149: Ana Rocha, part 1: Cleaning Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (transcript)

March 7, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Ana Rocha

Boy, do I wish I’d met Ana before. She works in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She’s the executive director for an organization called, I hope I pronounce this right, Nipe Fagio which means “Give me the broom.” in Swahili as in let’s do something ourselves. I wish I’d met her before because it sounds to me like she leads effectively not telling other people to do but leading them. She and her organization promote doing things focusing on action – beach cleanups, clean up neighborhoods, things like that, organizing people to act. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about acting and more people talk about awareness and talking than actually acting. Acting is more effective. It gets results. More importantly, in terms of leadership. People enjoy acting. Very few people who start acting on the environmental values switch back. They like it. Leadership is about helping people do what they already want to do. People want to act. In my experience they’re just frustrated by “just it’s easier not to, it’s easier to keep doing what you are used to do.” But again, if they do it, they don’t revert. I wish people saw how much people wanted to act. The opportunities to lead are huge which is what she’s doing. So let’s listen.


Joshua: Hello and welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I’m speaking with my first… This my first time internationally. I’m with Ana Rocha in Dar es Salaam.

Ana: Hi.

Joshua: You’re in Dar es Salaam right now?

Ana: Well, I am currently in São Paulo, Paolo, Brazil but I live in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Joshua: OK. That’s right. You’re home for now. I forgot. A mutual friend put us in touch because you’re doing something similar to the kinds of things that I’m trying to promote and I love to meet people who are already doing stuff. And I wonder if you could tell us what you do in Dar es Salaam that’s environmental?

Ana: Yes. So I work for an organization called Nipe Fagio. Nipe Fagio means “Pass me the broom.” in Swahili which is the language that I speak in Tanzania. And we do everything related to the environment, mostly waste management. So thinking about Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and thinking about Tanzania in general our work focuses on building awareness and educating people on how they can continue their lifestyle without disrespecting the environment and including the environment in their choices for most of it. We also work with the government. So we work with the government bridging the needs of the population and the government’s policies so that the government can both develop better policies and implement the regulations that they already have better. And we also work with the private sector looking for opportunities for circular economy, green economy and all of that.

Joshua: Now one of the things you said about what you guys do… The first thing you said was awareness and education and I want to distinguish that you also do more than that because you also get people to act and do things. I found there’s a big distinction. A lot of people, at least in the United States, they make their goal awareness or they make their goal education and then they stop at that and don’t actually do things. And you actually do things, if I’m right. I think you guys organize around to go and… Am I right that you guys do stuff and get people to do stuff?

Ana: Yeah. So for us the first is awareness and education because people very readily can change what they don’t know. So we go back and we explain why it’s important to do things but all our work focuses on action. And so we organize beach cleanups, we organize community competitions, we organize community engagements, we organize all sorts of events so people actually have the opportunity to take action and actually do something that they can see results from. And so they can see that they have the power to make things different because several times when you just go with the awareness and education it feels very intangible. It doesn’t that people can actually do something that they would be able to see a difference from. And so we focus on action. So we focus on giving people the opportunity to grow that and do something and then celebrate whatever it is that they have done and then think about, “OK. How can I keep doing this?”

Joshua: All right. So people are acting. Do you have a sense of what’s motivating them? Are you trying to motivate them or are they already motivated by the time you come in contact with them? Because I feel like motivation is a big issue. A lot of people they feel like…  I had a meal with a woman the other day and she was saying… I talked to her about how much pollution flooding causes and she said, “Well, how do I get to some place if I can’t fly? And besides someday there’ll be electric planes anyway and so that it doesn’t really matter.” I felt like she was motivating herself not to care.

Ana: Yeah. I think we have both. We have people that are already motivated and so they come to us and say for example… We have a girl in Tanzania who by herself decided that she wanted to act on a beach that is close to her school. And so she’s 14 years old, then she raised money among her friends and family to be able to pay for bins, trash bins to put at the beach to reduce the pollution at the beach. And then she came to us to say, “OK. I raised this money. Can you help me actually implement this? We have those kind of people that already have the motivation that decided to do something either because it’s just part of who they are or because they are just facing a problem continuously and decide to do something or because they got in touch with someone else who was not a motivational. So for one reason or not another they come to us and ask for help when implementing something.

But we do a lot of work on motivating people that are not there yet so that they have a chance to do something and maybe be inspired by that something that they did so that they can keep doing it. So the beach cleanups, for example, are a huge example of this because we have people that would come to every clean-up. By the moment that we announce and advertise people just show up. But we also have people that are at the beach at that very day that we decided to do the cleanup. They are right there and we need to go there and talk to them and convince them to join because they wouldn’t join otherwise. They would say, “OK, we are going to clean today but tomorrow everything’s going to be dirty again.” which is unfortunately true most of the cases but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t clean. And then we need to go there and motivate them, explain to them why that’s important, why even considering the fact that it will be dirty again, yes, it is too important to clean and we can still do something about it. So we do what we do both.

Joshua: OK. So yeah, when people come to you already motivated I feel like you amplify what they do because you have connections in government, you’ve worked with people, you probably have a mailing list that you can get people to show up. Is that right?

Ana: Yeah, it is. [unintelligible] with other people that are also motivated and sometimes are looking for similar solutions or trying to implement similar things.

Joshua: You don’t know this but someone who I interviewed and just posted I think two interviews before this one he started a nonprofit in the United States called Generation 180 and they do stuff similar to what you do although slightly different. And I went to one of their organization meetings and I kind of went because I knew the founder and I thought, “Oh, I’ll just go.” And when I go I’m starting to feel really motivated, I mean I’m already motivated, but they work with government, they do the things that you talk about. And suddenly I felt like I only have to do a little bit and they’re going to do so much… They’re going to make what I do so much more effective. And so I’m newly… As of last week having gone to this meeting. I feel really I really like organizations that take people who are already motivated and amplify what they do and make it more effective. So thank you for doing that. I don’t have to… I mean I appreciate that you’re doing that. I’m glad you’re doing it. I’m sure you’re not doing it for me in particular although I benefit from it somewhat. But the people that are not already motivated – how effective is that? Because it feels really tough at my end. It’s tough to convince people. And how do things go for you? Are they effective? Ineffective? Is it frustrating? Is it encouraging?

Ana: I don’t think it is frustrating. I think it’s just a matter of… Like you need to understand where people are coming from. You need to understand what the realities are where they are and how they grew up and the people around them. I think that when you have someone that is already motivated I think one of the greatest things is that like when that person connects with us they realize that they are not alone which is similar to what you just described. And that feeling of “OK, I’m not fighting this fight by myself and alone.” is very powerful. I feel that all the time that I connect with other organizations. It is OK. It’s not an easy fight but we’re not fighting along.

For the people who are not motivated they normally have an environment that is not an easy environment for them to work with and when they decide to do something that is always a lot of pushback. And so we do have a lot of people that would come and try to do something and their neighbors, for example, are going to make jokes about it because it’s not a conducive environment. And so you need to understand that and you need to understand where people are coming from and then try to look from that perspective and find the things that somehow speak to that person and somehow will get them in. But always remembering that like changes are very difficult and changing your habits, changing your especially living habits, your eating habits, shopping habits. Those are very, very difficult. And so I think it’s more about trying to understand the context than allowing yourselves to get frustrated with the gap and the very distance that you need to run to bring someone in.

Joshua: I say this a lot on this podcast that the people who are effective leaders and the people who are effective at influencing others it’s almost always… It’s the other person’s perspective that’s the important one – where are they coming from and where are they? What you were talking about. You have to look at the world from their perspective. Did you always have that or is that something that you developed in time working on environmental issues?

Ana: I think you know that’s something that I have always valued a lot is trying to understand who people are before working with them. And so before working with this organization I used to work with a different one in rural Tanzania in the villages. When you go there to a very poor community in rural Tanzania and you are trying to bring some… It’s not necessarily some new ideas but some ideas that can be implemented in a different way, you always need to embrace who people are and you need to somehow make whatever idea you and the people have together kind of bridge what your intentions are with the life of those people. And so I think that that’s something that has been very present in my life for a very long time is always understanding who people are before trying to engage with them and genuinely wanting to know, wanting to actually… Because sometimes you think it’s very easy in certain situations to just see this surface and you think, “OK. I have seen that before.” but it’s not the surface because the individuality is there and also the culture is there and all the important things about like how people see life need to be somehow considered when you are working and you are trying to bring people together. So what I think is like the best part of life is when you can actually connect with people at that level.

Joshua: Where were you 10-20 years ago in my life? Because it’s been years and years…. On a personal level it’s been years for me to work at things to get to where you say that you are naturally and I wish I’d come across this earlier. And then also in the United States my impression of people who are trying to work on the environment it’s much more about telling other people “Here’s a bunch of facts and here’s what you should know and here’s what you should do” and not a way of meeting them where they are and understanding their perspectives and things like that. And I feel like that’s really frustrating. I mean for me you know when I hear a message that says, “Turn off the lights and don’t pollute” stuff I’m like OK, that’s what I’m trying to do. But I think for a lot of people it’s like, “Why are you telling me what to do?” And I think your perspective is much more welcoming and empathetic and I think in the long run productive. And then also for you you’re talking about it’s one of the best things in life. That’s one of the big things I’m trying to get across and you’re there. I hope people listening to this are leapfrogging past me because you’re saying when you do this, when you work with people in their worlds, in their way it’s the best thing in life. And so many people feel like it’s frustrating and you’re describing it as rewarding. Am I right?

Ana: It is. It’s rewarding and it’s joyful as well. It’s like you are actually able to connect and connect with someone, connect with a lifestyle, connect with a way of living. Like I don’t even know what the word would be because that’s what gives meaning to life for me.

Joshua: That’s meaningful.

Ana: Yeah. It’s meaningful. It’s literally when you are open to understand but when you are open to understand you are also open to be understood and people will connect with you in the same way. And it changes completely how the relationships work, it changes completely when you are in a different country as well, that is not your home country and it allows you to be yourself… When you allow someone else to be themselves you end up allowing you yourself to be yourself as well. And I think that’s very powerful.

Joshua: I want to get a copy of you and bring you over here. This is really refreshing to hear this it’s so different from what I hear over here of you know “Don’t tell me what to do.” and all those other things. Is it greatly refreshing. I’m really glad to hear what you’re saying.

Ana: I think one of the big challenges when working with environmental things is exactly what I just described is that there is always someone telling you what you do and especially what not to do. We actually have more people telling you what not to do than what to do. “Don’t use this, don’t buy that, don’t go this way.” And I think people get frustrated exactly because they don’t see how all those no’s can fit in their lifestyles. And then if you don’t understand the lifestyle, if you don’t understand what are the needs of that person, if you don’t understand how instead of telling someone what not you do you can come up with a solution with that person and think, “OK, let’s try to do this this way and see how it goes.” it gets really difficult to get people to change because they already put a wall over and say, “But how am I going to do this? I need to travel. How am I going to do this? I am always busy. I buy food and it comes in takeaway [unintelligible].” So I think all these things are just frustrating for everyone and it ends up being frustrating for the person who is trying to create the change and for the person who is resisting the change. And so I don’t think that’s a solution and I think that’s a trap that we are in right now that actually prevents us from bringing way more people in on “OK, let’s try to make things better.”

Joshua: Do you have an example stories of a case where you met someone where they were and influence them that way? And I would imagine they were probably surprised.  Sorry to put you on the spot.

Ana: I’m thinking about… So many, many… So again I spent seven years working in rural Tanzania with smallholder farmers and trying to think about environment in their context as well. And one of the things that I realized when I got there was that it’s really hard for you to talk about, “OK, let’s go here, let’s go to this farm, let’s do organic agriculture, for example, or let’s not use this kind of pesticide that is really bad for you” when people still don’t have food on their plates. And so “OK. Think about how you use water in a different way.” Well, people were fetching water and carrying on their heads for like kilometers to get home first and so then you go there and say, “Oh, you shouldn’t be wasting water this way.” or “You shouldn’t be using water this way.”

I spent again seven years there. So it’s a lot of building relationships, building trust and understanding. If you talk to people about, for example, organic farming, they’ll come to you and say, “Yeah. I understand. It’s much better for my health. It’s much better for me.” But then you go to the farm to actually see how they are cultivating and you see them using pesticides. And so it’s very clear the difference in what they are saying and how they understand what you are talking about and what they are doing. And I spent a good amount of time trying to understand why, like why this farmer is going to say, “OK. I know that it’s really bad for my farm to burn everything.” but why was he burning a week later? And then I think the main portion of it was OK, people do things because they have urgent needs, they have pressing needs including bringing food to their families in the case of Tanzania. And so how can we actually change things in a way that that transition period that is required for the change that in that transition period things are not going to basically collapse? And so we did that, I did that, the organization that I was working did that with a lot of people. OK, how can we have for example simultaneous productions so that we are able to reduce the risk in the transition period, allow people to do the things that they would like to do they know are better for them but without necessarily risking having food on the table for a couple of weeks, for a couple of months, for a couple of years.

Joshua: I really enjoy… Not enjoy but I don’t know… I really like hearing what I’m hearing because it’s such a refreshing perspective and approach. And another question that is a challenge for people here is that a lot of people feel like, “If I do something for the environment I’d like to but I really want to get ahead and I’m trying to get my career going.” And I feel like you are in a leadership position. Is there a conflict between working on the environment and moving ahead in your career becoming a leader?

Ana: I don’t think so. I actually don’t think those things that exclude them in any way. I think that when we are thinking about building a career and growing with that career we are always thinking about making choices. And so we do make certain choices instead of others, no matter what. I feel that when you decide to work with the environment and then you try to make choices that take you that way or that at least are less impactful on the environment but I don’t necessarily think that that will delay your career in any way. I think it can even accelerate. Like right now for example it’s a very good moment for you. I think there is a lot of demand for environmental experts but I think one of the issues with that is that you need to think about how do you want to work with the environment because you will have lots of experts that are going to be discussing policy, discussing [unintelligible], will be talking about the things that need to be done and not necessarily implementing those. And then you have the people that are implementing those but not necessarily getting all the spotlight. And so I think you just need to know where do you want to be. I think both are valuable. You just need to know which one is going to give you a longer career and make you happier.

Joshua: And it sounds like it’s working out for you pretty well. You sound pretty happy.

Ana: Yeah. I am very happy.

Joshua: Despite the frustration of the people…

Ana: [unintelligible] I believe in. And so I think that has been like I think for my entire life because before I went to Tanzania I actually… Well, I have always pursued doing the things that I thought would fulfill me and I always made some really disruptive changes in my career and in my life. And I think that the more I go, the more I see a clear path on where I want to get. And in my case in particular, I don’t want to be just discussing the policy and talking about it. I actually want to be close to the people somehow and I find it extremely fulfilling to do it. And I have many challenges but then when you actually find ways to overcome those challenges that’s a pretty good feeling.


Joshua: So of all the places you could work in, why the environment? What about the environment is… What do you think about when you think about the environment? How does it make you feel? Why the environment?

Ana: Because that’s who we are. Like we belong. Like I am someone I wake up every day at 5:30 in the morning because I want to see the sun rise. Because I feel that I am part of that moment. It’s like being born every day again. It’s like having another day to do something. I am extremely connected to the environment. I am connected to nature. I care about it. It’s not something that I think it’s less rational and it’s more of a feeling. And I think we are the environment. The environment is running on you like you’re part of this and I feel part of this. I feel connected to everything that is around me. And so having a chance to take that energy and make something from that energy that is going to increase that energy I think it’s everything that I have always wanted to do.

Joshua: Wow, that really came together at the end. And I was going to say… I mean you talk about a connection to something that you’re part of. To me I would say like a oneness and for you like an energy that’s everything you want. That’s really… So you really enjoy what you’re doing.

Ana: Yeah. I really love what I do. Yes.

Joshua: So now on the show I ask people if they… I invite them at their option to take on a personal challenge. I would bet that you’re already doing a lot of things. And I would guess also that in Tanzania you’re probably not using a whole lot of energy and polluting a whole lot compared to say a typical American which is most of my audience. But are you interested in taking on a personal challenge to act by those values?

Ana: I’m always happy to take on challenges especially anything related to the environment.

Joshua: Okay, cool. And I always put on first that just… Probably for you it won’t matter that much but some people think they have to fix all the world’s problems or nothing’s worth doing. But it doesn’t have to solve all the world’s problems. It just has to be something that you weren’t already doing and that you do yourself that makes a difference, not telling other people what to do. And it can be time limited but to think about it in terms of doing it long term. And some people who are… The most challenging cases are people who’ve been doing this for a while and they’ve already changed most of the things they can. But I don’t know. Is there anything that comes to mind talking about what you care about the environment that you could do that would be a new challenge?

Ana: I should have thought about that beforehand obviously.

Joshua: Well, about half the people do, have the people don’t. So I think for the listeners it’s useful to hear the process of how to come up with something because most people at home don’t know what they…

Ana: [unintelligible] I try like my life I think I have changed my life along the years you know to minimize my impact and also live a life that makes more sense to me. And so I have made a lot of changes. I spent seven years without even having a fridge. So I can live with not that much and it is still more than I need which is very interesting. I think the more you reduce, the more you realize that you need less. I think one challenge that I actually have been wanting to do since I started working for this organization which is about five kilometers away from my house is that I would actually like to go to work by bike a couple of times a day. It’s not so easy in Tanzania because traffic is a little bit crazy. You don’t have like a proper way of doing. And so I was a little, to be honest, scared to do. But I think that can be my challenge I would like to when I go back to Tanzania to bike to work twice a week and find a way to do that despite the traffic challenges.

Joshua: I love what you said and I think a lot of people listening to this probably drive every day and your usage is probably so much lower than theirs that it would probably be like they would dream of being able to get that low and then you’re finding an easy way to do something. I think it sounds easy. I mean maybe the traffic is crazy and a little dangerous but it sounds like something… I hear maybe not a smile on your face but kind of like, “Yeah. I’ve been meaning to do this. This is my chance.”

Ana: Yes, it is my chance. So I really want… To be honest, I got pregnant when I decided to do it. So then I was a little bit scared. But now when I go back I would definitely try. So I think that’s my challenge.

Joshua: OK. I love to hear that. And so now if it’s cool with you, I’d like to schedule when the next conversation would be because I want the people to listen to how it went.

Ana: Yeah, we can. It’s just going to take a couple of months because right now I am nine and a half months pregnant.

Joshua: Oh, congratulations!

Ana: Thank you.

Joshua: Oh my God, any second now.

Ana: Yes. So then I need to go back home with the baby and then be able to do it.

Joshua: So you’re going to take the family back to Tanzania.

Ana: Yes.

Joshua: Wow, sounds fantastic.

Ana: Yeah. And it’s going to be fun even to the [unintelligible] with the baby on my back. So we can definitely schedule and I hope I can even share a couple of pictures eventually.

Joshua: Oh, great. I’ll put them up. And do you know when you’re going back?

Ana: So it depends. Well, they schedule… When you want a natural birth it doesn’t depend that much on you. So it is sometime in April.

Joshua: OK. Not being a father, I don’t really know… Like is it appropriate… Can you schedule the next thing or should we wait until after the baby is born and schedule…? I mean we could also just schedule for six months from now which I imagine would be enough time. I am not sure.

Ana: I think three months from now…. I want to get it closer actually. I think three months from now would be OK.

Joshua: OK. So that tells me… We’re February 26, so we make May 26.

Ana: Yeah that works.

Joshua: OK. So the same time of day. After we hang up, then I’ll send you a calendar invitation.

Ana: Sounds good.

Joshua: OK. And I’m really excited about this. And congratulations on the baby.

Ana: Thank you.

Joshua: And I’d like to close with a couple of questions. One is is there anything I didn’t think to ask that’s worth bringing up that I should have asked about?

Ana: Nothing that comes to mind right now.

Joshua: And then the other question is any message for the listeners. I ask that the second time too and it’s a little bit more… But anything to say to listeners about the environment or about what we talked about?

Ana: I think the mean the main thing is to not think about the environment as something that doesn’t fit your life and is separate from you. We are the environment. We are part of it. And so it’s not about… You can’t split… The same way that I don’t believe you can split your professional and personal life because in the end you are spending most of your time divided between two things that are one. So you need to think about your professional life and your personal life as integrated things and think about yourself and the environment as integrated things as well. And so it’s not about “How can I make the environment better?” It is “How can I make my life better and in that way I’m going to benefit everything that is around me?” So it’s a little bit more… It’s about not focusing just on yourself but thinking about how you fit in this whole that you are part of.

Joshua: I find that really beautiful what you said. You brought together integrity and making your life better and connecting with others. Thank you very much. And good luck giving birth. I look forward to hearing about the biking to work. And I’ll talk to you again in a few months.

Ana: Sounds good. Thank you.

Joshua: Thank you.


Ana’s focus on action reminds me I’ve concluded that the source of our environmental problems is not cars, planes, it’s not plastic and mercury and so on. Those are effects. Yes, they are also causes, they cause extinctions, they cause sea level rise, deforestation and so on but they result from our behavior and our behavior is what’s causing these problems. And widespread changing behavior is leadership. People want to change their behaviors. If you change behaviors that you’ve been thinking of changing but haven’t yet, you’ll probably not revert whether it’s small like less plastic cups or big like getting rid of your car. You will probably not revert. There’s joy when you overcome these challenges. If you want to lead, you will learn what Ana did if you just start. Yes, you can get a job doing something that you’ve always been doing or something like that. If you really want to lead, take charge. There’s lots of projects and people will thank you for getting them to act. Listen to this episode again. Ana’s really happy. She enjoys it. It’s challenging but she enjoys it. These leadership opportunities are out there.

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