Building community through business

April 10, 2012
Amy Dove

Shannan Brown is a chicken coop coach.

Granted her knowledge of the finer elements of chicken farming has increased, but what that really means is she can apply her business coaching skills to any environment. As a member of the most recent team of Royal Roads alumni working through the Micro Business Catalyst Fund, the executive coach spent time in Moshi, Tanzania coaching women as they opened small businesses. Her lessons took place wherever inspiration struck, whether that was in a classroom or outside a chicken hut.

"I got to watch their confidence grow as they built better relationships," says the MBA alumna of the experience. "We were giving hope for a better future."

Brown travelled to Tanzania with Bachelor of Commerce alumni Linda Treiberg and Matthew Holland. They were the second team of alumni to work in the community under the Micro Business Catalyst Fund. Alumni Andrew Miller, Amy McQuaid, Vanja Lalic and Suzanne Dane travelled to Moshi one year earlier to help launch the first series of businesses. Through community partnerships, they oversaw the start of a mushroom farming business, beauty supply shop and a business that made jewelry from recycled paper.

MBA alumna Shannan Brown worked with women to empower them to launch their own small businesses.

One year later, the jewelry business owner had earned enough profit to open a small food store in her home, and the beauty supply business had been taken over by the original partner's daughter. The mushroom business has grown to a network of 20 farmers.

The Micro Business Catalyst Fund is a four-year pilot program designed to help Tanzanians launch sustainable small businesses, with the guidance of Royal Roads alumni. The program is structured to provide funding throughout the first three years to see which business startups are the most successful, with the fourth year reserved for case study and review by Royal Roads, explains Geoff Archer, director for the Eric C. Douglass Centre, which oversees the project.

The program allows Royal Roads graduates to go into a community and share their time and knowledge, all in an effort to support and enable people to take control of their own change.

"We have solved rural poverty (for these families) for $3,000 a family," he says of the capital investment. "That's a pretty amazing number. We would like to get that number under $2,000."

Each year the teams fine tune the approach to selecting businesses, helping to reduce the costs by focusing on what works. The latest trio helped launch 11 businesses, including small-scale chicken and goat farms and a tailoring shop.

BCom alumni Matthew Holland and Linda Treiberg became quick studies in chicken farming as they helped women start up small-scale businesses.

The final business was a barber shop. The alumni worked with the entrepreneur on tracking inventory and sales and developing other business skills. Within his first month of operations, he was covering his daily costs.

"He did all the planning for the shop himself and he is very proud of it," Treiberg says. "He gave out 100 business cards on his opening day."

The challenges of working in a foreign country were more than offset by the positive experiences of working with passionate people taking action to better their lives, and ultimately the lives of everyone in their communities, the alumni agree.

A private donation launched the fund, and Royal Roads is looking for further support into Years 3 and 4. Approximately $25,000 is needed for Year 3, and $10,000 needed for Year 4. The advantage of the program now is they know what works and where the best investments can be made, Archer says. The focus is on sustainability, with the hopes that the next group can double the number of businesses established.

The fund provides the financial support to get businesses started, but the program is doing far more than that, Brown says. "When you transfer knowledge that can never be taken away."

To learn more about making a donation please contact RRU Advancement.