Investing in the Instruments of Peace, with Dr Dorothy Nyambi

In this episode of Be and Think in the House of Trust, I am listening to Dr Dorothy Nyambi.

Dorothy’s journey, from being a doctor in Cameroon to a global leader, focuses on action rather than words.

As a doctor, investor, and mother, she has learned the importance of listening with care, time, and patience.

Dorothy is a champion of women’s rights and gender equality. She is the President and CEO at MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates), a faith-based organisation and a pioneer in impact investing since the 1950s, supporting decent work for people.

In this episode, she describes the power of partnership, humility and economic development as essential instruments for peace and social change.

Highlights of this episode

(4:35) Peace is about the things you do proactively to create a respectful society

(5:20) Actions speak louder than words

(9:10) I have got 3 Ms in my life

(12:45) We have to show up in a manner that indicates we are truly listening

(17:30) The power that we all carry

Useful Links 

Dr Dorothy Nyambi on Linkedin

MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli promotes the continent’s role in the global food system:




Servane Mouazan 0:02

How do you show up when you invest in social change what mental models do make a difference? What's the litmus test for igniting a positive impact in the most complex areas and sectors? Welcome to this new episode of Be and think in the house of trust. My name is Servane Mouazan and I love listening and thinking in real time with leaders who love to invest in social and environmental change, and to activate this every day. My guest today is Dr. Dorothy Nyambi A champion of women's rights around the world, passionate about gender equality and inclusion kills many governance positions in strategic organisations and I can see our surgical and immense global supervision are providing her with unique insights. So let's see what we can learn from Dr. Dorothy Nyambi on how to show up to ignite social change.

Dorothy welcome.

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 1:12

Thank you for this Servane thank you for inviting me.

Servane Mouazan 1:14

So you're based in Canada in Ottawa?

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 1:17

Right. Well, I mean, that's what to do better. I'm I work out of Waterloo, Ontario, with the Mennonites, economic development associates, MEDA

Servane Mouazan 1:26

and you are the president and CEO of that organisation

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 1:29


Servane Mouazan 1:30

And your mission is to create business solutions to poverty around the world. That's very correct. And you mobilise funding to support grassroots movements, community impact all around the world?

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 1:42

I'll say all around the world, but we have certain geographies for sure. That we're focusing on you know, what's really great for me is, you know, wherever there's a problem, and we can find a business solution to bring to people chances are likely that, you know, we're after the intervention that business wants to continue.

Servane Mouazan 2:02


tell me Dorothy what does a good day look like at Meda?

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 2:07

Oh, okay. A good day. No, two days are the same. Our backbone of where we intervene is in the agricultural and food ecosystem. And to do that, you know, we're looking at how we bring finance, how we bring technical knowledge, business development support, and how do we look so that the value of agriculture especially in emerging economies, really becomes an asset something that is dismissed?

Like, we move from subsistence to tribe into agriculture as a business, which is not very much you know, how it is perceived in many parts of the world. And again, to do that, you know, it's typical day for me and me that is, what are we doing better? What are we doing differently? How are we doing it? What difference are we making? I think if you do any kind of work, and you don't question yourself on a daily basis, and you think that is business as usual. I believe that you know, then there's no need to be doing the work. Because there's always a better way of doing it, and a different way of doing it. That's going to be much more effective.

Servane Mouazan 3:22

Wonderful. So MEDA stands for Mennonite Economic Development Associates

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 3:29


Servane Mouazan 3:29

Mennonites are a faith based group of course and they have beliefs, strong beliefs in peace, justice and non resistance. How do you reconcile this faith based approach and philosophy with investing? How does that marry?

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 3:47

Absolutely MEDA is born out of you know, the Mennonite faith, you said it really well. He's faith, you know, justice. And we've actually started with an investment in Paraguay 70 years ago, where the Mennonites in North America, instead of sending relief to Mennonites in South America, decided to go to a dairy company. So that was in agriculture. And bringing equity, bring in debt, bring in technical assistance, and today, I don't want to tell you where that dairy is, but it is way supplying a huge market share of dairy products in Latin America. If you think about it peace is not just the absence of war, or peace is not coming into do things when there's conflict.

Peace is really also about the things you do proactively to create a cohesive and respectful society. And I believe that business and economic development is actually a precursor for peace. You know, when people are doing well, economically, prosperity is shared. People feel valued, the chances are that they don't want to destroy what they're building. So I actually look at economic development as a precursor and enabler of sacred pieces that is, in a way a faith based organisation, that our mission is not to plant churches not to spread religion. It is, you know, to say actions speak louder than words bring faith and faith and of the organisation into the how we do the work, how we show up, how we interact with people, our organisation, the staff are made up of people from all stripes and colours, all faiths and no states. So there's no change, no difference. They're the people will work with, you know, there's no religious requirements for us to work with you. So humanity is one. And so as I say, it's how we show up. And you know, how we present ourselves and let's our actions based on the roots were coming from speak for who we are.

Servane Mouazan 6:01

So actions more than words, it's interesting because it gives then a different light of what investing means for faith based organisatios, what are they, how they can realise their philosophy into a day to day practice, other than churches and congregation?

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 6:20

Oh, absolutely. And again, I want to just say today, we're talking about impact investment. Meda started that 70 years ago with the first in the market, not just religion, but all of us who would admit that we can it comes with a certain level of this humility is not about flying a flag and see you've done this. It is let the results of your work actually speak for you as well. And so you might not hear me on the front pages or social media but media is the oldest and longest organisation that has been involved in impact investing as if you go back to 1953, the Cerner dairy, that was totally impact investing. And then later on, if you look at some of the early creations of institutions like my province, you know, a platform for financing microfinance institutions. in emerging economies. Neither was part of that. If you look at what made that the 13 years ago, credit and asset management firms run asset management, so metre has been definitely a leader in looking at different methods and saying granting a loan is not going to change the world. You need to bring other kinds of money to the table that will allow people to, you know, evolve being changed for themselves with dignity.

Servane Mouazan 7:43

There's a tranquil force about the story. There's a diversity of resources and communities coming together and keep exploring and learning together. I'm hearing absolutely when I look at your own journey, it strikes me that you're a super specialist generalist! Let me explain to people why I come to that point here. You have as I said earlier, you're on the boards of several organisation you're the chairperson of the International Development Research Center's board of governance. You also board director at CAMFED Canada, supporting girls to learn and Thrive, elite change you also hold a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Yaounde Cameroon and you have carried out extensive research and capacity building and advancing gender equality in developing countries. So overall, I sense that you're not here to accept the status quo especially not about you know about women and girls situation in the world or specifically in Africa. You're just, there's something behind all this learning and these actions that you have that tells me that you will not just content with the status quo, right?

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 8:55

Yeah, no, no, definitely not content with the status quo. I think I was born in Cameroon. I did medicine out of my own passion for wanting to do that. You know, I was blessed and lucky to have parents that I was able to do that, you know, with through with them and through them. You know, I think for me fundamentally I got three M's in my life. The number one is mother , i am a mother of three and that's like, the really important M in my life. The second important M in my life is medicine. I think that will never leave me and it's that other M that you get as you go along is management, how to manage itself, manage people, manage things, and so on. So for me, it's usually a combination of sort of all three

Servane Mouazan 9:46

motger, medicine and management, actually, when you look at all your 10 years and your responsibilities and and the three M's and what what kind what have been your most important insights

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi 9:59

I think it's really the ability to to listen, you have to listen. And when you listen, are you hearing you can I spend time with you and we talk and we say when this event did I hear how did I translate into Preet an act on the conversation of what happened? Did I give it enough time? Did I did I allow the person who was talking to feel heard and everything so for me, I think in all the three places listening whether as a mother, children grew up you realise you have to listen a lot and actually hear in medicine is the same thing. Whether it is somebody who is is not well, are you listening to them? Are you really hearing Are you hearing what they're trying not to tell you? So it's very it's really important to listen to be on the right track. It's same in management, same when you work with your partners. I think for me and the work I do today, partnership is key with partnership is a word that is just thrown around really loosely and used and abused. I think if somebody is truly a partner, there's mutual respect, there's trust. And it not only does it take time it takes a certain ability to listen, to hear to be able to act in a manner that translates into real partnership.

Servane Mouazan:

All that sounds like music to my ears because you know I love that thinking environment where we listen carefully to where the other person, the other groups' thoughts are going next. And it's listening more than listening actively listening really to accompany to hold hands to partner. And so I love what you how you describe that.

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi:

No very nice, very correct and really understanding the context in which context is different. I know you're talking about social finance that you know how social finance works in Canada, in one part of Canada is different from another part, depending on the population groups you're dealing with, is very different and so I should listen carefully understand the population groups in Latin America, Central America has Sub Saharan Africa, very different from Maghreb Africa, different from the Middle East, different from Southeast Asia. So every context is different and so important that we show up in a manner that indicates that who are truly listening, and I'll just throw in here, that listening also just how you show up and what power you bring to the conversation.

Servane Mouazan:

It just brings me to the research I think that CAMFED did, that research that showed that women as we talk about women earlier, women feel that they might not really feel listened to and general when they feel their intentions, people investing in them but no actualization and not an example. Of a group that keeps on not being really listened to. Yeah, no, I

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi:

think it's certainly a group that is not listened to but I want to sort of not not challenge that to say, it is so important. You know, comfort is a wonderful organisation. The best part of it is how the young girls who went through the programme today, you know, the karma members are stepping in. They've understood what they got and how, what it means to pay forward and doing it on their own. Right. So when he talks when it talks about listening, it's so important that you know, people who look like you feel like you top like you. They're showing up in front of you to help you navigate your situation. I think so much work has happened over the years in development. International Development, that time has come where that that knowledge that is underground, needs to come with value, come to the table, bring its own power and agency to the conversation, and which is what an organisation like Ken said, is I think a leader in when it comes to girls girls education, girls ability to to develop their own agency, then it is facilitated the tools that are needed for them to get to be the best they can as adults and whatever they want to be.

Servane Mouazan:

Alright, so it sounds like they didn't just bring the girls at the table where they change the tables so that everybody find the right space there to express themselves and to explore.

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi:

Yes, look, it's really important to be at the table, absolutely change the table. It is their own table. Let me put it that way. And other people have to now come to that table to meet them, you know, and everything. So, it is you know, the respect the humidity. So, if I have my table this then you need to show up, you know, based on my conditions and how I want people and that table to be you know, what are the ideas that have been discussed on that table?

Servane Mouazan:

I love Yeah, I love that because it's a piece of furniture we talk a lot about but we rarely change sometimes.

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi:

There's a lot of stuff, there's very little change. It is so difficult for people to change and I think it has to do with I always say you know when people have learned or your mental models, mindset shifts, very difficult. If it was it was easy to shift mindsets, your medical doctor with a numerologist would not be smoking cigarettes, but there are many numerologist who do smoke cigarettes. And you know I have nothing against a bit I think if you have knowledge knowledge alone is bad enough to change behaviour. And so there is all of that that

Servane Mouazan:

there's will there as well and there's encouragement to the source deep within. So during during the I have a challenge for you suppose you were to design an accelerator for future impact finance professionals, no pressure. What would you include in the programme that we took this rarely included any kind of learning programme there?

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi:

I don't know that what I'm bringing in is new, but I'll say the most important thing when you want to work with people is to do the power analysis in the relationships and the actions and reactions that are going to take place so I know different people talk about power, which for me, it is about always remembering being self aware that if you're coming in as a financial, you have some knowledge. You might even have access to money or you're dealing with somebody who might not have access to money. Right? You might have some humongous checklist in your head. So how do you show up in a manner that you can absolutely get the other party to the table in an honest and equitable manner. And for me that is being self aware self conscious of the power that we all carry. And in order to allow the person who might need the form, whether it's a portfolio company, or whether it's another fund manager, or CIO or a different kind of intermediary, how do they feel like they actually do have power and voice so you can honestly be able to do the work that needs to be done very often. In you know, social financing. What happens is the money comes with its rules. So money dictates so people organise themselves to fit the money. So how do you learn to come with your money and organise it to fit what people want and what needs to be done?

Servane Mouazan:

Yes, that echoes, the words that Joy Anderson of Criterion Institute were sharing with us recently on the podcast

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi:

I totally agree. I believe in the work that joy does. I think it is really seeking the boundaries. But if you cannot fix those edges at that level, then it should just be business as usual and nothing is changing.

Servane Mouazan:

Absolutely. So thank you so much for being in the house of trust with us today. Dorothy and I love how you brought these elements of equity, equality, humility, and actions more than words exploration as a constant for the works to be done. We need to pay attention to how we listen and how we show up.

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi:

Well just quickly say Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli did a big presentation for the media and work conference this week and she left us with something about partnerships and how you show up is live and logos and your egos outside the door and I just want to tell you, it's not my code is this you leave your egos or your logos outside, and then you show up, then you can have a real equitable conversation.

Servane Mouazan:

Excellent. Thank you so much, Dorothy, Dorothy Nyambi of MEDA and really we look forward to welcoming you all back again to the house of trust soon. If you don't want to miss it. Subscribe to the show anywhere you can find your podcasts. Look up to "Be and Think in the House of Trust". For more insights and opportunities to think independently for yourself as yourself and explore how to show up to ignite social impact head to my website at and sign up for my regular conscious innovation updates. It's for people like you who love to invest resources, time and maybe funds in positive change. I look forward to connecting with you soon. Bye for now.

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