What Are You Doing Here?

A man I admire greatly took that question seriously.

And has become one of Canada’s most prolific and talented social entrepreneurs.

His name is Brian Smith and his story needs more space than I have available. So here is the abridged version.

Brian was in India for 3 months with Melissa his future wife. They were there for three months to do good. It was pretty standard volunteer work – teaching English, explaining the importance of cleanliness, playing soccer with the kids.

Their village was isolated two hours from the closest bus stop, which was a four hour ride to the closest town. Two months in they got a chance to go to town by helping some villagers take their produce and livestock to market. Once there they were free to roam and explore.

They picked up something to eat and were sitting by the side of the road.

A pleasant young man came up and started to chat. The usual questions: Where are you from? Who are you working for? What are you doing here?

And a pretty standard answer. Just helping out the local villagers.

The pleasant young man was soon joined by another friend, then another and another. Soon they were in the middle of a dozen local men.

The mannerism of the pleasant young man suddenly changed.

“What are you doing here?” he insisted. Again and again.

It was no longer such an easy question to answer.

“What do you want me to say?” Brian stammered.

Then finally, “I don’t know.”

With that their audience disappeared. Point made I guess.

Brian and Melissa looked at each other. “What just happened?”

Even as they asked, they knew the answer. Or the questions.

What are we doing here in India? Are we passing through or do we intend to stay? What about the challenges back home?

For Brian it was a pivotal moment. The beginning of wisdom.

The wisdom:

To appreciate the capability of people to solve their own problems.

To understand the link between wealth in North America and poverty in other parts of the world.

To till your own soil.

Today Brian heads up Rhiza Capital, a social impact investment fund. He also runs Persephone Brewing an award winning microbrewery/farm/social enterprise on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. Few understand the inner working of a local economy better than him. And how to change the world one pint at a time. He has created a market for local growers, a venue for local artists and a place for families to spend an enjoyable weekend afternoon. And true to his roots in the disability world, he has provided decent paying jobs for folks from the local association for community living. Proving you can do that and still run a profitable business. Something that has eluded the multi-million dollar disability industry for decades.

Brian also teaches budding social entrepreneurs at Simon Fraser University.

I know one question his students will be obliged to answer.


  1. Persephone Brewing was chosen as Canada’s Social Enterprise of the Year in 2017.
  2. Brian will be speaking in Kelowna Feb 28th at a celebration of social enterprise organized by the talented folks at Purppl. Not to be missed. Tickets here.
  3. Most importantly, Brian and Melissa now have three beautiful children.


Looking out the window today on the field, the valley, the blue hills and in memory, the cabin and the forest, I regret my own numberless faults but not a life in the country. ~ Bruce Hutchison, from his autobiography, A Life in the Country.

Hey, the woodpeckers are back. ~ Mercer Smith

Musical accompaniment this post is Ahead by a Century performed by The Jerry Cans in the Inuktitut language. This Tragically Hip tune was selected by Brian. I’m hoping he hasn’t heard this version.


Yayoi Kusama’s Path to Infinity

Cultural Transformation, One Baby Gerber Step at a Time

Eyes Wide Shut, Carmen Papalia’s Guide to Democracy

“Saving” Ryan

Mental Fitness Touches a Nerve in Everyone

You Can Learn Lots about Social Innovation from the World of Disability

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it


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