What Kenyan ‘Mamas’ Can Teach Us About Entrepreneurship and Self-Doubt

Kenyan Mamas

In the days when we hosted a lot of potlucks, and there was always rich food in the house – before the Vitamix and our obsession with greens – my husband used to say that he had one rule for dieting: “I stay out of the kitchen.”

Dale’s aphorism came back to me today through a strange association. I clicked on an Entrepreneur.com article, “How to Change Your Beliefs and Stick to Your Goals for Good” – not because these issues plague me, but because of the outsized promise of the headline. I was curious, could the article possibly deliver anything new?

Of course, it does not. James Clear’s message is well-intentioned, and based on the social media buzz, many readers find it inspiring. They comment on personal struggles with inertia and self-doubt. Clearly, the topic resonates.

Putting “Identity” at the Core of Everything

Before I outright disagree with the author, let me summarize his main points, all of which revolve around a diagram depicting a circle with three rings. This infographic is titled “The Layers of Behavior Change”. “Your Identity” is at the core; the central ring is “Your Performance”, and the outer ring, “Your Appearance”.

The main thrust of the argument is that through regular, small actions in line with our desired identity, we can become the person we wish to be – the person with those virtues and achievements we admire. James Clear cautions, however, that we mustn’t get caught up in the goal-achievement part of the equation – “identity-based” behaviour change urges that we focus instead on ourselves. Who are we, really?

Try Replacing a Focus on Identity with This

Cleary’s article is aimed at entrepreneurs, ostensibly to help them overcome the particular hurdles of working for oneself.

I know quite a few entrepreneurs. A number of them are in Africa, where we spend about half the year on Organics 4 Orphans programs.

The African business-owners who most embody the ingenuity and hustle of entrepreneurship are not the sort to spend much time thinking about the alignment between their identity and their behaviour. They have mouths to feed.

I’m thinking of the Kenyan “Mamas” (as they are self-styled): 40 to 60 year old, almost invariably-single women caring for households of young orphans. These Mamas take in the orphaned children of relatives, and they take in the children of virtual strangers.

To care for them, they sell surplus produce from the biointensive gardens we help them establish; they buy and sell goods; they run services; they discover and admirably exploit any profit-generating opportunities available. Through their sweat, they save these children from a life on the street.

If we were to create a diagram depicting the model of behaviour for these Mamas, it would look like this: in the inner circle, “Needs”, in the central circle,“Actions”, and in the outer circle: “Impact”.

Applying Needs-based Motivation to our Own Lives

Perhaps it’s different here, where most of us don’t have to contend with the ultimate motivation: real hunger – ours, or the hunger of our loved ones. But we are surrounded by needs: material, physical, social, emotional and spiritual.

What if we were to take those needs and place them at the centre of our personal model for behaviour change?

I believe there’s a parallel with Dale’s dieting logic, if you’ll humour me. For someone struggling with self-doubt, it makes about as much sense to focus on personal identity as it does for a dieter to linger in a kitchen full of rich food.

To put it as pithily as Dale, you might say this: “I have just one rule for resolving self-doubt – I stay out of my self.”

We’ve found needs that motivate us – the health needs of Canadians, and the countless needs rooted in the poverty of people – and especially children – in developing countries. Our company is a vehicle for the expression of our drive to promote health and share wealth.

There are certainly days when we question whether we have what it takes to achieve such big goals. However, there is nothing to be gained by looking inward and indulging those doubts. Instead, I think of how many more people I could help with our products, and I think of the hunger and illness and poverty we can eradicate in Africa and beyond.

Thank you for helping us meet these needs through your support as customers, partners and as friends who spread the word. I sincerely hope you, too, find the needs that elevate your life.


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