April 30, 2013

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As a child, I wanted to be an astronaut flower-delivery gymnast. At no point did I think about becoming an entrepreneur. In Africa last week, I encountered a true entrepreneur who has literally found his calling at quite a young age.

On day one of our journey in Ethiopia my charity: water/Soma crew and I were schooled on a few simple rules. One of which was: Do not give money away. Evidentially it could create a big debacle unless you have enough Birr (Ethiopian currency) to hand out to the entire country. I had even brought a few bars of Hershey’s chocolate to sneak to the kiddos but was thankfully warned that it’s not a good idea to give goodies out unless I had enough for EVERY one. In some cases we were visiting a few hundred kids in the village so needless to say I left Africa with my supply of Hershey’s. (Minus a bar or two in my belly.)

On day two, our crew arrived at a village and one Ethiopian boy greeted us separately from the rest of the group. As we all started walking toward the rest of the village together I could tell this eight-ish year old meant business. He clearly walked with an agenda. He proceeded to take a few goods out of his pocket and said to me, “Gimmie 15 Birr”. I looked at the product he was attempting to sell to me and it was like that moment many women describe when they spot Louboutins for the first time. That’s how I felt. I had to have this. It was something of value. At this point, ‘The Rules’ entered into my head. “Don’t give out any money.” I had a full on self-debate that this would be more of an exchange of value versus a donation. I once again struggled with the Rules. Yep. It seems to be an occupational hazard of mine.

The valuable good was a mobile phone made of stone with seeds as buttons. Quite durable, actually. (Except for the one missing button.)

Fast-forward a few hours and the same super hero entrepreneur appears again out of nowhere. He has the goods. I decided to ask forgiveness instead of permission and go ahead and buy the digital dinosaur phone. (The truth is, I consulted my fellow travel mate and he said he wanted to buy one as well. Safety shopping in numbers! Thank you, Justin!)

There was no bartering with this confident innovator. He knew he had value. He asked for 15 Birr, I said I’d give him 10 Birr. He told me he’d sell me the phone for 15 Birr and add in a rock seashell-looking thing. I said okay, you have a deal. I gave him 20 Birr and had planned to over-pay for the phone anyway as an attaboy nod to his hustle factor. This was my sly way of teaching him some negotiating skills, which he clearly didn’t need. The little boy lit up and flashed a smile full of humble pride. As I walked away with my new purchase, the little boy tapped me on the shoulder and gave me another seashell-rock looking thing. We both won.

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