What if I told you that in 2012 you could have your dream job? Your job would include making money, building brilliant new approaches to products and services, endless learning opportunities, unlimited growth potential, and the end of poverty. Would you look at me like I was losing my marbles?
My guess is you would. So rather than tell you that you can have your dream job, I will show you that there is a path to getting there. I will do this in the same way that communities in rural Africa show us how they create their own economies. How innovation in their lives becomes the engine of hope and opportunity that is all-too-uncommon these days.
Welcome to ThinkImpact's innovation process.
In 2011, a young man from Richmond, CA named Philip Johnson applied for an opportunity to live and work in rural Kenya with ThinkImpact. The program he was hoping to join was called the Innovation Institute.
Philip first arrived to Washington DC for ThinkImpact's training program called ThinkImpact University with no stamps in his newly minted passport. He had never even spent so much as a night camping. The palm fields of Kaloleni, Kenya are nothing like the streets of Richmond where he was born and raised. What he did have was a fresh degree from the University of the Pacific and an entrepreneurial spirit that would drive him to have a truly life changing experience in Africa.
Philip had no job lined up after graduation, but had a voracious appetite for learning and enterprise. He joined 10 other young people -- college students, grad school candidates and young professionals -- on this 8-week journey in Kaloleni.
For Philip, the trip was not easy at first. He was shaken by the new environment, the homestay experience, the food and the culture. Miles outside of his comfort zone, he began by putting his guard up, but he was determined to overcome the challenge. At the same time, he felt frustrated by the innovation process and challenged by the seeming lack of energy and motivation in the community.
Three weeks into the program, there was a pivot. Something clicked. As if a sudden awakening or moment of enlightenment had struck him, Philip learned how to communicate with people from this rural village. He began to comprehend what he could do in his short time in the community. Having completed his studies at UOP's Eberhardt School of Business, he was more than capable of identifying market trends and supply chains, but he wasn't able to fully understand how a social enterprise could be leveraged to bring about an end to poverty in a very localized context until he connected with the local community members.
Philip opened up his heart and mind to people in Kenya. He listened to their aspirations, their challenges and ultimately became an inspiring figure to them. Along with several other community members, a Design Team formed and before long, with some brainstorming activities a growing sense of what was possible and a design challenge was developed. They asked: "How might we create healthy products, using local resources, while employing the youth?"
Their answer: coconut honey.
Through the innovation process Philip and his team prototyped multiple batches of this delicious honey that was made from the local alcohol, Palm Wine, a kind of fermented coconut water. Most families in the community earn a living through some part of the Palm Wine production and distribution process. Philip and his team found a way to leverage local resources and processes to create a new product that can be sold on the local market. A much healthier -- and less intoxicating! -- product than palm wine.
The Innovation Institute develops economies with new thinking, and it exemplifies what is possible. ThinkImpact has forged this process through five years of learning and listening in rural communities in Africa and also taking notes from visionaries. We work with IDEO.org and IDEO's human centered design materials. For those interested in learning how to become part of an innovative process, check out IDEO. For those looking to work in rural Africa during college or after, apply for the Innovation Institute and become the process.
Change your life and change the world.
In Philip's own words:
Why did you want to go?
"I was interested in social entrepreneurship. Already had been thinking about water problem in developing countries and my roommate showed him the opportunity to apply for ThinkImpact. Sounds pretty cool. Poverty alleviation, sanitation, sounded like what we were interested in. Always better to teach a man to fish than give him a fish."
What was it like there?
"... it was... it was almost, like, being in tropical paradise, but everything that you think that shouldn't be on that tropical paradise was there. Dropping trash, animals everywhere. It was humbling. A constant learning experience. A constant reflection experience. It was all those things. It was kind of like a rainbow and everything is there and it makes one complete picture."
Will you go back?
Yes. I'm actually working on that now. Trying to build out a business plan. Going to be calling all of them. I'm really trying to get back.
What connected you to the community?
Went in with this idea that I should be a listener. That I would be tested. I wasn't going to let my guard down. But then I did. And I watched. You can listen, but I also watched. I think it was when I learned how to watch -- their sounds, watching them do stuff. By me not having talked to him that much, simple nods that I was paying attention, I think that was how we communicated the most. We would talk and it would be a period of like 40 minutes, silence, but it wasn't an awkward silence.
What is your goal now?
My goal now is to get Ndoto Enterprise off the ground. The palm wine is a staple income in the community. With this you can actually create another revenue source. It's also renewable. The coconut tree is everything to the community. We want to improve quality of life. This product incentivizes men not to drink the palm wine and instead to sell the sweet coconut syrup that comes from it.
Follow Saul Garlick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/saulgarlick