I distinctly recall hearing Tal Dehtiar, founder of Oliberte, explain why he hated the term “social entrepreneur.” He said it’s unfair that entrepreneurs who do business for social good are now being recognized when for decades, people have started up businesses that also benefitted their communities. He used his own father as an example: his father operated a furniture business for many years where employees were cared for and paid fair wages. Yes, social entrepreneurs is not a new concept – it’s been around for ages, but it is also true that there is an increasing trend of young people who want to do more with their businesses. In Africa, however, it seems almost automatic. Many of my students business ideas stem from problems in their communities that they want to fix.
A social entrepreneur is someone who operates a business for more than just profit. He or she also want to help the local or global community in some way through their business, be it education, environment, poverty, human rights, etc. As I travel throughout Tanzania, I will profile some of the young people I meet who are social entrepreneurs but who have never heard of the term. They are people who have big ideas to help their communities and who using business to make it happen. They also might never get to enter fancy social business competitions but they are no less social entrepreneurs. They are Unofficial Social Entrepreneurs.
Lekishon Tutunyo is one of my LEADER Project students in Arusha. He stood out from Day 1, decked out in traditional Masai Tribe clothing: pieces of plaid fabric tied around his shoulders. LEADER Project students have to present and pitch their business idea to a panel of potential investors on the last day of class, at the end of the two-week project. On the third day of class, Lekishon handed us a printed business plan. Needless to say, I was impressed with his initiative and I took the time to interview him after class.
Lekishon is the founded of the Enjipai Community Project. He hopes to build a Maasai-run school with an equal emphasis and balance between high quality instruction and indigenous knowledge, centered in Mfereji village. He said that one of the biggest problems in Mfereji, his hometown, is the lack of education. Most villages, including Mfereji, are located very far distances from the nearest primary school. Walking to school would take over five hours, and for a young for a young child this is neither safe nor feasible. In some instances children are sponsored to go to school, thus leaving their home for months on end. Many Maasai elders feel this is not a viable option for their children, fearing they will miss out on fundamental aspects of their cultural practice and indigenous teachings. To do this, he needs money and his business idea to start a cultural tourism business in this village. Tourists would pay a fee to see and experience life in a Masai village, enjoy a walking safari and live in the village if they wanted. The profits from the business would help pay for the school for children.
I also learned that Lekishon has a laptop and regularly goes online. This was surprising because we did not expect our students to have access to a computer or printing, especially the morning class that Lekishon is in. This class is a group of small business owners who are graduates of an alternative education program in Arusha and street kids. Small business in Africa means working from the side of the road, your house or if you’re lucky, renting a small shop space. These are not young people with a lot at their disposal. I asked Lekishon what he does online and how he learned to use the internet. He explained that he used to go to an internet cafe and someone there showed him how to go online and created an email for him. (Fun Fact: that person also spelt Lekishon’s name incorrectly in the email, but Lekishon did not realize until it was complete. Not knowing how to fix it, Lekishon kept that email since 2003 and now it would be too much of a hassle to change it.)
Now he uses the internet to learn more about how to market his business and contacting people who might be able to help fund his project. I was really happy to see how he was using his access to the Internet because I believe that whilst the internet cannot solve all problems, if you know how to use it, it can be an incredibly powerful tool for education and communication.
I asked Lekishon what was the biggest challenge for him as tries to get his cultural tourism business off the ground. He said it was providing form of accommodation for the tourists, so that they would have somewhere to stay overnight at the village.He said that he had support from his village elders – they liked the idea of building a school for the Masai children – but they could not understand how cultural tourism would work. Most of the tribe members had no formal education and little or no english, making it difficult to find people who could help implement the tourism business. It also makes it difficult to find qualified teachers to teach the Masai children an obstacle. Since living in the city part-time, Lekishon made friends with volunteers in Arusha who helped him with various aspects of the business plan and finding funding but for now, he is trying to educate himself better and learn more about business.
This weekend in Arusha is Karibu Fair, the leading travel trade event in East Africa. It is the place to be if you are involved in teh tourism industry in Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. I told Lekishon that he should go check it out. When he seemed indifferent, I asked him if he knew why I was telling him he should go. He could learn so much there and make contacts with people who could potentially help him start his business. Lekishon told that me that he had planned to go to Karibu Fair but he could not have marketing materials like brochures and business cards designed and created in team. He had a friend design half a brochure for him but it’s not enough.
I told him that I could teach him to use some basic design programs on his laptop and he was ecstatic. Moments like this drill home how fortunate I am. Raised and educated in a developed country, I have so much more than I know. Not only do I have seemingly limitless access to possessions but my education have given me the tools and know-how I need to help someone launch a business. As much as I want Lekishon to succeed, I can only do so much as I will be leaving Tanzania in three months and his is a very long term project. Still, if I can teach him a few more computer skills and direct him to resources that he may not otherwise have exposure to, I might help a little.
You need less than you think and you have more than you know.
“We are not in a position in which we have nothing to work with. We already have capacities, talents, direction, missions, and callings.” – Abraham Maslow (Courtesy of Workisnotajob)
Learn more here:
Enjipai Community Project - http://enjipaicommunity.blogspot.com/