Work/life balance – a key challenge for African entrepreneurs

Written on 05/05/2016


My name is Dr FON FONONG Elizabeth. When one talks of work/life balance in an entrepreneurial university, one would expect a strong male entrepreneur to take the floor so why listen to a woman?

I have been a doctor for 30 years and with over 600 surgical operations, you can say I know a bit about human beings inside out literally.

The Catholic University Institute of Buea is a renowned entrepreneurial University. That means I am talking to young men and women who will become the General Managers, leaders and nation builders of tomorrow.

The Catholic University has come to the clear realization that if they send out excellent entrepreneurs but who have no work and family life balance, a few years down the road, it will be a total disaster.

These bright young girls and boys will think and feel like failures because no one took the time to prepare them for creating fulfilling, respectful and mutually rewarding relationships at home and in their workplaces.

Relationships in the home and the workplace are serious business for an entrepreneur who wants to be a leader.

An ordinary entrepreneur will think in terms of more money for me and myself but the entrepreneur who studied in the Catholic University Institute of Buea will know that one is too small a number to achieve greatness so will think in terms of we, us, ours. He or she will have learned in the various classes to treat his family the same way he treats his VIP clients and so his/her family will support him/her to be the best entrepreneur ever.

Awareness and preparation for such a successful work/life balance start now.

Boys and girls may be gender-equal but as a medical doctor, I will tell you in no uncertain terms that biologically, boys and girls are very different.

When a girl meets a boy, she is thinking in terms of

  • -Passion
  • -Commitment
  • -Marriage then
  • -Career
  • -Settle down to raise the kids
  • -Attend mass every morning and high mass with the wonderful kids and faithful husband every Sunday.

When the boy meets pretty girl, this is his thought process:

  • -Yeah passion at last
  • -Sex agogo
  • -More sex
  • -Sex on demand
  • -Career then marriage (for girl marriage before career)
  • -As an entrepreneur, build her the big house, buy her a car, give her enough money to take care of the kids.
  • -Go out for the good life
  • -More money, more girls, deuxieme bureau, mboma in UB
  • -The big man in society and the big man in the church.

How do I know this is true?

Because of the way couples of all socio-economic classes describe their marriages. When I ask “how is your marriage madame?” She will answer

“doctor, na tie heart now, na management, na roof di cover all things”.

The consequence is that work/life balance is zero. That kind of marriage is a disaster waiting to happen and when he transports that stress to work, it is just a question of time because his followers know that something is wrong with their leader.

Once upon a time, I was a young and pretty number too. I was approached by a few ugly toads before I met my prince charming. When we were introduced to each other, I knew I was in big-time trouble. It was love at first sight and I was completely and hopelessly in love with him. He too was totally and equally hopelessly in love with me. How did I know that?

A day after meeting me, he invited me to go with him visit his aunt who was a reverend sister in a monastery in Obout. No kidding. This is the true story of my life. When we met her, she enquired for how long I had known her nephew and I said one day. She was like “whew”, this is very serious. He has never brought a girl to introduce to me so this must be serious”.

By this time we had not done anything, just a handshake and a smile but I knew I was lost. I was in 5th-year medical school living in my mini cite room alone and I could do whatever I wanted. My body was screaming for more closeness with him, the kind of closeness that we all know about. I was in a dilemma; should I give in to my turbulent emotions and put out our raging fires or wait? I decided to wait not because I was thinking of HIV prevention or abstinence because at that time you are a little crazy. I decided to wait because I did a quick calculation and realized that it was the best strategic move to make. I asked him to go see my parents. If I had given in to him, the next day he would have had more sense and before I knew it, he would have been saying goodbye and see you, moving on to a new conquest. Do not blame them because that is the biological nature of boys or little men. He was a petroleum engineer working with Mobil oil driving a penya Renault 18 so paying the bride price was no big deal. In our village bride price is not expensive thank God so with less than two hundred thousand, he was free to marry me.

Our preparation for a successful work/life balance was a total of 16 hours of church marriage doctrine and two hours at the mayor’s office reading us the laws on marriage. Do you think we were paying any attention to what the mayor was saying? No way! We were only thinking about what we would do to each other that evening. Never mind what parents tell us about sex is bad. I had read all the romance novels from Mills and Boons and I knew that I would live happily ever after. Who says!

Problems started almost immediately.

-He was a career man, I was a career woman.

He had a salary, I had a salary.

He spoke grammar, I spoke grammar too.

Our problems were only starting. After three miscarriages and 8 years down the road, no baby. We started playing the blame game.

He blamed me and I blamed him

He blamed my family and I blamed his.

I would go to work with a blinding headache and be expected to go to the theatre. Of course, no one knew what I was going through. This was the life of a career woman and career man who had started off madly in love with each other.

When I stopped prescribing and started listening to my patients, things started happening. A man of 45 came in one day to see me and I had to counsel him on faithfulness in marriage for HIV prevention. He was like “Doctor, you no fit understand” and I was like “try me”.

He said “Doctor, for two years now, me and my woman never join bed”.

I was like “are you sure?”

His reply “call my woman askam now”.

So I called his wife and asked her “Madame, is it true that your husband and you have not joined the bed for two years?”

She became so angry just at the mention of her husband’s name and spat out “Yes doctor, the idiot, yi no di give chop money, yi no di pay pikin school fees. Wetin man di do with that bed palaver safe”. I realized that I was not alone with marital problems. I also realized I could talk to them about faithfulness for HIV prevention until I was blue in the face and it would mean nothing.

Then God in His infinite mercy stepped in with TESHO

Let us sing a small song. I have obtained permission from the President of the Catholic University so we can relax. We are talking about work/life balance. We cannot take life too seriously.

Do what I do TESHO.

TESHO is the acronym for Team Spirit Holistic. My husband and I and a few friends started brainstorming on how we could help families find harmony in their relationships and then carry this positive energy to the workplace.

The TESHO family is organized as follows”

Papa/husband = Team Captain

Mom/wife is the coach

The kids are the star players.

When they start thinking and acting like members of the same team, they stop fighting each other.

There are 15 modules in the TESHO program. Some are more useful for family balance like the resolution of in-law and step-children conflicts

Others cut across work and family life balance like effective communication at home and in the workplace.

Let me tell you about the 3 recurrent problems that affect families in my family counselling experience. They are problems of:

  • 1)Communication.
  • 2)Money palaver
  • 3)Sexuality (sheeeew the taboo subject)

COMMUNICATION: Communication is heavier than air. Effective communication should not be left to chance but should be learned. Future entrepreneurs should learn winning techniques of communication like whispering in ear eg

Husband and wife learn to build closeness by sharing secrets and jokes eg chop your chop.

Proverbs 18v21 says there is the power of life and death on the tongue. The story of a silly blue shirt can lead to divorce depending on whether the couple decides to be positive or negative in their communication.


Let me tell you a true story of an MBA entrepreneur. Your parents have suffered to sponsor you in the Catholic University Institute of Buea, They will not let you forget it. Of course they will ask you not to show your salary or earnings to your spouse for fear he/she might kill you and take all. The Catholic University needs to call in TESHO to help you young people learn how to manage money like a winning team.

SEXUALITY: This is the taboo subject. Young entrepreneur, leader of tomorrow, nation builder, never forget that some of your workers will have issues with their sexuality. As we say in pidgin “knack my hand”, about 50% of your workers will be suffering from this taboo illness. You would probably have issues with your sexuality too but you do not have to let your workers know it. However, your followers are looking up to their GM entrepreneur for leadership in resolving this problem that they dare not talk about. So why should you even bother to solve their sexual problems?

For many reasons

  • 1)A man who is sex-starved sees only red.
  • 2)If he is working on heavy machinery, he might make the wrong choices and harm himself or worse others and blow up the whole company.
  • 3)When you help them with this problem, they will owe allegiance to your leadership forever. They will say, “Gars, Notre DG est cool”. “Man, our GM is cool, he is the best”

The question going through your mind is probably this “How on earth am I going to solve their taboo problem?”

No sweat, just call in the TESHO Foundation to bring in the TESHO trainers. It will be fun and it will be easy.

In TESHO, we say the Husband alias Team Captain and Madame alias Coach have a very important match to play. It is played in three phases:

  • 1)Before the match or echauffement
  • 2)During the match
  • 3)After the match.

Before the match is echauffement. Women are 100% emotional. The team captain should communicate positively and ask his coach what techniques of echauffement she prefers. You might need to call her during the day to hear her voice, send her a little credit, send her a positive SMS, bring her two soyas for 200frs and whisper nice things in her ear. Remember the 30/30 rule. It takes a man 30 seconds to be ready for the match but a woman needs 30 minutes to be ready for the same match. If the team captain forces her to enter the field when she is not yet ready, “il n’y aura pas match”.

We do not have time to discuss the other important phases of the match.

Is TESHO just theory or does it really work? I could take a whole day to give you testimonies from those who have attended TESHO classes.

You will need TESHO to overcome the challenges that come to every marriage. The Reverend fathers and sisters are lucky they are not married.

With TESHO we are able to overcome challenges like a team. After our first daughter, we had to wait again for another 9 years. We prayed together and believed God together. Then I was operated and 31 fibroids removed. No doctor gave me a half per cent chance of carrying a pregnancy to term on a uterus with those many scars. Lo and behold God blessed us with miracle twin boys that we named Love and Hope Fon Thaddeus.

So who is Dr Fon?

  • I am a career woman
  • I am the AGM of the TEFON company Douala.
  • I am the CEO of the TESHO Foundation.
  • I am the Project Manager of a Global Fund project for the Littoral
  • I have written two books with my Team captain titled “A Great Husband for a Great Wife” and the next one that will soon be out is titled “Reconcile…? No Way!”
  • I am proud to be a TESHO woman who has learned to submit to her team captain when I wrong him on my knees because I know my TESHO man will lift me up in every sense.

We need each other in the family. We need each other in the workplace to achieve greatness. You may not be married today but you need to start learning and while learning you need to learn to uplift others (colleagues, parents, siblings, neighbours) with your positive communication and other TESHO skills.

We all need a shoulder to cry on when the entrepreneurial jungle becomes tough and scary.

And so, I will like to thank the authorities of the Catholic University Institute of Buea and the NGO Go Ahead Africa for inviting me to come and share with a wonderful audience like you. This is my first-ever keynote address. If I have given you a headache, please forgive me, ASHIA. Just take a couple of aspirins and you will be ok.

My team captain, my TESHO man, my guy, my best friend and my husband has gone out for a business trip and that is why he is not here. He has asked me to tell you

God bless you from FC FON the winning team.

We love you.

Dr FON FONONG Elizabeth