Rather then spend his retirement at luxurious golf courses and country clubs, former Tirecraft Auto Centers Ltd. President and CEO David Cosco plans to sleep in mud huts in remote areas of Ethiopia and try to figure out how to clean up contaminated water in local villages.
Mr. Cosco, a founding member of Partners in the Horn of Africa, a Canadian charity that undertakes humanitarian aid projects in Ethiopia, will visit that country in January in partnership with an environmental engineering firm to help find and develop springs and wells with clean water.
``I do an extensive amount of work in East Africa,'' he said. ``I work on projects over there. The average income for an Ethiopian is $100 a year. We work with orphanages and water projects.''
In October Mr. Cosco sold Edmonton-based Tirecraft, a dealership with annual sales of more than $300 million, so he could retire from the tire business and devote more time to charitable work, especially for Partners in the Horn. (See story below.) He admitted that he would still invest in companies, but those businesses would not be in the automotive industry.
Partners in the Horn is a 4-year-old organization that tries to get local African communities involved in aid projects, he said. Mr. Cosco became involved in founding the charity because of the influence of Mr. Cosco's friend John Baigent, who had spent time in Africa with Canadian University Students Overseas, which is similar to the U.S. Peace Corps.
Mr. Baigent drew up the business plan for Partners in the Horn, which has the board of directors personally bear all administration costs so that all donations can go directly to aid. The other part of the plan involves community participation.
``What most NGOs (non-government organizations) do is they come to a country and say, `Well we have a solution. Tell us your problem,''' Mr. Cosco said. ``We look to local community organizations and ask them, `What sort of help do you need?' They'll say, `Well we've got a school up here in the mountains and they're sitting on the floor on rocks. There are no desks. There's one little blackboard. The teacher doesn't even have a desk. It can really be useful if we have some chairs, literally.' I saw that in the mountains (of Ethiopia).''
He told Tire Business that his upcoming trip to Ethiopia includes meeting with contractors and administrators who run orphanages and delivering chairs and a teacher's desk made in a local town to a school situated in the mountains.
``When we do a project, we want the community to put in 25 percent of the cost or the cost equivalent,'' he explained. ``So if they don't have the money, which they never do, they do the labor. If they're not prepared to make a contribution, why would we want to do it?''
Mr. Cosco admitted humanitarian work in Ethiopia is difficult, especially since many of the children are orphans because their parents died of complications from AIDS. He travels to Africa twice a year and has spent time in remote areas where the children have never seen white people and at hotels with cockroaches that ``look like small aircraft carriers.'' He said he views the work as just something that he does.
``It's funny, it's like a business,'' he said. ``It's just like what you do for a living. You have a project. You finish that and go on to another project, and that's the way I look at it.''