Tinotenda Charles Rutanhira

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rutanhira Shines a Light on Extraordinary Citizens

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Thursday January 04, 2018

At the age of 26, Tinotenda (Tino) Charles Rutanhira left Africa to seek a new life in the United States. Having escaped economic and political unrest in Zimbabwe, Rutanhira says, “It wasn’t a safe place to be and the U.S. offered hope, a land where, if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything you put your mind to, no matter who you are.”

After attending Rhodes University in South Africa and living in Johannesburg, Rutanhira immigrated to the U.S. in 2000, where he says, “Another jewel found me - Vermont.” He and his daughter now live in South Burlington, where Rutanhira launched an original Localvore podcast, On the Shoulders of Giants, in 2016. Inspired by the extraordinary acts of ordinary citizens, Rutanhira’s interviews explore the influence Vermonters are making on humanity. 

Rutanhira’s journey in America provided some adversity for the natural self-starter. “Even though I came here with a college degree, the challenge was always trying to get professional companies to hire someone who was not a citizen, who spoke with an accent, had credentials from an unknown university, and didn’t look like the typical Vermonter.” Undeterred, Rutanhira found employment wherever he could. “I’ve worked in supermarkets, department stores, delis, restaurants, washed dishes, cleaned hotel rooms, worked in a daycare, attended ski lifts, worked at fairs, the list is endless. I am fortunate that someone did eventually take a chance on me and, through hard work and a bit of luck, I’ve been rewarded with a promising and successful career.”

Now a full-time employee with Dealer.com, Rutanhira, a single father, is producing the podcast in his free time to share recognition and respect for people he considers giants for their actions and impacts on society, education, politics, economics, and business.

The podcast was born out of Rutanhira’s annual challenge to do something that, in his words, “scares me, something that is completely outside my comfort zone.” Calling himself a “podcast junkie,” he says he always had the ambition to create his own show. In 2016, his challenge was to make it happen. 

The following year’s challenge was to try his hand at acting. In 2017, he landed the role of Alemu in Tanya Barfield’s play “The Call” at Vermont Stage. He says, “I had no previous acting experience other than being a wise man in my kindergarten nativity play, which my mom says I messed up.” The novice actor need not worry; “The Call” was well reviewed and described as a “deep and powerful production.” Ever expanding his experiences, Rutanhira says, “I don’t know what I will do in 2018, learning to fly a plane keeps coming up.”

Rutanhira says On the Shoulders of Giants podcast features “incredibly inspiring people who have broken the status quo, or faced down adversity, or taken the road less traveled and positively impacted the lives of other people. We get to hear their story and gain knowledge and insight into how their professional and personal lives mix every day to create lessons and insights for others to follow.” He notes, “The premise of my podcast is that there are giants among us who have figured out how to be uncommon: started movements, built successful businesses, are living insanely interesting lives and inspiring greatness.”

Describing himself as a one-man show, Rutanhira says, “I’m the host, producer, director, engineer, researcher, gofer, everything.” For each podcast, he first has to find the guest, which is followed by doing the necessary background research before the interview. “Not being a household name, I’ve been rejected quite a few times, but I don’t take that personally. If I’m lucky, the guest is referred to me by someone who knows them.” As his podcast has gained traction and popularity, Rutanhira remarked, “People have started suggesting ‘giants’ to me. It wasn’t until well into my first season, when a complete stranger emailed me and recommended someone that I have never even heard of, that I knew I was doing something meaningful beyond my immediate sphere of influence.”

After the interview recording, Rutanhira edits the 60 to 90-minute conversation. “This is the part I love to hate. It’s hard and time consuming cutting down an interview into a smooth flowing 45-minute podcast.” He adds, “It’s a labor of love.”

Rutanhira has released 22 podcast episodes on iTunes, Sound Cloud, and other media channels. His guests include Kesha Ram, former member of the Vermont House of Representatives; Allyson Laackman, former Obama White House CFO, interim director of Executive Residence, chief of staff to the First Lady for the 2012 Obama Reelection Campaign; and Liz Robert, owner/CEO of Terry Bicycles and former CEO of Vermont Teddy Bear Company.

When asked about the local focus of his podcast, Rutanhira replies, “This is where I live and see these giants in action. And, for me, Vermont is the embodiment of inspiration - the little engine that could - the state that defies all conventional wisdom and charts its own path. So why not toot our own horn?”

Rutanhira, who could be easily be called an inspiration himself, says he’s driven by this motto: “When your life flashes before your eyes one day, are you going to fall asleep?” He explains, “In other words, are you going to look back on your life and be bored or are you going to see a life filled with exciting and new experiences that make you feel like you lived a full and rewarding life? The podcast is a start, but only just the beginning.”

Rutanhira notes that some of his most impactful interviews have been with people that are less well known. “Take Raichle Farrelly who works full time at St. Mike’s but is busy building schools in Tanzania in her spare time. Another, in an upcoming episode, is Rick Welch, a former drug addict who is now executive director of Teen Challenge Vermont and saving lives of men and women in the war on drugs.” Inspired by these “giants,” he remarks, “What is my excuse? How can I go to bed and not feel like I need to step up and start creating my own Tino-sized dent in this world?”

To listen to the podcast, go to tcrutanhira.com and click on podcast episodes or find Rutanhira on Facebook and Twitter.


SOURCE: Lisa Osbahr, Contributor