Italian-born, Dr. Ernesto Sirolli received a Laurea di Dottore in Political Science from Rome University in 1976 and a Ph.D. from Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia in 2004. He has worked in Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom in the field of economic development.

In 1985, he pioneered in Esperance, a small rural community in Western Australia, a unique economic development approach “The Esperance Experience” based on harnessing the passion, determination, intelligence, and resourcefulness of the local people.

1. Tell us something about yourself, early, age schooling and college life?

I was born in a small village in the mountains of central Italy between Rome and the Adriatic Sea. My family moved to Rome when I was 4 years old and then to Libya for 3 years from 1958 to 1961. I studied English , French and Arabic in school then. I finished my studies in Rome at the Sapienza University where I became a Dottore In Political Sciences in 1976. Many years later I finished a Ph.D in Local Enterprise Facilitaton from Murdoch University in Western Australia.

2. Ernesto, you are the Founder of the Sirolli Institute. What is the purpose and mission of that Institute?

The Sirolli Institute was created to teach the principles of a respectful approach to local development based in supporting local entrepreneurs. We believe that the future of every society is about capturing the passion, energy and imagination of its own people. We also believe that there is no geography to passion and intelligence and that supporting local talent, with best entrepreneurial practices, is the surest way to empower individuals and their communities.

3. What was the idea behind founding that Institute? How did it all started?

The Institute was started by a group of American supported in 1996, but the ideas behind it go back to the early seventies when I was working for an Italian NGO in Africa.

4. In what way has your experience in Africa shaped everything you do in your private and professional life?

Every single project I saw in Africa failed. Not only Italian projects but all the European and North American NGOs seemed to arrive in Africa with a project already designed. They parachuted into Africa ideas and technologies that were inappropriate to the local culture and then blamed the local people for the failure of the projects. Not only the projects were not sustainable they also tended to corrupt the local people in the process.

5. Is learning from our mistakes essential part of improving our skills and is it essential for our progress and success in everything we are doing? Especially in entrepreneurship?

Learning from our mistakes is the only way to sanity…and to our growth as human beings. It takes maturity to run a successful business and unless we can check our egos, admit our weaknesses and seek help from people who are better then us we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.

6.What are the main rules/principles, according to you, in establishing and developing own company/project or helping others in establishing their company/project?

It is precisely the understanding that nobody has ALL the characteristics necessary to PRODUCE, SELL and CONTROL THE FINANCES of a company. Every successful company ever created was started by more then one person.

7. We often notice when there is a plan/idea of establishing a project/company, an individual who is behind that idea is often too confident about his own abilities. How much is that devastating for creating anything? How much is there a need for corporation with other people to achieve anything?

There is a profound difference between an entrepreneur and a manager. The entrepreneur is an explorer and the manager is a settler. The personalities are different and the advice to be given them is also different. It is useless to tell an explorer to take seeds and ploughs with him because the explorer will tell you that he doesn’t even know if land will ever be found. The best advice to give an explorer is to take a navigator with him, someone who knows the stars and can help minimize the risks to get lost at sea. The advice to give to the settler is to bring seeds and ploughs, and workers, and animals to settle the newly found land. Both require teams but of a different kind.


8. Every good project started with a simple idea. However, most people find it hard to come up with a good and creative idea. Many of them don’t want to take the risk and invest their time and money in something that might not lead to anything? What is your advice to them?

We cannot give passion to people but we can destroy it. If every time our children express a creative idea we ridicule them we may end up with very unimaginative children. Also if we are very conservative and we are scared to take initiative ourselves can we expect our kids to be passionate and daring? Many entrepreneurs came from entrepreneurial backgrounds or from very supportive environments.

9. We can notice the establishment of new projects all the time,with investment of huge amount of money and lots of time. However, after sometime, after they were established they were forced to shut down. What are the main mistakes their Founder did for such condition?

There have been many studies on the cause of business failure and LACK of MANAGEMENT seems to be the main culprit. Business requires division of labor and only a competent and trusted team can keep an eye of every aspect of the business. How to find your team members and how to keep them focused and excited about working with you is the greatest challenge in business.

10. What are the most important elements in developing a small project into a big and successful company?

Reach out to others as soon as possible, be honest with yourself and understand what you can do well in the company then find the people who can do beautifully the rest. Make lots of small mistakes as early as possible (and learn from them!), do not compromise if by compromising you are going to loose passion for the company. Ultimately to be successful is to do beautifully what you love to do; if the passion goes how are you going to motivate others? Successful entrepreneurs LOVE what they do.

11. What role does planing have in entrepreneurship? Is it compatible or incompatible with business?

Managers have to plan but entrepreneurs have to wing it. Two different actors are required in the drama of business!

12. How is it possible for a young entrepreneur, with low budget to achieve something?

It is actually young entrepreneurs with no budgets that have achieved the most outstanding successes in business. I would say that having nothing to loose is a wonderful position to be in. The conviction of having something valuable, the passion to embark in the journey, the character to attract others to you, the hunger to learn, the ability to live on bread,love and hope for years…these are wonderful assets.

13.How much is it important to be realistic in field of our abilities, budget, goals etc.

Entrepreneurs see opportunities when others only see problems. Abilities, budgets and goals are the limits against which we exercise our highest intelligence. They say: “It cannot be done” and tempt us to dare the impossible…humanity seems particularly apt to find solutions to impossible problems.

14.Is passion the driving force of any project?

No it takes passion AND skill. One is the fuel, the other is the engine. Passion without skill leads to frustration and despair, skill without passion leads to acedia.

15. Your message to our readers?

You are born to become the best human being you can be. To do so you need others. This is true in your private life but it is even more crucial in your business. It isn’t only what you know that is important in business but also who you know. Reach out to people who know more than you but show up with whatever skill you have and all of your passion.

16. Your future plans?

Establish Sirolli Associates Agencies around the world. We wish to partner with like minded people prepared to represent our social technologies in their countries.

Dr. Ernesto Sirolli
Founder – Sirolli Institute- International Enterprise Facilitation Inc.
TED Speaker

Interviewed by Irma Velić