Staff hire led to creation of long-time Winnipeg hub

This is the fifth story in a series about MEDA hubs across North America. The hubs, more than a dozen volunteer-led groups, organize events and activities to build awareness about MEDA’s work creating business solutions to poverty, to network and to hear people share stories about faith, work, and entrepreneurship as a calling.

One of MEDA’s longest-standing hubs came about in part due to a new employee’s desire to move home, and his personal connections with prominent Mennonite businesspeople.

Neil Janzen was a high school teacher before serving two terms with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). During the latter term, he became interested in international development management and subsequently completed a Master of Business Administration degree at the University of Western Ontario.

In 1979, Janzen and Paul Derstine were hired by MEDA, which at the time had an office with MCC in Akron, Pennsylvania. As Janzen tells it, Milo Shantz, the Ontario entrepreneur who at the time chaired MEDA’s board, told Janzen to decide where a Canadian MEDA office should be located.

For Janzen, who eventually served as MEDA president for 10 years, the choice was easy. “There was a large Mennonite business community in Winnipeg, Steinbach and Winkler,” he explained.

Brent Kroeker, a Winnipeg financial adviser, has been involved in the hub for more than 25 years, the last 10 of them as chair.

He was introduced to the group by his father, Art.

Prior to the pandemic, the Winnipeg group would have five or six lunch meetings between the fall and the spring, generally attended by more than 30 people from the more than 300 on the group’s mailing list, he said. Speakers have frequently included area businesspeople or visiting MEDA field staff.

“For me, the key thing is this face-to-face fellowship… and also to hear a great talk about MEDA and business & faith.”

The hub has begun holding in-person events again. The next one, featuring MEDA President & CEO Dr. Dorothy Nyambi, will be held on Thursday, November 18.

For Bob Kroeker (no relation to Brent), exposure to the group was a life-changing event.

He first attended a hub event in 1991 and heard a talk about the use of oxen in a MEDA project in Tanzania which grabbed his interest. “I’d love to be part of something like that, making a difference.”

When he attended a MEDA convention in Colorado in 1992, he was interviewed for a job at MEDA, leaving behind a 27-year career managing computer programmers for the Great West Life insurance company. In 2003, he began working as a MEDA fundraiser, a role he held until retiring in 2017.

Former MEDA board chair Bert Friesen cites the Winnipeg MEDA hub’s role in co-founding Opportunities for Employment (along with Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba and the Eden Foundation) as one of its more significant contributions.

Since its inception more than 25 years ago, Opportunities for Employment has helped more than 27,000 difficult-to-employ Winnipeg residents get off welfare rolls and find work with more than 5,000 Manitoba employers.

The three co-founders put up $50,000 each to help get the organization going, Friesen recalls. Within several years, the money was paid back.

“I see that very much as a MEDA story,” he said.

Friesen has attended MEDA events for more than three de- cades. The meetings “expanded my ability to share faith and faith stories within the business community,” he said.

Other hub members recall Winnipeg supporters helping to get a wood products plant going in Jamaica, a micro-finance program in Nicaragua, the Tanzania oxen project (led by future MEDA president Allan Sauder), and work in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

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