Do Not Allow Fear of The Unknown to Paralyze Your Mind to Opportunity!

EcoZoom solar powered portable lights provide a power solution for those without access to electricity as well as replacing harmful kerosene lamp

I’ve had a lifelong desire to expand my philanthropic footprint to a developing country. And, while I’ve had a few “remote” endeavors and made financial contributions to international organizations, I still aspired for a “personal feet-on-the-ground encounter”.  I was honored when BwB Director Sabrina Quaraishi reached out to offer me a volunteer assignment. 

My “bucket list” dream was about to be realized. The assignment was to take on the role of Corporate Marketer and Storyteller for EcoZoom, a Kenya based, for-profit, social enterprise that manufactures and distributes a range of solar lighting products and fuel efficient cookstoves. Their products save people time, money and help to preserve the environment through reducing deforestation and the need for dirty kerosene lamps.

The 6-month assignment was to begin with a 2-week site visit to EcoZoom’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The thought of traveling to a developing country can be a bit intimidating.  The list of pre-trip activities included registering with the US State Department and Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), obtaining the recommended CDC immunizations and prescriptions for malaria and Montezuma’s revenge, flight arrangements, as well as acquiring eVisas and travel insurance. These activities were exacerbated by the short timeline given to prepare for my travels. My visit was fast tracked, giving me only 30-days from contract signing to the departure date.

Associates, friends and family members shared their fears, anxiety and warnings about terrorists, kidnappers and unhealthy conditions to discourage me from accepting the assignment. But, I was not going to allow fear of the unknown to paralyze my mind to this great opportunity.  I have always been of the mind-set that you must step “out of your comfort zone” to really accomplish something of significance.

To lessen their concerns, my husband and philanthropist David was to accompany me on the travels.  He would join me, not only as a travel companion and personal security guard but also as a production assistant during my in-depth research of the company, their products and customers.

EcoZoom CEO Oli Raison and I had a “face-time” interview and numerous email communications to discuss my role, activities, goals and accommodations during my visit to Nairobi.

Once on-the-ground, the assignment became real. Oli and his EcoZoom team were gracious, accommodating and generous with their time. Their hospitality and professionalism calmed our nerves.

The accommodations consisted of a quaint 1-bedroom, serviced apartment with a full-kitchen, balcony and large living area. The design was rustic-African influence inclusive of a mesquite netted bed (which was necessary to keep the mosquitos away while one slept).

I was able to accomplish many of the goals including in-depth interviews, video and photos with team members, an intensive 2-day “marketing think tank” session, out-of-town site visits to their customers as well as joining the team for a significant donation presentation at a local charity.    

Our biggest challenge in Kenya was the internet and electrical source. This was the rainy season which meant thunderstorms (lots of thunderstorms), causing the electricity and internet to be interrupted repeatedly. We also had a limited supply of adapters to accommodate our numerous electronic devices thus we were constantly shuffling a device or two to ensure we had a phone and laptop charging.  

Travel from the apartment to the EcoZoom office and other destinations was by the local version of Uber, called Taxify.  However, with the insistent rain, infrequent internet and poor road ways, time to connect with a driver and travel only a few miles became a lengthy ordeal. 

In addition to the time spent with EcoZoom, there was opportunity to learn more about the local culture and countryside to further understand how EcoZoom products can impact their livelihood. We also visited notable sites around the area; the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Centre, Snake Park, Karen Blixen Museum and of course a safari weekend in the Masai Mara National Park.

I returned home to Las Vegas with a vast amount of research information and data to analyze and create a marketing strategy.   The entire experience to date has exceeded our expectations and I look forward to continuing my work with the EcoZoom Team in crafting their remarkable Narrative.

EcoZoom CEO Oli Raison and BwB Volunteer Mary Vail at the EcoZoom Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya

Mary Vail, MBA

The Philanthropic Publicist

Mary Vail is an award-winning publicist based in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Her extensive portfolio includes small business, corporate entities, entrepreneurs, celebrities, TV/Movie Executives, the medial and travel industry, NPOs, and NGOs to note a few. Her company mandate requires clients to support community activism through whatever means they can provide.  She is the author of “What’s Your Philanthropic Footprint?”