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Ian Tarimo wanted to make change in Tanzania. The first step was listening.
June 29, 2023


Ian Tarimo stands outside holding the 'Best Animation Film' award presented to his social enterprise, Tai.
Ian Tarimo holds the ‘Best Animation Film’ award presented to his social enterprise, Tai.

Ian Tarimo credits his parents for his sense of community and belonging. Raised by a public school teacher father and a hospital nurse mother, he learned firsthand about the trials faced by people in the communities and villages that they served. He also saw how his parents were always fulfilled in the roles they were playing in their small community. 

His own journey began, he says, in a less fulfilling way. While studying IT at university, he realized that he wanted to give back and felt a strong need to volunteer. Through volunteering, he was able to gain confidence about what he ultimately wanted to do while developing a strong bond with other volunteers. It was with these like-minded volunteers that he started his social enterprise, Tai. Through Tai, he and his team created high-end content to raise awareness of important social issues in Tanzania — things like gender-based violence, women’s menstrual health and ending FGM.

According to Ian, people loved the content. But the challenge was how to go from awareness to real change on a practical level and keep people engaged. Many of Tai’s efforts failed to gain a foothold once the immediate engagement was over. Says Ian, “In everything you do there’s the cake and the cherry. Most people see the cherry. But it’s just as important to deal with the day-to-day problems and challenges.” 

So he and the team went back to the drawing board. “Forget the praise,” he says. The lessons that resonated with communities were those stories told by parents and grandparents. Use the power of storytelling and media technology to produce educational content — including animation, comics, radio stories and film.

Using human centered design, he worked with communities to identify the challenges and solutions. Says Ian, “Communities have to see themselves in the story to relate to the story and appreciate that their dignity is valued. After they see that, it’s a big step because you make them feel comfortable.” When Ian and his team leave, communities make themselves responsible because the communication has been within the community, amongst themselves.

Ian and his team sit at computers doing work at Tai studio.
Ian and his team in the Tai studio.

At Tai, the people the team is serving are never far from their work. Throughout the creation of the content, during the technical, creative, production and outreach work that they do, they are intentional about gathering community input, ensuring that they use authentic voices and pay special attention to the messaging.

Ian credits Nelson Mandela for helping him to channel his passion for making an impact in Tanzanian communities. “Mandela was looking for one thing, independence for South Africa,” says Tarimo. “You can change the world if you start by doing that one thing.”

After completing the Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2019, Ian received the U.S. Department of State Leadership Impact Award in 2021. He is also a recipient of the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund grant and the Leveraging Innovations in New Communities (LINC) grant.

Are you ready to create change in your community by volunteering? Visit our YALIServes page to explore resources to help you build your skills as a servant leader.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Network or the U.S. government.