Creativity and hard work: the gratifying life of an entrepreneur

i am an entrepreneur

I think I was born to be an entrepreneur. When I used to get my students to fill out Cosmo-like questionnaires about their innate personality traits for successful business start-up, I would score myself too. Every time, I would score as high as possible. But there I was, teaching the class, not out exercising my passion for building and creating.

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A few years ago, I started Vulnerable Children Society with a few other women, to help kids and families in Ethiopia. I’m proud of how far we’ve come, and how many people we help… especially the teen girls in our Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program. But the other kick I get from it, is the building. Just to be clear, I don’t earn a cent from running this charity – I get the perks of a yearly trip to Ethiopia to supervise our work, and the gratification of doing something. You really are able to help when you put the effort in, and I love seeing projects come together out of our dreams and hard work.

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Really, running Vulnerable Children gave meaning to my work life, when I often searched for my impact as a professor. I have to thank my friends, supporters and partners over and over, for enabling me to conjure up projects, fund them, execute them, and see our work come to fruition.

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Last year, I significantly expanded our small family business, Africa Sleeps. I added a whole haircare and bodycare line, and have quadrupled my business since last fall.

It’s so terribly satisfying – creating labels and mixing scents, dreaming up products and experimenting with my daughters’ hair, dreaming up marketing approaches and forming satisfying partnerships with others in the natural hair world, and beyond. I’m so glad that I was able to expand our business with products that my values can really stand behind – that means a lot to me, and honestly, helps me sell them.

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It’s certainly not as glamorous as saying “Hi! I’m a professor specializing in sustainable business and non-profit management.” But it is pretty fun doing the work that goes along with “Hi! I have a natural hair and bodycare line for children of African heritage.”

In other words, I’m living a doing what I used to be researching and teaching. How bout them apples?

And now, our big baby. For the last four years, Jason and I have been working on opening our own vet clinic Pandosy Village Veterinary Hospital and pet shop, Pounce and Hound Fine Pet Goods. Our dream has evolved over the years, waiting for two developments to be built (long story,) but I love where we have ended up.

building a green veterinary hospital

As of next month, we’ll be opening the first integrative veterinary hospital in Kelowna, and an incredibly special store. We work as a team, but in essence, the store is mine. What fun work, even through the frsutrations: designing our clinic (twice!) and overseeing the construction. Figuring out our ethics, manifesto, and all the other choices that follow. Jason’s been studying herbal medicine, and I’ve been using my powers of lotion making and packaging to help him design natural medicines for the shop. I’ve come up with fashion concepts for various seasons, contracted artisans to make products for our shop, selected the most environmentally and socially responsible products I can find, and am now training our staff to take care of it all.

Jason, who scored “medium” on all those entrepreneurship quizzes, enjoys exactly the same thing as me: doing our own thing. We love that we are not following what everyone else is doing (I can’t tell you how many times the architects, conventional vets and others have kindly told us we are crazy for having a 1000 sq ft store in a vet clinic.) But we are united, excited, and so proud of what we have created together. There will be a wedding-like kiss the day we open the doors. (Pucker up, honey. Just two weeks away!)

The downside of having all these enterprises on the go is that I don’t sleep enough, and sometimes have to trade time on one project for another. This past two months, I have lived and breathed the hospital.

But I was born an entrepreneur – passion, creativity and innovation are my fuel. I wouldn’t work any other way.

Crafting, Reading and Meeting at the Love and Hope Centre in Addis Ababa

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On March 10, I had the delight of spending the day at Vulnerable Children Society‘s Love and Hope Centre in Kality, on the outskirts of Addis. In fact, a whole gaggle of us met at the centre. My family came along with me to teach crafts, and my kids ran around with the other Ethiopian children their age. I had a meetings with staff from Canadian Humanitarian, our partner organization that operates the centre, as well as Deb, the expedition coordinator from Canada. We were also joined by other Vulnerable Children reps: our project consultant Birhan, as well Nicole, one of our directors from Canada. It was a merry, busy day!
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Now, as the president of Vulnerable Children, I spend most of my time in Ethiopia in meetings, strategy sessions, and project evaluations. But this time, I got to interact with the kids, reading them stories and leading a craft.
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My mother, a retired school teacher, prepared a fantastic but very involved craft, that helped the kids practice their English. Counting, colours… My husband father, mother and I all lead groups of 15-20 kids, making beaded frogs and lizards. My hats off to my family… I had the benefit of rudimentary Amharic on my side; but they operated their groups with humour, determination, and a lot of hands on help. At the end of two hours, two hours! all the kids went home with an incredibly special, durable, and fun toy to show their families.
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On a personal note, my seven year old daughters visited and participated too. Most of huge children at the centre are right around their age, so even though they were shy at first, once their daddy got involved in chasing around the kids, they were in their like dirty shirts. My husband Jason only knows a few words of Amharic, but all he needed to start that game was by yelling “Anbassa!” (Lion!) at the top of his lungs. Then he had a crowd of kids, including ours, after him!
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The children usually come to the centre for lunch, then return to school until the end of the school day. Then they return for after school tutoring, games, art club, showers, teeth brushing, etc. but since it was the first day back for them after “spring break,” the kids came for lunch, and stayed until the end of the day.

I was really impressed by how the ideas concocted between Canadian Humanitarian’s former executive director and I, those months ago, have transformed into reality. It’s amazing to see. For example, we asked the caregivers to be involved in cooking… So far, five groups of female guardians have rotated through the kitchen, making lunch every day. The guardians are paid as cooks usually would be, and then the next month, they are replaced by new guardians. It’s a pretty awesome, legitimate way to financially involved them in the centre, as well as being involved and supportive.
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The centre’s coordinator, an amazing young woman, came with the children from the former program, so she knows and understands their individual needs well. Also on staff are a social worker, and an accountant. In reality, they all help with the day to day operations, and it’s an extremely efficient and effective operation.

We did have meetings after the children went home (what’s a visit without a meeting?) to discuss the needs and new developments at the centre. I’ll share those with you all after I have a chance to discuss them with Vulnerable Children Society’s directors. But the punch line is that both our project consultant (who is doing formal evaluation work for us,) Nicole and I… We were all extremely happy with the project!
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If you are currently a Love and Hope sponsor, you should be really proud of your support. It’s money extremely well spent! With an incredible well run centre. Hats off to our partner, Canadian Humanitarian, for operating a fantastic project. And hats off to you, for funding it!
Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!
We hope you will ask a friend to join us as a Love and Hope sponsor, so that we can enrich this program, and open another centre in the near future!
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Arnica and Jason’s Fundraising Campaign: Literacy Library for the Love and Hope Centre

The one request we had directly from the folks in Ethiopia was for reading books for the Love and Hope Centre study groups. You see, 70 kids come to the centre in Addis Ababa each day, for a hot meal, showers, after school tutoring, counselling, medical care and a safe place to play. Education is the corn stone of the centre, and it’s the only way that these children will break out of the cycle of poverty.

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Oddly enough, English is very important to learn, even if it isn’t an official indigenous language. English is essential for the kids to go on to post secondary, and it is extremely valuable in a number of professions. So the kids are tutored in English.

But… They need books.

And not just any books. The kids need levelled readers, in groups of 10. You see, they study in groups, so 10 of the same book is really helpful.

DONATE TO OUR LITERACY LIBRARY FOR KIDS IN ETHIOPIA

If you would like to help us fill up our adult-sized bags (as opposed to the kids… See below!) please consider making a donation to our Literacy Library campaign. We have a goal of $500. Jason and I will take the readers over in our bags (the next trip too, if we raise that much money!) so the kids at the Love and Hope Centre in Ethiopia can study. We have a special deal with Scholastic to buy the readers at 50% off, so your donation will go very far indeed!

Thanks for donationing!

Sugar and Spice’s Donation Campaign: Love and Hope Centre in Addis Ababa

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When we heard that our 70 kids at the Love and Hope Centre in Addis Ababa could use extra health and sanitation items, the girls thought that would be the perfect thing to fill their bags for Ethiopia. They are going to be collecting toothbrushes, toothpaste, multivitamins, underwear, and first aide supplies for the children.

So they put together their own donation campaign… I just typed up the text. The girls decorated their posters for the school lobby and designed handouts. Don’t you love their creativity?

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I think it is so important to let them do this campaign by themselves. It’s amazing what a little trust and empowerment in seven-year-olds can enable them to do!

If you would like to donate to their campaign, please contact us with a comment below before the end of January. The sooner the better, please. :-) Then we will know how many bags we will be taking!

Giving Tuesday: Support Deserving Children in Ethiopia

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Well, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, and now it’s Giving Tuesday, the day to give back.

If you would like to support an incredibly effective organization helping some of the most vulnerable children in Ethiopia, please consider making a donation, in any amount, to Vulnerable Children Society, or becoming a monthly Love and Hope sponsor!

I’ve served as Vulnerable Children’s President since it’s inception, and I can tell you that we have been able to help so many children over the past few years, due to people like you.

Thanks! Happy Giving Tuesday!

www.vulnerablechildren.ca
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The perfect holiday gift! Ethiopia ABCs book

Ethiopia ABCs previewTwo years ago, I was driving west of Addis Ababa towards Nakemte. I was struck my the amazingly beautiful scenery, and the fascinating rural culture of the Oromo people in that area. En route, I snapped picture after picture, and when I got home, created this book: Ethiopia ABCs.

Honestly, it is a gorgeous photobook! I will toot my own horn. But the best part of it is that I’ve written in snippets of rural Ethiopian culture that my children find fascinating, all in the context of learning ABCs. This book is a great tool for pre-K/K alphabet learning, but my kids have picked it up again in grade 2, exercising their own reading skills.

Please consider buying a copy for yourself and for your friends with children. It’s a great way to learn about Ethiopian cultural, beautiful enough to make a coffee table book, and I donate 100% of the profit to Vulnerable Children Society.

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Major Announcement from Vulnerable Children Society

As many of you know, I serve as the President for Vulnerable Children Society, a registered Canadian charity that helps kids and families in Ethiopia. Well, this week I was SO GLAD to be delivering good news! I hope you’ll watch the video and check out our NEW project, following the link below. :-)

This week we have two MAJOR announcements to make to our donors and sponsors. Please watch the video below to hear the news directly from 5 of the 6 directors of Vulnerable Children Society. (Pam is in Swaziland, so she didn’t get in the video!)

Click here: To learn more about our new Love and Hope Centre in Kality!

Love and Hope Centre

NGO Visit: Hope for Children in Ethiopia

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Last month in Ethiopia, Tawnya and I (Arnica) had the opportunity to visit several other NGOs (non-governmental organizations, non-profits.) We learned how they ran their programs, shared tips and tricks with each other, and scoped out new potential partners for the future.

The first organization we will tell you about is Hope for Children in Ethiopia.

Hope for Children is a fairly large, indigenous Ethiopia NGO. It started as a service for street children, but has expanded dramatically in the last fifteen years. READ MORE… MORE PICS!

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A thousand meetings: learning to do business in Ethiopia

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I feel like I could write book on doing business in Ethiopia, although, really I am still a rookie. The book would be called “A Thousand Meetings.”

All of us Vulnerable Children Society directors, we all have picked up so much about how Ethiopia professional relationships and processes work this trip. It’s so different in many ways from Canada. Luckily, we’ve had Bisrat from Canadian Humanitarian and our VCS contractor, Birhan, as our guides.

The one similarity is that relationships make the world go around. However, how those relationships are developed, how discussions take place, and how processes work, these are all different. So it’s important to understand the culture and customs of the country that you are working in… These take precedence over how you are used to doing things in your own country.
Firstly, the underlying premise of organizational and business relations are different. In Canada, negotiations and cooperation are all about meeting your mutual goals.

So when you start a discussion, you all state your goals and then talk about how you can meet those mutual and individual goals with a plan. Not so in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, it’s all about the process. To start, you tell about your organization and your work. Or, you listen to them tell about their organization or their work. Whoever is initiating the discussions does the explaining. Then the other side peppers the presenters with questions. You learn more about each other, your approaches, your missions. Then, after all that, you may state your goals for the meeting. More questions. Then, and only then, do you start an action plan. Finally, you reiterate the benefits of your mutual relationship, your respect for each other, and what you have agreed to do. Generally, it seems like this process is the norm, although there might be contexts where direct meetings are appropriate too.

This may seem not too long of a process, but you have to realize that this may not all happen in one meeting. Anything that is important, controversial or complicated will require many meetings with research (into each other, and into options) and thought between each. It’s the pace of business that I am still adjusting to… And the main reason why we are still doing Vulnerable Children work here in Ethiopia into our third week !!

In Ethiopia, you may notice that people do a lot of business and work with their relatives. This isn’t as common in Canada; in fact, we consider nepotism a bad thing. But in Ethiopia, who better to work with than your family that you trust? It’s rude just to cold call someone, I learned from an experienced Canadian. Instead, you must have a contact introduce you to someone. There must be some previous connection before you can start working together.

This is another reason why your Rolodex, nowadays your saved phone numbers on your mobile phone, is of utmost importance. There is no such thing as 411 or a phone book. So knowing many people who can ask around act something is really very valuable. Tawnya and I are amazed at how much time we have spent on the mobile phone here. Of course, the disappearing cell phone network that comes and goes as it wishes presents an added challenge. All these factors create a very different set of phone etiquette than in Canada. We were very impressed in one meeting when the two ladies discussing shut their cell phones off for an hour. Obviously it was a very important meeting for both of them. but it’s the only time we have seen that happen. Usually, people answer their phones whenever and wherever they ring. The funniest so far was a waitress, halfway through taking our order, who just walked away to answer her phone, and then showed up two minutes later to take the rest of the order!

Another difference is the level of bureaucracy. Heck, I just submitted a research grant this past week via the Internet for a Canadian project. There is a formal proposal and budget. But to get it approved, I simply emailed back and forth to my boss and her boss the Vice President, and met with a partner to draw up the proposal. And off it went, three days of work later.

In Ethiopia, there is no way that would have happened so quickly. There would have been countless meetings, formal agreements written, relationships built, etc. a thousand meetings later… It’s a very different approach that a direct person like me has a hard time getting used to.
The other interesting side note is that hierarchy is more important in Ethiopia than in Canada. We tend to have relatively flat organizations, with some acknowledgement of whose decision is whose. I’m still learning and haven’t figured it all out yet, but I have noticed that hierarchy plays more of a role in discussions in Ethiopia, with more deference to superiors. This is an aspect I think I need to pay attention to, since it doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’m sure I’m still making some flubs.

Which brings me to my last comment on the business cultural differences between countries.
By the way, these aren’t goods or bads, just what you are used to and what you a not used to. A perfect example of this culture shock is the employment approaches. When Canadians come to Ethiopia, they are often shocked at the sheer number of people employed to do what one or two pele would do in Canada. For example, at a cafe there might be servers, people who dish out the goodies, people who make the drinks, supervisors, a guy at the door to shoo beggars away, and a couple of cleaning people. The Canadian approach is to hire as few people as possible (maybe two people instead of the eight or nine?) and to pay them reasonably well so they will stay a long time. In Ethiopia, the policy of hiring as many people to work as possible makes sense, because of course, there is a huge unemployment rate and less money goes a lot further. In Canada, the challenge is getting competent people, since we have a higher employment rate and a highly educated workforce.

So these differences are culturally grounded and sensible. STILL, I find it very amusing that three people are needed at one grocery till to sell me two pots of yogurt.

Hopefully some of these insights are helpful for those of you doing business in Ethiopia, or like us, running NGOs. Just remember, “when in Addis…” My point is, we are the foreigners and have to be the ones to adapt.

Any other insights specific to Ethiopia business culture? I’d love for you to post them below!! After all, we are still rookies and have a lot to learn!

A thousand meetings: Slow and steady progress for our programs

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Our last few days have been full of meeting and meetings. Tawnya, Nicole (when she was here) and I (Arnica) have met many times with Bisrat from Canadian Humanitarian, and our consultant, Birhan, to develop plans for our programs and new partnership. We have also met with Meseret and Sintayehu from Faya Orphanage three times, including one joint meeting with Faya Orphanage and Canadian Humanitarian.
MORE IMPORTANT INFO FOR SPONSORS…

Food and Friends on Palm Sunday

It seems like I have a ton of pictures of food from this trip… Maybe because I’m enjoying it so much!

I usually don’t drink coffee, but when in Rome… Well, I certainly am having a couple of cups of buna each day. Most places, coffee is excellent. We even had a couple of meetings at Kaldi’s, which is Ethiopia’s answer to Starbucks. There, the service was probably the worst, though.

At our new guest house, which I totally recommend, by the way, we have some great choices for breakfast. And great service. I’ve been enjoying a pain au chocolat each morning, along with a yogurt from the supermarket on the corner. Then we’ve been eating mostly at restaurants two times a day, despite the kitchen at our disposal in the guest house. (This is DS Guest House, just off Haile Gebraselassie Avenue near the Axum Hotel.)

We were so excited about this trip, because we would be here before Easter and get to eat lots of fasting food (read: vegetables.) But it seems like there isn’t a practicing Orthodox in sight at most restaurants, because we’ve still had a hard time getting our veggies. The exception was today… We visited our friend M’s family down in Doukem. I’m sure M put in a good word for me, because I saw all our favourite foods, lovingly prepared by her sister. I shed a happy tear at the sight of gomen, spinach, I tell you! We had a wonderful time visiting them… It’s like visiting family. Which they are, of sorts. :-) After a stressful day working on Vulnerable Children stuff, it was so nice just to take an hour and relax with people we know.

I also have been introduced to a new delicious Ethiopia food.. It’s this bread with butter and spices on it. I haven’t had a chance to find out exactly how to make it yet, but it was pretty delicious. It’s also a breakfast food, which is different.

The other cool thing today was that it was Palm Sunday. It was really neat comparing the way the Orthodox celebrate the holiday compared to the Catholic approach I was brought up in. Enjoy the pictures!

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Success for VCS in Adama/Wonji

We had a really successful day in Adama today. READ MORE…

Aside from Vulnerable Children stuff, I’ve also been busy arranging family visits, organizing drivers and meetings, and sending off a research proposal to Canada. Seriously, there are long days here! You know when you are typing on an ipad along a bumpy red dusty highway that you have work to do! Lol

We had some great down time today though too. We ate twice in Debre Zeit, back and forth from Adama, and we also stopped in at Babogaya resort. Why? The art gallery of course! Nicole and Tawnya got lovely paintings… And we even got Nicole’s all rolled up to go on the plane with her tonight.

To send Nicole off in proper style, the three of us younger ladies went to Elsa bar for tibs and tej tonight. Pretty basic surroundings, but Nicole really enjoyed it and it was nice to sip even slightly horrible tej at the end of a very long day. I was so glad I got to know her this trip… Maxing that we’ve been working together for a couple of years on Vulnerable Children, but this is the first time we met. What is it that you say in PEI? A kindred spirit!

Tomorrow is more meetings… For Vulnerable Children and for my research project. I will be thankful when I get some time just to wander around and shop! Maybe the day we leave? Lol

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