Barbara: An International Perspective on Entrepreneurship
In 6th grade, Barbara Simmons got a Japanese pen pal — and the long-distance friendship sparked an interest in all things international.
In law school, Barbara was president of the International Law Society and an intern at the United Nations Development Programme. She has taught at universities, and also served as the dean of international education at Tubman University in Liberia.
With a successful career under her belt that included not only teaching, but also consulting, social work and community organizing, Barbara nonetheless felt that starting her own business might be an option one day. “Even when I was teaching here in the States, I always told my students that regardless of their major, they need to have an entrepreneurial component to their career.”
While teaching in Liberia, Barbara arranged for architectural students from historically Black colleges and universities to design a building there. “It was a wonderful opportunity for them, and the connections they made were just fabulous.” The collaboration set her down the path to her own business.
She learned about AARP Foundation’s Work for Yourself@50+ program through an email listserv she belongs to, and she decided to attend. “You can never have too much information, and I’m an advocate of lifelong learning,” she says. “Being an entrepreneur is something new to me, so I’m looking for all the resources that I can find.”
“There’s nothing to fear about coming to the workshop… I think people over 50, they want to hear the real deal.”
Barbara describes her business as “bringing together partners from the United States as well as other countries — at this point primarily in Africa — to work on projects together.”
Now is the time for this kind of enterprise, she says. “More than 95% of future markets and opportunities are outside of the United States, and Africa has some of the fastest-growing economies. When I’m there, I see a lot of people from other continents like Asia and Europe and I think, ‘We need to be here, too.’”
Barbara once had the honor of participating in a Tony Elumelu Foundation Summit Forum, and the experience was transformative. “He is one of the Nigerian billionaires who has pledged $100 million to create 10,000 African entrepreneurs. I was asked to speak with those who had an education component.”
She adds, “If I won the lottery, I would see how many U.S. entrepreneurs I could create, and how I could bring them together with other countries to do business.”
The idea of creating entrepreneurs like herself appeals to her. “I know that there’s a limit to government, and there’s a limit to how many times you can ask someone else to give to you,” she explains. “I think it’s much more impactful and empowering when people can bring in revenue for themselves. I’m a big proponent of public, private and academic partnerships.”
About Work for Yourself@50+, Barbara says, “There’s nothing to fear about coming to the workshop. It’s very supportive, very warm and very realistic. I think people over 50, they want to hear the real deal.”
“I appreciate AARP Foundation for putting this together,” she adds. “It’s given me a sense of comfort and at least feeling like I’m not out here alone, and I think that’s very, very critical for entrepreneurs.”