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Role models and goal setting – A recipe for success?

Success can have many definitions, but are there similarities of successful people that we all can learn from?

Photo of Rafael Smith
14 28

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During our first week of research in Tanzania, our Amplify Team spent quite a bit of time speaking with parents who were currently facing challenges in giving their children the best possible start in life.  As a team we decided it was also important to spend some time exploring existing examples of success in hopes of seeing concrete examples of what it looks like for children to thrive once they become adults.

In order to get this new perspective on the issue, we met with and interviewed adults from low-income backgrounds that had achieved relative – or, in some cases, astronomical – levels of success. We met with Michael who grew up in the slums and now owns a tourism and taxi company, Joshua who never finished secondary school but now owns and operates a gemstone trading company, and Helen who has become a successful attorney despite the majority of her childhood peers not being able to make it out of the informal economy.

In speaking with them, we heard certain themes over and over again that lead us to the following insights:
  1. Successful adults from adverse backgrounds were more adept than their peers at goal setting early in life.
  2. Role models enable children to envision a life beyond their current environment.
Michael told us, “When I was a kid I saw the safari jeep drivers working hard. I saw their cool sunglasses, I saw how they carried themselves, and I told myself – I want that life.” Helen told us how she and her brother watched a soap opera as children and fell in love with one of the lead characters who was an attorney. She and her brother told each other that they too would become attorneys and pushed each other all the way into their adult lives to meet the goal they set as children. Helen also told us how she looked up to many women in her childhood church that had financial successes. She told us that her childhood church was a place where children of lower socioeconomic classes gained exposure to a wide range of influencers and role models.

How might we ensure young children in low-income communities are exposed to a diverse set of influences and role models?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Charles

I just thought it was a very interesting post. I feel like other that clothing fashionable accessories are also important that helps in building once confidence and change once apparent. I had heard a lot about online shopping as it helps to let people know about the latest and upcoming fashion. In fact, now I prefer to shop from online stores (

Photo of Ines Bernal

This is really inspiring.
It's very nice to read this successful stories about how these people thrive. It's good to know that these things do happen, and that we can contribute to happen more often.

Photo of Sanjana Ramamurthy

Thanks Rafael!
Cant agree more. There is no doubt that parents and children need to be exposed to success stories of adults so that they can believe that everything is possible. Actually we consider the role model as one significant factor in our idea.Our plan is to gather parents or grandparents(especially) who already get certain skills teach the children in the community, which can let parents have enough time to work. We believe that by inviting some successful adults who have low-income background as 'teachers' may help children develop a promising expectation about there future and work hard for their dreams.

Photo of Steve Bordonaro

I would like to add that an easy way to assure a diverse set of influences is to simply identify people of all ages and not just those of parental age. Grandparents add a perspective parents cannot and older siblings can often be good role models too. For instance, a one room school house comprised of children of all ages can offer younger children a model for how to be a successful student.

Photo of Valeria Fernandez Cortina

Thanks Rafael,
I agree that parents and children need to be exposed to success stories of adults, so they can believe that everything is possible.
So we need to find these stories, these real positive role models and influences and then we have to be able to find a way to sharing with the families of low-income communities.
In my questionnaire last week all parents were eager to meet and have role models in their children´s lives so bingo!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Loving these insights, Rafael. And I wonder how many folks who are role models are inclined to help more but unsure of how to effectively do so? Lots of design opportunities here!

Photo of Luis Montesinos

How would we use the media accessible to low-income communities to make available valuable role models to our children?

Photo of Meena Kadri

I guess it depends what low income context you're talking about. Dharavi in Mumbai (arguably the largest slum in Asia) has high penetration of televisions per household. Though great provocation, Luis – let's think about what media or messaging outlets are available in low-income communities. Here's one prompt from Rafael elsewhere: What insights do you have from Mexico about media access + potential messaging outlets there?

Photo of Joanna Spoth

This is such an important perspective - thanks for sharing, Rafael. I wonder how we can not only utilize current media channels, but make more traditional career paths more appealing for young people. Jeep drivers and soap opera stars inherently have appeal to young people, but maybe highlighting some of the successful church members or connecting young people to happy adults with humble careers could be just as powerful.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Rafael for sharing this insight. Role models do matter indeed and they can inspiring. I'm also wondering if among these 3 stories, you noticed another element that led these 3 people to take these inspirations as goals to achieve. It seems to me that they all had a willingness to act, and one could argue that it's personality based. However, if this the case, there's not much that can be done, and I tend to believe (and research supports it and the whole brief of this challenge as well) that the first 5 years influence not only cognitive and emotional development, but also how willing people are to take charge of their lives and act. You might not have had a chance to find this out but I wondered if thinking again of these 3 interviews, if nothing strikes you in their stories. Thanks!

Photo of Kate McAlpine

The key lies in how to better celebrate adults who are behaving responsibly - there is a huge opportunity to profile and to promote the stories of Tanzanians who do the right thing - using SMS, theatre and radio. I'm personally more skeptical about using television as a media in Tanzania given how uncreative much of the production is and how the market is captured so effectively by only a few players

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Anita Asiimwe

Great insight. Nothing beats the power of a dream, coupled with goals and execution.

Photo of Eric Tucker

Role models are so important, and it's a pretty easy thing to do for most of us. It's amazing what you can impart on a youth in just a few minutes ... just sharing life experiences.