Barbara Stegemann’s entrepreneurial vision was formed after her best friend—a soldier—was severely wounded in Afghanistan. Understanding that supporting Afghanistan’s economy was key to building stability for its people, Stegemann created The 7 Virtues Beauty, a company that sources organic oils from countries experiencing turmoil (such as Afghanistan, Haiti the Middle East and Rwanda). Despite addressing complex global matters in her talks, Stegemann uses humour to explain how individuals can use business for good and effect change, both at home and worlds away.
CBC’s Documentary Channel will be re-airing Perfume War, the story of Stegemann’s drive to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people on December 15 at 8:00pm and 4:00am EST, and December 22 at 10:00pm.
In a recent post on Huffpost Stegemann speaks out on the route she believes best leads to improving the lives of people around the world. Here’s here story:
I don’t believe in charity. As well intended as charity is, it does not allow for economic growth. Charity kills creativity. I believe in economic empowerment with jobs and dignity for all.
As someone who was raised on welfare, below the poverty line, when people dropped off the Christmas hamper with food, we know they meant well. But we wanted to be invited to the banquet and included as peers.
Finally earning money and breaking the cycle of poverty through an education was my way out. But I live in Canada, which ranks in the top 10 cleanest countries on the Transparency Index’s corruption list.
My story could have had a very different outcome. Living in poverty in a more corrupt country could have meant slim odds of making it past childhood, being sold into trafficking, becoming an opium bride as young as nine or joining a terrorist group.
As a result of recognizing this reality, I became a social entrepreneur so I could work with families in nations rebuilding after war or strife, where corruption often runs rampant. I do this because the big solution to ending war and poverty will be ending corruption.
According to the World Bank, corruption costs $2.6 trillion USD annually, with $1 Trillion USD paid in bribes each year.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and also has he highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality. Families are so poor that 2000 children are trafficked to the Dominican a year, often with their parents’ consent because the family has no food or resources. Unsurprisingly, Haiti also ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Haiti does not need our charity. They are a proud, beautiful, brilliant, innovative people. They have dreams and they deserve to have ways to realize them. Haiti needs an end to corruption so that businesses and jobs can flourish. Foreign businesses are less likely to work with businesses in corrupt countries, creating a vicious cycle of poverty. But we need a business cavalry to come to these nations and buy from the people directly so they are not beholden to oppressors.
Afghanistan, which ranks in the top ten most corrupt countries in the world, is an example of how corruption can further destroy a war torn country.
Often the chain of command breaks down in the army, and Afghan soldiers have been known to go without food, leading to young men being ripe for recruitment by terrorist groups. Captain Leah Woolley who served in Afghanistan with The 3rd Battalion Princes Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in 2017 shared frustration with the culture of corruption she witnessed. “Teenage boys and young men get offered $100 a week to join ISIS. For a poor young person with no hope, that’s a lot more money than the Afghan Army pays,” said Captain Woolley.
Given a choice between less than $2000 a year as an Afghan soldier or earning enough from ISIS to properly take care of your family, it’s a tough situation for these young men.
There are ways to end corruption. It will require our leaders in Canada and around the world to be very clear with countries that rank high on the corruption index that they must reduce their score. It can be done without judgement, with our leaders providing some support to assist them in reducing their corruption. One example would be requiring countries that receive aid and funding from us to pay their police forces, armies and government employees a fair wage. When these important policy makers and law enforcers live below poverty, they are more likely to be exposed to bribes.
It’s also crucial to help countries create a culture where it is safe to whistle blow. In Rwanda they have billboards by the airport that say, “If you see corruption, you are safe to report it.” And they are. Imagine such billboards in countries like Haiti and Afghanistan.
Creating a culture where it is safe to speak truth to power is critical in ending corruption and ultimately poverty.