SLUSH reflections by Debbie from Twende

When the immigration guy checking passports in the Helsinki airport nods in understanding when you say your reason for being here is simply Slush, you know you’re part of something special.

“It’s like we’re in a dream.” – one of my Slush flatmates, at least 5 times the first night.

Arriving in Helsinki that first night began what I now reflect upon as a surreal memory – surreal in that wonderful way where it’s hard to believe how lucky you are that life has brought you here. All I really knew about Helsinki was that it would be cold and dark in November, and I would probably see some Moomin around town.

Debbie_and_Moomin

Moomin and me at the Helsinki airport – turns out the Moomins are everywhere in Helsinki and possibly all of Finland.

When we got to our flats, we pulled out our rarely used winter jackets and headed straight to a Finnish sauna and dinner at a pub. The cleansing was refreshing, and the food was surprisingly fast for a group of 15+ Tanzanians ordering Finnish food for the first time at 10pm. The next day, we joined the conversations at the UNICEF conference around scaling up innovation for youth, all before the main event: Slush.

When you stepped into the doors, you immediately encountered what you might imagine a mix of technology enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, students, and music festival organizers would come up with. There was fog for the lasers everywhere, big stages set up with seats all-in-order, food carts set up for all sorts of diets, and funky/quirky furniture and décor. The buzz was palpable.

At first, it was a little overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure where my fit would be – after all, I worked at a small social innovation centre in Arusha, Tanzania that focuses more on grassroots-level change as opposed to finding those unicorns – where was I going to find the relevant people amongst the virtual reality investors and Facebook mobile gamers?

Luckily, not only did Slush increase their ‘Impact Track’ to include more speakers and events geared towards people interested in the social side of business, I was also part of the Tanzanian delegation TanzICT sponsored – and they took care of us, through making introductions, recommending events, and organizing workshops, all in our uniform of matching shirts and hoodies.

jacqueline_novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO/Founder of Acumen, speaking at one of the Slush Impact events.

Slush was a fantastic and fascinating mix of investors, students, entrepreneurs, CEOs, government officials, nonprofit organizations, consultants, and the generally curious. With people representing 100 countries, hearing multiple languages while walking from stage to stage, along the booths of aspiring startups was a regular occurrence. Our delegation met people who knew very little about Tanzania as well as people who had moved from Tanzania to Finland – and after Slush we actually participated in a workshop where we chatted about the similarities and differences between Finland and Tanzania and the challenges we face and came away understanding a little bit more about each other.

The exposure and networking were probably the biggest takeaways I am bringing back to Arusha. During Slush, I spent a large portion of time talking about the initiatives my organization is supporting, from a small-holder farmer selling his self-designed/built manure spreader to his fellow Tanzanians to a rural community near Arusha generating income by pressing their excess avocadoes into oil. I managed to meet some potential contacts and learn about relevant opportunities for these (and other) initiatives to get to the next stage – and improved my ability to spread the word about the amazing work that happens over here in Tanzania.

All in all, Slush was incredible for the exchanges that happened (and it’s definitely more than that business card exchange). I met so many people who were open and keen to understand the world more and make this planet seem a bit smaller, by getting to know one person at a time. Though the challenges in this world are great and so frequently overwhelming, small action towards something better is the only thing we can really do. And seeing all these small actions in one giant gathering is such an awe-inspiring, hope-inducing experience that I will continue trying to bring into TZ.

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