Zambia Days 3 and 4: Leadership in Action

Well, as of this writing, I’m on my way back to the U.S. from my African adventure. The last day and a half were dominated by meetings, packing, and logistics (and, of course, a trip to the market to buy some hopefully African-made souvenirs). Many of the specific details of these activities are either mundane or personal, but the biggest takeaway from the meetings – the reaffirmation that great leadership gets things done, regardless of the circumstances – must be shared. The following, therefore, are highlights of some of my thoughts from AAR’s held with our Team and with the CAC-Z leaders.

Creatively Sticking to Your Principles

Yesterday we spent time with Rev. Jane Nyirongo who, at Garden Community School, has been one of the main drivers of the computer lab project that was the impetus for my becoming involved in Zambia while at Prommis. Jane is the pastor of Garden Presbyterian Church, which sponsors the school along with help from CAC-Z. Although the living conditions of Garden Compound are markedly better than Kenyama, poverty remains rampant. Due to the economic condition, there are a lot of young people in Garden and a few older folks (while improving, life expectancy here has been very short), but a surprisingly few are middle-aged. However, once you stop to think, you realize that, if you are in the wage-earner segment of society and can get a job, you move away.

As a result, Pastor Jane has a particularly difficult problem: surging demand for seats at the school (and related supplies, etc.) against a revenue base that is declining from levels which are already less than sustaining. Nevertheless, Garden’s facilities, teachers, and curriculum stand out, and it keeps its class sizes small (consistent with U.S. standards) despite huge demand and the practice of other schools to cram in students. Garden will not sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity and it will find a way. In a new building that is being constructed on the grounds, Pastor Jane got creative and showed one of the marks of great leadership, putting the objective first, by sacrificing a room devoted to her so that it could instead be rented out as an office to make revenue for the church and school. Selfless service wins in the end.

Keeping the Trains Running

Anyone who has spent time in Africa knows the acronym “TIA” – This Is Africa. Things happen in their own time here, in their own way. In other words, the tempo here is often in direct contrast of our Everything Now mentality in America. I’m not judging – both perspectives have their strengths and weaknesses – but, when operating three 24/7 orphanage/rescue homes, TIA makes things exponentially more complicated. The simplest tasks, like getting a washing machine fixed, are infinitely harder here than in the U.S. Heck, on some nights, the power blinks so often you can’t keep track of whether you’re working off of the grid or the backup generator (if you’re fortunate enough to have one).

To stay on top of the three homes, the Helen DeVos secondary school, and the numerous primary schools supported by CAC-Z, David Siame Katambalile, the Executive Director, manages a staff of well over 150. The staff includes teachers, caregivers, cooks, drivers, social workers, gardeners, and all points in between. Days, nights, weekends, holidays are immaterial: the children need care. Meanwhile, thanks to economic conditions in the U.S. and elsewhere, donations are down while operating costs (like electricity) increase as they always do.

We attended a staff meeting with David this morning and then, for a few minutes thereafter, got a peek into his world. The details are mind boggling. However, drawing upon his experience as a Manager at the Hotel InterContinental in Lusaka and exhibiting, calm, confident leadership, David makes sure things get done. As I told him afterwards, as a management guy, I find fascinating and am always watching logistical details (I become engrossed watching ground crews at airports – how do they keep track of everything?). Therefore, I appreciate it when things just seem to happen. You board the plane, it takes off, you land, you get off – all the while having no clue as to the thousands of details someone had to attend to for it all to (thankfully) work out. David’s world is blindly complex but, every day, the care David’s “customers” need gets delivered. It’s important for executives to focus on the big picture but, no matter what, stuff’s gotta get done.

The Power of Being Undeterred

Can you imagine the reaction they got when Virginia Woods, Sandra Levinson and the others at ACE decided to start their first orphanage/rescue home in Zambia? Most folks in America – myself included as recently as 18 months ago – can’t even point to Zambia on a map of Africa, much less the World. They were undeterred. Something’s gotta get done, we have an idea, and we’re gonna try.

Now with their leadership, along with the support and tireless devotion of Tom & Barbara Hughes, the Hon. Harry Kalaba, David, the Boards of ACE & CAC-Z, and so many others, the ACE/CAC-Z work in Zambia is an established enterprise, providing care and education for literally thousands of children around Lusaka every day. As any entrepreneur knows, it’s ridiculously difficult to grow a for-profit business from scratch in the U.S. As any philanthropist knows, growing a not-for-profit organization from scratch in the U.S. is even harder. My guess is that the odds of growing a not-for-profit organization from scratch in a developing country like Zambia are nearly incalculable.

Entrepreneurship – for profit or otherwise – has to be one of the most difficult of all human endeavors. Environmental conditions, like those in Zambia, can conspire to make the difficult seem downright impossible. However, as Pastor Jane, David, and the leaders of ACE & CAC-Z have shown us, by moving forward with everyday determination, anything can be done. What do you want to do? Rather, as Scott Smith of MTM would say: What can you do?

I’m headed home. It’s been a privilege to have served as a witness to the amazing work of ACE and CAC-Z, and I hope you have appreciated the posts. I cannot thank the folks here and my Team Members enough (Barbara Hughes is a gift to humanity). In the meantime, if you’re interested, official pictures and more detail can be found in the Team blog at Most importantly, if you want to learn more about the work of ACE/CAC-ZED, visit Please leave behind a donation if you’re so moved.

Thanks as always for reading and for your comments. Take care.

About Denis

Business Leader, Consultant & Social Entrepreneur. Proven senior executive leader with deep experience guiding companies throughout various lifecycle phases including start-up, rapid growth and maturity. Principal of YellowPark Garden, providing executive leadership expertise and assistance in economic and societal development initiatives.
This entry was posted in Career Growth & Management, Leadership & Management, Philanthropy, Sustainability, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Zambia Days 3 and 4: Leadership in Action

  1. Julie Miccichi says:

    Denis, thank you for all your posts and for enlightening me on this situation. I’m simultaneously appalled at thinking about children having to deal with these circumstances and yet inspired by the leadership, determination and service that will create change.

  2. Pingback: Zambia Update: Phase I Completed! | YellowPark Garden

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