Ian Tarimo sits at a desk with a computer in front of him smiling

Ian Tarimo, Co-Founder of Tai Tanzania

Tai Tanzania is dedicated to creating spaces where every person, especially those coming from marginalized communities, have access to education.

When Ian Tarimo, 33, graduated from university, he knew he wanted to make an impact, but was unsure of what to do next. Coming from a family of public servants he was inspired by his parent’s lifelong dedication to the public sector, and so he ultimately decided to follow in their footsteps. Together with some of his university friends, he began brainstorming creative and engaging ways to positively influence young people in Tanzania. 

Ian founded Tai Tanzania, an NGO which utilizes audiovisuals and 3-D animations to inspire positive behavior changes among youth. But he quickly realized he needed to narrow his focus. After searching for opportunities he applied to be part of the Civic Leadership training at the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) East Africa Regional Leadership Center. YALI is the United States’ signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders. The four YALI Regional Leadership Centers — a USAID project in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and other private sector partners — offer transformational leadership training programs for young leaders ages 18 to 35 in three tracks: business and entrepreneurship, public management, and civic leadership.

Through YALI, Ian met diverse young leaders from the African continent, gained leadership and sector specific skills, and developed a new way of thinking. 

“One of the best lessons I learned during my training at YALI was about impact sustainability. I learned that social impact is not a quick process; it takes time, and different stakeholders have to play their part and the importance of building strong networks”. 

These lessons inspired him to form tight connections anld bonds with fellow leaders who do amazing work in their spaces, and they continue to support one another.

Young Tanzanian man sits in chairs outside next to two community elders

Ian Tarimo holding a focus group session with respected community elders in Loliondo District

The first project for Tai Tanzania addressed sexual and reproductive health issues facing adolescent girls, including teenage pregnancy, which prevent girls from accessing education. According to the World Bank, about 5,500 pregnant girls drop out of school each year in Tanzania, and over 50 percent of teenagers with no education have given birth or are pregnant, as compared to only 10 percent of those with secondary or higher education. 

Ian’s team was inspired to use 3D animation to raise awareness and empower adolescents from a UNICEF project called “Sara Communication Initiative”. The project used short movies to tell stories and convey educational messages to girls. From this inspiration they created the 3D animation series Harakati za Lucy which uses “edutainment” to tell the stories of teenage girls going through hardships due to lack of safe menstrual education and access to menstruation management resources.

An inspiring moment for Ian was when his organization approached Salma Kikwete Secondary School, located in Daar Es Salaam, to show the 3D animations discussing sexual reproductive health. After presenting their educational animation, Ian’s team facilitated an important discussion that allowed students to open up. This discussion was a judgment-free, safe zone allowing students to feel comfortable addressing topics that are often taboo in their culture.

“Young people should not just participate in the social-economic agenda, they should be at the center of the agenda. They should own and drive the agenda. At Tai, we work closely with young people in all stages of our programs including the production of animations and radio dramas.”

Recently, as COVID-19 was affecting Tanzania, Ian noted how the current prevention recommendations were not being followed in certain societies in Tanzania because they lacked access to hand sanitizer, and stay-at-home orders were difficult to enforce. He went to a community center located in an informal settlement and approached the kids to brainstorm innovative ways to raise awareness of COVID prevention measures. The kids came into the studio and developed dances and lyrics for a video, while Ian and his team recorded and animated their ideas. The end product was a music video, Tuishi Salama, which stresses the importance of practicing healthy habits, like washing your hands, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Young Tanzanian man takes a selfie with group of boys in the Massai Wasonjo Community

Ian Tarimo gathering insights to inform his programming from young boys and men in the Massai Wasonjo Community

Noting the significant impact Tai Tanzania already has, Ian has plans to expand its reach. His team is currently creating a USSD mobile application that does not need the internet to function. Users can figure out what they want to know more about, such as pregnancy or safe sex, and then find the information on the app without connecting to the internet. This way he’s able to reach the most vulnerable communities.

Tai Tanzania already uses a variety of mediums to reach its target audience such as radio, TV, social media, printed advertising, and marketing materials, so the USSD application will be a great way to reach even further into untapped communities, Ian says.  

Ian’s initial team of three has expanded to a team of 30 like-minded young employees dedicated to social justice and equality by utilizing technology to educate and inspire social change. Ian says that he is grateful for the lessons and networks that YALI provided, making him well equipped to create “spaces where every person, especially those coming from marginalized communities, have access to education.”