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The Globe and Mail

Finance executive brings innovative strategies to Kenyan businesses

Marco Di Girolamo founded Terra Firma to provide consulting and support to small businesses in developing countries.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Donor: Marco Di Girolamo

The Gift: Creating Terra Firma

The Reason: To help small businesses in developing regions

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Six years ago Marco Di Girolamo and his wife Alicia were celebrating the birth of their son Joshua when Mr. Di Girolamo felt a need to do something more with his life.

"I just started feeling that I wanted to contribute to making things different in the world," recalled Mr. Di Girolamo, an executive with Brookfield Asset Management in Toronto.

He decided to put his background in business and finance to work in impoverished parts of the world. With the help of contributions from the Sprott Foundation and Barrick Gold Corp., Mr. Di Girolamo created Terra Firma, a Canadian charity that provides business expertise to small businesses in developing countries.

The organization began working in Kenya, first with a small food company and lately with a honey business based outside Nairobi called Honey Care Africa.

Honey Care has seven full-time employees and about $200,000 in annual sales. Volunteers from Terra Firma have been helping the company revamp its operations, which includes managing bee hives at numerous farms, and improving its marketing.

Terra Firma draws volunteers from Canadian businesses and the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, many of whom have travelled to Kenya to work with the companies. Mr. Di Girolamo left for Kenya this week where he will be joined by Canadian business people Mary Beth Williamson and Mathew Soong.

Terra Firma's objectives go beyond boosting profits, to also focus on the social and environmental impacts of the enterprises. "We believe that business can be part of the solution to world issues," Mr. Di Girolamo said.

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He raises about $45,000 annually to finance the charity and he is hoping to turn it into a more established organization with a full-time director who could look for partnerships beyond Kenya. That will require about $2-million in donations.

"What we are doing is innovative and it works," he said. "We want to make it even bigger."

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