Building business through education

March 24, 2014
Amy Dove
MGM alumna Sylwia Knapczyk spent 11 months in Tanzania helping to develop education and training for small businesses and raising funds for youth school fees.

Sylwia Knapczyk’s passion for education has taken her around the world. Whether she is in Canada or Africa, the common thread is her desire to help people run more effective businesses and become better educated, at any age.

“My passion is entrepreneurship and education,” she says. “Education empowers people.”

She started combining the two in 2008 as an intern for the Canadian International Development Agency. She spent six months in Zanzibar, working as a small enterprise specialist to design and deliver customer service workshops for the Zanzibar Institute for Tourism Development. Before the internship was over, she also authored an International Trade Report, detailing export potential, barriers and opportunities for trade between Tanzania and Kenya.

“After that internship I realized I wanted to focus on small business development in the developing world,” she says, noting she enjoys working at a grassroots level.

That desire is what eventually led her to Royal Roads’ Master of Global Management program.

“I took education for granted for a long time. When I went to Tanzania for the first time I saw that I was so fortunate to have the business background that I did,” she says. “I saw how many people need the knowledge that I have. I thought the least I could do was share it.”

After completing the MGM, Knapczyk was selected as one of four alumni to travel to Tanzania in 2013 as a fellow of the Micro Business Catalyst Fund, co-ordinated through Royal Roads’ Eric C. Douglas Centre. She spent three months working with small-scale mushroom farmers in Moshi, near Mt. Kilimanjaro. While she was there, she learned of a second internship placement, this time with international development organisation VSO as a local economic development advisor. After the Royal Roads fellowship ended, she moved to the coastal community of Dar es Salaam for her eight-month internship with VSO.

“The thing that stuck with me in the 11 months I was there was the need for business development and proper business education,” she says.

Entrepreneurs in developing economies face many challenges, from a lack of financial resources and access to education, to underdeveloped institutions of credit and corruption in the systems designed to support them, says associate faculty member Todd Thexton, who taught Knapczyk.

“The work that Sylwia is involved with in Tanzania makes a crucial contribution to overcoming those obstacles,” he says. “Though entrepreneurship has been recognized for some time as an important driver of growth in advanced economies, the value of entrepreneurship in developing countries has only begun to receive attention over the past decade or so.”

Helping connect people to opportunity was a major focus of Knapczyk’s work with VSO. She worked with the local government to develop a network that promoted government initiatives and she also helped develop training workshops, policies and engagement strategies to bring people together in support of small business. It was rewarding work, she says, as at the end of the day you could actually see tangible evidence of positive change in people’s lives.

“I have a passion for international development and a passion for business,” she says. “When you bring them together I end up doing what I love and I constantly learn.”

Education for all ages

For her 30th birthday, Knapczyk decided she wanted to raise money to buy school uniforms for 30 children at Longuo Primary School in Moshi, Tanzania. What started as a small ask for 30 friends to donate $30 blossomed and before long Knapczyk has gathered enough funds to pay for uniforms and school fees for 69 children, as well as gift 730 textbooks in English, Swahili and math to the school. Read more about the experience on her blog.