Here is a story I shared on Twitterback in 2018, with context that might help us all. One November morning, in the parking lot, I bumped into a gentlemen of Indian origin who introduced himself as Sanjeev.
After I had explained that my work is to prepare young people for work, by plugging some of the bits that our schools might have missed out, his curiosity piqued. So he asked why “we” never invite the Indian Association of Uganda to speak to young people about entrepreneurship.
He was right, because if you needed a lesson on how to start and run a business, who better that members of a community responsible for more than 60 per cent of the taxman’s revenue collections, right? I couldn’t conjure a quick response; but soon, I was spellbound, as you are about to be, by the deep-dive into Indian culture as a foundation for creating wealth.
“Do you know that I share one bank account with my wife, dad, mum and two children?” He asked. Noticing how dumbfounded I was, he offered a quick explanation out of my mind fix. Sanjeev explained that sharing a bank account with five others eliminated the chance that anyone of them would be making wasteful and unnecessary expenses. Even you, would think twice about random purchases, if you needed the consent of five others before swiping; or if they had to explain receipts to three other people.
But he wasn’t done yet. After the lesson on accountability, he went to “Saving – as the foundation of investment.” It’s a familiar line, if you’re into motivational and financial literacy speakers, but the Indians aren’t just talkers. Sanjeev estimated that on average, we accrue about Shs70,000 per month in bank charges and fees. So if a family has six different bank accounts, they would be charged a total of Shs420,000 per month by the bank. Instead, his family only spends Shs70,000 on their one account, saving Shs350,000.
That monthly Shs350,000 that they save totals up to Shs4.2 million at the end of the year. But the family that is running six different accounts and losing a monthly Shs420,000 to the bank will have lost a total of Shs5,040,000 at the end of the year. So if you consider that business is first, about what you save (and invest) before you spend, you see why their model suddenly makes sense. Sanjeev is able to send his children to a good school, because his family of six is collectively saving Shs4.2m a year; while you choke on school fees, your family is “donating” Shs5m to banks.
When Indians come to Uganda, they build off of what those who came before them acquired. Nobody starts from zero. Does it make sense now, that they are not stingy, when you see children from four families crammed into one van for a school drop-off; or when they show up together at an Indian-owned restaurant for lunch or dinner, once a week; or when they choose to live together in one apartment/block? They are shrewd – and that’s how they build trust and save enough to build successful businesses.
Contrast that with how we approach our money and wealth building plans – if ever we make them. Mwami Kamya comes to Kampala from Butambala, works hard, and acquires property. Only he, knows how the business works, and barely accounts to anyone, not even his wife. If his children work in the business, they won’t get paid because after all, food, clothing fees is salary. As a result, they will miss out on vital early lessons about money management, develop no attachment to the business – and eventually fight for whatever little is left after Kamya’s death.
Since the honour of our story is to start from zero and not build off of what our parents have done, when the children grow up, they will not get a hand up. So we go out and start afresh – spending millions of money in rent or on building houses.
We take our skills and expertise to others’ companies because there’s no space to grow and innovate in our parents’ businesses, or willingness to let us in. Where we could have saved from not spending (externally) and invested in what exists, we sit at family gatherings, marvelling at how Indians build together, never deciding to change our ways.
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. email@example.com