In January of 2005, the course of my life felt certain: I was about to graduate, had been recruited by a major consulting firm with a signing bonus, and the excitement of the big city lights within my grasp. And yet I couldn’t help but wonder if this life held something more than the career ahead. On a whim, I reached out to a grassroots microfinance outfit and a week later, I was on the ground in Uganda, curious to find what else was out there.
Back home, references to Uganda were still clouded by the reputation of a former dictator, but it was clear to me he was largely forgotten in the hustle and bustle of trying to make it through the day for most Ugandans. What was real, was that 85% of the population was living below the extreme poverty line. Translated into dollars, this meant most citizens were trying to sustain themselves on less than $1.25 US per day, barely enough to cover the cost for a few bowls of rice and vegetables, nevermind “frivolous” things like clothing, transportation, healthcare, or education.
This reality presented itself time and time again as we visited our partners in last-mile Uganda. The struggle was personified through my friendship with Stephen. Stephen’s positivity and energy was unrivaled, you never met anyone this enthusiastic to help or hopeful of tomorrow. As we traveled to partner communities in the back of a beat-up old pick-up truck, we had a lot of time for conversation – when we weren’t holding on for dear life over makeshift roads! With some prodding, Stephen shared with me his struggles to finish school because he couldn’t afford tuition and his challenges securing a paying job because of his lack formal skills.
After finishing a particularly long day in the field, I found Stephen slumped under a banana tree uncharacteristically quiet and visibly upset. Having already boiled over with frustration, Stephen exclaimed, “I have so many good ideas. I know what I want to do…I just need somebody to show me how.”
Stephen – like so many Ugandans – was bright, motivated, and hardworking. He wasn’t looking for a handout but for just a little bit of guidance to make it on his own. Those few words would go on to inspire the founding of Raising The Village. At its core, Raising The Village is about creating the opportunities for people to make choices and a have a real chance at this life regardless of wherever you are in the world.
The idea for Raising The Village was born with Stephen, but Shawn returned to Canada unsure of how to meld his two realities. Working as an Accenture management consultant by day, Shawn continued his studies and research at night, funding program pilots with his personal savings until the methodology was solidified. Shawn took the leap in 2012, leaving his career in consulting to join RTV full-time. Through the support of a volunteer network and a small but committed team, RTV was officially launched in 2012, operating in 10 villages.
Today, RTV is a $1 million organization with 40 Ugandan nationals and 4 Canadian staff, and has partnered with over 111 communities with the expected addition of 60 villages and over 50,000 new beneficiaries this year alone.