145, Ted Barber, Prosperity Candle | Opportunities for Women to End Poverty

Prosperity Candle is creating opportunities for women to end poverty.

Ted Barber of Prosperity Candle creates opportunities for women

Ted Barber, Prosperity Candle

Can a meeting over coffee and cannoli change the world? For two years Ted Barber and Amber Chand met once every few weeks in a café in Northampton, Massachusetts, trying to come up with a way to end poverty. Both were busy working around the world, so they knew something about the conditions on the ground. Over these two years, they began to narrow in on their criteria for success.

They wanted to work in post-conflict zones. They wanted to work with women, because, as Ted told me, “Dollar-for-dollar, investments in women result in greater change over time, than [investments] in the population as a whole.” They wanted the business to be focused on a consumable product, to create repeat business. They want to make sure the business model could scale. And, the business that they were creating had to have a growing, global market with local supplies.

They came up with lots of ideas, some of them Ted describes as “truly awful.” Eventually, they landed on the idea of a social enterprise that utilized candles, because candles met all their criteria. “It was one of those classic, you’ve got a napkin in front of you, you’re drawing things out and, you don’t say ‘eureka,’ but you kind of feel it.” Right there in the moment Ted ordered a candle-making kit. A few days later, he made candles in his kitchen. “And what struck me so clearly,” Ted explains, “was how easy it was to learn candle-making.” This meant that they were going to be able to transfer the skill to others remotely.

In 2009, Ted and Amber received an invitation from Women for Women International to create a proof-of-concept business by working with widows in Baghdad. Ted says, with ongoing violence, “Iraq was not on our list of countries to go to.” But they wanted to make a difference. So Amber and Ted traveled to Istanbul where they trained the field trainers from Iraq. The Iraqi field trainers returned to Baghdad and trained the women there.

About half of the women they trained took the kits and training and started making candles for the local market. Ted considers this a success because the women had a means of lifting themselves out of poverty. But the other half began to export the candles to the United States where Ted and Amber set up Prosperity Candle to sell them.

Initially, they ran into a marketing challenge. “Made in Baghdad” was not that appealing to many Americans, even though the candles had a purely social mission. They have since expanded into other countries, such as Haiti. They have also started working with women refugees in the United States. Today, 80% of Prosperity Candle’s products are produced in the United States by women refugees.

Every Prosperity candle is handmade by a woman artisan, building a brighter future.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Ted Barber

“Iraq was not on our list of countries to go to.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We were looking at post-conflict countries.’ @TedBarber, @ProsperityCndle”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We spent two years. We came up with some terrible ideas.’ @TedBarber, @ProsperityCndle“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Scalability is what lifts someone out of poverty.’ @TedBarber, @ProsperityCndle“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I went into the kitchen, put an apron on and made my first candle.’ @TedBarber, @ProsperityCndle“]

“My own mother said, I can’t keep track of all the ways you are doing things differently.”

“There’s no business on its own that could do what we do in a place like Baghdad.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Part of our charter says that we prioritize social benefit over profit.’ @TedBarber, @ProsperityCndle“]

“We use the MIT Livable Wage calculator.”

“We start all our apprentices at 60% above minimum wage.”

“What we have set up here is a safe work environment with an opportunity to earn a livable wage in Massachusetts.”

“When people say social entrepreneur or social enterprise, there’s a broad spectrum on what that means.”

“Make absolutely sure that your product or your service can stand alone without the social impact piece.”

“In most markets around the world, design is number one, price is number two, quality is number three, and the social, environmental good, on average, is number four. So, if you get the first three right, the fourth one is where you differentiate yourself.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Long bike rides in the morning clear my head.’ @TedBarber, @ProsperityCndle“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Create a manifesto.’ @TedBarber, @ProsperityCndle“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

About the Author
Tony Loyd is a TEDx speaker, podcast host and the author of Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs. He is a former Fortune 500 executive with extensive experience in strategic planning, talent management, and leadership development. Tony is the host of the podcast Social Entrepreneur where you can hear the stories of changemakers who are making an impact on the world.

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