The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, a massive international poll conducted annually by the public relations firm of the same name, shows some fascinating results, not least of which is that the global public has more confidence in business leaders than government leaders to solve social problems.
The growing lack of confidence in government’s ability to deal with social inequalities leaves a wide gap for both enterprising non-government organizations and creative capitalists to attack some complex social issues.
Nova Scotia businesswoman Barb Stegemann is embracing this new global reality in a major way. Focused on building a business that is not only profitable, but also a positive world force, she buys organic essential oils from farmers in countries at war or in strife, and uses these oils as a base for perfumes. She sources fair trade organic vetiver from Haiti, natural sweetie grapefruit from Israel, natural lime and basil from Iran, and rose and orange blossom from Afghanistan. Produced in Canada and sold internationally under the name The 7 Virtues, these perfumes are flying off the shelves, generating impressive sales and creating peace in unstable countries.
Her business offers farmers new, reliable, and legal markets that are helping to grow employment and rebuild communities in the poorest parts of the world. Illegal Afghan poppy crops account for 90 per cent of the world’s heroin, fuelling the illicit drug trade, destroying lives, and perpetuating violence globally. Stegemann offers these farmers full market value for their oils, and has already injected over $100,000 legal dollars into the community of Jalalabad, where local supplier Abdullah Arsala gains much needed support for his tribe. “Imagine if there were even 100 more companies like ours,” Stegemann says.
Stegemann finds pre-qualified suppliers through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Building Markets, and the Clinton Foundation, a matching process that is invaluable because it creates certainty and stability for everyone involved. From the start, Stegemann’s venture caught the eye of other businesses that have opened their doors to her. The Bay promotes The 7 Virtues perfume in stores across the country, supporting their belief that The 7 Virtues can become one of the next global fragrance brands. She’s secured financial and mentoring support with W. Brett Wilson and Dragons’ Den. Last year, she launched in the U.S. through Lord & Taylor and is now available onboard Air Canada duty free.
“Part of my duty is to sing from the rooftops that organizations like CIDA, Building Markets, and the Clinton Foundation are finding ways to bring entrepreneurs together to create beautiful and fruitful partnerships. It’s my goal to see a cavalry of businesses coming to do trade with nations that are rebuilding,” she says.
“We can’t expect big philanthropies to be the whole solution to social inequity. Small and medium enterprises have an important role to play. We aren’t bureaucratic, and we can move at the speed of light. We must carry our load.” Part of that load is to use business initiatives to help narrow the world wide gap between the rich and poor that is by all accounts growing wider, carrying with it not only a panoply of social issues, but impairing our economic stability. Stegemann’s message of economic empowerment over charity resonates with people who believe in the enormous potential of socially minded business. “We usually think of exporting democracy as a political exercise. But capitalism is based on democracy. It’s clear to me that the way to successfully export democratic values to the rest of the world is through business,” Stegemann says.
Stegemann has not only built a successful company, she’s been celebrated internationally as an innovative entrepreneur. She’s even been made an Honorary Colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force in recognition of her business mission: To carry on the work of her friend Captain Trevor Greene, a peacekeeper in Afghanistan who was viciously attacked by a Taliban rebel.
As an entrepreneur, Stegemann is applying business solutions to social problems that governments have been unable to address, and is doing her part to reignite the trust and confidence of a cynical and disheartened public. As George Will has wisely observed, the ideals of limited-government are at risk because our foundational faith in individualism cannot survive unless upward mobility is a fact, not just a nice idea. If more entrepreneurs understood that poverty is everybody’s problem, one that we need to address not just for the sake of the poor, but for the sake of us all, we would all be better off.
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