Gain. Give. Teach. Repeat. — An Interview with Felix Afranie and Raziel Castillo, Founders of Ahnansi
Felix Afranie (right) graduated from Capital Preparatory Magnet School in 2010, where he focused on raising funds for those who are visually impaired his senior year. Felix also took part in the Junior Achievement program and volunteered at local soup kitchens while in high school. He attended Assumption College (Class of 2014) where he helped established a men’s group called P.A.L.M.S. Through this organization, Felix helped raise awareness about domestic violence and even spoke at the white ribbon campaign event. Felix has always had a passion for helping those around him and his community. He believes that we must learn from each other and not try to mislead others who are on the same journey as you. Felix always says, “If you want to know what is down the road, ask someone that is coming down from that road.” He learned this quote from his high school teacher and has used it as a life motto.
Raziel Castillo (left) is also a graduate of Capital Preparatory Magnet School (Class of 2010) and Assumption College (Class of 2014). While both of these institutions have helped him continue on his journey of raising awareness for a variety of causes, his passion stemmed from his childhood experiences and participation in youth programs. He believes that these extracurricular programs helped make him the person he is today and he knows there is value in taking part in the lives of youth. Every interaction and experience matters. He hopes that with the foundation of Ahnansi Inc, he can give back to the community and have the same impact on younger generations as the adults he came across growing up. When he is not working his 9 to 5 sales job, he is usually working on graphic designs, poetry, and printing t-shirts.
Entrepreneurs are motivated in more ways than you can count. Running their own lives, building something out of nothing, getting rich, being successful, carrying out a mission — all of these are valid sources of motivation.
For Felix Afranie and Raziel Castillo, the gentlemen behind Ahnansi, their motivation is as pure as it gets — they want to help as many people as possible.
Felix Afranie spent the first 11 years of his life in Ghana. He says of his time there, “I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything. It forced me to mature a lot because of a lot of things that I went through.” After coming to the U.S., Felix attended Assumption College in Worcester, MA.
After graduating, he took a path common for many Massachusetts college graduates — he got a high-paying job and lived in the city of Boston. He soon discovered that, despite making a great salary, his finances were tight due to his high rent cost, student loans, and cost of the lifestyle he was living.
Through internships and finance work, Felix had a strong understanding of managing personal finances and thus made the decision to move outside of the city back to Worcester. With his social life no longer what it had been, he wanted and needed to find a constructive way to spend his time. He immediately thought of passing on his own lessons learned in financial literacy to the youth in his local community.
“I thought, ‘Man, I wish a lot of local minorities knew about this, knew how to do this.’ It’s all about doing the little things to take care of yourself first and then you can take care of others. You’re not being selfish, you’re just trying to worry about you, and then in the future, you can help others. I wanted to help people by teaching them how to manage their money.”
Soon after, he enlisted the help of his good friend, Raziel Castillo, to help with a logo. At the time, the two thought they would work on this project as something fun to do on the side. Then they realized there was a need for it to be a whole lot more.
“When the presidential election was going on, about a year ago, we had this group text with a whole bunch of our friends, and we started talking about how crappy the election was — how most people in higher up positions don’t care about the local communities. They care more about what they can say to get their constituents to follow them, to vote for them.
That got us thinking and that’s when the idea that you need to care for your community first popped into my head.
That’s where Raz came in and said, ‘Why don’t we just broaden financial literacy to helping the youth in general, teaching them about the things we didn’t know. Not just about money, but life lessons, the things we have learned.’
For two weeks, we were going back and forth in this group text, talking about different issues, different social issues — what’s going wrong in the world. And then all of a sudden, we said, ‘We need to do something. Let’s meet next Thursday and brainstorm.’ We don’t know what’s going to come from it, but let’s meet and plan this out. We eventually came to the conclusion to start a nonprofit.”
The group knew that they wanted to pass lessons onto local youth, but didn’t know much more than that at the time when they sought out a name for the organization. One idea immediately clicked.
As Raz explains, “Felix threw out the idea of Ahnansi, which was a piece of African folklore, of a spider who went around gathering the lessons of the world and knowledge from different people it came across… and that’s essentially what we wanted to do. We wanted to make sure that we can pass life lessons on, expose youth to different cultures, get them to see different points of view and perspectives in the world so they are not limited by what they currently know.
I found out that it was actually passed down from Ghana and Africa to the Caribbean, and I’m Puerto Rican, so actually, my sisters knew about it… and when we told the third member of our team about it he came back and said, ‘I spoke to my family and the whole room lit up because my mother knew about it and my grandmother knew about it.’ We knew it was perfect.”
“Our motto is to gain, give, teach, and repeat. We want to make sure that we have enough to be comfortable, so gaining for ourselves to a point. We want to pass it along, whether it’s knowledge, money, whatever we can do. We want to make sure that we can teach it so that somebody else can actually do it themselves and in the end repeat the cycle. And everyone gets involved in the cycle.”
To fulfill that mission, Ahnansi focuses on various educational outcomes for local youth. They teach financial literacy, provide a means for youth to consider and explore different paths after high school including college, trade school, and creative disciplines such as blogging or podcasting, provide opportunities for youth to give back to their communities through helping those less fortunate than them, and inspire youth to find their passion and devotion in life.
In addition, they are expanding their services to serve adults as well.
“We want to encourage adults to learn because a lot of times people reach a certain age and they say, ‘I’m too old. I can’t learn this. I can’t learn something new.’ That’s something people struggle with all the time, but you can learn something new. You have time.
It’s setting that foundation for them to see what resources are available, understanding that they can better themselves and they can improve their current situation. We want to make sure we provide them with as many seminars as possible and that we’re introducing resources so that they can learn something new. If they haven’t tapped into their passion yet, now is the right time to do it.”
Ahnansi has a solid foundation in place and is now expanding their capabilities and reach to impact as many people as possible.
“Our whole purpose is to help move as many roadblocks as we can… it’s building momentum. We have the right people involved, we have the right resources.”
Felix and Raz both work full-time and are building Ahnansi in all the other hours they have in the day. For each of them, saying they don’t have the time would just be an excuse.
As Raz says, “I realized, once I found something I was passionate about, that you find the time. If it’s something that’s important to you, it’s a part of you. You grow with it. It’s a part of who you are. You work those 40 hours every week and put in the time to fund someone else’s dream. So, what are you doing for yourself after that?”
Felix agrees. “I don’t really personally think I’m busy, and that’s because I enjoy what I do… I don’t like working for someone… I work hard so that I eventually never have to listen to someone telling me what to do. You have to find that time and that enjoyment.”
Put in the work
Felix and Raz both also recognize that the path to success when building out your own dream is a long, difficult one. Because of that, you need to be in it for so much more than money.
“I would tell any entrepreneur out there that it’s not about the money. Realistically, you might not be profitable for five or ten years down the road. It’s about what you’re getting out of it; if you’re smiling when you’re doing it. If you’re forcing it, then it’s not for you. Don’t force it.
You don’t sleep until your dream becomes a reality. There isn’t an excuse if you want to become successful. There shouldn’t be an excuse if you’re going to push that dream and work for it. If you really enjoy what you’re doing, you find some way to make it work.”
Utilize your resources
Felix and Raz also believe that many people do not do a good job of utilizing the resources around them and that successful entrepreneurs must do so.
As Felix urges, “Another thing I would tell young entrepreneurs is to read. You have to read. The more you read, the better you get at it, the more you absorb. I’m training myself to be efficient in the future. So read, read, read. Read anything you get your hands on.
I’ve listened and read 28 books this year. I’m aiming for 60 because that’s the number that the great CEO’s read. I don’t think I’m going to get there, but next year I’m going to hit 60. That’s the key. Block out the time and use the technology around you to make sure you’re actually being efficient and that you’re being impactful.
It’s very unfortunate because we are in such a rich information age, but so few people really take advantage of it.”
Make a difference in your community, and the world
All of the personal development that Felix and Raz focus on is so that they can make more of an impact in their community and they encourage others to do the same. It starts with your community, and if you don’t care about it, no one else will.
As Felix explains, “The overall message we want to send is to make sure your community is a priority to you. Whether you treat it like garbage, or if you take pride in it, it starts with you. One person can make such a difference… Make sure your community is like your family because you live here. You go past people every day. Are you talking to them? Are you introducing yourself? Try to get to know as many people as possible and become a real part of your community.”
As Raz sums up, they want to eventually take their impact beyond their community and bring it to the world.
“The key for us is gain, give, teach and repeat. Make sure you take that initial step today. Step out of your comfort zone, make sure you have your basic necessities met, and then go out there and try to change the world.”