Africa, here she comes

Three months in Zanzibar have changed Melissa Peneycad’s life. The 28-year-old former management consultant, who used to advise government and corporate clients how to improve their bottom lines, has abandoned the rich to help the poor. Now pursuing a master’s degree in environmental studies at York, she sees a future in Africa helping locals start small businesses.

Left: Melissa Peneycad

“It’s definitely impacted my future,” says Peneycad of her May-July internship with CARE Enterprise Partners doing a tourism marketing assessment for Jozani National Park.

“It was a new direction for me because I had never done business development work in developing countries before, but I’ve always believed that business needs to be part of the environmental and social solution,” says the Queen’s commerce grad. “This gave me the opportunity to put my skills to good use in an area I feel strongly about.”

Peneycad and Alice Wan, another York environmental studies student, were among 16 graduate students from Canada and Africa chosen to participate in the MBA internship program recently launched by CARE Enterprise Partners (CEP) and sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency.

CEP is a new division of CARE Canada. It supports sustainable, private-sector enterprise development as a solution to alleviating poverty by providing venture funds to pro-poor businesses. Last year, it launched the MBA internship program to give business students a chance to apply their knowledge and skills to helping fledgling enterprises in the Third World. This year nine Canadians, including Peneycad and Wan, and seven Africans worked together on projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and India.

Peneycad was paired with Ally Kahlfan, a student at the University of Dar-Es-Salaam (UDSM) Faculty of Commerce and Management. CARE Tanzania assigned them to do a tourist market assessment for Jozani National Park. They were supervised by UDSM business Professor Donath Olomi. CARE Tanzania has successfully promoted conservation and participatory forest management around Zanzibar’s first and only national park and also asked Peneycad and Kahlfan to identify potential eco-tourism destinations in the area.

“It was a very interesting project,” says Peneycad. She and Kahlfan, who were driven around in a car supplied by CARE Tanzania, interviewed local villagers, NGO and government personnel, members of tourist boards and park management.

Right: A Red Colobus monkey in the Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park

In their report, they listed eight potential tourist-attracting enterprises that could benefit the local people — visits to the Chwaka village daily fish auction, monkey- and bird-viewing sites, canoe tours through mangrove sea channels, and boardwalks through grasslands.

CEP’s business approach to alleviating poverty appealed to her. “I strongly believe in the power of NGOs and grassroots movements,” says Peneycad, “but the private sector can also play an important role in poverty alleviation.”

Peneycad first heard about CEP’s MBA internship at a Net Impact event at York’s Schulich School of Business last September. Net Impact is a Schulich-based network of MBAs, graduate students and young professionals committed to using business for positive environmental, social and economic change.

“It sounded like an amazing opportunity and such a good fit for me,” says Peneycad. She doggedly pursued Kevin McKague, a research fellow at York’s Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability, who was recruiting for the internship program, to find out how she could apply.

She was intrigued by CEPs business approach to alleviating poverty. “This is not about providing people with traditional forms of aid,” she says. “You’re not handing people money or emergency relief. You’re helping establish enterprises that benefit the poor through sustainable business.”

She was also inspired by York grad Farouk Jiwa (MES ’03), CEP director for Toronto and Nairobi, who started a honey-producing enterprise that has enriched poor farmers all over Kenya. “Farouk has inspired us all,” she says. Jiwa was on her project steering team as well as David Wheeler, former Schulich professor and now her mentor.

Peneycad hopes to return this year to Tanzania to do research for her major paper, after which she plans to do her doctorate, focusing on sustainable enterprise development and entrepreneurship capacity-building in Africa.

“There’s so much happening in Africa,” says Peneycad. “It’s ultimately where I feel I can make the most impact.”

“Here we tend to be focused on material possessions and the constant pursuit of monetary gain. Most of us do not have any concept of how the rest of the world lives,” she said. “There I felt I was really doing something that mattered, that I was making a difference.”