“I hate poverty,” says James Woller (’05), a man who has dedicated much of his time to use the things he’s been given to make a positive difference in the world.
His passion for fighting against poverty started when Woller was a young child. One night, while attending a missionary night with his family at their local church, he heard a missionary share about his experiences in Indonesia. This was when Woller first realized that most of the world did not have the same opportunities, wealth, or privilege as him.
“I grew up in affluence,” explains Woller. “But seeing the pictures and hearing the stories of poverty really made me question why others are so less unfortunate.”
As his young mind tried to reconcile the gap between his experience and what he was hearing about in many places around the world, Woller was struck by a big banner that hung behind the speaker. It had pictures of people of different cultures all praying, with the words of 2 Chronicles, “If My People…” written in big, bold letters.
At that moment, Woller felt God call him to pour into His Kingdom and to make Kingdom work his primary focus. He decided that he make it his goal to do whatever he could to try to help eradicate poverty around the world.
“I just didn’t know how I could live this life knowing that poverty exists all around us and to not do anything,” says Woller. “There has to be a component of giving back, whether time or money or resources. It’s giving back what God has given me because it was never mine, to begin with.”
SEIZING EVERY OPPORTUNITY
One of the ways Woller has sought to do this was through his work. He’s always had the heart of an entrepreneur and a knack for taking something small and growing it. When he was only nine years old, he took a $300 loan from his parents to buy a lawnmower so he could mow lawns in the community and use all the money to help pay the cost of sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Though it started small, by the time he was in high-school, Woller had developed a thriving landscaping business and was in charge of several employees.
Woller knew that he had a unique skillset and that if he wanted to be successful in his pursuits, he’d need to continue to grow his skills, knowledge, and connections. Also, he knew he’d need to learn to think outside the box.
While a student at Trinity Western University, Woller focused on International Studies and Economics. In his spare time, he sought to take advantage of every opportunity the University offered.
“I’ve always believed that you get what you put in,” says Woller. “So I joined intramural sports, TWUSA, lots of clubs and programs. I jumped into it all.”
Things seemed to be going so well. But like many young people, he wasn’t exactly sure what to do after he graduated. He felt like a skilled tradesman with a box of tools but no idea where to take them. Thankfully, he didn’t have to wonder long. One thing Woller had done exceptionally well as a student leader was to build connections with important people in the community. These connections were instrumental in helping him find work as a new grad, and throughout his life.
IN THE BUSINESS OF CHANGE
Woller was given the opportunity to travel to Swaziland, where he worked for Bulembu International doing community development with some incredibly successful business leaders. Each of these leaders was wanting to serve the Kingdom with their skills, talents, and resources. This inspired Woller, and after seven years in this position, he started to realize that he could have much more impact in the world if he were like these business leaders.
“In Swaziland, I met the most incredible business leaders,” Woller explains. “What they are doing with the wealth they’ve been given reminded me of when Jesus died and his disciples went to bury him. It was a businessman who said He could have his tomb.”
Woller recognized that business leaders had a skill set that was needed in the not-for-profit world. He returned to Canada in 2011 with this in mind. Before long, he connected with a few other business leaders and bought a business called Release The Hounds. It began as a premium dog walking business with only a few employees, but much like his lawn mowing endeavor, it quickly grew. Today, it’s the largest dog-walking service company in all of Canada with over thirty employees.
A TIME TO THRIVE
Things were going well, but Woller knew he wanted to start getting back to his original vision of working with not-for-profits—he just didn’t know where or when. That changed in 2018 when Woller met with Dale Bolton, founder of a charity called Thrive. While on a trip to Africa with his family, Woller decided to visit the center of Thrive’s operations in Kenya and witness what they were doing first hand.
“Within three days, I was completely blown away,” says Woller. “They were addressing a serious, real-world problem—hidden hunger. I’ve worked and seen development projects in over fifteen countries, but I’d never seen anything like this. People are stepping out of poverty and becoming disease-free for years! How could that not draw me in? What Thrive is doing has the power to completely disrupt poverty around the world and change the course of history.”
“Thrive is spreading a naturally contagious model for growing health, organically,” explains Woller. “We train and equip impoverished communities to create ‘life gardens’, so they can grow health, step out of poverty, and teach others to do the same.”
As stated on their website: “We grow high nutrient, disease-fighting foods, and herbs all year round, with scarce rainfall, while utilizing small land plots available to community members. When groups reach food and health security, excess food is used for income generation.”
Woller knew he wanted to get involved but Thrive was a small charity. They’d never had an executive director and weren’t even looking for one. But by January, 2019, the position was created and stepped into a journey of faith.
“I am blessed to take my experiences and abilities and be part of Thrive and its remarkable vision to empower 1 million people in the developing world to lead healthy and sustainable lives by training them to grow nutritious and income generating whole foods,” says Woller.
Though Thrive is still a relatively small charity, their vision to scale and impact is tremendous. Today Thrive is in 7 countries, 685 communities and providing life-sustaining gardens for over 35,000 people.
Woller believes that through their efforts, incredible growth and change is right around the corner for some of the most neglected parts of the world. Woller says he couldn’t be more excited to use his entrepreneurial skills to help Thrive serve impoverished communities around the world—just like he’s been wanting to do ever since he was a young boy.