David Ishmail’s successful career in finance in British Columbia over the past 15 years prepared him for an extraordinary turn of events when he retired. He found himself with the exciting opportunity to return to the country of his birth – Malawi – to train thousands of people in financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
David Ishmail ran a financial and management consultancy for many years in British Columbia working on several international contracts. His background includes solid experience in project management and business advisory services along with strong expertise in corporate banking, structured finance, and new business development. In addition to this, he was a lifelong volunteer: He served on the board of the Pitt Meadows Economic Development Corporation and as a committee member of the BC Food Processors Association, always with an eye to creating prosperity in the community he lived in and the sector where he worked.
When his daughters told him about the opportunity to volunteer internationally, he was intrigued. He would never have anticipated that he would find himself, early in his retirement, working as a Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship Advisor for tea farmers in Malawi. He is equipping small-scale farmers with skills in business management, bookkeeping, and financial literacy. This, in turn, allows the farmers to develop agri-business plans for long-term, sustainable growth. It’s inspiring work in an important industry in Malawi.
David states, “Throughout my career, having a positive financial impact on my clients has been important to me. The exciting opportunity here is that the work also has a positive and very tangible social impact on farmers who were barely making ends meet. One of the key objectives of my position is to ensure participation and empowerment of women and youth. It’s rewarding work with palpable benefits to individuals, families, and the local economy.”
David is working in partnership with organizations from Germany and the UK as well as the Tea Association of Malawi to promote the interests of the 17,220 local tea farmers in Malawi. The initiative is part of the wider, multi-faceted Malawi Tea 2020 project. Together they are working to ensure smallholder tea farmers make a decent and fair living from tea to support their families and to help improve farming practices for greater yield and quality. They are also introducing sustainable energy use and environmentally sound farming methods. The project includes the development of the Farmer Business School.
“By creating systems we are building the tea farmers’ capacity to continue the work well after the conclusion of the project,” David observes. “We are facilitating the adoption of the principles of inclusive market systems to establish a firm foundation for economic – and social – empowerment. By including women and youth, I feel confident that the lessons of the Farmer Business School will last well into the future.”
The future is indeed brighter for many folks based on the inspiring work David is undertaking in Malawi. David is not, by training or nature, a risk taker or a dreamer. But here, on this project, he feels he can see the future – and it is brighter than it’s ever been before for the 17,000+ smallholder tea farmers, and their families, in Malawi.
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David’s travel and accommodation costs are covered by Uniterra. They also provide a living allowance while he is on assignment.