What do you do after a successful career in Silicon Valley? Move to Swaziland and do volunteer work helping the poor. While this may not be an obvious path, it’s what we did.
My wife Wendy and I both had successful careers in Silicon Valley, and when we reached our mid-fifties, we started to think about working on something more socially beneficial. Although not rich, we felt fortunate and wanted to give back to society. Rick wanted to pursue world peace through poverty reduction and Wendy was interested in educating youth to become entrepreneurs.
We applied to be volunteers at TechnoServe whose tagline is “Business Solutions to Poverty” and were selected to work in Swaziland and later Kenya. The TechnoServe country directors in Swaziland and Kenya were strongly attracted by the depth of business experience we could bring with us and apply to local challenges, including coaching the younger, less experienced employees. We lived 6 months in Mbabane, Swaziland and a year in Nairobi, Kenya. Since returning to the U.S., I have continued to work as a part-time senior advisor to the TechnoServe executive team.
While in Africa, I focused primarily on consulting to small businesses and acting as a Senior Advisor to the TechnoServe country director for Kenya. Wendy focused on youth programs. In Swaziland, she established the local chapter of Junior Achievement, which continues to be very successful in teaching young people entrepreneurial skills as well as how to be successful in the workplace. In Kenya, Wendy supported Young Women in Enterprise, which trained young women, primarily from the slums, in life skills and how to run a small business.
In addition to our primary activities, both Wendy and I supported Technoserve’s business plan competitions. In one competition in Swaziland, this led to a moving experience when a young man, Thembisa, came up to me. He had submitted a business plan for a mobile hair salon, basically going to customers’ homes to cut, color etc. their hair, and was a semi-finalist. Thembisa wanted to tell me that, prior to our training, he had confidence in some aspects of his capability to start and run a business, but not in others. With the TechnoServe training, he gained the confidence to go ahead with his business plan. He was very grateful and thanked God for sending us to Swaziland. It was very inspiring, and I felt I had been rewarded more than I deserved.
(Rick and Wendy Walleigh are co-authors of the book From Silicon Valley to Swaziland: How One Couple Found Purpose & Adventure in an Encore Career.)