I first spoke to Sara Drawwater four years ago while looking for a web design company to build the new Autoworld website. We spoke on the phone and I instantly liked her. I didn’t know much about her, yet immediately felt connected to her story when I discovered we had both left Zambia around the age of 16 and navigated a new life in the UK. I knew that I had found a very forward thinking web design company that gets Zambia and would know how to tell Autoworld’s story.
Little did I know that four years later it would be my turn to tell Sara’s story. It’s been a real honour interviewing this savy business lady and has left me inspired by her journey from the Zambian bush (literally – no running water so definitely no computers) to being this extremely influential and big hearted lady doing the work that she loves in online communication.
I love showing the world what Zambia has to offer because Zambia means so much to me. It is so much a part of me, I feel a strong sense of responsibility and desire to represent it effectively.
Being a photographer myself, ideally I would have loved to meet up with Sara in person to photograph her and chat over several cups of tea however this is geographically impossible. Thanks to the Internet, this interview happened across the Atlantic Ocean from the Turks & Caicos islands to England. Grab yourself a mug of something good and prepare to be inspired…
You describe yourself as starting out in the Zambian bush. What was it like growing up in Zambia?
Life was quite ‘basic’ but very full. I was born in Monze and when I was 5, we moved from the outskirts of Lusaka to a ‘farm’ literally in the middle of nowhere. I guess the nearest recognisable places would be Mpongwe, Luanshya or Kapiri. There was lots of forest and very little else! No running water, no electricity, no phone, no TV…
First we lived in a traditional mud hut, then a bigger three bedroom mud hut and then eventually, in the home my Dad was building. I was homeschooled until I was 11 when I went to boarding school in Mkushi.
I may not have appreciated it back then but growing up in the Zambian bush was idyllic – fun, free and fulfilling. Some did say it was a recipe for me to be socially inept, technologically averse and a little odd! In fact, I turned out quite normal (I think) and I work in online communication…
How many siblings do you have? Did you all grow up in Zambia and then move to the UK together?
I have an older half sister, Jessica and a half brother, Jonathan from my Dad’s first marriage. My Mum met my Dad when he was a devoted single Dad with a toddler (Jessica) and baby (Jonathan). In fact, she interviewed him for a job and they both worked at UNZA in the 1970s.
Through, one of life’s unfair and unexpected ‘curve balls’, Jessica and Jonathan had to go and live with their Mum in the UK in the early 80s. I remember what a painful time this was and I can only imagine that it was extremely confusing for their young minds.
Luke was born when I was 5 and sadly, we saw very little of Jessica and Jonathan after that. Jonathan decided to move back to Zambia when he was about 14, moving back to England in about 1996. Luke, my parents and I moved to England in 1999. The main reason for this move was that my Mum’s parents needed more support, and as my Mum’s sister lived in Australia, my parents decided to make the move.
What was it like moving to the UK? Any regrets? Door openers?
In 1998, just after I finished school, aged 16, I moved to the UK to live with my older sister, Jessica. She had just had a baby girl, Savannah, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself. I moved to help out and also to get to know her better. I started to build a relationship with my sister and she went back to work whilst I looked after my niece. This was in no way easy, but the experience sewed important seeds in my teenage years and influenced who I am today.
About a year later I moved back to Zambia, and then back to the UK with the rest of the family in 1999.
I would define 1998 to 2000 as lonely and turbulent years. Although these are sweeping statements, I found the majority of people that crossed my path clique, insular and apathetic.
I did my A levels by distance learning because everything was up in the air with regard to where I would settle. After my A Levels, I settled into college life and part-time work.
Even though it was a hard time in my life, I don’t have regrets. Everything happens for a reason and everything offers a learning opportunity. Although I didn’t know it at the time, doors were opening and leading to where I am now. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but I am on the way.
Any plans of ever returning to live in Zambia?
Yes. All my adult and working life has been in the UK so I often wonder what life as an adult in Zambia would be like. The only way to find out is to do it. I am used to the fast pace in the UK, so when I have been in Zambia for work, I have often been frustrated by what seems like a lack of urgency!
Now I am married, it’s not a decision I can make on my own. We’re both very career focused and ambitious people so there would have to be the right opportunity for Liam too. He is a Chartered Quantity Surveyor so I always tell him there are large scale construction projects everywhere – technically we could live anywhere! Of course, I am heavily involved in thebestofzambia.com and if all goes to plan, this will at least demand that I travel to Zambia for more work trips.
Where did you meet Liam? Did he grow up in the UK?
Yes, Liam is English and grew up in a tiny village in the country. When I left Zambia, I literally promised my friends I would never marry an Englishman! But we met in 2001, survived a long distance relationship through university, and got married in 2011.
I don’t like admitting it because it sounds so trashy! We got talking in a nightclub, but we had seen each other at college. I have been in a club between 5 and 10 times in my life and had never given my number out to anyone (or given a fake one), so it worked out surprisingly well!
Previously, I had needed to go to the carpentry department with another girl. It was very much a man’s domain. I will never forget the crescendo of catcalls and comments that came from those young men. There was one young man who did not whistle, comment or even seem to care that two members of the female species had walked in. I liked that. I noticed. We realised he was the same guy when we got talking.
What made you choose a degree in Graphic Communication and Illustration?
I did A Levels in Business Studies, Psychology and Economics. At the time, my Dad wanted me to be an accountant or something ‘more serious’ than a creative. Although my heart had considered it, I had never pursued art because in my head, I really didn’t see feasible career. I always wanted a high flying career so I let art slip by the wayside.
I was doing my Duke of Edinborough Award and did an Art class for my Skill. One day, the teacher, Daphne Eastburn, asked me why I had not considered doing art more seriously. That conversation turned into an A Level Art, then a Foundation Course in Art and Design and then my degree.
This fight between head and heart lead me to a combined degree in Graphic Communication (head, more career options) and Illustration (heart, more creative with no clear outcome). It was also a confidence thing. Another teacher had told me I was not suited to graphic design and I knew it would involve computers which I had not had much experience with.
I felt like Graphic Communication was well out of my comfort zone and Illustration was my safe, nice to have zone. (In the end, they were equally challenging!)
What inspired you to start this career?
A first class degree in what I believed to be the most career promising art, was going to be my ticket to that high flying career. I worked my nuts off and I got my first class degree. But I didn’t get the jobs to match. I tried and I tried but it just didn’t happen for me. I had to settle for mediocre jobs.
The first company I worked for went bust. The second company and I just didn’t agree. There were opportunities to progress but there was a stronger clash of principles and business ethics. Much to Liam’s horror at the time, I left, without a plan.
Based on all of this, I think my career (if you can call it that) chose me. Or maybe I was inspired to take a different path based on those experiences.
It certainly did not turn out high flying. It has instead been an acutely difficult, resource draining and painfully slow journey. I have often chastised myself about why it is taking so long to get where I see I can go. I am in the process of coming to terms with “a slower, more conscious path to growth” – something I had never thought about until I listened to James DiSabatino’s interview on The Growth Show podcast, just this week! The podcast title was ‘The Slow Growth Advantage’…
What do you love about what you do?
I love getting to know a business and its people, and finding out all these amazing things they do, and why they do what they do. Trying not to overwhelm them, I love showing them how they can tell their stories in a way that will help them achieve their goals, attract their ideal customers, and give them the kind of credibility and brand awareness they deserve.
I am still surprised how what I think will be an average business turns out to have great untold stories. But it doesn’t always work out. Most businesses people don’t see the value in telling these stories, are not willing (or able) to put in the time and budget needed, or mistakenly believe all they need to do is put a magical website up and the rest will follow.
So I particularly love the vision we have for thebestofzambia.com. We are developing a systemised way of telling stories about Zambian businesses. I love showing the world what Zambia has to offer because Zambia means so much to me. It is so much a part of me, I feel a strong sense of responsibility and desire to represent it effectively.
What is it like working alongside your brother Luke in the UK? Have you always been close? Did you move to the UK at the same time?
We work together on Something Beckons and thebestofzambia.com and make an awesome duo! (But we’re actually a 4 person leadership team). We didn’t plan it, but our skills complement each other and I put that down to a higher power. Luke’s studies and interests lead him on a somewhat parallel path to mine. Probably because he couldn’t be bothered to job hunt after university he decided to work with me. Are you getting the picture? He is significantly more easy going than me!
I am not a developer. He is. I am a good designer. He is a brilliant designer. He is not a front man. I am. He is not a face-to-face sales person. I surprised myself and learned to love selling. I extract stories from people and write good content. Together we make it great. I love tech, tools and apps but I only touch the surface with them. He is a tech, tools and apps man on steroids.
Yes, we have always been close. We never fought and didn’t last 5 minutes after an argument, before one of us was saying sorry.
The only challenge we had was in starting work on time! But one day he decided to act like a director rather than an employee and now, we’re building something pretty spectacular together.
Whose idea was it to start The Best of Zambia and how did the whole family (mum, dad, brother and you) end up working in the business?
The Best of Zambia was definitely my Dad’s idea! He is the visionary. I am a big dream queen, but even I have a hard time keeping up with his dream!
CD’s are old technology now, but when he gets something in his head, we call my Dad ‘the scratched CD”. On one of his trips back to Zambia he wanted to go out for a meal. He did something he had gotten used to doing in England. He searched online and was appalled at the results. He came back with this crazy idea which has evolved into thebestofzambia.com.
Both my parents had been made redundant. After quitting my job without a plan (not the best idea in the world), I had started freelancing in graphic design. My clients were asking me for websites. I couldn’t build websites. My parents had worked in IT, back in the day when computers were the size of rooms. We decided to give website building a go. We practised on our own projects (the rather shocking first draft of thebestofzambia.com) and on friends projects we did for free.
But it was Luke’s skills that really enabled the website side of things to take off. Technology moves so fast, we have been learning ever since! Again, the four of us have skills and experience that complements each others.
With Luke and myself in the UK and my parents in Zambia it’s hard running the business long distance. I depend on my parents to be my on the ground managing partners. It’s not ideal, but it’s the way it has to be until we have a bigger travel budget!
How many people make up the team of Best of Zambia. How many people are you directly responsible for?
20 people. I feel a sense of responsibility for the livelihoods and personal growth of all these people. But I also do what I can to encourage our team to take on their own sense of responsibility, ownership and accountability. We have to work smart together to make this thing succeed for the greater good and for mutually beneficial business growth. Based on my experience so far, I hope this philosophy is something more employees in Zambia learn quickly.
Having a web based company, how have the recent problems with ZESCO affected your business?
Immensely. Last year we had to invest in a backup system from Solar Suntech. The batteries charge up when there’s power and this allows us to switch to batteries when there is an electricity outage.
It was not something we had budget for, but it was not something we could ignore. Laptops are our number one tool. All our tools and systems are online. The down time would have killed us.
An equally important tool is access to the internet. This is still challenging but has come on in leaps and bounds since we started back in 2009. Our Skype or Hangout calls used to be atrocious quality, but our calls are pretty much smooth sailing these days.
At one point our family home housed Liam and I; my Grandma; my teenage niece, Savannah; my brother, Luke; his fiancee (now wife) Delba did pretty much everything but sleep here (and moved in when they were married); and my parents came back and forth a lot, mainly to see my Grandma.
My Dad can’t be blamed for that crazy idea though. It was Liam’s crazy idea. It was a way of ‘turning lemons into lemonade’. Let’s just say, we all sacrificed a lot and worked together as a family to make things work for everyone.
Today, Liam and I live in that family home. It’s a project and we have the skills to bring it back to life; my Grandma was here until January of this year, when her health needs demanded she go into a home just up the road (Luke and I take turns in visiting her so she has a visitor every day); Savannah chose to start a new life in London; Luke and Delba have a wonderful first house together; and my parents can now stay at Luke’s or mine whenever they visit England.
That is a short version of the Kibbutz!
You mention your niece in your personal writing. What has been the biggest lesson for you in the role that you have played for her?
A few things. Even when you are completely sure of something, life will throw you utterly unfair and unexpected ‘curve balls’. Your world will be changed forever, altered completely. As you process it all, weeks and months will go by but it will feel like time stood still. Even when you cannot fathom the situation, you will have a difficult choice to make. Will you react negatively or positively? Will you let it scar you? Will you let anger and bitterness consume you? Or, will you look for the lessons? Will you forgive?
I learned that sometimes even when you give and give and give, when you love freely and hope eternally, sometimes that is not enough. Try as you might you cannot change, fix or make people do, see or feel anything. They must decide for themselves. I have learned to accept this and continue giving, loving and hoping, so that my soul does not become cold and lifeless. This experience gave me clarity on what I deserve from people close to me.
- Tell the truth.
- Respect for each other.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Though we will stumble, where there is serious heartfelt effort in the above three, we will be able to continue our walk together.
I hope I inspired Savannah. I hope she learned from me. I hope she goes on to achieve her dreams.
I love your Life Design Project, almost a year on how is it still working for you?
I need to write part 2 of that! I still use it as a basis for how I choose to spend my time. But since looking so closely at my life and what I want, I am much more in tune with the need to constantly reevaluate. It is so incredibly easy to go off track! Because time is such a limited resource for me, I constantly have to reassess where my priorities lie.
What’s your #1 tip for fellow entrepreneurs?
Find a balance between essential big dreams and realism. Everything will take longer than you think.
What does it mean to you to live a good life?
So very much! ‘A good life’ will mean different things to different people. It means two things for me:
- The Brown’s have a saying. “The next generation must be better than the last.” Out of respect for the people in my family history and the opportunities I have, I have a responsibility to make an impact.
- More recently, a good life means to release myself from the pressure of point 1 and to be present in the now. It is enjoying and learning from moments that could so easily go unnoticed. I used to think, ‘Who has time to stop and smell the roses’. Now, I stop and smell the roses.
How do you keep inspired?
I read. I listen to podcasts. I discover things and people via social media. I spend time in nature. I look back at where I have come from. I take steps in honour of the great great people that paved the way for me. I see people who have far less than me. I look forward to the possibilities.
What’s your greatest gift?
A stubborn, never give up fighting spirit.
What’s your favourite book?
Too many! These popped in my head
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, Michael E. Gerber
What Happens When Women Walk in Faith , Lysa Terkeurst
Secrets of the Millionaire Mind T. Harv Eker
What’s your favourite quote?
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1
What’s your favourite object in your home?
My living room floor! It is a rustic reclaimed pine wood floor that Liam laid and which I stained. The same floor is about to go down in our hallway.
What’s your favourite dish?
How do you choose? I just love all food! I used to be a real sweet tooth but now I have a better appreciation for the savoury – they tend to be kinder to my curves!
What’s your favourite hangout?
Anywhere outdoors. Preferably with good food, sunshine and where I can kick my shoes off. Or coffee shops with wi-fi.
What’s your favourite can’t-live-without item?
My laptop and wi-fi!
Where is the next place you would love to visit on holiday and why?
Couldn’t possibly choose! The places I have in my mind are:
- Mozambique because it has that really long coastline and I have never had the chance to explore other African countries other than Zambia
- Skiing in France because Liam loves skiing, I’ve only been once with him and I need to conquer my fears
- Italy because it’s a childhood fantasy
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
More time. I would probably once have said more money. But now I’d like the time to do what I have on my plate better. I think that is a better path to financial freedom.