Prof. Bitange Ndemo
Although he was not a professional educator, Professor Bitange Ndemo refers to his mother as his most effective teacher who taught him, “You can’t learn unless you discipline yourself.” Today, as a leading economist, educator and ICT specialist, Professor Ndemo is still certainly living by his mother’s words. As a columnist, researcher and professor, he writes 8,000 to 10,000 words a week and runs every morning before he starts the day. But of all of his roles, Professor Ndemo values his teaching the most. He remarks that there is something unique about the relationship between teacher and student, and being able to inform young minds brings him an unparalleled level of satisfaction.
Beyond the classroom, Professor Ndemo is a teacher in the real world as well. Volunteering monthly to work with women’s groups, entrepreneurs and farmers to answer the question “why does it not work?” His main focus in seeking sustainable economic development is to urge businesses and entrepreneurs towards the model of social enterprise.
“Funding that is not sustainable is worse than not even trying,” he argues. Every project should have a sustainability model, he urges people in development to ask themselves, “What will we do when you leave?” With social enterprises, businesses can use a sustainable development model where the same resources can be reinvested to make sure the project does not halt activity.
A trend that Professor Ndemo is concerned about is what he refers to as the ‘male conspiracy’ where there is a work culture of women working hard and men entering as the brokers. No matter the industry, brokers will always, he argues, come out on top financially. They are the ones who make the most money. Given this pattern, Professor Ndemo advocates for educating women before the investment in the business even begins. This will also ensure that women entrepreneurs will come up with necessary business solutions based on problems as opposed to replicating already existing business ideas, which is currently the most popular thought process. In this way, innovation is vital to a successful business idea.
As an example, in farming, entrepreneurs rarely ask the questions, “Where [in the processes] does the money come from?” and “How do we make [that] money?” Instead the culture is to simply follow what others are doing. But that decision is entirely to their detriment, cautions Professor Ndemo, when they are participating in a process that is not tipped in their favor. Instead, one could take a step back and realise that if one was to cut out, or significantly decrease middle men, for example, then much more money would reach the hands of farmers.
This is the importance in sharing information and knowledge, as opposed to “allowing it to just die.” Professor Ndemo’s passion for teaching entrepreneurial theory and practice has real world benefits and potential. It could make all the difference for an entrepreneur or a smallholder farmer to understand their business value and make a change accordingly. With discipline and diligence, Professor Ndemo is ensuring that his message reaches as many people as possible.