Tammy Freeman doesn’t accept existing paradigms at face value. Her role as a management consultant is all about finding practical and sustainable solutions to complex challenges, and she thrives on using her insights to empower others to solve their own problems.
After being briefly introduced to the idea of “social enterprise” a few years ago, Tammy knew she wanted to explore the space further. Tammy joined the MovingWorlds Institute to explore new ways to apply her skills to economically empower others through entrepreneurship, and to learn best practices for making a sustainable impact both at home and abroad.
For her capstone project in the field, Tammy matched with a Kenyan business accelerator called Ongoza. Read her interview below to learn how she worked with the Ongoza team to be a catalyst for change, and how she continued making an impact even after she returned home.
What inspired you to ‘take the leap’ and join MWI?
I stumbled into the world of social impact in late 2015. I had the pleasure of volunteering in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as a social impact consultant, which was an amazing experience that taught me so much about the world and about myself. After that experience, I knew I wanted more. I wanted to keep learning, growing, and adding value to help solve entrenched social issues around the world. I heard about the MovingWorlds Institute and researched it, and it was an easy decision to apply. I’m so glad I did.
What were you doing before MWI?
I work as a management consultant for a government consultancy. I’ve been working as a management consultant for about 15 years in various capacities.
What did you do on your experteering trip?
I worked with an organization called Ongoza, which is an accelerator for early-stage, high-growth young entrepreneurs in Kenya. Ongoza’s target market is entrepreneurs between age 18-35, which makes sense given that according to a 2016 World Bank report, 800,000 young people enter the Kenyan labor market every year, vying for only 70-90,000 formal jobs. Without opportunities, the majority are forced to start small businesses but lack the skills, structure, or capital to grow. Ongoza exists to fill this gap.
Ongoza’s innovative model provides consulting services for entrepreneurs to help them scale their business, and in some cases, it also provides funding. Their work is important as they provide quality business consulting services at an affordable cost, which helps local businesses to reach scale, creating more jobs and ultimately tackling the youth unemployment challenge in Kenya and promoting a more prosperous and stable society.
In my work with Ongoza, I provided a combination of training and consulting on Lean Six Sigma and Design Thinking. I worked directly with both the businesses Ongoza serves as well as helping Ongoza build internal capability so that it could use Lean Six Sigma and Design Thinking to better serve clients and open new consulting lines.
What was the highlight of your experteering trip?
Meeting and working with such brilliant young entrepreneurs was definitely the highlight of my trip. As one example, I spent time with an entrepreneur who makes shoes from discarded items and trash found in Kibera. Kibera is the largest urban slum in Africa, and is plagued by problems we’d find in nearly every slum such as poverty, lack of proper sanitation, unemployment, etc. This entrepreneur upcycles the items in a factory also located in Kibera, creating jobs. He employs residents and also provides affordable school shoes for children who live in the community. Here is someone who sees problems in his community and turns them around to create opportunity. It’s so inspiring.
Many people have this flawed idea of volunteering, especially those from the U.S. and other western nations. This idea that we (those of us in the West) can come in and save the day by helping these “poor” people is based on flawed logic that reeks privilege and elitism. There is no one who has more knowledge about the problems they face and how to solve them than the people who live them every day. We don’t know better than them, and we are not their saviors. What we can do is lend our capabilities to enable them to solve the problems they face. It’s a collaborative effort. [Editor’s Note: Thanks Tammy, you exemplify our experteering best practice of taking a human-centered design approach to collaboratively design solutions, and we are proud of the impact you co-created in Kenya! For anyone interested in exploring this further, we recommend checking out this TED talk.]
What was the highlight of your MWI experience overall?
If I had to choose one highlight, it would be meeting such great people and like-minds in my Fellowship cohort. My smaller accountability group still meets to discuss what we are doing. We still support each other, even after our capstone projects have been completed and our Fellowship has finished, which is wonderful. Shout out to Bridgett, Alejandro and Jill! I’m not sure how MWI paired the groups, but they did a great job!
What advice do you have for people thinking about experteering?
The best piece of advice I can offer is this: your expeertering experience is not about you. This isn’t something you “do for the ‘gram”. I think it is critical to be self-aware. To know who you are, and how your own biases tint your worldviews. For example, it is detrimental to poor people when volunteers show up and “help” them, as this can actually erode the dignity of people and create dependencies. If your intention is to truly empower locals, then you need to be mindful and thoughtful in how you engage. When volunteers don’t understand the social, political and economic micro and macro environments that contribute to cyclical poverty, even the most well-intentioned individuals can end up doing more harm than good. [Editor’s note: GREAT point Tammy. Here are 8 talks to help people reframe the way they think about poverty and helping others]
Take the time to self-assess. Social impact work has made me face a lot of things about myself that were hard to admit, including my own latent biases. It’s very easy to tell others what their issues are, but we often have a very difficult time coming face to face with our own issues.
This inner work is important, and I’d suggest that anyone thinking about taking the leap themselves approaches it ready to use the resources that the MovingWorlds Institute provides you to do this self-work. Anyone that truly wants to bring about transformative change has to do the inner work, even if it’s uncomfortable at times. I found the inner work to be even more important than the skills we bring to the table. Particularly if you work with vulnerable/ marginalized communities and people, it’s important to always remember the work is about them and for them, so don’t center yourself. [Editor’s note: We second Tammy’s point about reflection being an important tool to get the most out of your experience. You can read more about doing self-work while experteering here.]
Anything else you’d like to add?
One more piece of advice for anyone early in the matching process: get really clear about the type of work you want to do and the types of organizations you want to work with. For example, it was a breath of fresh air for me to use the skills I use in my day job, but applied in a way that created impact for people at a grassroots level. In my day job, I consult to the federal government and there is of course bureaucracy, red tape, and multiple layers. So, progress can often move at a snail’s pace. Working on a grassroots level, I was able to work with the local team to implement solutions quickly, and receive rapid feedback to iterate until we reached the best solution. Knowing your strengths and biases will help enhance the quality of your experience.
So, what’s next?
I’m continuing my social impact work and staying abreast of what is going on in social impact space. MovingWorlds has a lot of resources, webinars, and community features that make it easy to stay plugged in and keep a pulse on industry changes.
In fact, on the side, I’ve started a fair trade social enterprise called Soul and Story that brings to market items made by social entrepreneurs in Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Haiti, and Kenya. It’s an honor to work with these amazing entrepreneurs to help scale their impact as they work to positively transform their respective communities. Through Soul and Story, I’m also introducing what I call Impact Verticals which serve to help lessen inequalities in specific industries. My initial Impact Vertical is chocolate as there are severe inequalities in the chocolate production industry. I am working with bean to bar producers in cacao producing countries such as Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and Ghana to support a more equitable value chain.
In my consulting job, I’m doing more business innovation work which allows me to learn more about Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and similar methodologies. Agile techniques are effective tools for a variety of applications, be it consulting to the government or to small nonprofits/social enterprises.
Next year, I’m planning on Experteering again. I’m really looking forward to getting back out in the field! [Editor’s note: Thanks Tammy, you’re a model experteer and we would love to help you find your next placement as soon as you’re ready!]
We’re grateful to Tammy for sharing her story, and to Ongoza for providing the opportunity.
What kind of impact could your skills make if applied in new, outside-the-box ways? If you’re inspired by Tammy’s journey and are ready to take your own leap into social impact, you can learn more about the MovingWorlds Institute and apply here to join our next cohort.