What would it take to inspire Latinos in the marketplace to utilize their professional skills, their businesses, and their investment dollars to bless communities around the world?
Simply go yourself and prove that it can be done.
This was Stephany and Armando’s mindset when they took a huge step of faith, packed their bags, and boarded a plane to Ethiopia 8 years ago. The idea was to create a business consultancy that opened doors for Latin American investment and job opportunities in the region.
You see, Stephany and Armando believe that God designed humanity to represent him in every sphere of life – and that includes our work (Gen. 1:27, 2:15). As children of God, our work can – and should – be part of how we represent and reflect him in the world, creating sparks of kingdom wherever we go so that others might know him (Matt. 5:14 MES).
But when Stephany and Armando arrived at Ethiopia’s foreign investment agency, all their plans and preparations fell apart. “We realized that the license for our (business) consultancy was now closed for foreigners. They didn't want anymore,” Stephany recalls.
Discouraged, they began looking in neighboring countries only to find similar closed doors or investment requirements simply out of reach.
On the brink of giving up, God reminded them of James 1:6, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." So, they returned to the investment agency one last time.
“You know what? There is one consultancy you could open,” the representative said. “But it’s architecture.”
They stood in stunned silence. “No, this cannot be that easy,” Stephany remembers thinking.
Why? Because Stephany was a professional architect.
Stephany always knew that she wanted to be part of what God was doing around the world. But she wasn’t exactly sure how.
“I thought that the only way to serve overseas was to be a nurse, a doctor, or a pastor. And that wasn’t me,” she says.
As a result, Stephany really wrestled with picking a career path. Growing up, she was always creative and a natural problem solver. Attracted to the idea of taking something raw and making it into something new, she eventually found architecture.
“Every architectural project starts with a need,” Stephany explains. “You analyze it and you try to come up with a solution that will serve people. (It) makes people experience something and at the same time, it’s something that can be beautiful... something powerful.”
And yet, Stephany still couldn’t see how God could possibly use this career path overseas. And she wasn’t alone.
While wrapping up her fourth and final year of school, Stephany and Armando began exploring opportunities to serve God in East Africa.
“As soon as I finish (school), we will come. And maybe I can use (my degree),” she remembers sharing with a friend already living in the region.
“Are you kidding? Architecture? No, no, no. Just get over that,” he said matter-of-factly. “That is something you are never going to use in East Africa.”
Convinced serving God in another country meant sacrificing her job, Stephany decided that finishing this degree would be just for her. “I'm just going to do it, and leave it for God,” she concluded.
Little did she know then, just how God would use her architecture degree to not only open a door to East Africa but also represent and reflect him along the way.
Once the architecture consultancy was officially open, they hit the ground running.
“We started with interior design because I was very insecure about my architecture skills in a country where I didn’t know the building codes,” Stephany recalls in those early days.
“(Architecture) is design and it’s art, but it’s very technical,” she explains. “Every country builds in a different way, so you have to learn.”
And learn she did.
Their first project was designing the interior of a hotel. Not only did that project open doors into Ethiopia’s business community, but they started connecting with local engineers and learned about the infrastructure and building process firsthand. This boosted her confidence.
“I will be okay. I can figure this out,” Stephany realized. And from there – more doors opened.
“It’s a very male-dominated culture,” Stephany explains of life in Ethiopia. “I had the advantage of being a foreigner.”
In the beginning, getting her footing as a woman leading in a culture and industry with few female peers was a challenge. But looking back, Stephany sees so clearly how God positioned her to represent him while challenging cultural assumptions and empowering the women on her team.
“It was funny because at the very beginning (engineers and contractors) would ask technical questions to Armando. But he would turn and wait for my answer,” she says chuckling. Armando was the networker, while Stephany was the technical arm of their business.
Eventually, through consistently showing up and delivering on projects, Stephany earned the respect of both colleagues and clients.
“If you do the job well, that speaks about you,” she says. “I never fought the system directly. I would just show that I'm a professional and that my opinion matters.”
Stephany’s leadership and influence in the industry also uplifted and empowered the women on her team.
“It was unintentional that the two architects we hired, were women,” Stephany says. “It wasn’t like I was trying to hire only women.” Yet, even when working with various electrical engineers on projects, one always seemed to stand out. “It was just easier for me to work with her because she responded faster,” she says plainly. But it wasn’t always easy.
The challenges, assumptions, and at times, the disrespect that Stefanie faced were the norm confronting many Ethiopian women in the industry. But Stephany’s position as both a foreigner and business owner gave her an advantage others didn’t have – an advantage she used to uplift and empower the women on her team.
In one instance, Stephany remembers sending a member of her team to represent her on a project when the engineer on site pushed back.
“Yeah, but she looks like a kid. Can she handle this?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m sending her,” Stephany replied firmly.
Stephany might never fully know the extent to which her work, her leadership, and her presence impacted the local community. But the opened doors and respect the women on her team earned, well, that Stephany hopes has a lasting impact.
And as for all the clients and the male counterparts she worked with along the way, she hopes they saw Jesus reflected in how she approached her life and work in Ethiopia.
“I hope – I haven't seen it, but I hope – that in the future if they interact with another professional, a female professional, it will help as well.”
Written by Kristin Boyd