Interview with Chiku Malunga: On using wisdom from African proverbs to improve organisations

ChikuMalunga600x600What kinds of organizational challenges lend themselves best to African indigenous wisdom rather than the conventional ones?

African Indigenous wisdom is built on the philosophy of ubuntu – the essence of being human or the ideal community. Therefore naturally it addresses human problems in the organization. But all problems are human problems, so in our work we use this approach to address most of the problems that come our way. It is also important to know that Ubuntu is not stuck in the past- adjustments needs to be made with the passing of time –for example incorporate things like technology.

You have a book on using African wisdom for making strategic plans. What is the original creativity that proverbs bring to this process?

One such aspect is what will make an organization to be more strategic. Proverbs have the power to solve this dilemma. A proverb like – ‘’a beautiful girl does not need to be a great dancer ‘’ simplifies everything.  It means that to be more strategic, an organization needs to invest more on its being – its capacity rather than its operation. A beautiful girl does not need to do much to attract suitors; they will be attracted by her being. Those not so endowed will have to do so much work to attract good men.

Africa has often faced the criticism of having little faith in its own ideas and knowledge. What is the wider appeal of the body of knowledge you are producing is having?

I have authored 13 books. From this work a completely new field of study and practice is emerging which I have named Organizational Paremiology, which is the use of the wisdom in (African) proverbs to improve organizational Performance. We have lit a fire in the world with this concept which is spreading quickly.

There’s a common narrative for an organization to expect the best from its employees. How can employees get what they want from an organization?

By giving the organization our best. The organization will ultimately give us back what we give it. If we have a good plan and as a team each one of us puts in our best, the organization will reciprocate. But if we believe in ‘doing little’ this is not sustainable and it will eventually show. This is a key challenge for leadership – to motivate people to do their best.

You believe that the real structure in an organization is the one shaped by power and politics (which is not necessarily the formal structure). How does a organization counter negative power and influence that often lies beneath the surface?

By developing an empowering organizational culture that banishes fear; where no one is punished for saying what they feel.  As adults, we all know when some individuals especially leaders are going wrong but we are afraid to point out the issue because somebody tried to do that in the past and was punished. We need to put in place values, systems and policies that enable honest giving and receiving of feedback.

In your experience what motives drive organizational leaders today and how in your view are those consistent with how organizations need to grow?

I work mostly in the development sector. My major frustration is that most people want to keep a job and the purpose of the job – transformation of the poor is not a major driving force. I think the real work of Organization Development is to challenge organizations on their purpose and relevance.

You tackled the question ‘’why do people become leaders?’’ in one of your articles. If I may put the same to you, why did you decide to become a leader?

To be honest with you I did not plan to become a leader. It evolved. I did a few things – wrote 13 books, coined Organizational Paremiology and then people began to look at me as a leader – a thought leader on the continent and indeed in the world.


 Chiku’s profile

Chiku Malunga is the first and leading Organizational Paremiologist in the world. He holds a Doctorate degree in Development Studies from the University of South Africa. Chiku is currently the Director of CADECO (Capacity Development Consulants) an organization that promotes African-centred organizational improvement models. Chiku has authored 13 books including Organizational Wisdom in 100 African Proverbs: An Introduction to Organizational Paremiology and Power and Influence: Self Development Lessons through Proverbs and Folktales. Find out about Chiku’s books at


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