Midtown couple sees the world while helping entrepreneurs
Gerry and Sharleen Moodie help entrepreneurs in developing countries
Sharleen and Gerry Moodie
Upon retiring from successful careers in business management and marketing, midtown Toronto couple Gerry and Sharleen Moodie had travel in their sights.
Rather than simply seeing the sights, however, the Moodies took another path, opting to help improve the lives of people in developing countries.
They signed up with Cuso International, a not-for-profit that aims to eradicate poverty around the world through equitable and sustainable development and, after testing the waters by helping independent business owners in Laos, they are currently living in Tanzania on a one-year contract.
“We’re not the type who would just want to retire and play golf,” Gerry said. “We needed to stay busy and (Cuso) was a way to help other people while seeing the world.”
While in Tanzania, the Moodies are putting their business and marketing skills to practice, helping local entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Despite a wealth of experience in Canada, the couple has found the cultural differences challenging at times.
“Tanzania’s really quite underdeveloped and there’s a huge cultural chasm,” Gerry said. “We thought we’d only have to train them in some things, but we’ve gotten into health, business, education, marketing 101, project management …”
Another issue is that many of the entrepreneurs are hesitant to try new methods until they can be shown that those methods work.
“They learn from successes — once they see that something’s successful, they’ll do it themselves,” Gerry said.
The work ethic in Tanzania is also hugely different than at home, with employees having far more rights. For instance, it’s common for workers to show up to a job whenever they feel like it instead of adhering to strict hours, Sharleen said.
“We’re finding ways to help people take steps to manage their business, but we have to be very fluid,” Sharleen said.
Beyond improving business for entrepreneurs, the Moodies have also helped bring about social change. Sharleen has worked closely with a chicken farmer who has grown her business to the point where it now has about 5,000 chickens. In addition to helping boost profitability, the Moodies have helped the farmer — a Tanzanian woman — gain independence.
“Originally, her husband would control almost everything to do with the business — we asked where her cellphone was and she said her husband had it,” Sharleen said.
“We talked about how important it was that she have more control and she ended up getting her own cellphone. It seems like a small thing, but when she announced she got it, we were all so happy, we hugged her.”
Of course, the Moodies are not complaining about the work they are putting in, noting that seeing an entrepreneur succeed is hugely rewarding. They have also enjoyed truly experiencing Tanzanian culture.
“You get a much deeper sense of life than when you’re just backpacking or vacationing in another country,” Gerry said.
Sharleen added the close-up look at Tanzanian culture has made for an extremely memorable experience.
“It’s not your typical trip, but life’s an adventure,” she said. “Go big or go home.”
For more information on Cuso International, visit www.cusointernational.org