Sooner seeks business opportunities in Uganda

Oklahoma City native Tyler Schooley launches business ventures in Uganda after extensive travel showed him the true impact poverty has on many nations.
By James A. Pearson, For The Oklahoman Published: April 16, 2014
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On a warm evening in 2008, Oklahoma City native Tyler Schooley landed in the East African country of Uganda. Only 23 years old, he had already visited more than two dozen countries, backpacking solo through some of them. But this was no mere visit. Though he had never been to Uganda before and knew only one person in the country, Schooley had decided to make this his new home.

“The reality of my decision to move to Uganda first hit on the one-hour drive from the airport to central Kampala,” he said via email, “as I associated my new home with the seemingly chaotic sites of crowded and dirty streets, traffic violations in plenty, and the odd goat or cow walking in the middle of the city’s road.”

Americans move to places like Uganda for various reasons — to fill positions as missionaries or aid workers or diplomats. Not Schooley. He showed up, sight unseen, to become an entrepreneur. And now, six years later, it’s paying off.

After finishing high school in Enid, Schooley attended Oklahoma State University as a finance major. During college he traveled widely, backpacking through Europe, studying Spanish in Latin America, and spending a Semester at Sea that took him around the globe. He traveled with his grandfather to the Democratic Republic of Congo, his first visit to the continent he would call home years later.

In places like India, where he stopped during the Semester at Sea, he encountered extreme poverty. The disparity between impoverished parts of India and the wealth he was exposed to in America was one of the forces that shaped his vision.

“This polarizing dichotomy between the haves and have-nots was eye-opening to me, and led me to explore how I could create opportunities for people to financially advance where such opportunities were otherwise rare,” Schooley said.

An influential decision

After graduating magna cum laude, finishing internships in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, and backpacking through Peru and Bolivia, Schooley saw a choice for himself. As he put it, “either step into the real world with a corporate job, or make a radical move to the developing world.”

Schooley’s mother, Oklahoma City native Donna Lawrence, says she was not surprised when Schooley made the decision.

“From the time he began talking, Tyler was inquisitive, determined, and fearless,” she said.

Still, she was shocked that her son chose to move to an African country that neither of them knew very much about. And she feared for his safety.