Recovery and resilience are two watch words for CESO as the Canadian economic development organization tackles challenges around the world at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way services are delivered.
CESO’s mandate is to build capacity to drive sustainability that empowers people and communities by strengthening small and medium-size businesses and institutional infrastructure in Canada and globally.
“As a development organization, we are often working in scenarios where we are building resilience so clients can bounce back more quickly from a crisis,” says CESO CEO Wendy Harris. “This experience is valuable in the current situation,” she says.
With field work on hold due to COVID-19, CESO is scaling up the virtual delivery of programs.
For example, CESO advisor Kathy Comfort was on assignment in the hamlet of Kugluktuk, the westernmost community in Nunavut, when the pandemic forced her to return home to Ottawa. However, she used the internet to continue mentoring Marissa Mercurio, Kugluktuk’s community economic development officer.
“There wasn’t anything we set out to accomplish that we weren’t able to accomplish. I felt proud of what were able to achieve,” says Ms. Comfort.
Ms. Mercurio agrees.
“After the mentoring was completed, I was able to put together some funding proposals under culture and heritage programs and came back with successful results. I’ve also written my own proposal for federal funding for food security during COVID-19,” she adds.
Ms. Harris says the pandemic has spurred innovation and believes a hybrid model of in-person and online mentoring could become the new norm.
CESO has been implementing a model of online support for many years even before the pandemic, including a two-year virtual assignment that matched up 10 Canadian mentors with 10 Ethiopian women entrepreneurs.
Zemen Tefera, owner of Amour Leather, a company that manufactures and sells leather fashion items from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a member of the Ethiopian Women Exporters Association (EWEA), an organization that supports the country’s women entrepreneurs.
Ms. Tefera was partnered with CESO advisor Kathy Manners, and the two formed a strong bond, communicating mainly through WhatsApp.
As a result, Amour Leather developed new products, expanded export markets and increased revenues.
“Recognition as an up-and-coming entrepreneur that a Canadian organization would invest in boosted [Ms. Tefera’s] confidence,” says Ms. Manners. “This impact is not as tangible as a business plan, but it is hugely significant.”
“Entrepreneurial work isn’t easy,” says Ms. Tefera. “Sometimes, you need someone to rely on. CESO has a strong support system through mentorship – a system that has helped me become a successful businessperson.”
CESO has worked in more than 120 countries, and its 1,300 volunteer advisors typically complete more than 700 assignments a year, says Ms. Harris.
“Canadians are generous with their time and expertise, and we find our approach is appreciated; we listen, and it’s very much a collaborative effort that is positively received around the world,” she adds.
CESO gratefully acknowledges financial support from Global Affairs Canada, Indigenous Services Canada, private-sector supporters and individual donors.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.