Olive Luena, Chief Executive Officer, Tanzania Gatsby Trust

Words of Wisdom: “Believe in yourself. You are great. If you want to do something that is important to your development, stand firm.” – Olive Luena

Interview with Olive Luena, Chief Executive Officer of Tanzania Gatsby Trust

Olive Luena, Chief Executive Officer, Tanzania Gatsby Trust – Guest Bio

Since 1995, Olive Luena has been the Chief Executive Officer for Tanzania Gatsby Trust (TGT).  TGT is based on the premise that there is an underlying productive potential in the informal enterprise sector which is yet to be mobilized, as reflected in the high levels of unemployment, under-employment and low incomes. To achieve its poverty alleviation targets, TGT engages in the provision of credit, training, marketing, technology and low cost housing.  Through these efforts the Trust has alleviated human suffering of thousands of SMEs in Tanzania and has embarked on building an endowment fund for the sustainability of its work.

Mrs. Luena is the founding co-chair and a Board member of the East Africa Grant makers Association (EAAG), a trustee of the East Africa Centre for Philanthropy (UFADHILI), and founding Secretary-General (1988-95) of the Tanzania Association of NGOs. She was also the international president of the World Conference of Religion and Peace (1993-98) and a 1998/1999 nominee for the Africa Hunger Prize. In 1990, she was appointed by Pope John Paul II as a member of the Vatican Pontifical Council of the Laity and was recently appointed by the president of the United Republic of Tanzania as a trustee to the Presidential Trust Fund, her third appointment. Mrs. Luena is very engaged in promoting social justice and philanthropy at both local and international levels.



Olive Luena, Chief Executive Officer, Tanzania Gatsby Trust

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version. We welcome comments on the Wisdom Exchange TV website.

What was the catalyst for establishing the multitude of partnerships that TGT has established over the last five years?

  • No one succeeds alone. Not even athletes. They too need support.
  • If you want to succeed bring in as many partnerships as possible with different expertise and motivations. Align goals and missions to forge way forward.
  • There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Someone somewhere has the expertise. You just need to tap into that expertise in order to move forward.
  • I always look around to see whom we can form alliances with. So I have people around me who can cheer me on or put in resources. Organizations with experience can help create the path since they have been there before.

What happened in the last five years that made you decide that partnerships are a priority?

  • You can be succeeding, but you may be forgetting you are not doing it in the sustainable way.
  • If you really want to make entrepreneurship development work for SME’s you need a lot of public and private partnerships.
  • You need the government to help to create an endowment; you need financial institutions to make the resources available for the SME’s. You need the universities and training institutions to provide the skills. You need the SME’s themselves that can come up with the ideas that can be turned into businesses.
  • All this can help the entrepreneur succeed.
  • We are a foundation and we want to make sustainable change even when we are not there it continues. These alliances are helping achieve sustainability.

What have you done to ensure when you move on in your career/retirement that Tanzania Gatsby Trust continues?

  • As a leader I believe in succession planning when I retire in two years this organization continues and is even better then when I was here.
  • I believe in mentoring my staff.
  • I believe in coaching, training and motivating them.

Walk us through some of the strategies you used to secure some of your partnerships?

  1. First you need to know what you need in a partnership that will make your work tick.
  2. Once you established the type of partnership you need, then you look to the market and identify who is there. Which partnership will make a difference in my work?
  • What we look for in a partnerships
    • Skills, experience, resources, personal touch – looking who you connect with.
    • Look at the road you have travelled and see who can assist with your goals.
    • Sometimes through competitors you bring alliances
    • Through people who do similar activities you bring partnerships.
  1. In SME’s development there are so many players. Need to look at who are the players, who can you create an alliance with?
  2. Also you need to look at who are the competitors? What are the competitors offering that you are not offering? What can you provide to make yourself better?

How do you ensure that the partnership meet their commitment?

Most of the partnership we ensure we discuss the expectation of the partnership

  • How much we are putting in?
  • For how long are we putting it in?
  • And if the partnership is not meeting its obligation within that certain time frame we part ways.
  • Sometimes you are in a partnership and the partnership becomes more demanding then you intended or partnership doesn’t deliver what you agree to.

At this point you evaluate the partnership and take stock, and if say it is not working you agree to part ways. Just like a marriage that is not working.

What do you do to nurture those partnerships?

  1. Open dialogue
  2. Sincerity toward what you are partnering with
  3. Transparency
  4. Keeping close to each other

How often would you communicate and in which form?

  • Sometimes we communicate on a daily bases.
  • Some partners will tell you how they want you to report on what is going on
  • Some will outline how to get feedback.
  • Sometimes we establish an MOU – Memorandum of understanding.
  • Monitor evaluation of partnership – we both evaluate each other.
  • You need to trust each other. If suspicious, you will have challenges.
  • We need to rules to form each partnership.

Communication is key. Can you share some of the techniques you use to maintain these successful partnerships?

  • We form a steering committee and establish when to meet, where to meet, how often to meet so we are always keep the partnership alive.
  • We establish a lead officer for each partner in the office. They are responsible to communicate and exchange emails.
  • We communicate phone, email and it is very important to visit each other.

You deal with people multitude of individuals from government officials to small businesses. Are there any communication strategies that you can share how you communicate with such diverse stakeholders?

We have a communication strategy in place where we list the people in which we are going to communicate with.

  • And in that strategy we establish what we will communicate to this stakeholder, to another stakeholder.
  • It is a clear strategy of messages that need to be delivered.

For Example:

  • When I am talking to SME’s I am talking about their business, his problems, his market.
  • When I talking to government, I am talking about policies, taking laws, regulations, development.
  • When talking to a Funder, I talk about resources, my accounting, my reporting.
  • When I am talking to a politician and I am talking about the politics because sometimes the small SME is sometimes affected by politics.

It is about you and your ability to change and adapt with the situation so you can communicate with politician then a small business owner.

Always talk about their interest, which can assist with influence.

You have said you are “a social entrepreneurship leader,” what does that mean to you and how can other leaders implement such a social leadership?

I like to look at the people I deal with, in my case entrepreneurs, and invest in their potential. I am giving social investment to unleash the potential of these social entrepreneurs. I am putting resources, and money. In the end it is the social change I expect this entrepreneur to make for his family through a thriving business.

How would you think corporations could take that philosophy and become more social entrepreneur like?

  1. Partnering with us to do the social change.
  2. Corporations can get involved in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), which I am a pioneer of in this country. As we established Center for Philanthropy, which focuses on companies and encourages them from their profit to invest in society.

What kind of things are companies doing for their Corporate Social Responsibility contribution?

Must companies like to say they are doing CSR initiatives, but really they are doing things that affect their image: Football games, beauty contests

  • Very few touch the grass root people where they can change their health, livelihood, their businesses.
  • We still have a long way to go get corporation to get involved at this level.
    It is fine to promote football games, but also get involved at the grass roots.

What some of the challenges when women start their business and how to overcome?

  1. The double roles she has: entrepreneurs and the family role is an issue.
  2. Resources – so many women can do something but she needs resources. Someone needs to take a risk to help these women. I took a lot of risk when I joined Gatsby. We lent money to women who had not have any collateral. They can only grow if they have resources.
  3. Inherit attitude. Someone who believes in herself.

In your opinion, who influences that attitude?

  •  The mother, the parents
  • How you bring up your children – both boys and girls.
  • If boys are doing homework and girls doing the dishes. This dictates how good or bad they grow up.
  • Parents create imbalance in the family.

I understand you are dedicated to the reduction of poverty. What do you think are the three key success factors to reduce that poverty?

  1. Empower people to do and believe that they can make that change.
  2. Opportunities that mobilize in society to get out of poverty.
  3. Resources to get out of poverty, skills, money etc.

What can society do to help reduce poverty?

You have to work hard. For example if you are a farmer, work hard and make the business that will make you rich one day. Do it as a business. Budget. What does your family need to feed themselves for the year? Budget it.

  • Then how much are school fees for the children? Budget it.
  • So figure out how much rice you should grow to meet your obligations and  grow more to make an income.
  • Most of farmers need this education. Usually most of farmers don’t know how much they need to meet all their obligations.

What are some of the growth factors?

We are focusing on that in our program. You have to look beyond today. You need to grow. In order to do that these are the factors that will help you grow

  1. Persistence
  2. Parity
  3. Planning
  4. Aligning yourself
  5. Where to get opportunities
  6. Where to get the resources
  7. Look at your linkages

Are Tanzanian open to being profitable entrepreneurs?

Yes, but they need education and our program helps with that. There has been progress since I joined Tanzania Gatsby Trust, but we need to scale up.

What do you think multinationals (international countries) can do to eradicate poverty?

  • Some are buying the raw materials from us, which helps.
  • Pricing products to make things affordable.
  • Implement training system
  • Provide resources to put into use
  • Create opportunities i.e. AGOA – there are so many requirements and standardization required to export. Sometimes when you look at the ABCs to export it is a lot and often difficult to meet the standardization.
  • If multinational can ease the trading so some small companies can be a little more competitive.

What has been the most significant impact you have made in your career to date?

When I look at the SME’s that I have worked with and look at their growth it allows me to sleep with a smile on my face.

What was the most significant thing that happened to you or for you that help you to achieve your career accomplishments?

Family challenges. When you wake up in the morning and you are alone in the family and you have children to support it makes you think twice on how you are going to meet family obligations as a widow. Also, because I am the first-born in a family with so many siblings. I had to stand tall and if I wanted my family to make change, I had to make change in my siblings. I went to school, I finished early, went into teaching to uplift my siblings. I told my siblings if I bring them up, they have to bring another one of our sibling up.

I tell this to my orphaned children, I tell them to help someone else out.

My challenges in life are why I am here today.  I had to stand firm about my career so I can pull others up.

If there was one thing you can attribute your success to, what would it be?

I believe in myself. I am confident. I keep knocking on people’s doors even when they are closed.

What is something you have done that did not work, what would you do differently?

When we started in Gatsby I had to work with entrepreneurs to form associations – we formed three.  We supported them tremendously. They were getting trade fairs and training for themselves. What went wrong is we did not look beyond the leadership that was pioneering at that level. They were democratic institution they had their own constitutions and where having elections. At the beginning when all three associations were so successful everyone was competitive for leadership and five years down the road, leadership no longer worked and some of the associations died. We overlooked that the leadership was really important for them to survive. They appreciated that Gatsby foundation can do this, and that, but when we wanted them to start being sustainable it became a problem.

I would now support associations that have grown themselves, not helping people to form the association.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of you when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?

Staying with what I believe regardless of what the politician’s advice SMEs or what SMEs believe.

If there was one thing you would differently in pursuit of your success?

Put emphasis on local resources. We focus a lot on external resources. We built an endowment fund that has challenges. I would look more inside then outside for funding.

How do you define leadership?

Being a role model. Bring others together. Leadership is about making sure that what you are doing will continue when you are not there. Leadership is about persevering even through challenges. And making those challenges opportunities.

Leadership Lessons Learned – Olive Luena

  1. Take risks and be accountable to them
  2. Being able to plan to achieve your goals
  3. Open to continuous learning so you can embrace changes

What is next for you?

Although I will be retiring, I will be getting more busy. I want to do some investments. I believe in farming and over the past three years I have been developing a tea estate. I am now picking the tea.

What is one thing you would like to do that you haven’t done yet?

I want to write book on the experiences that I have gone through.

Reflective Realizations from Olive Luena

Q. What advice would you give to your 12 yr. old daughter?

You are a very important little girl. You have a lot of potential. There are so many doors open for you. Work hard, study hard. The sky is the limit.

Q. What do you wish you were told at that age?

The same.

Words of Wisdom by Olive Luena

Believe in yourself. You are great. If you want to do something that is important to your development, stand firm.


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