plan to the local people and they bought the package! Also, there are so many products that they cannot remember all of them, and it is always good to have a refresher on each product! We also introduced the new products of the month like umbilical cord clamp, surgical gloves in addition to the birth control. A blockbuster product is also the pain killer from GSK South Africa named “Grand-Pa” sold either in tablets or sachets. I exchanged a lot with the entrepreneurs and it was nice human conversation, discovering their lives habits. Here, there is quite a level of poverty with some barefoot children wearing dirty torn clothes. However, people are not skinny here and seem to eat quite appropriately, and maybe even eating too fat food. They eat things that look like donuts, boiled in cooking oil… It smells so much the oil! They have biscuits, plenty of soft drinks, and surprisingly, they love eating barbecued mice! Along the road, many kids are selling these mice on a stick like a skewer. There are plenty of small stalls offering also fruits, vegetables, beans, ground nuts, fried small fishes like sardines.
Paradoxically, they live in poor conditions but they all have a smarthphone! So, the sales team can anticipate its arrival at the Health Center by texting them in advance to remind the sales time. This practice should be done more systematically. Unfortunately, the first two communities we visited, half of the entrepreneurs were missing because there were funerals that day. And none of the entrepreneurs informed the sales team. Maybe one suggestion for improvement: name a point of contact in the entrepreneurs’ community to inform the sales team by sending a simple text? Funerals here are extremely important: all people from the community stop working that day and go to the ceremony without any exception, otherwise it is a lack of respect. Usually, it takes a couple of days between the death time and funeral, the time for the family to come and join the ceremony. There is a rumor saying that the locals use the soap to wash the dead body! True or not true… I don’t know! Despite, half presence of the customers, the sales team managed to perform quite good sales compared to Lusaka region.
Also, I visited a little bit around the Health Center and discovered how they manage rubbish from medical treatment to patients: I must admit it was quite shocking as they simply dig a hole at the back of the clinic, throw away all medical rubbish and just burn it…But they do not systematically burn everything at once and I was quite worried to see children playing around while some HIV and Malaria used kits lied in the hole…!
Back to the office, we visited the premises and discovered another way of stock management in this office which seems quite efficient in packing and unpacking products for the sales team.
On Friday, we came back by car to Lusaka for a long 6 hours and a half drive through the Zambian countryside. The road infrastructure is very good and looks like the American roads! However, there is only ONE main road joining East country side to the capital! I saw some signs explaining that infrastructure investments were granted as donation by Japan. There are also numerous Chinese manufactures along the road. Chinese private companies invest massively in the region, mainly for copper exploitation and construction industry. The countryside in this region is quite hilly with small rock mountains and is a little bit greener… Only water view is missing, like lake, sea or river … We reached Lusaka by Friday afternoon and enjoyed a relaxing weekend after this tiring week! During the morning, I tried one of the famous meals all Zambian are eating for breakfast: a Supa ceral sachet which is made from a kind of powder of soya and maize that you need to mix with milk…and it looks like porridge! And during our trip in Chipata, I also tried the most famous dish from Zambia named “Nshima” (says SHIMA) which looks like mashed potatoes and is made of maize… Add salt and pepper as it is quite tasteless!
Then, I walked in the neighborhood discovering the residential private and highly secured areas contrasting a lot with the dusty areas outside of the city. I had the chance to have a tour with an expat and discovered that there are plenty of malls with big stores and food restaurants everywhere reaching American standards (burgers, French fries, steak, BBQ meat…)… It seems very Americanized here in this capital! They do not eat healthy food as most of it is mainly fried! People (the wealthy Zambians) love spending their sunday shopping in the malls! Luckily, I found, thanks to the Italian expats, the best places for me: Italian restaurants run by authentic Italians! Let’s get back to my Italian practice in Africa (sounds original?)!