Greg Walker-Wilson, the executive director of the Asheville nonprofit Mountain BizWorks, announced Thursday that he would move his family to South America later this year to enrich his family’s life experience and extend his service work.
Walker-Wilson, his wife Susanne and their two children, 11-year-old Caleb and 8-year-old Asher, plan to move to assume a three-year volunteer assignment with the Mennonite Central Committee in Colombia, South America. Walker-Wilson will resign his job, effective June 1, as the head of the nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs though business-development help and financial support.
“This decision to take our family to live and work in a developing country in Latin America may take you by surprise,” Walker-Wilson wrote in an e-mail to friends and supporters sent Thursday. “In fact Susanne and I have had this in the back of our minds ever since we got married almost 15 years ago. This is much more about our family’s life experience and values being transformed than a strategic career move.
In an interview with Xpress Thursday afternoon, Walker-Wilson said he and his wife have long held a dream of taking on such an assignment.
“This is an extension of my values and my worldview of service and giving back,” Walker-Wilson says, noting that he spent two years as a child living in Costa Rica and Colombia while his parents worked as missionaries.
Walker-Wilson also did a summer graduate internship in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with the Mennonite Central Committee, a peace-building organization affiliated with the Mennonite Church. He and his wife spent a summer in Guatemala studying Spanish in the mid 1990s.
The opportunity came together when the MCC said that it wanted Susanne to perform train-the-trainer work to help people heal from trauma. Violence in the country has forced thousands of rural residents to seek refuge in the city, and the organization wanted to take advantage of Susanne’s social-work background. When the group learned more about his work to empower people through entrepreneurship, Walker-Wilson says they agreed they could use that expertise, as well.
Walker-Wilson says his time spent overseas provided invaluable personal growth and an experience he wanted his children to have, despite the emotional upset that uprooting a family can cause.
“We’ve been talking to our kids a lot about this, and in those discussions, we talked about how some of the most interesting people they know have lived in other countries and learned other languages,” Walker-Wilson said. “It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be exciting, and when we return, we’re going to be different people.”
And the family does plan to return to Asheville, says Walker-Wilson. The family will rent its north Asheville home while away.
In terms of Mountain BizWorks, Walker-Wilson says the organization is strong. It served 1,000 people last year, up from 750 the year before, he says, and has a highly qualified board that will steer the organization through the transition of replacing him. Over the past couple of years, the organization has changed its name (it used to be the Mountain Microenterprise Fund) and broadened its lending ability.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor