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Rising against all odds

Rising against all odds
INSPIRATIONAL: Carlson Chiswo

Like the proverbial Phoenix, Carlson Chiswo is a symbol of hope, renewal, and rebirth.

Just like the mythical bird emerges from its ashes, Chiswo too rose from his deathbed 10 years ago to overcome the devastating effects of a near-fatal car accident.

The life-altering accident, which happened in 2011 in Chiswo’s homeland of Zimbabwe left him wheelchair-bound and a career that had hit rock bottom.

However, in 2018, the indefatigable 53-year-old Chartered Insurer was appointed the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a dynamic Insurance company, Phoenix Botswana Assurance, and relocated to Botswana to take up his new position.

He has already established a foundation that mobilizes resources to help other people in a similar predicament to access medical treatment and other services.

In this interview with The Voice’s KABELO ADAMSON, Chiswo speaks candidly about his ordeal, his foundation, Carlson Chiswo Foundation, and of course about Phoenix Assurance Company.

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Q. How long have you been in Botswana?

A. I have been in Botswana for three years now as the Chief Executive Officer of Phoenix Botswana and have mostly worked in Zimbabwe as well as in Zambia before suffering a car accident in 2011.

I have been in insurance and re-insurance my whole life and over 30 years now.

Q. You say your current condition was caused by a car accident, what happened?

A. I was involved in a car accident in July 2011 when travelling alone from Lusaka to Harare.

I sustained spinal cord injuries, which rendered me, quadriplegic, which means my four limbs, legs and arms don’t work.

It took me a year in a hospital and to get some form of recovery and landed me in the use of a wheelchair.

Q. So what happened after you were discharged from the hospital?

A. I had serious challenges in terms of re-integrating into society.

I always tell people that it is difficult to live with a disability when you have lived other than someone born with a disability.

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This affects you psychologically to a point of almost feeling embarrassed.

It also affects how you deal with other people outside.

Q. How did you make a comeback into the corporate world?

A. I struggled to come back to do what I used to do but at the same time, I was appointed Non-Executive Director of an insurance company In Zimbabwe.

This was during my recovery stage and during the same time I set up the Carlson Chiswo Foundation.

There were a lot of people that were dying from similar injuries.

I realized this was due to a lack of resources than anything else, hence the establishment of the Foundation.

Q. Then how did you land in Botswana?

A. During my recovery period, the Chairman of Phoenix got in touch with me saying he was looking for some to fill up a position, and that is when I came to Botswana in 2018.

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Q. Effectively this was your first-time job after the accident?

A. Yes, but like I said, after the accident, I was appointed a non-executive director of another company and at the same time I was an examiner for our insurance institute.

Q. You said all your limbs, including arms, are not functioning, so how are you able to perform your duties?

A. That is very challenging because obviously, I depend on a lot of assistance, but at the same time, it motivates me to do certain things differently.

I have gone out to buy adaptive equipment.

I use a wheelchair and drive myself in terms of mobility, and it works quite fairly well since my car has been fitted with the right equipment.

Q. Going back to the business, it’s been three years now, how have you found the journey?

A. Well, when I came into the company we were had some challenges, so the priority was to turn around the company from the position where it was to where it is now.

It was a bit difficult, but it has picked up a bit of positive trajectory in the sense that we have seen growth and re-establishment of our position in the market.

We were quite buoyant between 2018 and 2019, and then 2020 and cover 19 lockdowns happened.

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That severely affected the economy, but we still managed to realize decent growth.

Q. How has the Covid-19 affected the insurance industry?

A. Essentially it affects the clients first because people were not going to work, companies are shutting down.

This means companies’ ability to pay premiums is severely affected.

This then affects our business.

The second thing is that because borders were closed, we started to see shortages, which pushed prices up, and our claims, much as they may have reduced in numbers, also increased on the other hand because of shortages.

Q. What is your view on the local insurance industry?

A. The Botswana insurance industry is an interesting market, it is a relatively small market by size but we have about 11 competitors.

There are big and relatively small players and the market currently is very soft and by that we mean a situation whereby the prices are going down and companies are competing aggressively to take whatever business is at their disposal.

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Issues such as Covid-19 mean there are very few new investments that are coming and we are fighting for the same clients which can result in a price war more than anything else.

Q. Do you believe there is enough appetite by the locals to take up insurance policies?

A. I think that is an area where insurance companies need to work on because education in terms of the value of insurance is probably something that is missing.

People need to be educated about the importance of having an insurance policy and we need to teach that the moment you own an asset, insurance should be an integral part of that so that if anything happens, you have recourse.

We need to demystify all these perspectives about insurance.

Many people think insurance is expensive while it is not.

I believe there is appetite, but we need to arouse it.

Q. But compared to Zimbabwe?

A. Zimbabwe has been always a fairly mature market even in the African continent before the country started going through economic challenges.

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Insurance companies are bigger, but I am sure it is probably a different issue because of the economic challenges.

Q. Away from the office, how do you pass time?

A. After my accident I made it a mission that I motivate people, so one of the things I do is to visit rehab centers and when I was in Zimbabwe, it was part of my weekly schedule to visit those centers.

I have already started doing that here in Botswana by sharing my experiences with others; we gather and share our experiences.

I also have three daughters whom I play with and they form part of my critical support structure, I am trying to get into sports but I have a challenge there.

Q. Thank God It’s Friday, what will you be up to this weekend?

A. I have got a young lady that I mentor; she is in a similar situation so I will be meeting with her as I have given her an assignment.

The second thing obviously is to chill at home with family.

I avoid going out because of the Covid-19 environment.

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I also attend church online.

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