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STARTUP-19: The UTILITY CURRENCY

Welcome back to our special edition podcast on Covid-19 for entrepreneurs called STARTUP-19. I am looking forward to sharing this little insight with you.

A few weeks back, we focused on the reality that “Winter is Coming” and Covid-19 is not about to leave. This week I want us to focus on a different reality. While everyone is worried about money, resources and how to have access to more, I want to introduce you to a very useful currency I times of crisis: I call it the Utility Currency.

Let me start by sharing a brief (maybe not so brief) story about my deceased grand father Mr Luc Okenkali. But first, let me warn you that this is not one of those stories about an old man passing down wise and hard to grasp metaphors about life to his grand child who never really got it until he became a man. No, it is not one of those.

My grand father Luc Okenkali was among the first generation of set free (from colonization of course), to have access to academic education in my country. As soon as Gabon was arguably set free from the French imperialism in 1960, the Government was handed over to the Gabonese for the first time. I am talking about arguable freedom because I believe a lot of African countries, especially the French ones are still living under the yoke of the French imperialism…let’s call it modern colonization. Evidence of my statement are obvious from the french currency that is still in use in most African French countries. But let me not get distracted…that’s obviously something I am incredibly passionate about but a debate for another time. Now, where was I again? Of course, my grandfather, Luc okenkali.

Shortly after independence in 1960, he used his new freedom to further his studies and later on was quickly called to join the ranks of the first local Educators of the country. Just like that, he became a high school math professor in a small town called Okondja. That’s where I am from by the way. We reserve the title of teachers for primary school educators. High school educators are primarily called professors where I come from. He taught for years and even today, I still occasionally bump into some of his old students and they can’t stop telling me how big a role my grandfather has played in helping shape them into the men and women they are today. It’s kinda pressurizing to be completely honest with you. How am I supposed to live up to the legacy of such a man? Okay, I got sidetracked again…it is not about me…it is about my grandfather and it is about you listening to this podcast right now wondering where this is all going. Stick with me and you will find out it was worth it.

 A few years passed and my grandfather was once again called upon to become congressman and represent the interest of people of Okondja and the region around called SEBE BRICOLO ( that’s the small town where I come from remember?). He won those elections without breaking a single sweat. It is shortly after that time that I was born. I can still see it, baby Erouane being born and stepping for the time into his wooden cradle carefully crafted by his grandmother. I obviously can’t remember these first memories but I guess I’d like to believe that is how things went down. As soon as he became congressman, his wisdom, prudence in managing his work and his diligence lent him the President’s ear. Before not too long, people of high importance in shiny and expensive suits started walking in and our of home on a weekly basis. As a child, it was not hard for me to cross path with a senator, another congressman or a minister while still in my PJs. It felt like our home had become a second office for the entire Government.

If you can’t relate to what I am saying, let me paint the picture. In most African countries, government are some sort of superstars. The only way to see them is on TV making speeches or in their shiny and expensive cars. Seeing them at home so often was equivalent to the like of Drake, Andrea Bocceli, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande walking in and out of your home on a weekly basis. You may think that with his new authority and privileges my grand father would move and go live in one of the big cities; instead, he remained based in his home town. People therefore had to travel far to be able able to visit him. And they did.

I one day asked why so many people were willing to travel to come visit him. He lived in a small town seemingly unimportant in both size and population. The answer was baffling in its simplicity: they came to hear his insight and wisdom on matters related to the governance of the country.

By the time my grand father passed away from a stroke while he was only in his late 50s, he was both congressman and special advisor to the president. My grand father was wise indeed but that’s not what made him the impactful and successful man he was; He was wiser than most and more successful because he knew how to put his competences to use.

Today, I want to share a very essential tool to help you and that tool is the concept of Utility or simply said, Usefulness. Society may be a lot of things and filled with millions of complexities but they all come down a few principles and the principle of  Utility or usefulness is one of them. Being useful has a few synonyms that help better understand this principal. It means to be functional, to be handy, to have utility, to be competent and to have purpose.  Three of the previous words standout the most: handy, competent, purpose.

Now, let’s stop there for a second; everyone reading this right now knows that they have been handy in the past and can still be, they have some level of competence and can acquire new ones and lastly, they are purposeful in other words made with purpose. Can we agree to that before we move further? Alright! Now, what does this have to do with anything, you may ask me. Well, it is really quite simple so hear this very carefully :

Usefulness or Utility is a currency. I will say it one more time, Usefulness is a currency and the more useful to society you make yourself the more impact and success you collect, just like my grand father did.

A currency is a tool we use to exchange and have access to good and services. In this season of Covid-19, I see countless people sit at home doing nothing. When I say nothing I mean nothing. Countless people to this day have either lost their Jobs or have had to shut down their businesses. My fiancee was recently sharing with me the story of a few teenagers currently struggling with their parents who have most recently lost their job. The situation is tragic, I reckon and that is precisely what’s causing the worth of the currency of utility to skyrocket in this season.

Usefulness is a currency few people can say no to, isn’t that true? Have you ever said no to something absolutely useful to you? Not really. So why would someone else? The problem with Covid-19 is that people are slowly giving up on their usefulness and utility. Why? You tell me. Could it be hopelessness, fear of the unknown or simply our non capacity to adapt? I leave the answer to you. My point right now is this simple: You and myself are still can still be useful. Your usefulness is your currency in this season.

South Africa is almost on level 3 lockdown and most services are finally resuming. There are roughly 1.4 million people who started work this very week but what about the rest? Are you in that rest? If Yes, how do you make yourself useful and utilize that currency?

  • My number one suggestion is learn to adapt and be flexible. To adapt means to be suitable for the new conditions. That means you cannot wait around for things to get back to normal. I will say it once again, you cannot wait around for things to get back to normal. They most likely won’t. I know it hurts but that’s the truth. Even if they did, it is not about to happen anytime soon.Which leads to my second suggestion.
  • Make an inventory of your current skills and evaluate which ones need to be updated or perhaps new skills that you need to acquire. If you have any skills that is still valuable, then put them to use straight away! You might have been running away from technology and especially social medias or you may only use it for leisure; now is the time to adapt and use such free platform to show case your skills, grow an audience and turn that audience into your primary market.

If you can sow for example, make yourself useful by using a little creativity to make completely unique masks that you can sell at lower prices than what is currently being sold online. On that subject, someone in France just created new masks with holes for straws so people can still drink at coffee shops without removing their masks. What a simple example of creativity!  If you love exercising, make short videos of fun, easy and creative ways to exercise and include in it a food recipe to help keep people healthy in this season. Charge people to exercise with you in groups at a park during legal hours. If you love children, create ways and content to tutor or keep children busy online while parents are working and charge hourly. If you know a language learn to teach and do so online.  These are just simple examples of how you could make yourself useful using your skills and create an income for yourself. You don’t have to make a lot, you simply have to start and adapt as time goes by.

So what can you take from this podcast?

Learn to identify the different needs you see around you in this season and ask yourself how can you make yourself useful.

Remember this, the more useful to society you make yourself, the more impactful and successful you are likely to be. Why? Because something useful always finds a taker. Your utility is your currency in these times of crisis. Only those who are useful can remain relevant in this season. Now, let me ask you this question as I close:

 How have you made yourself useful to your society in this season?