From war-torn trouble spots of the world to the peaceful setting and natural beauty of Squamish in Canada, Jim Harvey’s work has taken him to diverse locations across the globe. His career trajectory has been stimulating and exhilarating, and motivated by a desire for inspiring, educational, and moving experiences. The home designer is a firm believer in working to live rather than living to work. This is how he is doing it.
“My home design business is based in this little town of Squamish and it’s not because there’s such a need for designers here. It’s because of the lifestyle associated with outdoor pursuits.
“I’ve been an outdoor enthusiast all my life, doing things related to hiking and back country skiing and climbing and kayaking. Those things are equally important to me as any career choices I made.”
Jim spent many years working oversees on international aid and development projects. The desire to help others and prevent and alleviate suffering and hardship were key motivators. But they weren’t the only reasons for working so far away from home.
“Adventure travel was a big motivator. It allowed me to put up with some exceptionally hard conditions in countries at war, with all sorts of security restrictions, even dietary restrictions because of a lack of food. The adventure travel side of that kind of work appealed to both myself and my wife”
The couple’s travels took them to Mozambique and then to Nicaragua at a time when America supported the Contra rebels against the Sandinista government. They spent three and a half years in the Central American country. Jim worked for CARE, an international humanitarian aid organization. He managed a potable water and sanitation project among rural communities in the north of the country. Having no prior experience of water provision and sanitation projects didn’t hold him back.
“What I did have and do have is a diversity of experiences and an ability to quickly learn and use resources around me. I am proud of the time I spent there. I coordinated a lot with other NGOs in the area and we really changed the way rural potable water was delivered in these communities. This really had an impact.”
The couple also spent time in southern Angola, a country then at war, followed by several years in a relatively safe corner of Zimbabwe. It was here that Jim felt he participated in one of the most interesting development projects of his career. He worked with a small indigenous NGO called the Small Scale Miners Association of Zimbabwe that supported small artisanal miners.
There was a whole sector of small scale miners in the country who were working with very old technology and on the fringes of legality. They primarily focused on gold, but there was very poor recovery and extremely dangerous working conditions.
Jim designed the first cooperatively owned batch milling plant for small scale miners, a place where they could bring their ores for milling and then gold recovery. He also wrote an epidemiological study into the impact of mercury poisoning on artisanal gold panners despite never having studied epidemiology.
“The single most important attribute that I bring to what I have achieved is a confidence that I can do it. I’ll just do it, I’ll wing it and I’ll learn. I’ll just go for it, knowing that I have enough experience, enough smarts and an ability to learn from everyone. That’s another thing I bought to the table, a willingness to really ask questions, be very observant and learn quickly in my environment.”
In reflecting on his career to date, Jim doesn’t think he has failed at anything because of a lack of formal training. He says there have been issues where he wishes he had known more, but believes in some ways that lack of training in some areas was itself an asset. It continues to give him a perspective not tainted by a particular school of thought. He is able to look at a situation from every angle and learn from every source available to him.
Jim is self-taught in everything he has ever done. He dropped out of high school so that he could travel to the north of Canada to seek his fortune. When it didn’t materialize he went back home to complete his education.
“I managed to get into a university as a mature student despite my lack of maturity, but I never finished university.”
Instead, he spent a summer as a carpenter’s helper and soon formed his own construction company. He was 21 and hired his brothers as his crew. The characteristics and qualities that were to serve him so well in his later career were there from the start – a thirst for knowledge, hard work and industry, confidence, and a pursuit of projects that would enrich his life experiences.
Today, he has an enviable lifestyle with a solid business in a part of the world that Mother Nature has smiled upon. Achieving such an ideal balance is, he says, down to a number of factors.
“One is not aspiring to wealth. I’m not driven by economic gain. Second is having a wonderful partner. If you don’t have a good partner in life boy things are hard. And of course, there is this spectacular environment. What more can I ask for?”