In 1999 my wife Paulette and I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya in East Africa on a Starbucks sponsored tour to visit several international development sites through the Girl Child Network. I had recently started my MBA and had not yet decided what I wanted to do upon graduation.
When we had the opportunity to visit a couple of sites in the city of Mombasa, I had the honor of meeting several groups of African women who had established small micro businesses with help from Care Kenya’s micro-financing program. One business involved the purchase of bulk volumes of coal that the women then broke down into smaller parcels and sold to their friends and neighbors; the other business was a tie dyed t-shirt operation in which women would purchased white t-shirts, create tied dyed patterns in their own homes and sell them to tourists through hotels and other outlets.
What struck me most was the power of small business ownership, in even a third world country. These were women whose experience in life had been very harsh and who still lived at a level of poverty that would be difficult to comprehend in North America. Yet you could not have found a prouder, more dignified group of individuals in any business in Canada or the United States. The pride and self-reliance that they displayed in explaining to us visitors from Canada the nature of their business operations and all the details on how these businesses allowed them to be independent and take control of their lives for themselves and their daughters was absolutely inspiring.
They also took great pride in treating my wife and I to Fanta soda pop that they purchase from a nearby store. Once again you could not imagine a scene that was more joyful and filled with positive energy and dignity as we toasted their success and good fortune.
The bottom line was that I realized that through business individuals could find meaning, independence and dignity. It was at that moment that I decided that when I returned to Canada and completed my degree I would do what I could through consulting to assist small, medium business owners achieve that same level of pride, freedom and dignity that I had witnessed among those special women in Africa.