Portrait of a Social Entrepreneur

I’ve been in Tanzania for four months now, volunteering at The Sega Girls’ School, and it’s been really interesting to observe Polly Dolan, the school founder and director, up close. Because I am naturally analytical, I’ve enjoyed trying to identify what about her is key to her success so far.

Polly Dolan

Polly Dolan

I used to teach Social Entrepreneurship, among other courses, at the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business at Mills College in Oakland. I always invited several guest speakers to come talk with my students so they could get a better sense of what kind of person chooses this route with all its challenges and benefits. However, this is the first time I have gotten such an in-depth view of a social entrepreneur in action and I’ve come up with six qualities that I believe are critical to her success.

Of course not all social entrepreneurs are the same and my list is informed by who Polly is but I’d wager that at least some of these are vital for anyone who hopes to found and lead a social enterprise.

1. Persistence
I think this must be the number one quality for anyone trying to get something done in a challenging environment. Polly had already been living and working in Africa for a decade when she decided to start something herself. This, too, is important as she had some idea of what she was getting into by trying to do a startup in East Africa. However, even knowing this, it still takes incredible perseverance.

Polly climbing up the water tower in her clogs

Polly climbing up the water tower in her clogs

Related to this is not being a perfectionist or obsessive about any one interim outcome. She knows that even if something doesn’t work well the first time around, she can improve it over time. It is an iterative process and she has the patience and perspective to simply keep on plugging.

2. Positive outlook
It helps a lot that Polly isn’t moody, negative, or cynical. She is human and has her ups and downs but overall has a very even and upbeat temperament. Since there are frustrations and disappointments at every turn in the road, this helps a lot. If criticism, delays, or failures got her down, it would be much harder for her to continue. She takes little personally and has a pragmatic, problem-solving attitude toward challenges.

3. Heart and Likeability
By “heart,” I mean that Polly really cares about others. Yesterday, we had a review of the school’s core values during the monthly staff meeting. My group was asked to go over the values of “Hope and Charity.” One of the questions was who within the school exemplified these goals and it was the group’s consensus that Polly did. From what I can tell, Polly is genuinely well liked by everyone with whom she interacts because of her empathy for others. I think most people realize how rare a quality this is and it makes them appreciate her all the more. Her integrity and empathy motivate others to share her vision partly because they want to support her.

4. Vision
While “the vision thing” sounds hackneyed to me having heard it so much in the leadership literature, I have to include it. Having a guiding image of what the end result will look like helps inform how Polly spends her time. She knows what she is trying to create and all of her energy goes toward that goal.

Polly speaking at the closing ceremony in December

Speaking at the closing ceremony in December

5. Hard Work and Single Mindedness
Polly works all the time. She does take time out to spend with her daughter and husband but that’s about it. Some of this is due to the lack of alternative activities in this particular community in Africa but a lot of it is simply by choice. Supporting this venture of hers is what interests and stimulates her the most. This evening, I saw her at the pool where everyone flocks at the end of the day and I asked her if she’d had a “restful Sunday.” Her response, delivered with a big smile, was that it had been wonderful because she’d gotten her inbox down to 26 emails and that, to her, is a great day.

6. Supportive Spouse and Family

John, Martha, and Polly

John, Martha, and Polly

Polly would not have been successful so quickly if it weren’t for the support of her husband, John, and her sister, Tracey. John is here with Polly in Tanzania. In fact, he is from Southern Africa and their meeting in Uganda years ago is one reason she has stayed. John has his own business so he can work from home and thus he spends a lot of time with their daughter, Martha.  While Polly has the occasional bout of guilt characteristic of most modern, working mothers, she knows that Martha is in good hands with dad when she must attend to Sega business. And back in the US, Polly’s sister Tracey has led the charge to build a strong, functional US board (there is also one here in TZ) that has made the Sega dream a reality by building a US donor network and providing helpful oversight.

So, that’s my analysis of Polly, social entrepreneur extraordinaire and all-round lovely person making the world a better place one student at a time. It’s a privilege to get to contribute to the growth and development of Sega and to work with the woman who has made it all come together. Go Polly!


Things I Love (and Hate) About Tanzania

Ok, so it’s always touchy saying anything negative about a place where one is not a native. Therefore, I am balancing the negative with the positive. I’m also using someone else’s list. My friend Alice, a Peace Corps volunteer here at Sega, recently wrote such an excellent, funny (at least to me living here), and accurate blog entitled “Things About Tanzania That Piss Me Off.” Since I figured I could do no better, I am simply adding one additional item and then stealing hers wholesale (with credit to her of course).

However, on the positive side, there are several things that I love about being here so I’ll give you that list first.

1) The early mornings and the evenings. Both of these times of day are sublime. The sunrises and the feeling of daybreak is quite beautiful. The sun is not yet scorching between 6 and 6:45am so this is when I sometimes go for a run and it’s a gorgeous time.

Gardening at sunset

Gardening at sunset

In the evenings, the sky is usually stunning, the air is balmy, there is the happy sound of girls around the campus, and sometimes there is a fantastic sunset. Plus, we are sitting on our porch with our cocktail of choice, so what’s not to like?

2) The red, red earth of East Africa. The color is so distinctive and so gorgeous. When I put up a new background photo up on my

Facebook page of me at Sega when I first got here, a fellow I went to high school with said he could recognize it as East Africa from the color of the earth.  The smell of the earth, especially when it rains, also deserves a mention. I can’t describe it but I know I will miss it. It definitely smells different here than at home and it’s a strong, wonderful, earthy smell.  Sadly, I don’t know how to do a scratch and sniff in a blog so I can’t share it with you.

3) The birds.

The charming, tiny Cordon Bleu (internet photo)

The charming, tiny Cordon Bleu (internet photo)

As I said in my last blog, I saw an incredible variety while on safari, 45 different ones to be exact and those were only the pretty ones I identified.

Here at Sega, there is a tiny, bright turquoise bird called a Cordon Bleu that flit around the Sega campus and I love seeing them each day.

4) The tropical fruit, in particular the mangoes, pineapple, papaya, passion fruit, and avocados.

Papaya from off the ground. Yumm!

Papaya from off the ground. Yumm!

Over the holidays, I was on Mafia Island for a few days and I took a tour of Chole Island nearby where there are no motorized vehicles. The mangos were literally falling off the trees in front of me as I walked along so I picked them up and sucked the juice and pulp out. Pretty fantastic!

5) The laughter and good spirits of the Tanzanians. I love their welcoming behavior and the warm way in which they greet one another.

Socializing with staff on our porch.

Socializing with staff on the porch

It is absolutely true that people here are more relaxed, more social, and more jovial and warm with one another than are North Americans. They are not in a hurry so take time to smile, greet, shake hands, laugh, and connect.  Sometimes it gets a little loud in the staffroom but then I remind myself of how nice it is that, while it may be loud, it’s a happy, friendly sound.

Now for that other list.  I am adding only one item to the negative column but it’s big. It is knowing that I am in a country where there are groups with cultural rituals that include the mutilation of young girls. I saw this on the front page of a newspaper recently and it made me mad enough to spit (as my mother used to say). I don’t know how to make this a link so you may have to cut and paste into your browser if you’d like to read it.



Alice on her porch



1. People throw trash everywhere, and there are no cans, at all, for waste.

2. Women, who appear to have most of the jobs and all of the domestic duties except hard physical labor like ditch digging (which still leaves plenty of physical labor, believe me), get no respect from men. Young pretty ones will get flirted with and catered to, but that is to get them in the sack, and that’s not respect.

3. Shopkeepers consider that the sidewalk in front of their establishment is theirs for display, customer service, excess inventory, etc. This leaves the pedestrian in the street, not a safe place to be. (See next)

4. There is a hierarchy of being on the street, which goes like this: Trucks, then buses, then cars, then motorcycles, then bicycles, then hand-pushed carts, then pedestrians. It’s as if there is a caste system in which not having wheels makes you an Untouchable. No crossing, no matter how many pedestrians must use it, is safe for the walker, no consideration or even quarter is given. To travel down the street is to be constantly shunted aside by the merest sort of wheeled vehicle, and many times there is no safe place to be shunted aside to. It does not matter if you are facing oncoming traffic or not, you will still be unseen, ignored, turned in front of, in constant danger of being run down or side-swiped.

5. No napkins. Ever. At nicer restaurants, they will bring a few to the table if you ask. Nevertheless, the country eats like Arabs, with their right hands. Since services, especially restaurant service, are universally sub-par, if you choose to do so, you sit with your dirty hand until they bring a washbasin, which may not happen at all. Or there may be a dirty little sink somewhere, with no soap or towel or water. Or, you can carry wipes, or a handkerchief, or, as I have seen many times, wipe your dirty fingers on the tablecloth. Yuck.

6. No toilet paper. Ever, except in the nicest places. Not only that, but public pit latrines are gaspingly dirty, and rarely have running water and soap. I am resigned to using them, but come on, do they have to be filthy? Don’t these people know ANYTHING about germs, which are no respecters of the right/left hand dictum? No wonder there’s so much dysentery, cholera, typhoid in the country.

7. Maybe this shouldn’t piss me off, but people don’t read books. Therefore there are no bookstores.

8. No scotch tape, and duct tape is so dear as to be unaffordable on a Peace Corps salary. Come to mention it, school and office supplies generally are just plain crappy, that means pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, greeting cards, and there is no such thing as index cards. The exception is staplers, which are okay, and in constant use.

9. No movie theaters except in Dar es Salaam. This is a deal breaker for me in considering long-term residency.

10. Boring cooking. People, unsalted over-milled hominy mush at every meal is just not appetizing. Besides ugali, there are about 3 recipes of actual Tanzanian food: Meat stew made with tomatoes and onions, pan-fried chicken, and greens cooked with onions. Oh, and I am forgetting chapatti. Everything is cooked stove-top with lots of oil. There ARE good and hot peppers, but you have to ask for them.

11. And yet, they have satellite TV, everyone has a cell phone, they have Beyonce and JayZ and South African Soap Operas. They follow English Premier League Football. Most middle-class people drink water out of plastic bottles, which they then throw in the streets.

12. They have something they call the internet. Teasers.

*as opposed to the regular things which go along with Tanzania being a developing Equatorial nation, like heat, humidity multitudinous and/or lethal snakes & bugs, rutted dirt roads masquerading as streets and boulevards, clearly unsafe highways, no books and chalk in the classroom, and too many people living in daub & wattle huts, erected in right of ways. These do not piss me off, as they are not solvable or unfair. They do, however, drive me to drink.

And please remember, this is my own list of things to be pissed off about. It’s not the Peace Corps list, nor do they endorse it. They have their own, I’m sure.

Wildlife Wonders

I’ve been back from my travels for a week now and the photos are starting to filter in from the under water camera enthusiasts with whom I was scuba diving.

Diving off Mafia Island - Yes, that's me!

Diving off Mafia Island – Yes, that’s me!

And then there are the 600 pics I took in my two weeks with Kelsey, about 400 of them from our safari. In retrospect, I can’t get over how many different types of beautiful animals I saw in a few weeks.

I started with the amazing underwater world of fish, coral and other creatures and then proceeded to the new-to-me world of shockingly strange and beautiful birds (Kelsey’s comment was “Mom, you’re a budding ornithologist”)

Silver Cheeked Hornbill

Silver Cheeked Hornbill

and then, of course, the incredible variety and quantity of the African mammals, the antelope – from eland to dik dik, cats – lion, leopard, and cheetah, to graceful giraffes, eloquent elephants, harassing hyenas, beady-eyed buffalo and so forth. My pleasure in alliteration drove Kelsey nuts. The wildebeest and zebra migration was in full force in the planes of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area so we got to witness tens of thousands of these large animals on their annual voyage.

Kelsey on with Serengeti plains in background

Kelsey with Serengeti plains in background

The Northern Parks
One of the pleasures of the safari was that each national park was so different. We visited Tarangire (also known as Elephant National Park), Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater. One of the challenges was how much driving we did and how tiring it was. We stayed in both tented camps and lodges. The tented camps are much smaller with a couple dozen guests at most and, therefore, one is more likely to have animals wandering up to the tents at night.

Lions - look close, yes they are mating!

X-rated lion photo

Gina giraffe - check out those eyelashes

Gina giraffe – check out those eyelashes

New Years on Safari
We were in the Serengeti Wilderness tented camps on New Year’s Eve. There was no acknowledgement that it was new years by the small staff of Tanzanian men who ran it, which was a little disappointing. Kelsey and I were in bed by 10pm. I awoke at about 12:10 am to the sound of a very large animal munching brush right outside our tent. Then, I realized there were two of them, one on each side of the tent. It was most certainly two Cape buffalo, the most dangerous of the “big five” animals.

The rule is not to leave your tent if you hear an animal outside; just stay inside. The camp provides a whistle should a guest feel they are in danger and need to get someone’s attention. I wasn’t really that worried but I did giggle several times during the 15 or 20 minutes of munching until the two buffalo wandered away – I’m usually not a giggler so it could have been nerves. Kelsey was not amused. This was truly a unique way to start the New Year!

Colorful People
Almost as exotic as the animals are the people of the Maasai tribe who live and farm within the Ngorongoro conservation area, as well as many other parts of the country. The Maasai, more than any other of the120 plus tribes in Tanzania, have made great efforts to maintain their traditional lifestyle and dress. They are pastoralists, or wandering keepers of livestock, and live in circular mud and straw huts out in the fields.

Maasai mud homes

Maasai mud homes

They favor bright red or royal blue blankets as clothing, though some still wear a more muted brown or dark red, and produce and wear elaborate beaded jewelry around their necks, arms, and legs.

I had a strong desire to stop our guide every time I saw these cheerfully clad people along the road but Kelsey’s disapproval of handing out small bills in exchange for taking photos prevented me from indulging my photography habit. I know that many photo books have already been published on this tribe but I can’t help but want to create my own.

Young Maasai teenager

Young Maasai teenager

I managed only one stop of our Land Cruiser for a Maasai photo and it is of a teenage boy who is getting ready for his circumcision ceremony. By collecting money from roadside photographers, he can contribute to the cost of the ceremony. He has likely just emerged from a month of seclusion with elder men from his tribe and other boys his age in which the men educate the boys about their role in the tribe. Maybe kind of equivalent to the bar mitzvah ceremony in the Jewish tradition.  At least this boy didn’t have to learn hebrew!