The concept of entrepreneurship is now giving its first steps here. It was illegal to make private businesses until the mid 80’s, besides the government was extremely centered… so, accordingly to what I’ve been told, the truth is that people’s mentality (especially the older generations) is still a little bit ‘waiting for someone who’ll do it for them’ and searching for more stable jobs without many risks – which contrasts with Kenya’s situation, where almost everybody ‘wants more’. In fact, I was given a funny example that portrays this difference: There are 2 lions, one Kenyan and one Tanzanian. They see a gazelle and the Kenyan immediately starts chasing it, because there’s an opportunity to catch it, so he makes everything he can in order to catch it. The Tanzanian thinks “it’s a little bit far… let’s see if it turns around and I’ll catch it when it’s right here by my side”.
But today I bring you a force of nature, there’s no other way to describe Eric Chrispin. In fact, I can tell you that I had written “be inspired” on this expedition’s sort of ‘bucket list’ and today I can scratch this item off my list. He blew my mind… it contrasts with the majority of people in Tanzania and I would even say, in the whole world, you’ll understand why.
The frying pan strikes again… (do you remember the frying pan expression on ‘Kibera’s’ post?).
Name: Eric Chrispin
Favourite quote: Be the change that you want to see in the world.
He was born on the south of Tanzania, where he says that “life was good. I use to live in a small village, more specifically a farm. Life was all about cultivate and eating what you cultivated over there. It was hard to get money to buy the stuff that you couldn’t get through cultivation… but apart from that, life was very good, at least that’s what it seemed like back then! We had a lot of food in the village”. He lived with his grandmother almost his entire lifetime, a great influence for him.
I ask him if he was an energetic boy, willing to do things since an early age. As humbly as it gets and while looking at the ceiling as if wondering he says… “I don’t know, I liked to do things… I always liked electricity and while I was on primary school, I did my house’s electrical wiring. Maybe I was already a little bit innovative, I don’t know.” You don’t know??!! Electrical wiring but “what do you mean?” I immediately ask. He tells me that when he visited his aunt, who was a teacher on a school located in a near village, there was a solar energy system in that school. “When I visited her on vacation I thought… ‘ok, there’s another way of having light besides the sun!”…But…but… Yes, you’re thinking right, he didn’t have electricity at home nor had he seen ‘light’ before… “I got curious, and all I could think of was ‘how can we also have that king of light here?’. I did some research on books that were on my library and even though I couldn’t understand what was written very well, I tried to copy the drawings”… he was 10 years old at the time… that’s right… his grandmother’s house was the first one in the village with light… “the light was very weak but I did it!”.
He says his grandmother always supported him in everything “she didn’t want me to have a life like the one she had so she made me read and study a lot. Every time I tried to do something new she gave me a huge help… she used to save money to buy candles so that I could continue reading when there was no sunlight anymore… she did everything for me”. A visionary…
According to him, he was poor and didn’t have money to go to high school so, once he believed he had a talent in the electricity business, he decided to enrol a technical school. There he learned more about electricity and understood why things didn’t work at 100% when he was 10 years old. He was also already ready to “start his life and searching for a job”, as he says. But things didn’t go the way he wanted… in electrician’s job interviews, they always asked him for his middle school’s certificate and due to not having it, he couldn’t get a job. Even though he dreamed of being part of a team in a big company, he didn’t stop and went for it… he lived on the streets, started working as a ‘freelancer’ and doing odd jobs as an electrician, using the knowledge he possessed.
Using the money he saved and with his aunt’s help, he decided to go back to high school for 3 years and obtain the desired certificate that would give him access to a “job”. So it was… but with a different ending. He had excellent grades and he was now ready to achieve his dream but… one of his uncles saw that he “had a brain and didn’t want to fool around” and he told him that if he wanted to attend high school he would help him with the expenses. The dream changed here…
He went to high school and had great grades, so good that he was offered a scholarship in the university of Dar Es Salaam! “I studied very hard… that was the only way possible. I use to read a lot… I couldn’t let down the ones who bet on me. Every day I reminded myself that I didn’t have any money when I wanted to go to high school and now I had a golden opportunity that I couldn’t waste. Moreover, the life I had on the streets until then was hard… it’s not the life I wanted for me. I was the only one who could avoid having to go through that again and I did everything I could. I wanted to have a good life, a normal life… and the truth is that I believed I was capable”.
He moved to Dar Es Salaam and studied sociology in college. One year before finishing his course he started wondering what he was going to do after his course was finished. “I didn’t want to go back to my village, after all life wasn’t any good there… moreover, my family didn’t support me instead of other family members for me not to ‘use’ that knowledge”.
His main worry was now “how can I stay in Dar Es Salaam?”. He started thinking and one day he came up with an idea… he remembered that he got an ‘A’ in English back in high school and he thought “hold on, I’m good at English, maybe I can write a book about chemistry in Swahili by translating some books!”. In rural places, people didn’t understand English and there was lack of books about this subject in Swahili. Erik spotted the opportunity and so it went… he presented his idea to a friend who liked it, so he gave him a computer. He used to take his computer to Tanzania’s national library in order to quickly access books and obtain references. But how about editing and publishing the book? He didn’t have any money… so he edited it himself. He read and reread the book dozens of times, searching for errors and did the design. Publish? His friend, the one who gave him the computer, helped him printing the first books for free so that he could get some working capital… so it went… he took his books to ‘the field’ and tried to sell them. This process got him to meet a woman who had a small print shop and she offered to print the books every time there was an order. He accepted her offer, they agreed a price and he went from school to school all over Tanzania with his books trying to get orders, then he came back to print them and he delivered them as soon as they were ready. This way, he was able to ‘spend’ money on prints only when there were orders. He sold 100 books on his first month, a market success in Tanzania, he told me. “I tried everything… I didn’t know a thing of business, the truth is that I had never sold anything before, it was the first time… but I did it!”.
Using the money from his book he managed to rent an apartment in Dar Es Salaam and he started his life. He learned about entrepreneurship and business in a ‘practical way’ but he felt like he needed more. More knowledge. He started searching for entrepreneurship centers, associations and he became a member of one of them. He organized events, read about the subject, met a lot of businessmen and helped many entrepreneurs creating their businesses, which led to “not being able to think about other thing”.
With all of this, he managed to lead the entrepreneurship center of the university of Dar Es Salaam and met ‘Global Platform’. They were Danes who wanted to introduce “social entrepreneurship” to Tanzania and they went to Erik. “Here I got to know this ‘new type of entrepreneurship’… it seemed perfect because it got entrepreneurship with a social component and my sociology course together. I helped them organizing workshops and they offered me a social entrepreneurship course in Global Platform”.
After the course, he identified a new opportunity and took advantage of it. Using his course, he started ‘selling himself’ as social entrepreneurship expert and giving formation all over Tanzania. He did it in such a successful way that the Danes invited him to work with them. Today he’s one of those in front of this organization, he’s a motivational speaker and ‘coach’. He helps others and makes it happen. He wants to establish himself as a reference in the personal development field and social entrepreneurship in Tanzania.
I’m completely amazed with this man’s will power… I already asked him if wanted to come to Portugal to work with me when I was done with this trip around the world… there aren’t many like this one… but his answer was: “I’d love to… but it has to be either for a short period of time or go and come, go and come… my country needs me”.
There’s not much to say about this story, it’s easy and simple to get your own conclusions.
1 – We just don’t make what we don’t want to;
2 – In any situation, it’s possible, if there is will power, A LOT of will power, to go ahead and reach it.
I don’t know if it’s god, the universe or anything else… each one takes his own conclusions… but there’s something that, when you use all your forces, ‘conspires’ in your favor that makes things happen… believe me, it’s true!