A different kind of impact investing

She is probably one of the most prolific venture capitalists in the world.

This is indeed an exclusive group of individuals who can boast of having invested their personal time, attention and resources in approximately 2,000 emerging companies. How many investors can say that they have in fact lived, dressed and nurtured each of their investments?

And what powerful tools does our “venture capitalist” have to manage such a mind-boggling portfolio? Perhaps a Python-powered algorithmic trading platform with a group of analysts at your fingertips?

Try a Singer sewing machine.

Our VC in question has been celebrated by the world press, having been named as CNN Heroes 2007 and listed on Time Magazine’s list of The most influential people in the world in 2014. A documentary about his life and work was narrated by Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker.

She is Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe, a Catholic Sister of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who runs Saint Monica Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda. Over the past two decades, Sr. Rosemary and Saint Monica Vocational School have been the gateway to a better life filled with empowerment, dignity and vocational training for thousands of girls and their children fleeing the horrors committed by war criminal Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army during the Ugandan Civil War and its aftermath.

Nicknamed “Africa’s Mother Teresa”, Sr. Rosemary has given hope to young women who have escaped the brutalities of rape and war (and the less violent but still painful reality of communal ostracism), through the vehicle of the sewing machine . Teaching her Saint Monica students how to sew clothes, make handbags out of discarded soda pops, and manage other business activities such as catering, Sr. Rosemary trained them to have the business skills and techniques needed to stand. and support themselves and their children.

What return does Sr. Rosemary seek for her investments? May his daughters have hope, may they know that their lives and those of their children are worth living and that what may have happened in their past does not prevent them from having a future filled with happiness. love and happiness.

In the discussion that follows, the remarkable Sr. Rosemary explains her approach to innovation, entrepreneurship, and bringing people together to transform themselves and their societies.

One of the things that really struck me about your book sewing hope was how you told yourself that you would do your best to eliminate the word “frustration” from your vocabulary. Innovation is full of frustrations – from working with limited (or inaccessible) resources to experiments that don’t work. What encouragements do you encourage innovators to remove the word “frustration” from their vocabulary and deal with it?

SR. NYIRUMBE: I knew the word “frustration” would hold me back, so I had to work on myself to get it completely out of my vocabulary. Bringing it out helped me bring a positive aspect, something that I knew I could use in the service of others. Once a person gets frustrated, they start to look at themselves more. When you are frustrated, you cannot look outward; you’re blocked from seeing the world beyond you, and I didn’t like that.

At the beginning of my work, I knew that there would be so many things that would prevent me from moving forward. I couldn’t concentrate on these things. I didn’t think about my qualifications or my level of education; I had to use what I learned from childhood and from my parents. This is how I managed to succeed, and I removed this word “frustration” from my vocabulary and I positively evolved.

Yet even today I can tell you that there are times when I am tempted to be frustrated. Just recently I had to submit a budget to run the children’s home for a year. Due to the pandemic, we have lost all our sources of funding. We had nothing at all and everyone was looking at me. I just said to the sisters, “Don’t worry, I know my mission is not to have a bank account or to have money. My mission is to be totally dependent on God, and I am sure God will give me the money we need.” That’s exactly what I can do – depend on God, I won’t be frustrated.

Among the professional activities in which you involved the girls, you had a section in your sewing class to produce school uniforms. You also asked the girls to help with daycare and produce soft drink tab purses. What do you attribute your entrepreneurial spirit to and how did you come up with these very practical and efficient business models?

SR. NYIRUMBE: I think there is something innate in me that is competitive but in a humble way. I discovered that it was part of my vision of being an entrepreneur. I look around me and see exactly what is on the market. I always tell my students, “If you see someone selling a fabric they just made for $10, you sell it for $5 or $8 and make sure you have a lot of people coming to you. I used to say to my own sister, “I don’t like to deal with a small business that can make me very little money. I have to bring something that can attract more people”, because my vision is more about raising people than money. .

If you focus more on finding friends than fundraising, those friends are the ones telling others. For example, our school offers catering services, and we don’t charge as much as other catering providers in the market. We have so many people coming for catering services at our center. I still remember a businessman who ran a very powerful hotel in Gulu. He said to me, “Sister Rosemary, it is very difficult to compete with you. I asked him why, and he said, “Your company accepts both poor and rich, so it’s hard to compete with you. Me, I only want to deal with the rich who can pay me more. It was nice to hear.

“We need to see the people who can work with us for transformation, not just for them, but also for the society in which they live.” – Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe

I’m glad a very powerful man can’t compete with me because I’m people oriented. The business we run, our restaurants, our accommodations, accepts all kinds of people, including people who have little money. Instead, his hotel is a very important hotel and he only takes people who have a lot of money. In this case, he had a hard time competing with me because I have more people coming. I thought that was great for me because I focus on people and service.

Speaking of daycare, it has the advantage of generating income and allowing the mothers of the children to work on their skills and provide other income. It also had the societal impact of being able to integrate local children. I would say it led to more acceptance. What lessons would you like others to learn about the power of bringing people of different backgrounds together?

SR. NYIRUMBE: I think we have to learn that, from the different backgrounds of people, there are so many lessons that can be learned. In our case, it was more precisely a question of responding to the need to build peace, to the need to integrate everyone. It was a way of letting in people who felt rejected and knowing that other people accepted them. If they bring their children to play with other children, they know that they are already accepted, because their children fit in with others.

For me, I saw that it was really a process of preparing for peacebuilding and helping people reintegrate into society. It got us out of the idea of ​​emphasizing, “He’s the child of a rebel. He is the child of Joseph Kony.

The undercurrent of the whole story in your book is to always keep faith, not to give up hope, and to increase hope in others around you. You literally changed generations with what you did for these girls and their children. What encouragement or advice do you have for leaders to increase hope and never give up?

SR. NYIRUMBE: Hope is really something that you live, and you see that you have to let people who have lost faith come into it and accept it. I really believe that to encourage leaders to accept that it can work, we have to be proactive. We have to make sure we move. We need to make sure we lead by example. This brings me back to the first question where we were talking about frustration. If a leader is frustrated, they’re on the verge of losing hope, and you can’t tell someone you’re going to show them what hope means when you can’t even live it by example.

I totally believe that in order for people to really know that you are helping them, that you want them to go from one stage to the next, you have to lead. You have to be in front of them. You have to be with them no matter what. It might be a risky situation, but you have to say, “Your hope can lead you.” You have to show them that life is a bridge that can take you forward and backward. It doesn’t just take you back and leave you there. It continues to move with you, whether backwards or forwards.

I think it’s very important for us to stay focused and see the people who need us. We need to see the people who can work with us for transformation, not only for them, but also for the society in which they live. It’s very important for leaders to keep looking out there and see how they can be part of the transformation. of humanity.

To learn more about Sister Rosemary and her work educating and supporting women and children who were victimized by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and to provide support, visit Couture Hope Foundation.

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