Monday, March 28, 2011

Reason #1 - A Rwandan Widow, Mother, and Restaurateur

She was a shy woman with an infectious smile and an inner strength that defied all reason. She was a widow, and now a single mom. She had lost her husband and two of her children during the Rwandan genocide. As she tried to pick up the pieces after that devastating time, she began to look for ways to make a living to feed her remaining children, along with the orphaned neighbor children she had taken in. She was a good cook, and so started selling some of her meals.

She heard about a program where she could access a small loan to expand her businesses, and decided to start the first restaurant in this deeply rural Rwandan village. With her small business loan of $200, she bought a large pot, a bag of rice, a table and a few chairs, and launched her restaurant. Her restaurant quickly became the popular spot to be, and she was able to easily pay back the loan from her proceeds. She took out another loan to grow her own vegetables, and then another one to buy a cow so she could make fresh butter and cheese to serve in her restaurant. She began hiring other women in the community. She eventually turned her original small house into the restaurant, and built a much larger house for herself and her children to live in.

As I sat in her small restaurant, I was amazed at the resilience and strength of this woman. I asked if I could take a picture of her in her kitchen. She agreed, and then began laughing when I showed it to her. She had never seen a picture of herself! She asked me if I would take a picture of her eating the food that she cooked for her restaurant customers. She was so thrilled to see herself in her restaurant kitchen, eating the food that she made. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I asked her what her plans for the future were. She told me (through an interpreter) that there were many humanitarian organizations that worked in this rural area, so she had decided her next business loan would be to launch a catering business to serve the humanitarian workers!

Her life has been restored after unspeakable devastation. Her children and the orphans she took in eat well, go to school and can go to the doctor when they need to. They have hope for a brighter future because of their mom’s courage to step out and do something no one in her village had done before. She inspires me. If she can boldly start a restaurant in rural Rwanda, I can boldly start an organization in urban San Diego that will help more women like her launch ventures that will change the trajectories of their lives for the better, whether here in the USA or there in Rwanda.

What will her story inspire you to do?   

Erase Poverty. For Good. Really?

Is that a fairytale? Or a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal”?
Is it unrealistic or achievable ?

Well, anyone who has had the incredible privilege of seeing a life, a family, a community, a country transformed through the power of entrepreneurial hard work will tell you it is achievable. And small loans are the catalyst to launch business success, whether here in the USA or abroad in places like Rwanda or Cambodia.

We have everything we need to erase extreme poverty forever in our lifetime. We just need to connect the dots and focus our efforts in ways that are sustainable, not increasing dependence on aid. Yes, the poor will always be with us. But we have the ability to change the definition of poor worldwide, not just in the USA. We can move the needle on this, giving people in some of the poorest places on earth a chance to live. And work. And hope. And dream.

This blog will be a window into what it’s like to take massive action towards a vision that could change the world as we know it. It may not always be pretty, but it will be authentic. You’ll be able to find out the latest developments, celebrate with us and discover how to join in the journey.

I’m writing this blog for you, but I’m also writing it for me. Moving towards an audacious dream is daunting. And I want to keep the stories of the people that inspire me at the forefront of my mind. They are the reasons why I get up in the morning, and stay up late at night to launch this dream. Over the coming weeks, I’ll introduce you to some of them.

This venture may be led by me at this moment, but it is a journey that includes millions of people like you who are participating, supporting, caring, sharing, and committed to making the world a better place.

Our lives are forever entwined. And this is our story. Let’s write it together.