Friday 22 November 2019
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What She Said! with Christine Bentley & Kate Wheeler

Interview: Barb Stegemann ‘The Perfume War’


Barb – your story of searching for ways to make life better for war weary Afghans is incredibly inspiring. You’ve created an actual antidote to despair. We follow your journey in the commentary but how hard was it?

It wasn’t hard to take the risks from putting it on my visa card and launching out of my garage to going on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. I mean I had fear, and I was scared, but I didn’t find that hard. What I found most difficult was the ignorance in the early days from others who didn’t get why I would “bother”. I found the apathy of others, the ignorance and on some occasions, the mockery of wanting to support others to build peace. That really shook my soul. It hurt, and it was hard. But, if you wind up being called a trail blazer or a disruptor, you are going to be introducing new ideas that will take others a while to connect with. You have to stay the course and I was fortunate to find retail partners and an investor in W. Brett Wilson who jumped on board this vision.

What a simple yet brilliant idea to turn opium fields to blossoms for perfume, local benefits, shrink the heroin market and run a business. Do you think about the incredible symmetry of it all?

I am so glad you see it this way. I feel the same way. I think after all of the healing we have gone through with captain Greene and his miraculous survival and how it led me to my brave supplier, Abdullah, you can’t help but believe in a higher force. As Abdullah would say, Insha’Allah (God Willing) we will get there.

You’ve done right by Trevor Greene whose mission you took up to help Afghans, a great achievement as a person and friend. How did it change you?

I love your questions! I have had to step up and become more balanced in my drive as a business woman. Before all of this happened, I had my own boutique PR firm and was making much more money than I have been as a social entrepreneur. But I wasn’t fulfilled. I loved my work, but I always felt there was something with more purpose and joy for me. Creating The 7 Virtues to carry on Trevor’s mission of peace feeds my soul and life more than anything else I ever could have done in my life. And I get to spend so much more time with my family as my husband and son have always supported me and now my son works with me while my husband volunteers and mentors. So my day is basically doing what I love all day and surrounded by the ones I love.

I’m sure you’ve come up against obstacles in creating this international business. How did you talk yourself through them?

I have a great mentor in W. Brett Wilson. I go to him with any struggle and he is the best sounding board. He is an incredible philanthropist and a busy man, but he will take my call and texts any time.I need him. I know there is a lineup of people who would love to be mentored and be in business with Brett, so I don’t take it lightly. I also keep my eye on the mission and our purpose and focus upon that as a driver so it’s just about finding ways to get around the obstacles.

O’Leary had to eat his words after missing the point of your product entirely. Is this the man we want as the Prime Minister?

Kevin O’Leary didn’t get it at all. He was so confused by the idea of a social enterprise. That is not the kind of human being who can lead Canada. Canadians are known around the world for being open, caring and socially concerned. O’Leary is a pure capitalist. The idea only appealed to him once he knew it could make money. He had no sense of it just simply being the right thing to do. W. Brett Wilson got it and jumped on board. Brett would make a much better Prime Minister. But Brett is busier than O’Leary. Brett bought out the O’Leary funds. And Brett lives in Canada. O’Leary lives in the USA so he should go back there and maybe we can convince Brett to run.

Trump and increasingly right wing governments and citizens are doing the opposite of what you are – so we have to work harder for equity and peace. You’ve been through it – any advice?

We just featured the doc Perfume War at two USA Film Festivals and it won Audience Choice and Best humanitarian film. Audiences were sold out weeks in advance with standing ovations. We were told repeatedly the US needs us right now. In fact, I had people ask me things in the Q&A from how to fix Detroit and would I run for President (of course we can’t as Canadians) but it really revealed that people are hungry for kindness, unity, logic and perhaps the celebrity of a film will help us counter the reality TV world celebrities with more care for their egos than the people they serve and our global village.

Advice – we need to stop participating in the “Anger Porn” out there (from the book, The Subtle Art of not giving a f*ck”. The anger porn is when a leader or candidate throws out a mean, cruel, strange statement to rattle people. Then the other side throws back anger through the media. And then the rest of us get caught up in their back and forth and we don’t realize that 30,000 Haitians are stuck at the Mexican border because they were promised non-existent jobs in Canada. So my advice is ignore the Anger Porn and focus on your service given all of your energy to your service.



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