Have you ever talked to someone and you find yourself thinking and saying constantly, “I’ve never thought of it that way,” or “that makes a lot of sense.” That is what happened when I interviewed Amina Chitembo. Amina is a businesswoman, an author, a business coach, and above all a mother of four daughters, and a wife. She was born in a deprived area of Lusaka in Zambia where running water and electricity were just fancy phrases. She’s the baby of a big family of 10 and is charitable to a fault – she is a natural born giver and a leader. Her whole life revolves around ultimately serving people in many capacities – she was the chief executive of a government-funded charity that unfortunately had to close due to lack of funds.
Amina’s early life in boarding school influenced her understanding of integration, diversity and inclusion. As the first in her family to attend university and to immigrate to another country – UK, she understood the importance and values of commitment to family and empowering others. She is the epitome of self-determination – to attend university she had to attend night school while taking care of her young family. It was at this time she learned the importance of being resilient and focused in order to follow dreams. She had no support from most people around her, so she had to learn to depend on herself and her abilities, and out of sheer hard work and persistence, she was able to prove the doubters wrong. She proved to them that you can be young, a teenage mum and still make a life for yourself. She learnt having people who are close to you does not always mean friend or friendly – sometimes those closest to you can also be your greatest demotivator: the power lies in knowing who is on your side and who isn’t and keeping a respectable distance. At the time, her main goal was to seize every positive opportunity with both hands because you just never know what opportunity opens doors. “if you don’t try, how will you know if something would have worked?” One such opportunity propelled her to make the tough decision to migrate to the UK – it was one of her best decisions which ultimately launched her career.
For Amina, immigrating to the UK was no small task though – adjusting to the weather was challenging. It was also during these formative UK years that Amina realised she was different as a black woman. This happened when she was approached to set up a project for black people and she was told that they had been looking for a black woman to run this project. That is when it became apparent for her that she was different or as she puts it, she realised she was special and powerful – I believe this happens to most first-generation African immigrants. A few years ago when I interviewed first generation Kenyan women in the UK this theme emerged, where, as much as we know we are black we don’t realise just ‘how black’ we are until someone mentions it – e.g. when someone tells you they would employ you to diversify or to ‘tick’ boxes of ‘integration and inclusiveness’, it is then you realise you are black. Unfortunately, most times we walk around with a halo of being black and worrying about what might happen to us or our children because of being black. A while ago in Kenya, my very handsome young nephew wanted to drive my brother’s BMW to run an errand for me. My brother refused because he worried he might be stopped by police because he didn’t a have licence or something; however, for me, my first out loud thought was he shouldn’t drive around in a BMW because he would be stopped by police anyway for being young and black and in a big expensive car. I didn’t realise what I’d said until someone pointed out that in Kenya everyone is black, well almost everyone, and police would never stop anyone for being black – I knew then, the halo had to go.
Over many years and numerous hurdles, Amina has risen through the ranks in reputable organisations and has since set up her own business. During this period of trying to make a life for herself, she learnt how to make the system work for her, legally of course, because it’s during times like these that a lot of us give up. She learnt how to make sacrifices for the greater good – nothing comes from nothing, you must work hard and go the ‘extra’ mile to get from point A to point B. She learnt the art of cultivating good working relationships that would come in handy later in life – investments are not only monetary, but you can also invest in people who might steer you in a direction you never thought of yourself. The catch though is that it’s hard at the beginning to differentiate between people who want the best for you, and people who want to see you burn – for this you must take chances and deal with the consequences. Amina is a big advocate and champion for mental health issues because in her line of work and with meeting people, she realised that the aforementioned ‘consequences’ can have detrimental results on some people more than others. She explains this brilliantly in her book Pushing through fear stereotypes and imperfections.
Her business, Diverse Cultures, was born because of her spirit of giving and helping people, and personal values of inclusion. Amina is a strong believer in inspiring people by encouraging and helping them delve into themselves to find out that which might be contributing to a fail. In doing this, she rediscovered herself and strengths she didn’t know she had. As a business diversity and inclusion coach, she has a knack for knowing when someone’s personal life upheavals are impacting business decisions, and more importantly, she knows when and how to signpost without being intrusive. This is a quality I admire, and I think it’s inspirational.
As a coach, Amina’s greatest advice to people fighting anxiety and depression is to self-educate: read as many self-help books as are available, meditate, stay focused, and although these are not as easy as breathing, the belief that trials and tribulations are the building blocks of success should be enough to propel a focused person to stay on the game. And occasionally take a duvet day, it is not a crime – sometimes this is the best time to regroup and restrategise – and get a well-deserved rest. Remember self-discipline is essential otherwise a duvet day might turn into a duvet week and then a downward spiral.
Amina believes the world would be a better place if everyone was a productive member of society who wants to serve. However, because we are humans, some people would want to take advantage for their own personal gain, therefore distinguish between service and people pleasing. Serving the community does not mean being used by people. As one of Amina’s mentors, Brendon Burchard, said, “you can’t sustain a mission when broke,” therefore look after yours first and then serve.
For more information about coaching and to contact Amina, please visit her website Diverse Cultures
Buy any of her books at Amazon