The Educational Innovator
How Life’s Classroom Prepared an Educational Innovator
Dr Rozious Siatwambo is one of Zambia’s leading entrepreneurs and an innovator in the country’s educational sector. He is the founder and Managing Director of The Great North Road Academy, one of the country’s leading private schools. He is also the founder of the Great North Road Academy Rehabilitation Centre. The centre provides rehabilitation services for youth facing problems related to depression, drug abuse, and other behavioural challenges. He is also one of Zambia’s leading motivational speakers. He is also the author of the book, Exams Made Easy. Drive Africa sat down for an interview with Dr Siawtwambo to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey and career.
Dr Rozious Siatwambo: My drive comes from way back perhaps because I started life at a very tender age. I also learnt alot from life experiences away from academics. I would say that my life experiences have taught me more than academics. For example I started business when I was in my 9th grade. What drew me into business were the hardships of life. I remember growing up in the village and walking 10 km every day to get to school. When we moved to Lusaka and I made it into secondary school at Arakan Secondary School, I equally used to walk 10 km to school. My family did not have it all and so I never used to get transport or lunch money like other school friends and so I decided to do something about it.
Although I had a challenging early life I decided to stop dwelling on my trials and begun to see opportunities in those challenges. I looked around the yard and decided to start a small garden. I used the money I raised from garden to buy kerosene in 5litres and re packed it in smaller quantities which I resold. That was the beginning of my business ventures.
I have come to understand that life will always give you two things: the light and the dark moments. It is unfortunate that many people do not understand that we learn more in those dark moments than in the light moments. I have loved dark moments because it is those moments which have made me think.
Another example I can cite is how the book which I wrote, Exams Made Easy came to be. Many people do not understand its back ground. It was born out of those moments of setback when I failed my grade 7 exams. It frustrated me especially seeing my friends making it to grade 8 with flying colours. I picked myself up after realising that I was no different from the students who had made it to grade 8. I admitted to myself that I had sat on the same desk with those who had made it. Wes had been taught by the same teacher. I made up my mind to never fail again. This decision made me excel until I made it to the University of Zambia. My academic achievements emanate from the dark moment I experienced with failing my grade 7 exams. It was where Exams Made Easy was birthed. I would say it’s been a life of picking up pieces.
Drive Africa: Generally there is a certain perception about teachers and what teachers should be and yet you changed that perception, what are some of the things you have had to do to change that norm?
Dr Rozious Siatwambo: Well like I mentioned earlier, life is about picking pieces. It is unfortunate that many people do not understand that experience is the best teacher. My academic life has been quite good and I do not discourage anyone who desires to read and write because it opens up opportunities. However, there is more to life than the classroom. My life philosophies have emerged from the experiences I have had.
My life experiences coupled with my professional training is what has brought me to where I am. I will give an example. I am a great marketer and you will find that whatever I have set up is known everywhere. So where did I learn the marketing techniques from? I learnt them from the times when I was on the streets. Between my 12th grade and university I sold second hand clothes. I would buy second hand clothes wash, iron, and sell them for a higher price than I had bought them for. I did not pick up that skill sitting in a classroom but through experience. That experience on the streets also taught me how to be aggressive.
I told myself not to limit myself just because I was a teacher. For instance, I have done some media work before not because I did any media related course but because I understand its importance out of my life experiences. I also used to make adverts for some organisation and that also shaped my marketing skills. It also exposed me to the media and how the media industry works.
Drive Africa: What motivated you to start the Great North rehab centre?
Dr Rozious Siatwambo. I believe that success lies in identifying the needs of people and finding a solution. Most people have a problem in that when there is a problem they would rather sit on the problem than find a solution. Money lies in problems and you can make money out of solving problems.
For example was every time I would read a newspaper I never saw anything to do with exams. So I decided to write to the editor to of one of the local newspapers to see if I could be given a column. I was given a column and started writing. The difference between successful people and those who are not is in the way they see things. So I started writing and eventually began developing books.
The rehab centre came to be in that I interact with a lot of young people. Some come to me because they have been expelled from school and they do not know what to do. Others are fighting an addiction. Our educational system lacks the resources to help such young people who often end up picking up bad habits such as drug abuse as a way of dealing with their problems. Apart from that we have recently had reports. We are also hearing reports of young people being involved in gangster activities and nothing is really being done to fix the actual cause of these problems apart from condemning their parents. I looked at all these problems and I said there must be a solution to this and hence the rehab centre was birthed.
Drive Africa: What do you hope to change in Zambia or Africa with the things you are doing?
Dr Rozious Siatwambo: Am looking forward to see people who will take it upon themselves to come up with solutions for the problems which Zambia or Africa is facing. I hope to see more Zambians opening their eyes and taking advantage of our problems to make a difference.
Drive Africa: What challenges have you faced along your entrepreneurial journey?
Dr Rozious Siatwambo: There are many challenges but one that that is very disheartening especially in an African set up is bureaucracy. Especially when you are starting up a business. For example just to get our rehab centre licensed we had to get certificates like that of opening a hospital. These things are hindering the development of African ideas. Also, our policies promote foreign investors more than local people.
Drive Africa: Any words of conclusion?
Dr Rozious Siatwambo: To the young entrepreneurs want to change Zambia or Africa, my advice would be to keep pushing because these days jobs are scarce we need to begin starting up our own businesses.