Make perfume not war. That's the motto behind Barb Stegemann's fragrance company, The 7 Virtues. Her company sources fair-market essential oils from war-torn nations and is a soaring success — thanks in part to her emotional investment pitch on CBC's Dragons' Den nearly six years ago.
Three Dragons sought to partner and mentor Stegemann on the show, minus one current Conservative leadership candidate: Kevin O’Leary.
In a twist of fate, Stegemann found herself opening for O'Leary at a speaking engagement.
“People thought we were going to duke it out,” reflects Stegemann.
Any potential drama was quickly diffused as O’Leary made a backstage confession to the Nova Scotia-based businesswoman: “I really missed the boat.”
Stegemann is part of a growing number of social entrepreneurs — companies whose goal is to do social good and turn a profit. The company's sourcing of essential oils from Haiti, Rwanda, Ghana, India and Afghanistan has been a powerful weapon for peace.
In Afghanistan, farmers who grow poppies for heroin production are at risk of having their daughters taken by the Taliban if the crops fail.
“But if that farmer is growing legal rose or orange, then nobody can take their child,” Stegemann says.
"We’re going to buy makeup, lipstick and moisturizer anyway, so why wouldn’t we ensure that whatever it is we’re buying is sourcing something that can contribute to other people’s lives and nations rebuilding?”
On a recent volunteer trip to Haiti, Stegemann was shocked to learn just how much of an obstacle corruption is to nations rebuilding. Just a day before she arrived, a Norwegian Aid Boat was turned away by Haitian officials demanding bribes that the ship couldn’t pay.
"I’m still livid,” says Stegemann. “All of the billions that went into Haiti could have fixed it, and it’s still a mess.”
The key, she says, to ending corruption is economic empowerment.
“That’s where the old charity model turns a blind eye... Did [the money] really empower them?”
Passionate about social enterprise, Stegemann doesn’t believe in charity. “For me, as an entrepreneur, I would far rather do fair trade and invest in people. There’s so much dignity lost when you’re dependent upon charity.”
Raised by a single mother on social assistance in rural Nova Scotia, Stegemann knows this first-hand.
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