The Benevolent Foreign Investor

Michelle, founder of Langdon Organics, was an interesting case study of a foreign influencer on a tight knit Botswana culture and economy.

My first impression of Michelle was that she was energetic, driven, and relatable because any one of us could find ourselves in her shoes 10 or 20 years from now. She’s a lot more like all of us than anyone else we met in Botswana – successful career in a business related field, clearly intelligent, and seeking to do something more meaningful with her life than generate high income in a mature economy. She knew how to be ‘successful’ in the ‘big leagues’, and now she was trying to translate that success to make a bigger footprint in a developing nation.

Those are very admirable traits, and quite frankly many of us might never take that leap from what we know to be comfortable lives. Walking away from the farm however, my optimism about Michelle was more diminished due to her anecdotes about the nature of doing business in this country and how she viewed her workers. The two things that she said which stuck with me was 1) that everybody wants to get ahead, but doesn’t want to see anyone else get ahead, and 2) workers are lazy and unpredictable, and would rather sit under a tree to pass time due to the safety net provided by the government and this idea of family pooling where as long as one member works, the others don’t necessarily have to.

Walking away from that day, I think I felt largely frustrated by the way Michelle was speaking about her situation and the state of her workers. How could she be so negative about this? Was it that she was applying western work expectations to a completely different culture? This may be true, but as I reflect back on this topic, I am reminded that I also carry with me biases about how a foreigner in a developing nation should behave and think. It was my expectation that Michelle should be kind, benevolent, understanding, and uncompromisingly optimistic about the future of her company and employees. That somehow to be a successful entrepreneur in a developing nation, she should not complain and be completely understanding of the differences in culture and work ethic. She needed to practice more social benevolence because she should know better.

However, I think it’s naïve to think that there is a mold that Michelle should fit in order to be successful and positively contribute to the economic development of Botswana. It’s hard to tell what the right answer here is: maybe she was being too negative and resistant of change, or maybe her attitude is exactly what is needed to drive successful in the business.

1 Comment

  1. MIchelle Adelman

    “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.” – @WarrenBuffett

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *