Impact Cinema in the Backyard of Society: A Conversation With SIMA Kenya Ambassador, Erick Matsanza

SIMA Kenya Film Festival in Nairobi, March 8, 2016

“The world needs social change farmers and the world needs cultivators of spice, but above all, the world needs those who will plant the spice in their backyards.” — Erick Matsanza, Founder of Spice Without Borders

There is a unique brand of activist sprouting up throughout the globe. They have a taste for social justice and an unapologetic desire to fight for all that is good and fair. Inspired by empathy and driven by human stories, these leaders have been reshaping the way we talk about social issues. Changemakers, creative activists, social entrepreneurs, film enthusiasts — they go by many names, but to us they’re our SIMA Ambassadors and they’re bringing their communities together with the power of impact cinema.

From screenings in arthouse theaters in New York to grassroots screenings in Cambodia and community hubs in Manila and Berlin, the format may change but the foundation stays the same: local leadership must drive the direction of local sustainability and resilience, and social issue film clubs like SIMAx are the perfect place to start.

Erick Matsanza, Founder of Spice Without Borders and SIMA Ambassador to Kenya

Meet our first featured SIMA Ambassador, host of SIMA Kenya, trailblazer and community organizer Erick Matsanza, who founded Spice Without Borders, an organization that celebrates the diversity of those from the backyards of society — using their energy, their vision and their focus to plant the social change spice in their communities.

Erick is a social change catalyst who employs DISRUPTIVE and PROVOCATIVE means in challenging the status quo. He is an information technology consultant, a brand management and social media expert, a human rights activist and feminist at heart.

Erick hosted his first SIMAx event — SIMA Kenya — back in March on International Women’s Day. Here’s what inspires him, his journey into social impact and his advice on mobilizing change in local communities:

SIMA: How did you get involved in the Social Impact industry?

Erick: From a young age, my questions about issues were dodged by my family and siblings. I couldn’t engage at a mature level with my family because I was deemed a kid by my elders. I ended up only being an observer on the issues I questioned. I found myself naturally embracing diversity and was even insulted on my wedding day by my inlaws because I chose to surround myself with people of different tribes, those with hearing impairments, and different races. This discriminative venom by my inlaws has since eaten into my marriage resulting in a separation. This further ignited my resolve to advocate for a more inclusive world. I founded Spice Without Borders, whose corporate identity is a red chili. A chili is spicy and whether raw, boiled, or crushed, it never loses its taste. It’s a symbol of the inner uniqueness of each individual, reflecting their different abilities no matter what they have to go through in life.

SIMA: What social issues are you passionate about and why?

Erick: Living in a patriarchy, it angers me to see a society that keeps depriving women of having the same opportunities as men. In my opinion, this needs to be challenged and I want to be on the forefront. I remember all the ways women have impacted my life. When I was about to miss out on secondary education it was my mother and my sister who, despite their meager resources, stepped in when no man in the family was willing to take up the responsibility. This has inspired me to support women’s empowerment and the movement to provide women with the necessary skills that foster creative and critical thinking so that they can transform society. Child-related issues are close to my heart too. Having not experienced basic freedoms to voice my opinion in my own childhood, I would love to see children allowed to express themselves and realize their creative abilities.

SIMA: Why do you believe impact film and media are necessary tools for social change?

Erick: Film is a powerful tool as it takes one through a journey to mindset change. It achieves this through the visualization. It paints a clear picture by pointing out an issue, the society’s perception, and then a solution all in one view. I was amazed at how these films [at SIMA Kenya] captivated the audience and their emotions. It was a pioneer event for Spice Without Borders.

SIMA: What types of reactions did you get from these films?

Erick: The film ENEMIES TO ALLIES provoked a larger audience and they couldn’t believe that this was happening right in our own country, meaning that we still have stigmatization towards commercial sex workers.

ENEMIES TO ALLIES film still, by Julie Winokur

Editor’s note: In ENEMIES TO ALLIES we learn that sometimes, innovative solutions to social challenges are born in the most unlikely places. In Kisumu, Kenya, a surprising approach to HIV prevention relies on building bonds between two unlikely groups: police officers and sex workers. In Kisumu, extortion and abuse were commonplace, and sex workers’ rights were violated. This resulted in sex workers not receiving essential health services and police officers contributing to the spread of HIV. Through a novel approach, a local NGO called Keeping Alive Societies’ Hope (KASH) has fought to reverse that trend by building relationships between these former adversaries.

SIMA: What advice can you give other social changemakers?

Erick: Stick to the cause. Let’s create a more inclusive world. Lets use film, the spoken word, technology, innovations, business, and every opportunity that comes your way because it’s the only way we can create a world that is sustainable, fair, and just to humanity.

SIMA: What advice can you give other SIMA Ambassadors on community organizing?

Erick: Create a movement, build it from the bottom up right from your backyard. Plant the spice and nurture it to grow because film is powerful and builds audiences. The question is: how do you consolidate those audiences for social change?

SIMA Kenya presented by SpiceTalks

Interested in bringing impact cinema to your community? Join Erick and SIMA Ambassadors in 25 countries, learn more and apply at SIMACOLLECTION.COM.