Livit Mugejo Correspondent
I will start by an assumption that all Zimbabweans want their economy to grow so that they have more money in their pockets, the poor and unemployed finding it easier to get jobs.
A growing economy also makes it easier for families to save for retirement or their children’s education, and see their nest eggs grow. We all want a good life.
In other words, economic growth is reflected by an overall improvement in the quality of life for all Zimbabweans, which may include better healthcare, a cleaner environment, and more freedom in terms of choosing work and leisure activities.
As a result of such economic growth, the overall wealth of a country increases, as do the variety and abundance of goods and services.
If we all want this to happen, we should then ask ourselves what makes the economy grow? In this article, I am going to try to answer the question not as an expert, but to generate debate and to have Zimbabwe talking.
It is my view that talent is one of the most decisive factors in growing an economy. Without talent the country perishes. As a country, we must be able to attract and retain talent, what Singapore calls meritocracy. A meritocracy is defined as a political system in which economic or political power is vested in individuals on the basis of merit; talent, effort and achievement.
According to a Gallup study on the State of the Global Workplace (2013), one common factor among organisations worldwide is the need to more effectively understand, and use their people’s talents, skills and energy.
In many countries, raising workers’ productivity levels is critical to business growth and badly needed job creation. In countries that face talent shortages, companies that meet their employees’ needs are most likely to win in the competition for top talent.
In each case, it has been suggested that “companies around the world will need to improve their ability to ensure that workers are in the right roles, and are emotionally invested in their jobs”. In other words, the need to build highly engaged workplaces will become more important than ever if Zimbabwe is to develop.
Before one is misunderstood, it is important to have a common understanding on the meaning of talent. The aim of this instalment is, of course, not to be academic, but to contribute to the literature on talent harnessing in the development of our country.
A simple definition denotes talent as having a unique gift or a natural aptitude. Talent, therefore, reveals itself in every activity that goes effortlessly and satisfies you.
Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania (2016), defines talent “as the rate at which you get better with effort. The rate at which you get better at soccer is your soccer talent. The rate at which you get better at math is your math talent.”
In my opinion, an excellent definition of talent was given by Jonathan Black, a student from Cape Town, who defines talent as a set of personal characteristics that enhance one’s ability to achieve expertise in an accelerated manner.
According to him, these “traits allow one to improve at quicker rates than others in their field that are at the same level of expertise/fitness/skill, etc. This is because talent is one’s ability to adapt to training and develop skills in their specialised field.”
He further explains that talent exists when “strong genetics and a desire to practise come together to create superior ability for a specific activity. It can only exist along with a deliberate interest. Because of this, talent will often only become apparent after a moderate amount of practice as this is when one’s ability to adapt and improve is more clearly visible.”
From the above definitions, it is clear that talent does not mean only bright academics, but it includes football stars, netball stars, tennis stars, swimming stars, singers, dancers, rock stars and many more, who excel in their fields. Talent can be in the form of innovators, entrepreneurs, mentors and super-mentors.
It is my strong belief that without talent, there is no vibrancy and growth for the country. One illustrating example is America. In the 1980s, many leading economists projected that Japan and Germany would overtake America in the 1990s. It did not happen. The reason is that America was and still is attracting talent from all over the world, including our own talented robotics scientist Professor Arthur Mutambara.
America’s ability to attract and retain talent also explains why the country is the world’s superpower both militarily and economically. Retention and attraction of talent was central when the country took over from the British as the world’s superpower. We are all British-trained and we are aware that the British largely stick to tradition. Instead, the Americans innovate, abandons dysfunctional structures and create new ones that produce results.
In that regard, I strongly believe that whether Zimbabwe will grow to become the most powerful nation will depend on whether the country can attract foreign talent and also retain its own talent.
We pride ourselves as one of the countries with the highest literacy rate, but the most important factor is to have exceptional talent in charge of our Government and private institutions.
As Lee Kuan Yew (the founding father of Singapore) once observed that “without men of integrity and ability helming key institutions and government, the place would go down. Once you have weaker people on top, the whole system slowly goes down. It’s inevitable.”
My question Zimbabwe is: Do we have strong and talented people leading our key institutions such as ZESA, embassies, ZINWA, Air Zimbabwe, NRZ, Hwange? What about the private sector?
The bottom line is that mediocre leadership in both public and private sectors means a slippery slope towards failure and irrelevance. Our predicament as a country at the moment means that we cannot afford complacency or wide latitude for mediocre leadership. Otherwise, we will go down the drain.
I am of the view that Zimbabwe can hasten economic progress by harnessing foreign talent, and its own talented citizens, who are both in the country and abroad. Let’s make good choices by appointing leaders who are talented and reward them.
Government should assemble enough talent to jump-start the economy. Such talent will encourage good choices. Bad leadership usually results in bad decisions. Besides encouraging bad choices, Government programmes by untalented leadership often discourage good economic choices, such as investment and personal savings for the future.
I will end this article with noble words by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who once said: “If you want to encourage something, reward it. If you want to discourage it, punish it.”
Aristotle’s words ring true to our country today more than 2 500 years later. Let’s reward our talented, welcome any person of quality, encourage competition and above all prevent duds from getting into Parliament, Government and key institutions.
Mediocre leadership will never be able to accurately judge superiorly talented subordinates. There will be no inspiration! It’s that simple — meritocracy is the way to go.
Livit Mugejo works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The views expressed in this article are strictly personal and do not in any way reflect those of the ministry. They were largely motivated by the story of Singapore, which developed from a very poor country to First World country with nothing in terms of raw materials.