Nelson Ashitiva is a lawyer, business leader and corporate governance expert in Kenya, with more than 15 years’ experience. He leads three business advisory firms in the law, energy and structured finance sectors, and regularly advises boards of private and listed companies on capital raising, corporate governance, business strategy and regulatory compliance. This summary of his interview was written by Ziwani’s Lise-Marie Keyser.
“My business journey is as a result of the generational blessing that was passed on to me by my parents, and to them by their parents,” Nelson Ashitiva states by way of introduction.
“Although my mom and dad were not business people, there were certain aspects of our household that had a business component. My mom was a teacher, and a farmer on the side. She planted cabbages and maize, and supplemented the family income by keeping cows and selling the milk to hospitals and schools. My father was the principal of a school, and very focused on the role that good leadership can play in transforming a school, and a community. So, from my mother’s business acumen, and my father’s leadership traits – I received a blessing.”
He strongly believes that there is an urgent need in Africa to establish transgenerational businesses. Quoting Proverbs 13:22, he says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” This doesn’t mean that our children have to work in the family business, but we do need to teach them how to embrace a business culture, so that they can progress beyond us. We need to set up our children, and their children, for success.”
Nelson is passionate about the concept of a God-given generational purpose – that each generation has its own contribution to make, while being connected to a bigger narrative.
He explains, “When you consider God’s relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as with Joseph – you realise that they each had a different role to play. The same when you consider David and Solomon. David wanted to build the temple, but God said to him, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood… Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him’” (1 Chron. 28:3, 6). To ensure that the temple would be “exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all lands,” David still gathered all the required materials and made preparations for it on behalf of his son (1 Chron. 22:5).
Overlaying this generational purpose onto the African context, Nelson points out that “our grandparents played their role in advancing the continent by gaining independence from colonial rule. The result is that our generation doesn’t have to deal with the question of whether or not we are fully-fledged citizens living in a sovereign state – we are enjoying the benefits of their sacrifice.” He continues, “The struggle of our parents’ generation was to gain wider access to better education, and to transform the political environment from despotism to democracy.”
Now the important question is, Nelson says, “In Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Morocco – what will our generation be known for? How will we advance the continent? Our grandfathers dreamed of a free Africa, our fathers dreamed of respect for human rights, what is our dream?”
For Nelson, the number one challenge the current generation needs to overcome is Africa’s economic crisis.
He laments, “We lost our ‘best brains’ through slavery, then we lost our ‘best brains’ through despotic rulership – we cannot continue to lose our ‘best brains’ through the lack of economic opportunity.” There is an urgency in his voice. “We have to fulfil our God-given purpose as David did, ‘…for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died’” (Acts 13:36).
“Every generation needs leaders. Africa has natural resources and intellectual property that we can harness – we have something to bring to the table. We can sit together and plan a growth trajectory, similar to what China and the Asian Tigers have done. We have to reimagine Africa as an economically empowered continent,” he asserts.
Since the 1980s, “China has undergone a structural transformation from a rural agricultural country to a more urbanised and service-oriented economy. The wealth of the Chinese population as measured by annual per capita income, has increased more than a hundredfold in both rural and urban areas” (GED). The four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) have achieved high levels of economic growth since the 1960s. “We can also change our story, our fortunes – especially since we can learn from those who have gone before us,” Nelson comments.
Such a transgenerational vision is powerful, and sacrificial – in contrast to modern individualism. Often, we live our own small stories, without reference to a larger story. For many Africans adversity is a daily reality, and adversity can have two outcomes: It can bring us closer together, or it can isolate us from one another. It can show us the value of community, or it can increase our selfishness. When we hear news of African migrants drowning in their attempts to cross over into Europe, do our hearts bleed, or do we simply shrug and carry on with our own lives? Do we care that our neighbours have a roof over their heads, good food on the table, access to quality education and healthcare?
It is important to realise though, that this is not a call to a social gospel, to ‘make this world a better place’. This is what it actually means to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mat. 22:39). Nelson reminds us, “When Jesus spoke to the lady at the well (John 4), he spoke to her first about natural water, before he spoke about eternal water. We demonstrate that we love our neighbours when we empower them to have dignity. It creates the opportunity for a credible gospel to be preached – that we’re not just saying ‘God loves you,’ but we’re demonstrating it in word and deed.”
For example, Nelson is active in the law, structured finance and energy sectors. He states, “As a lawyer, part of my responsibility is to promote economic justice. I want to create a more equitable economic reality, because access to wealth enables families to create a better future. Incidentally, they also make better political decisions, because they’re not simply voting for the person who gave them a handout. And people who are economically empowered are less susceptible to abuse.”
“As an advisor in the energy sector, I keep in mind the major role that affordable and efficient energy plays in stimulating economic growth. But I also consider its environmental impact, for the sake of future generations,” he continues. “As an advisor to corporate companies, I keep in mind ethics and sound business principles.” As a trustee of the Hesabika (meaning ‘stand up and be counted’), he has joined fellow Christian professionals in various industries who are working together to transform Kenya into a more prosperous nation.
Nelson offers this encouragement, “Remember that we are not the first generation to deal with disruption. The current technological disruption doesn’t compare to the cultural disruption that our grandparents had to navigate. We have been taught the foundations of the faith since childhood, and have many advantages they didn’t have. So, believe in the potential of our continent – we can transform Africa into a prosperous place for all.”
This is about how we as Christians engage redemptively in and through our work – to demonstrate the wisdom and glory of God in every sphere of life, and in so doing bring about human flourishing, from generation to generation.