TED Talk by Dr. Ernesto Sirolli

The title of Dr. Ernesto Sirolli’s TED Talk might sound a bit harsh, but he learned from experience the importance of listening. It was shaped by seven years as a young man in Africa where every project he worked on for his nonprofit failed.

One example of a lesson learned: Currently a sustainable economic development expert, the then-young Sirolli and his colleagues decided to teach the Zambian people how to grow food. They lived in a magnificent, fertile valley close to a river and so it seemed to Sirolli’s group they should have agriculture. “How could they not?” they asked. “We must save the Zambian people from starvation,” they declared. And so, to the disinterest of the Zambians, they planted tomatoes and zucchini that grew and ripened beautifully until they were all eaten by 200 hippos that emerged out of the river.

“That’s why we have no agriculture here,” said the Zambians. “Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Sirolli. “Because you didn’t ask,” was the reply.

That experience and others had a profound impact on Sirolli who went on to found the Sirolli Institute, an international non-profit organization that teaches community leaders how to establish and maintain Enterprise Facilitation projects in their communities.

I found Dr. Sirolli’s method fascinating and want to share just a few of his unique tenets here:

  • Only respond to people. Do not initiate anything or motivate anybody, but do become a servant of the local people and their passions to become better people.
  • When you arrive in a local community, sit with the local folks, shut up and listen. Do not work from offices, but meet people at a café or a pub. (Dr. Sirolli’s business has zero infrastructure.) Become friends with them and find out what they want to do. The most important thing is their passion for their own growth. Our task is how we can help people attain what they want to do.
  • Nobody in the world can succeed alone. There is no one anywhere who can create a great product, market it successfully and manage it financially alone. Sit at the kitchen table or at a café with people who want to live their passion and help them to find the resources that will enable them to do so. Says Dr. Sirolli, “Research shows that all of the successful companies in the world have only one thing in common — none was started by one person. None!”

Dr. Sirolli has found a vital key to helping people build a business or an organization out of a passion or a dream. He listens carefully and when the vision is formed, provides guidance and resources to bring the dream to life.

Visit Dr. Sirolli’s website to learn more about his institute.