‘You must embrace the mindset that you can create opportunities’


BusinessDay Staff | 20 August 2012


If you are a devotee of The Entrepreneur Today, then you must be familiar with the subject of social entrepreneurship.


If you are, you must have seen it demonstrated robustly by Banker-to-the-Poor Muhammad Yunus, a microfinance pioneer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who stepped down from his post as managing director of Grameen Bank, the poverty-fighting organisation he founded in the late 70s.


You must have seen it in our own Isaac Durojaiye, otherwise known as Otunba Gaddafi, who died recently at age 50. Durojaiye was CEO of Dignified Mobile Toilets (DMT), a niche company that pioneered the hiring and sale of mobile toilets in Nigeria. He was renowned for elevating the disposal of excreta to a corporate venture.


Last week, Gordon Barrett, in collaboration with the Public Affairs Section of the US Consulate General, Lagos, brought Saul Garlick to Lagos to speak on the theme Sparking Creativity and Innovation. He spoke at Yaba College of Technology, and also at Terra Kulture, Lagos.


Garlick is a social entrepreneur in its own esteemed class. He is one with a long history of public service and founder of ThinkImpact, a global social enterprise that hosts the Innovation Institute, a summer full immersion opportunity for US students to live and work in rural Africa to end poverty through market-based solutions.


He is best known for his leadership on poverty alleviation in Kenya and South Africa, where he has played a direct role in the implementation of over 50 development projects including schools, sports fields, sanitation projects and community halls. He founded a non-profit organisation at the age of 17 called Student Movement for Real change, which rebranded to ThinkImpact in 2009. From this original organisation, he spun out a new social enterprise, by the same name, which is now his primary focus.


Garlick was in Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, on Thursday to let these students – people of his generation – into the secret of how to be successful entrepreneurs. At the capacity-full Yusuf Grillo Hall, and written on the faces of students was anxiety – thirst to learn of the much-talked-about entrepreneurship they all know, today, is the solution to the unemployment plague which was waiting in the wings to afflict them at the completion of their schooling. So, it would be saying the obvious that Garlick’s coming was timely.


For the past 10 years, he has been working to find out ways of improving people’s lives, working with people in four countries of Africa. He has the opportunity to learn a lot about what people are capable of. So, he is in Nigeria to speak to a group of people about himself.


He told the students “I am particularly pleased to be at the Yaba College of Technology because it is a place where people are learning specific skills that are used in the real world. I am sure that I am here to work with a wonderful enormous group of people (the hall was electrified as students roared out their excitement).


“I am sure that you are wondering about your future, that you are pondering the questions: What job will I have? Who will hire me? At one point, you do not know how you are going to do it. I am here to tell you that you have got to decide how you are going to do it; how you can create your own opportunity. I am going to get into that in a moment, but before I do that I am going to tell you the story of a man in South Africa.”


The man, according to him, called Herman Mashaba, was raised during apartheid South Africa in the township of Soweto. He suffered oppression from the apartheid regime. He was studying in an all-white college in South Africa and found out in the early 80s that the white South African government was going to shut down the college. You can imagine his frustration. He went back to Soweto and got involved with drugs. But he woke up one day and decided to change.


“He decided to create his own path, the life that he wanted to live. And so he started listening to what people wanted in his community. He started listening to women in his community. And found out that women wanted to buy cosmetics; that women wanted make-up and hair products. He started a company…. And that company was illegal because the government will not recognise a black business owner. He was working in a very difficult environment. But he decided to create the right opportunity for himself.


“And when I met him, just a couple of months ago, we were sitting at dinner in Switzerland; he had become one of the biggest most successful and most honest businessmen in all South Africa. Herman Mashaba is a multi-millionaire. He thinks everybody should have the opportunity to create their own job. He is suing the government of South Africa today. He is at logger head with the government of South Africa because they are making it difficult for people to do business. He wants more opportunity for people,” he said.


That is a big lesson on the push against oppression, deprivation, and challenge by an individual for the listening students. And it made an impression on them as shown by their stirring reaction that afternoon.


Garlick came to talk to the students about mindset, the attitude that Mashaba embraced when he decided to create opportunity, inviting these students to do the same.


He argued: “You think it is too difficult to make it happen. You ask yourself: ‘How do I ever get there?’ But the truth of the matter is, you have to remember the fundamental thing. First of all, we are all just people. We are all exactly the same.  We have the same need for food, for family, for entertainment. Every person in this room has skill to offer. But you have to believe first in yourself. You have to believe you have something to give to another person. You have to embrace the mindset and the attitude that you can create opportunity. So, when you have to talk about creativity and innovation, it depends on how you interpret them.”


He described people, who are creative or innovative, as people who embrace the opportunity around them. “That means when other people see challenges you see opportunities. Innovative entrepreneurs are people who see challenges only as opportunities,” he explained.


Garlick’s biggest mission in the world is to end youth unemployment. For him, one way I could do that is that “everybody in this room should create opportunity for each other.”  He went on to give three steps to actually doing this: “To be an entrepreneur, the first thing you need to do to become successful, is to learn to listen. What do I mean by that?  I mean that as you go about your daily life, as you interact with your friends here, you ask them real question about what they go through every day.


“You ask them real question about their future. And you take note; you listen to everything they have to tell you, because what they are telling you is very valuable information. This is because people living in the community are all customers. So, we need to learn about people who are around us and the environment that we work in.  I call it getting contact. The most important first step is not getting money from the bank, is not getting information from your teacher; the most important first step, the thing that every entrepreneur must do is listen.”


For him, the second thing you must do is to create a team. He explained, “You need to discuss your idea with other people. I understand here that if you share your idea with some other people, they will steal your idea. Everywhere I have been, this is the problem. But the truth is that the market is big enough for everybody. In Nigeria, there are 160 million people. Nigeria is huge. It is an enormous country with customers everywhere. If you begin to share your ideas with people, you will end up improving on that idea.


“Once you explore your community and ask people for what they need, what they love and what they do, and after you have listened to everybody in your environment and created your team, then you go ahead and turn your idea to a tangible product or service. You must test it, you must try it, and you must get feedback. Because one of the things people does when they are creating a new enterprise, is the fear of failure.  Some people are completely terrified. But it is the people who make mistakes that end up making the most success.”


His third point is setting of goals. For him, if you want to be successful in life, you must set goals every single day… there is no secret, there is no quick fix in entrepreneurship; it is daily goal setting, learning from mistakes and working with others that actually create success.


Tazir Ajala, CEO, Gordon Barrette, also told the students her company was ready to support them, saying “we want to ensure that entrepreneurship is one of the good things that we can offer,” as Nigerian youths were hardworking and tenacious.


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