social entrepreneurship

This Social Entrepreneur is Changing the Story of Human Trafficking, with Stephanie Page, Stories Foundation

Stories Foundation is committed to resourcing the rescue and restoration of human trafficking victims through education, advocacy, and microgrants

The Freedom Truck from Stories Foundation

The Freedom Truck from Stories Foundation

Between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. 80% are female, and half are children. Can this story be changed? Stephanie Page thinks so.

Stephanie grew up in a safe and happy home. “I grew up in a close-knit family,” she says. “I am the oldest of 4 children, two boys, and two girls. I was a high achiever and a people pleaser. I loved my friends and being social. I loved the church. I loved my family. I was an avid reader.”

Stories Foundation is hosting the Superhero 5K on Saturday, August 4

Stories Foundation is hosting the Superhero 5K on Saturday, August 4

Starting when she was a teenager, Stephanie traveled extensively. This exposed her to a world much different than her sheltered upbringing. After high school, she lived in Ukraine. As an adult, she lived in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck. “All of those experiences opened my eyes and changed my worldview,” she says.

In 2012, Stephanie and her mother read the book, Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances by Kimberly Smith. In the book, Kimberly shares her extraordinary stories of fighting human trafficking as an ordinary mom. Stephanie was both inspired and outraged.

“The idea that humans could and do exploit the vulnerabilities in others for their financial gain and pleasure makes me angry,” she explains. “It is bad enough that we live in a world where people are hurting for a reason often beyond anyone’s control (cancer, natural disaster, etc.) But then to think that there are people who will exploit those in vulnerable situations. It is simply not OK.”

Stephanie Page, Stories Foundation

Stephanie Page, Stories Foundation

Inspired by what she learned about human trafficking, Stephanie took a fearless inventory of the skills and gifts she had in hand. She decided to begin by educating the public and advocating for those caught in human trafficking. “I’ve always been a speaker and a communicator,” she explains. “So, I thought, I can give this. I can create events. And I can stand on a stage. I can communicate what this issue is, and what our role is.”

By 2013, Stephanie came up with an idea to make a difference. She wanted to open “Stories Café.” Their theme would be “Live your story, share your story, change a story.” Stephanie admits though, “! I am fluent in vision but struggle in administration.” As they began to plan, they began to realize how big of a challenge it is to open a restaurant. By 2015, she formed Stories Foundation as a nonprofit organization.

The Freedom Truck is Born

Starting in 2016, Stories Foundation held several events, centered around food. They were able to raise funds and provide microgrants to two organizations working with those vulnerable to human trafficking.

While watching a television show about food trucks, Stephanie thought, “Wouldn’t that be so cool if we had a food truck, and it spread awareness about human trafficking everywhere it went, and, it served great food? We could share our vision on a smaller scale, and everyone would get it!”

To buy and equip a food truck, they ran a crowdfunding campaign on StartSomeGood. They were able to raise $32,000 in 30 days. They call the food truck the Freedom Truck. The Freedom Truck raises awareness while raising funds to combat human trafficking.

Driving Forward

Moving forward, Stephanie has plans to make an even bigger impact. They are currently raising $100,000 in order to obtain a building. When they do, they will be able to provide training and employment for survivors of and those at risk to human trafficking.

To meet their fundraising goal, they are raising funds on Facebook. They are also hosting a Superhero 5K on August 4, 2018.

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Stephanie Page

“All the money that comes through the truck goes into a microgrant fund.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “It’s a way for the community to be connected to the cause through something they would purchase already.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “My parents were huge examples, and still are of how to love people well.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “Life is messy for everybody, no matter how you started.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “We often don’t choose suffering. It’s a byproduct of someone else’s action or, the world.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “As human beings, we can step into that suffering. We can have compassion. We can cause the change to happen.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “I thought slavery was over. I had no idea slavery was a thing.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “All of you who write books, keep going because it changes lives.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “All I could think was, ‘This isn’t OK.’ And, ‘Why aren’t we doing something about this?’” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “I first had to educate myself.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “Every person has a part to play in fighting human trafficking.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “The more I learned, the more shocked I was.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “I’ve always been a speaker and a communicator. So, I thought, I can give this.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “I had always thought, to be honest, that prostitutes chose their profession.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “That was my first ah-ha moment. This is way bigger than I could have comprehended.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “It’s literally in my backyard.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “I didn’t know anyone who had been affected by trafficking.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “No one is immune to being trafficked.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “90% of prostitutes are women and girls who have been trafficked.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “It’s not ‘If you build it, they will come.’ It’s ‘If you build it and market the crap out of it, maybe they’ll come.’” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “Once we raised the money and had to do the thing, I got really overwhelmed.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “We think that everything should be perfect before we move forward.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “It’s always been hard, but I think the hard things are the best things, and it’s worth it.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “Take the first step. Just do it.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet “The more income we have, the more jobs we can create.” @stephaniempage @StoriesFDN Click To Tweet

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Fueled by Prize Money, These Social Entrepreneurs Are Striking at the Root of Poverty, with Leeore Levinstein and Jesse Abelson, Vetiver Solutions

Vetiver Solutions is a for-profit social business that is alleviating poverty and malnutrition for subsistence farmers in Haiti.

Jesse Abelson (L), Leeore Levinstein, and Dalton Schutte, Vetiver Solutions

Jesse Abelson (L), Leeore Levinstein (C), and Dalton Schutte (R), Vetiver Solutions

Haiti is the poorest country in the northern hemisphere. 2.5 million Haitians live in extreme poverty. Two out of three live on less than $2 per day. 100,000 Haitian children are acutely malnourished.

Jesse Abelson first started traveling to Haiti in 2013 as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with Project Medishare. Between 2013 and 2016, he traveled there five times. “After seeing countless deaths due to poverty and malnutrition, I decided that I wanted to work to tackle the problem at the root,” Jesse explains. “There is only so much I can do in Haiti in a week, working as an EMT. I suspected that I would have to wait until after medical school to make an impact.”

Jesse met Leeore Levinstein when they were both freshmen at the University of Minnesota. In 2015, Leeore signed up for a series of courses called the Grand Challenge Course. After her initial class, she tried to convince Jesse to join her. “I was messaging him, for weeks, trying to convince him to take this course called ‘Seeking Solutions to Global Health Issues.’”

“I was a little hesitant at first,” Jesse confesses. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It didn’t count towards my major, so I was hesitant to do that.” Jesse eventually agreed, and they enrolled in the course in the fall of 2016.

Because of Jesse’s experience in Haiti, Jesse and Leeore wanted to focus their efforts there. However, the course was focused on solutions for Kenya or Uganda. “We wanted to convince our instructors that we should do a project in Haiti,” Leeore explains. “So, the two of us sat in his parent’s dining room, bouncing ideas off one another. I didn’t have a super-strong background in Haiti,” Leeore admits. “So, I’m reading the Wikipedia page while we’re talking. I get to this line that set off a lightbulb for me. It said, ‘Haiti is the world’s largest exporter of vetiver.’ In my mind, I thought, how is Haiti the world’s largest exporter of anything? And, what is vetiver?”

She right-clicked the link to vetiver. “It turns out that vetiver is this magic grass,” Leeore says. “It has this incredible root system that prevents erosion. It can filter soil. It acts as a pesticide. It turns out that Haiti was exporting the roots of vetiver. From the roots, you can extract essential oil. Imagine pulling up 15 feet of roots. It just turns up the soil.”

After further research, Jesse and Leeore were able to convince their professors to let them work on a project for Haiti.

During the class, Jesse connected with his contacts in Haiti, asking questions and conducting research. He also traveled to Haiti during his winter break to once again volunteer with Project Medishare. While there, he was able to conduct research, focusing on the impact of vetiver.

Using Award Money to Prove Their Solution

By the spring of 2017, the team had conducted enough research to present their business plan that used vetiver. However, instead of using the roots of the plants, they found a use for the shoots of the plants, which is currently a waste product. They process the plant shoots into a fiber, which is spun into yarn. Their solution has both a short-term and long-term impact. They provide revenue to subsistence farmers in the short term and prevent soil erosion in the long term.

They presented their solution at the Acara Challenge, a pitch competition for students with ideas for financially sustainable social ventures that address social and environmental challenges. They took home the silver prize, which came with a small cash stipend.

Jesse Abelson (L), and Elizabeth Alonzi (C), and Leeore Levinstein (R), Vetiver Solutions

Jesse Abelson (L), and Elizabeth Alonzi (C), and Leeore Levinstein (R), Vetiver Solutions

Leeore remembers, “To me, until we got our funding from Acara, it felt to me very…on paper. I remember when we were awarded the prize. Jesse and I just looked at each other. All of a sudden, this moment of realization just fell over us. Oh! Goodness! This is a thing now. We’re actually doing this,” she laughs.

Suddenly the team went from testing concepts in a garage in Minnesota to sending team members to work on the ground in Haiti. Leeore describes the moment. “It was sitting down and saying; we have team members going to a foreign country, where we don’t know anything. There’s no running water or electricity. So, first of all, how do we ensure their safety? It became very concrete. Until we went, we didn’t even know if this whole process was going to work.”

The team used the Acara prize money to travel to Haiti. “We had enough money to get there. We didn’t have enough to do much work while we were there,” Jesse explains.

With this initial blush of success, the Vetiver Solutions team put together a GoFundMe fundraising page and sent funding requests to friends and family.

By the summer of 2017, they had their proof of concept. They began recruiting team members to work in product development and marketing. “It wasn’t until after the summer that we sat around the table with five people, with passion, and knowledge, and skills. We were finally creating a team that could do this,” Leeore says. But they still needed funding to continue their business.

In the spring of 2018, the Vetiver Solutions Team participated in the e-Fest pitch competition, sponsored by the University of St. Thomas, Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. The competition started with an online application. Vetiver Solutions was selected as one of 25 teams to come to the school and compete with a series of presentations. The first pitch was 90 seconds. The next round was 15 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of questions. The team won fourth place overall, and they won the social impact award. Altogether, Vetiver Solutions was awarded $25,000 in prize money.

Start from Scratch

“This has never been done before,” says Jesse. “We had to start from scratch and try to process vetiver down to fibers, which we successfully did. We hand-spun it into yarn, but we quickly realized, with my lack of spinning skills,” Jesse laughs, “that’s not something that can really be sold.”

Vetiver Solutions is harvesting and cleaning the vetiver fiber by hand in Haiti. According to Jesse, “We’re working closely with a village that does not have running water or electricity. Everything we do there is completely by hand. We process it all using fire, water, and an input chemical. Then we have the fibers that are ready to use.”

“The really cool thing about vetiver,” Jesse describes, “is that you can blend it with other fibers. We blended it with cotton, and it gave this nice soft material that you can make clothing out of. We were also able to blend it with banana fibers. It gave it a tougher feel. So, it’s pretty versatile.”

“We work closely with the Weavers Guild of Minnesota,” Jesse explains. “We were able to show them this product, and they gave us some feedback and tips.”

Vetiver Solutions is hoping to have their first commercially viable yarn this fall. Jesse explains what is next. “We have to get the fiber; we have to clean the fiber and send the fibers out to a spinning mill.”

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Leeore Levinstein and Jesse Abelson

“Because it’s a product that’s never been in the market before, we’re expecting a little difficulty.” Jesse Abelson, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “Everything we kept researching, kept bringing us back to vetiver.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “I decided that I wanted to work to tackle the problem at the root.” Jesse Abelson, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “I had been looking for years for a way to make a bigger impact.” Jesse Abelson, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “I have a background in genetics. Genetics isn’t going to help me make yarn.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “If you decide the sky’s the limit, you’ll make it to the sky. If you decide the limit is further, you’ll make it there too.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “It’s so cool that you can use entrepreneurship as a means to do good.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “Two years ago, I never would have thought that I would start a company in Haiti that is working to decrease poverty and malnutrition.” Jesse Abelson, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “Vetiver is this magic grass.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “We have our proof of concept. We know that this is going to work.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “We kept backtracking down to the ground.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “We were a bunch of students who were interested in science.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “We’re not going to get anything done if we just sit here and talk about it.” Jesse Abelson, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “We’re not just playing around anymore in our garage.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “Whatever you do, whatever you’re passionate about, just start.” Jesse Abelson, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet “You set your own limits.” Leeore Levinstein, @Vetiver_Inc Click To Tweet

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Weaving Artisans and Markets Together, with Alicia Wallace, All Across Africa

All Across Africa creates sustainable jobs to alleviate poverty in Africa.

Alicia Wallace, All Across Africa, pictured with artisans

Alicia Wallace, All Across Africa, pictured with artisans

Travel is a key component of Alicia Wallace’s journey. When she was 14 years old, she visited slums in Mexico. At the time, she thought “this isn’t right.” She wondered if there was a model that creates homes, jobs, and dignity for people, without depending on charity. She knew she wanted to commit her talents and energy to serve others.

While attending university in Seattle, Alicia found a job at a law firm. Within two years, she was managing the firm. “I thought that was going to be my career path,” Alicia explains, “to climb a corporate ladder and be in leadership in a large corporation. But there was still this fire in me to travel and change the world.”

A Bucket List Trip Leads to Sustainable Impact

“I was making a good wage,” she says. “Part of my bucket list was ‘go to Africa.’” In 2009, an opportunity came up to travel to Sierra Leone. Alicia thought “How can I say no? That’s on my bucket list.” While she was in Sierra Leone, she says “I learned and saw things that I could not forget.” She was suddenly confronted with the fact that she was living her life in a bubble. “And that became my mission.”

Alicia wanted to grow a solution from the local community. “My first mission there, it was this white savior model,” she acknowledges. Not long after her 2009 medical trip, there was an Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. The team of doctors that had gone every year, did not go for the next two years. “It was this model where we did not develop the community to solve their own problem.” When she returned from her trip she first asked, “How do we create a scholarship fund to send local doctors to school?”

Alicia started looking for opportunities to contribute her talents. “I was interviewing organizations as much as they were interviewing me,” she laughs. “I wanted to understand what sustainability looked like. What did it look like to empower people to make their own decision?”

She interviewed with the nonprofit Rwanda Partners. In her first interview, she and the executive director Greg Stone, argued about development methods and whether microfinance was changing people’s lives. Eventually, she accepted a job with Rwanda Partners and moved to Rwanda. “What I saw when I lived in Rwanda,” Alicia says, “is when you’re creating a job for a person, they have control and power. That’s where I found a difference in economic empowerment. They need an external market. They need to be connected to Europe and America. There isn’t a local demand that is strong enough.”

Working with Greg Stone, Alicia says, “We started creating jobs for men and women locally: farming projects, chicken and egg farms, and pineapple plantations.” Along the way, Greg was gifted several baskets. “He came back to the US and started the get them in front of people through his church, and craft fares. He found a very strong response to the product.” They started an income-generating project through artisan craft, using local artisans and material while connecting them with external markets. “For us, creating jobs became an exporting model where we could return a high wage, lifting people out of poverty much faster than a local market model could.”

When Work Met Luck

Greg and Alicia caught a lucky break when a buyer for Costco happened to walk by a booth where Greg was selling woven products. “Costco was the first customer that we had,” Alicia says. “In this model, we were able to scale supply and demand equally.” By using the Costco “road show” model, they were able to control their growth. “We could take on as many road shows as we wanted in a month,” Alicia explains.

“It was then about making a really good product,” Alicia says. “The story mattered, but the product, at the end of the day, was key. We find that some customers only care about the design, the color, and the quality. They’ll buy it, regardless of it being made by an artisan. They just think it’s a beautiful product. We find others who are looking for a gift and might choose this gift over another gift because they know about the impact.”

In 2013, Greg and Alicia founded All Across Africa. Their products are sold under the KAZI brand. To ensure that the products they sell match the demands of the market, the products are designed in the US and produced by artisans from local material in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and Ghana.

The Impact of All Across Africa

All Across Africa is dedicated to alleviating poverty and creating jobs for men and women in Africa. They produce tens of thousands of units per year. Customers include Costco, ProFlowers, Ethan Allen, Anthropologie, West Elm, One Kings Lane, and over 500 boutique retailers.

The average artisan supports 5.7 dependents. “They’re also creating 1.5 jobs in their area,” Alicia describes. “Because this is a direct foreign investment, new cash introduced, the women are now buying meat in the marketplace and creating a job for the butcher. And the butcher is now paying school fees to the teacher.” Artisans are going from earning perhaps twenty cents per day working on a local farm to earning three to eight dollars per day. For 3,400 men and women, it’s 95% of their income.

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Alicia Wallace

“We’re developing a product with an end-purpose that is creating a job and an income.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “We’re experts in woven products.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “My heart broke. I came back quite angry that we have chosen to live in these bubbles.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “How do we provide the funding, but it’s not reliant on our spring vacation?” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “I was interviewing organizations as much as they were interviewing me.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “I created a reputation for myself that nobody wanted to hire me.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “Business is successful because of hard work and luck.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “I started by looking at magazines and moved to hiring designers and buying forecast trend reports.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “How, when we show up at a trade show, do we look like the other things in the marketplace?” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “I feel like it’s job first, education paired second.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “We’re producing tens of thousands of units annually.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “Artisans on average are supporting 5.7 dependents.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “It’s amazing to see this direct foreign investment circulate and have a multiplier effect.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “You have to trust the mentors and take advice, but you’re the one running your business.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet “An anthill is built by a lot of ants working on their one specific task, moving one grain of sand at a time.” Alicia Wallace, @KAZI_Goods Click To Tweet

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Hope, Cookies, and the End of Relationship Violence, with Junita Flowers, Junita’s Jar

Junita’s Jar donates a portion of their profits to end relationship violence.

Junita’s Jar Products

One year ago, Junita Flowers said, “Clarity comes while you are working.” And, she is always working. So, it comes as no surprise that she launched a new brand, Junita’s Jar. They offer new products, including 3 oz snack packs. She has a new overarching message, #HopeMunchesOn. And her new job title is “Hope Muncher in Chief.” Still, she remains true to her mission. She brings hope to women experiencing relationship violence.

“Junita’s Jar is focused on creating meaningful conversations that foster education and awareness around relationship violence,” Junita explains. A portion of profits from each purchase of Junita’s Jar cookies is donated to support education and awareness initiatives leading to the end of relationship violence.

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Junita Flowers

“We believe in the power of really good food and desserts to bring people together.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “Our overarching message is ‘Hope munches on!’” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “It was survival mode.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “It’s the clarity and the focus of being on the other side of trauma.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “We are a cookie company on a mission.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “Our goal is to be purveyors of hope.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “Everybody wants to be heard. And everybody wants to be validated.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “That’s the movement that I want to be part of creating.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “Even in the smallest of crumbs, goodness still exists.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “I believe we’re all born with this purpose.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “Usually, purpose comes from that place that we’re not the expert.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “Say yes to the uncomfortable things, because that’s where the bulk of lessons are and that’s where your courage appears.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “Be prepared to pivot, but never quit.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet “You have to trust your gut so that you can live with your decision.” @JunitaLFlowers Click To Tweet

 

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When Vision Meets Purpose, with Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet

Hands & Feet creates apparel with inspiring messages and donates 50% of the profits to end childhood hunger.

Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet

Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet

In the US, 13.1 million children struggle with food insecurity. The mission of Hands & Feet is to help end childhood hunger in the United States. According to the company’s Founder, Susan Elwer, “We accomplish this by donating 50% of the profits to our local non-profit partners who are working to end childhood hunger in the United States. There is enough food available in the United States for everyone. The issue is how do we get the food into the hands of the people who need it and at the right time?”

Susan is familiar with food insecurity. “I grew up in a single parent household that relied on welfare for housing, food, and medical needs. Although we had limited financial resources, I never felt like I did without. When it got closer to payday or food stamp day, the contents of our cupboards would dwindle, but I don’t think I gave it much thought.

“Looking back, I can appreciate how good my mom was at meal planning and budgeting. I don’t think it was until around the fourth grade that I realized my circumstances were different than some of my friends. I especially remember never having the option to pack a cold lunch because I received free hot lunch at school. As I got older and realized we didn’t have ‘regular’ money to buy food, trips to the grocery store grew increasingly embarrassing because we had to pay with food stamps. I would typically help with bagging or make myself scarce when it came time to pay.”

Entrepreneurship Was Not in Her Life Plan

She did not grow up imagining herself as an entrepreneur. “As a child, I was quiet and shy. I did what I was told and followed the rules. I didn’t rock the boat – at school or home. As I got older, I knew that if I wanted to have a different life than those I saw around me, I would need to get an education beyond high school. When I first told my mother that I wanted to go to college, she immediately dismissed the idea and said I should get a job instead. At the time her response made me angry. Now, as an adult, I realize she was speaking from a place of fear. She knew she couldn’t help with college expenses so therefore to her; it wasn’t an option.”

Despite the barriers, Susan found a way to complete her degree at Winona State University, where she studies Sociology and Criminal Justice.

“Until four years ago I was a stay at home mother, a role that I loved and embraced wholeheartedly,” Susan says. “When our youngest daughter was in the first grade, I decided to re-enter the workforce. For the past four years, I have worked as an assistant in a pre-school room.”

Turning an Idea into a Business

How did Susan come up with the idea for Hands & Feet? “In late 2015 I was sitting in church and had a vision to create apparel with inspiring and encouraging messages to change the conversation. My vision didn’t go any further than the piece of paper I wrote it on.” She knew it was a good idea, but the idea seemed incomplete. It wasn’t until November 2016, that she came up with a greater purpose for the business.

Susan and Eric Elwer, Hands & Feet

Susan and Eric Elwer, Hands & Feet

“I was working as an assistant in my pre-school classroom. One of the teachers told me that a 4-year-old student of ours had gone the first three months of the school year without a lunch. This broke my heart and brought me to tears. Immediately this brought up memories of growing up on welfare. I was all too familiar with the shame and stigma associated with being on welfare. I knew that this was my opportunity to do something.

“This was when vision met purpose. We took my vision for creating apparel with inspiring messages and combined it with the purpose of helping to end childhood hunger in the United States. In August of 2017, we launched Hands & Feet. We named our company Hands & Feet because we want to be of service to others.”

How did Hands & Feet go beyond the idea phase? “We thought we had a good idea, but we tested the concept with friends, family, and other business people. The feedback we received was extremely positive and encouraging. People agreed that we had a workable concept. From there we reached into our network of people for help on how to build a website, how to produce apparel, how to do PR, to understand who is working on hunger-related issues and more.”

Challenges and Luck

What was their biggest challenge along the way? “One of our biggest challenges continues to be building brand awareness. I have decided not to return to the classroom in the fall so I can devote all my energy to building Hands & Feet.” How have they gotten the word out so far? According to Susan, “Our presence on social media platforms – Facebook and Instagram. Also, we have participated in different pop-up events. This has allowed us to meet our potential customers and tell our story firsthand and build relationships.”

They had a few lucky breaks along the way. “My initial vision for Hands & Feet was to be a retail apparel brand. Shortly after we launched, we had the amazing opportunity to create shirts for the Walk to End Hunger at the Mall of America. Although creating corporate and event-based apparel wasn’t something that we initially thought about offering we quickly realized this is another way to build brand awareness.”

What is Next for Hands & Feet?

“We are in the process of figuring out how to build an infrastructure to support some big corporate opportunities we are pursuing: how to supply hundreds of thousands of shirts for those opportunities. When we do this, our impact will rocket to millions of meals created. Also, we are continuing to build our retail presence organically through a variety of avenues, including pop-ups, makers markets, and other traditional retail outlets.”

Their idea seems to be gaining traction. In 2017, with just a few months of operation, Hands & Feet contributed enough money to their nonprofit partner to provide over 18,000 meals. For 2018 their goal is to create 100,000 meals.

What has been most rewarding for Susan? “The impact Hands & Feet is having in our community and across the United States. In addition, launching my own business has turned me into a dreamer and doer. I’m driven by the unwavering support of my husband Eric and the ability to give my daughters a front row seat to my journey.”

Best Advice for Social Entrepreneurs

What is the best advice that Susan can pass along to early-stage social entrepreneurs? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one expects you to have all the answers. You will be amazed at how willing people are to share their expertise.” She adds, “Slow down and be present. If I hadn’t slowed down and reflected on the need I saw in one 4-year-old boy’s life – Hands & Feet wouldn’t be here today. When you see an opportunity, move on it! One simple act can make an impact beyond your wildest imagination.”

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Susan Elwer

“I had a vision to create apparel with inspiring messages.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “If I was going to wear apparel, I wanted that message to mean something to me.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “It didn’t go anywhere except my journal.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “One of the teachers told me, we’ve got a student who has gone the first three months of school without a lunch.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “It brought back memories of my own childhood.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “I didn’t have a why. I didn’t have a purpose.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “In 2016, vision met purpose.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “We wouldn’t know where best to spend those dollars, so let’s go to the experts.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “Wherever you’re purchasing, that’s where those dollars go.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “Our customers want to feel like they’re making an impact in their own community.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “Going hungry, it’s a silent issue. No one wants to talk about it.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “More often than not, it’s working families.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “This is an OK thing. I can go ask for help.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “How exactly are these garments made? That’s the other part of this equation.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “We want to make sure the product itself has a good backstory.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “Now more than ever, consumers are savvy.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “You can’t build a business by yourself.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “Launching Hands & Feet turned me into a dreamer and a doer.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “Nothings going to get done if you’re just sitting there.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “We didn’t really have a goal. We said, let’s just put this out there and see where it goes.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “Hands & Feet is an apparel company, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to create meals for children.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “It shows strength and courage to be able to ask for help.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet “You don’t have to know it all.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet

“There are people in the world who are more than happy to share their time and expertise with you.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet

“If I hadn’t slowed down and reflected on the needs of this one 4-year-old boy, Hands & Feet would not be here.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet

“There are opportunities out there for all of us.” Susan Elwer, Hands & Feet Click To Tweet

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

 

Five Impact Entrepreneur Fellowships Up for Grabs, with Mary Rick, Impact Hub MSP and FINNovation Lab Collaboration

The Impact Hub Minneapolis – Saint Paul and the FINNovation Lab have teamed up to create a new impact startup incubator. Now they are offering five $50,000 fellowships.

Mary Rick, Impact Hub MSP and FINNovation Lab Collaboration

Mary Rick, Impact Hub MSP, and FINNovation Lab Collaboration

Social Entrepreneurs have a new place to gather. The Impact Hub Minneapolis – Saint Paul (MSP) has teamed up with the FINNovation Lab to occupy a new space at FINNEGANS House in Minneapolis’ East Town District. The Impact Hub MSP will focus on co-working, collaboration, and events. FINNovation Lab is providing venture services for impact entrepreneurs. According to Mary Rick, CEO at FINNovation Lab and Impact Hub MSP Collaboration, “Our mission is to inspire, nourish, and scale inclusive impact enterprises, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.”

The collaboration is off to a fast start. They launched a new FINNovation Fellowship. “What it includes is $50,000 of a living stipend, one year of co-working, and nine months of curated curriculum and mentorship,” Mary explains. “We want to be able to help them at the really, really formative months and years of their business building…We want to give them the resources to make sure they’re kicked off in the right direction.”

The FINNovation Fellowship application period closes on July 15.

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Mary Rick

“It’s a collaboration between two local organizations.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “Impact Hub is essentially a co-working, event, and community space.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We are building a one-stop shop for impact entrepreneurs and enterprises.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “The FINNovation Lab is really doing more of the deep dive and robust venture services.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “The Impact Hub has done a tremendous job over the years of having a lot of different dynamic events.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “It is all one global community and we have a lot of different ways to connect.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We are specifically looking at impact enterprises and impact entrepreneurs.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We want to be that place where people go to really build their business and they have some sort of social purpose.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “Our first program is our Impact Entrepreneur Fellowship Program.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We want to give them the resources to make sure they’re kicked off in the right direction.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We’re industry agnostic.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We’re looking at both the individual and the idea.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “It will be an individually-focused program, not an organization or team-focused program.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We aim to start locally and regionally first.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We think this will be a nationally-recognized program.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We see ourselves as a business incubator.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “This program is entity-type agnostic. We’re accepting for-profit and nonprofit models.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We look to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “Impact Hubs globally are focused on the Sustainable Development Goals.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “Jacquie Berglund is the Founder of the FINNovation Lab.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “I just became a really, really curious person.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “I did a year of rural community development work in Kenya.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “That experience was one of the absolute touchstones in my life.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “We students were not sent in to figure anything out or solve anyone else’s problems. We were sent in to learn.” @maryrick Click To Tweet “It was a big starry-eyed project. We ended up closing our doors.” @maryrick Click To Tweet “I was with Peace Coffee for about five years.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “Trust yourself. Get connected. And figure out how to stay inspired.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet “Look for that next in-person experience.” @maryrick @ImpactHubMSP @FINNOVATIONLab Click To Tweet

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

 

This App Launched a Female Solidarity Movement, with Aine Mulloy, GirlCrew

GirlCrew is a social networking app for women to make new friends.

Elva Carri, Aine Mullo, and Pamela Newenham of GirlCrew

Elva Carri, Aine Mullo, and Pamela Newenham of GirlCrew

It seems that female solidarity has never been more important. Women still struggle to gain meaningful power over their lives and choices. One in five women will experience violence at the hand of their intimate partner. Systemic gender discrimination still exists. Even though women make up 50.8% of the US population, only 39% of all managerial roles are held by women. When it comes to CEO positions, only 4.2% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women.

Aine Mulloy of GirlCrew was born for a time like this. “It has always been important to me to be part of something that is bigger than myself, a company that people feel attached to, and one that is making a positive change somehow.”

Aine participated in her first protest around the age of four. “We staged a protest outside our house, demanding our parents read more of our favorite bedtime story. We wrote out placards attached to broom handles and chanted as we marched around the garden in pajamas and wellies. Unfortunately, our grasp of writing wasn’t the best, and our signs read ‘We wont more!’ But it did work. It was one of my first tastes of social activism, albeit on a small scale.”

When Aine co-founded GirlCrew, she knew she had found like-minded women. “I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many inspiring, brave, and tenacious women through GirlCrew, and I can only hope one day someone may say the same about me. Maybe it’s because I’ve four younger siblings, but I truly believe people have a responsibility to do good, share wisdom, and help one another where and when you can.”

GirlCrew is solving a frequent problem for millions of women worldwide. “It can be really hard to make new friends as an adult, especially if you have moved to a new city or country,” Aine explains.

“GirlCrew is aimed at women looking to make new friends, either because they have moved to a new city or country, or because they have found themselves at a different life stage to their friends. Their friends might be settling down, getting married and having children, but they aren’t. The majority of GirlCrew’s members are women aged 25-40.”

It Started With a Tinder Hack

GirlCrew got its start when one of the company’s co-founders, Elva Carri, used Tinder in an unusual way. Aine tells the story. “One Friday night Elva was staying in because although there was a club night she wanted to go to, she didn’t want to go solo and all her friends were either busy or tired. So, she ‘hacked’ Tinder. She changed her gender setting to male so that her profile would show up to all the other single girls in Dublin where she lives. She put up a profile picture explaining she was actually female and not looking for dates but just looking for some people to go out dancing with. She thought people would think she was crazy but did it anyway. Within 24 hours she had over 100 enthusiastic matches, and GirlCrew grew from there.”

Aine Mulloy, GirlCrew

Aine Mulloy, GirlCrew

Elva knew she was going to need help, so she teamed up with Aine and Pamela Newenham. The three co-founders began growing GirlCrew groups in cities all over the world.

GirlCrew raised funding from private investors as well as the Irish government state agency Enterprise Ireland. GirlCrew makes money through events, partnerships, and subscriptions. They have a premium subscription offering. Premium members get four hosted events per month, as well as various discounts and their own private group. GirlCrew organizes careers events called GirlCrew Pro, and entrepreneur dinners called the Female Founders Supper Club. They have also built partnerships with major corporations. “Microsoft is our main partner for GirlCrew Pro, and Dell EMC is our main partner for the Female Founders Supper Club,” Aine explains.

They Didn’t Always Get It Right

Like any startup, GirlCrew didn’t always get it right. “We initially outsourced the development of our app which was a big mistake” Aine describes. “Thankfully we got an amazing technical advisor on board, who was able to guide us through everything. We had to start over from scratch again, but we did it and brought development in-house. Without our tech advisor, we wouldn’t have known if the developers we interviewed were bluffing and made things up. We might have made some more costly decisions.”

They also experimented with dividing larger groups into smaller groups. “We divided London into East London, South London, North London, West London and Central London.” That did not work out. They learned to keep the city-wide groups together while maintaining positive conversations. They’ve had to learn to be strict about their guidelines, which include respect for others.

Here’s what Aine has learned. “Move fast. Speed is the key to start-up success. You need to have a clear vision of where you’re going, and you need to get there quickly. There’s a phrase in the start-up world which feeds into this, and its ‘done is better than perfect.’ You can always iterate later.”

Growing GirlCrew

GirlCrew is growing rapidly. They have chapters in over fifty cities worldwide and are adding more. For those who are in a location that does not have a local GirlCrew, they also have topic groups such as Trips & Travel, Careers, and Entrepreneurs. “Ultimately, we don’t want any woman to have to be stuck home alone on a Friday night if they want to go out,” Aine says. “We want women everywhere to have a community behind them, and to be able to get support, advice, and recommendations easily from a trusted source.”

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Aine Mulloy

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s incredible to see women come together and banding together.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“There’s the idea of a rising water lifts all boats.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“People felt that they can’t speak up, or when they did, their voices weren’t heard.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I don’t know if all social media is actually social.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“GirlCrew helps that online-offline piece.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“People find housemates through us. They find jobs through us.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s truly social beyond just sharing, sharing, sharing.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Any member can create and host an event.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You’re not relying on someone else to do things for you.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“The sky’s the limit in terms of what people want to do.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Tinder is not the first place you might think of when you’re thinking of female empowerment.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It just really snowballed from there.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It initially grew very organically.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Whatever you put in, you’ll get it back ten-fold.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We were growing GirlCrew as well as having our full-time jobs.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“She met our co-founder, Pamela at an entrepreneur summit.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“The three of us squirreled ourselves away and developed our first business plan.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It was a lot of people telling their friends about it.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We played a couple of pranks along the way.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We’re slightly different to anything else out there at the moment.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s one of those ideas that people seem to love.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We need to get to scale as quickly as we can.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We mapped out city by city.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“The best thing is seeing how much the community has helped one another.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“To me, it’s the small things that are proof that people are willing to help one another.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s great to see that we’ve created something that is positive.” @AineMulloy, @GirlCrewHQ”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

 

Upcycling Food Waste into Tea with a Purpose, with Daniela Uribe, Lazy Bear Tea

Lazy Bear Tea is a socially and environmentally inspired beverage company brewing teas from cascara, the dried coffee fruit.

Daniela Uribe, Lazy Bear Tea

Daniela Uribe, Lazy Bear Tea

I suspect that, like me, you drink coffee…lots of coffee. But, also like me, you’ve probably never held a coffee fruit in your hand. The coffee bean that we are familiar with is the seed of the coffee fruit. And, just like a plumb, peach, or cherry, coffee fruit has a skin and flesh that surrounds the seed. The coffee fruit is known as cascara, the Spanish word for husk. We know what happens with the coffee bean, but what about the husk?

Cascara is commonly a wasted byproduct of coffee production. Lazy Bear Tea purchases cascara to brew into cascara tea, doubling farmer incomes while improving the environment. Cascara is a delicious and nutritious base for beverages traditionally consumed in some coffee-growing countries. Using cascara in beverages not only diverts waste from the ecosystem but also creates additional and meaningful sources of income for coffee farmers.

Coffee is one of the most highly traded agricultural commodities globally, yet most coffee farmers live in poverty. These farmers grow millions of hectares of coffee fruit, often selling the bean for low prices due to limited market access. While direct and fair trade has emerged to address issues of access, a vast income gap still exists for most coffee farmers.

Coffee production yields millions of tons of wasted cascara that is left behind after the inner beans are collected and sold. With no market for the cascara, the fruit piles up, is dumped into waterways, and can pollute local ecosystems. It’s estimated that each hectare of coffee creates 2.25 tons of cascara waste each year. This fruit contributes to 75% of the water pollution associated with coffee production. With over 10 million hectares of coffee globally, there are over 20 million tons of waste each year.

When Lazy Bear Tea purchases cascara, coffee farmers harvest once but profit twice. This means an incredible boost to farmer livelihoods with a minor change to their existing farming practices.

Lazy Bear’s cascara teas are brewed with natural, simple ingredients to celebrate the exceptional flavor and nutrition of the coffee fruit. These teas are like traditional beverages brewed and consumed at home in places like Yemen and Bolivia for hundreds of years, but until now not commercialized in mass markets in a ready-to-drink (RTD) format.

Daniela Uribe’s Early Start to Entrepreneurship

Daniela grew up in Pereira, Colombia. “I spent endless days playing in the streets with friends,” she explains. “One of our favorite things to do was come up with ways to make a little money to buy ice cream and other treats after school. We created dozens of businesses out of our parents’ kitchens and living rooms, so I guess I’ve had an entrepreneurial knack for a while!”

Daniela spent her childhood weekends with cousins on coffee farms and got to know about coffee production. “Colombia was still suffering from a great deal of violence in my childhood,” she says. “The obvious inequality of our society was evident and painful even to a child. I’ve been dreaming of ways to be useful in the world since I can remember. As I child I would find small ways to make a difference. It was particularly inspiring for me to see my mom’s dedication to our community and her own sense of responsibility to be of use was deeply ingrained in me.”

When Daniela was a teenager, she and her mother moved to Washington, D.C. as political asylees. Still, Daniela wanted to make a difference. “I tried the academic research route briefly as an undergraduate with ambitions to get a Ph.D. and help make sense of what was happening through research,” she explains. “It simply did not work for me. I wanted to be closer to the ‘real world,’ co-envisioning solutions.”

The Drink that Made the Difference

Although Daniela grew up in a coffee-growing family in Colombia, she had never had cascara tea. Then a cousin brought her cascara to try. “I looked at him like he was crazy. What do you mean, the trash that piles up on the farm? You want me to drink this?”

However, it was love at first sip. “The first time I tried the tea I was blown away,” she exclaims. “Something that tasted that good had the potential to change the life of farmers and lessen the contamination of waterways near coffee farms.”

Daniela Uribe stands near a mound of cascara.

Daniela Uribe stands near a mound of cascara.

Daniela wondered about the commercial viability of cascara. Around this same time, Starbucks and Blue Bottle Coffee introduced cascara-based drinks to their menus. “That’s when I knew we were onto something bigger. I bought a few pounds of cascara, started brewing concoctions after work” Daniela recruited her life-partner, Drew Fink, and one of Drew’s classmates, Erik Ornitz. They rented space in a commercial kitchen called Commonwealth Kitchen.

To sell the first few bottles of their cascara tea, Daniel put a few bottles into a cooler, strapped it on her back and rode her bicycle from shop to shop. “Those first few stores allowed us to do in-store demos and tell people more about our company and mission. It was those first few people we spoke with who would become the pioneer customers and backers of our vision for Lazy Bear Tea.”

Learning as They Go

“There are lots of things to keep track of and learn as you get started: health permits, scaling recipes, learning industry terms,” Daniela explains. “We had to learn that our initial customers were not the people who would eventually buy and drink our tea, but rather the gatekeepers to those individuals, like store owners, buyers, cafe managers.”

Daniela learned that store owners might not share their passion for helping coffee farmers. “They may not share the same priorities or values we had created our product around. We had to create new sales materials and pitches that would resonate with them. We had to understand the motivations of many different players that are critical to your success as a food business.”

As Lazy Bear Tea is scaling past their first city into the Northeastern United States, they have had to continue to learn. “Learning how to go from proof of concept to scaling even at a very small stage. How to activate distributors, plan out production, make projections, etc.”

The Reward in the Journey

“Getting up every morning and knowing I will face a new set of challenges and questions to solve,” Daniela describes. “Not knowing what is ahead yet having clear purpose and vision is a really exciting place to be in at this point in my career and life.

“Today, there is a limited supply of dried, processed cascara, which makes our supply chain development work critical. We have already begun to build our supply chain in Colombia where we are working with the Coffee Growers Federation to meet demand from Lazy Bear Tea and other buyers. Furthermore, we will pool cascara production by working with a community wet mill project in the town of Belen de Umbria working with dozens of female coffee growers. This model significantly streamlines the collection and drying process and improves the quality of the cascara sourced. We will also be activating new retail partners and regions to boost sales and exposure to our brand and mission.”

Daniela’s Lessons Learned

Daniela had this advice for early-stage social entrepreneurs. “Solidify your passion and conviction very early on. Use that passion to recruit a small circle of supporters who will be there to support you and productively challenge you along the way. Running a small business is really hard work with daily ups and downs. While you know the problems you are solving matters and your solution is worth a shot, there will be countless people who will stand in the way of your success. Tapping into your passion and the clear reasons you are doing what you are doing will keep you doing what you must do.”

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Daniela Uribe:

[spp-tweet tweet=”“There are about 22 million tons of coffee waste produced every year.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Every farm struggles with this issue.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s incredibly polluting.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I spent all my weekends just roaming through the fields.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I became quite obsessed.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I thought it was a really delicious idea.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It could divert waste from the farm and be a source of income for the farmers.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It would be so difficult to start a company based on an ingredient most people had never heard of.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“If that was not a sign, I don’t know what else could be.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“For us, that was a huge turning point.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“If I don’t do this, I will never forgive myself. I can’t not do this.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We found a shared commercial kitchen in Boston called CommonWealth Kitchen.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s a food incubator that welcomes companies like us.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“All the steps were very inevitable, once it was set in motion.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I would just go around to get people to either love the tea or feel so sorry for me, they would say yes.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You learn along the way.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Your first gatekeeper is that store owner or buyer at that supermarket.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Our hypothesis was that everybody would love the impact story.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We had to pivot a little bit from relying so much on our halo.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It was humbling to realize that the story would get us a long way, but not all the way.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Sloths love the coffee region where I grew up.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“There is this affinity we felt with this chill sloth.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“So far we’ve funded it ourselves.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We were eligible for iLab fellowships, Rock fellowships.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We’re able to just learn and be really scrappy with what we have.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We went online, Googled ‘contract manufacturers beverages northeast.’” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“In this business, so much of it is about relationship and trust.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You’re going to come across so many challenges.” Daniela Uribe, @LazyBearTea”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

 

Elisa Birnbaum, Author of “In the Business of Change: How Social Entrepreneurs are Disrupting Business as Usual”

In the Business of Change features stories of changemakers who use the power of business to address society’s most pressing problems.

Elisa Birnbaum, author of In the Business of Change

Elisa Birnbaum, author of In the Business of Change

Elisa Birnbaum is the publisher and editor-in-chief of SEE Change Magazine, a digital publication of social entrepreneurship and social change. You may recall her interview from June 2017. Elisa has a new book out, In the Business of Change: How Social Entrepreneurs are Disrupting Business as Usual.

The book highlights how social entrepreneurs are using business savvy to create change in their communities. Elisa tells stories from a wide-range of sectors, including employment, food, art, education, and social justice. Each chapter focuses on lessons learned and measurable impact. The book provides practical tips for starting and scaling a social enterprise.

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Elisa Birnbaum:

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s part storytelling and part lessons for those who want to start their own social enterprise.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s for the average person who wants inspiring storytelling.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Look at all of this amazing work being done.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I wanted to provide a broad spectrum of people doing things in different sectors.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“The book has actually been on my mind for a long time.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s good to tell stories in different medium.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You want to get these stories out there in as many ways as you can.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“This was a lot more strategic.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“There were a couple of chapters that ended up changing.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You have to be flexible.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Social entrepreneurs are taking a bigger role in systems change.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I didn’t start writing until I had a contract.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I had a book on my mind for many years.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“People don’t get to see the grit, the passion, and the work that goes into it.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“These stories, I find so inspiring.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I enjoyed the process more than I imagined I would.” @ElisaBirnbaum @SEEChangemag”]

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Making a Sustainable Difference, with Sasha Kramer, SOIL

SOIL is working in Haiti to design, test, and implement social business models to increase access to sanitation services.

Sasha Kramer with SOIL Compost Director, Jean Marie Noel

Sasha Kramer with SOIL Compost Director, Jean Marie Noel

When the business model is right, anything can be a valuable asset, even human waste. SOIL uses a business model that provides sanitation services, improves soil fertility, and creates livelihoods in Haiti. SOIL collects human waste and transforms it into compost that can be safely used in agriculture.

Ecologist Sasha Kramer of SOIL describes her work this way. “We are taking human waste, something that is one of the largest factors in public health issues in the world. And, we are transforming it into something that I, as ecologist thinks is valuable in the world, which is soil, for rebuilding soil fertility and improving agriculture and reforestation.” And, by using social business models, they are creating livelihoods for Haitians. This business model could be a way to provide sanitation services to some of the 2.6 billion people worldwide who lack access to a toilet.

SOIL seeks to prove that it’s possible to sustainably provide affordable and dignified household sanitation services even in the world’s most under-resourced communities. In SOIL’s simple social business design, wastes from SOIL in-home toilets – locally branded as “EkoLakay” – are collected weekly and transported to a composting waste treatment facility to be safely treated and transformed into rich, agricultural-grade compost. This compost is then sold for agricultural application, improving both the fertility and water retention of the soil. Revenue from monthly toilet user fees and compost sales are collected to support ongoing project costs and to showcase the potential for private sector involvement in the provision of affordable and sustainable sanitation services in the world’s most impoverished and water-scarce communities.

An Early Start

Sasha Kramer is an ecologist and human rights advocate who has been living and working in Haiti since 2004. But her journey started much earlier. “I grew up in an isolated rural community in upstate NY, but I was lucky that my parents worked hard to expose me to the inequalities in the world through books and movies,” Sasha explains. “I especially remember being influenced by a book called ‘The Best of Life Magazine,’ which had incredible photos from heroic times in history.

“I was always aware that I was lucky to grow up in safety and comfort and it made me want to find a way to balance my undeserved luck through finding a career where I could challenge the systems that create the conditions where not everyone can experience the same luck that I did.”

Sasha first came to Haiti in 2004 as a human rights observer in the wake of a coup. She spent the next two years traveling in and out of Haiti. “I fell in love with the country,” she says. “It became very clear to me that the most pervasive of human rights abuses in Haiti is poverty.”

A Misstep

In her goal to create a sustainable difference, Sasha says she did not always get it right. “Our initial misstep was one that is not at all uncommon,” she explains. “It’s the idea that providing the infrastructure is going to solve the problem. It’s relatively easy to come in and build a bunch of toilets, give them to people, step out, take the photos and say the project is completed. I think that has been the issue with development projects worldwide.

“Over the years, I’ve come to recognize how naive that really was to assume that, where the level of need was greatest, that people’s willingness to volunteer would be higher. In fact, it’s just the opposite. People who are struggling just to live don’t have time to clean up someone else’s waste and not making a living doing so.”

After three years of giving away toilets, SOIL realized that their model was not working. “We knew that we needed to find a way for people to have a sanitation service that people would want so much that they would be willing to pay something for it.”

Then came the devastating earthquake of 2010. SOIL sent half of their team to Port-au-Prince to see how they could be helpful. For four years, SOIL provided emergency services. Through that emergency response experience, SOIL designed a toilet that uses a replaceable container.

“We took what we had learned from the earthquake in terms of toilet design and waste treatment and brought them back to Cap-Haitien. That’s how we ended up designing our social business for household sanitation.”

SOIL’s Impact

SOIL’s EkoLakay household sanitation social business pilot is providing over 1,000 households in the greater Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince regions with dignified, in-home sanitation. And SOIL’s EcoSan waste treatment facilities treat and transform more than 500 tons of human waste annually, providing a powerful example of how to affordably and effectively increase access to sustainable sanitation services worldwide.

Even as a small grassroots effort, SOIL’s initiative is now one of the most promising tests globally of the paradigm-shifting hypothesis that sanitation no longer needs to focus on waste disposal, but rather on the ecologically beneficial and economically viable nutrient recapture and agricultural reuse of human waste.

SOIL’s model is also one of the few interventions globally that have shown progress towards creating a working social business model for providing sustainable sanitation services to informal urban settlements.

However, Sasha reminds us, “SOIL’s technology and service have been specifically designed for Haiti’s cultural and environmental context. Although most components of the sanitation service we provide are relevant for growing urban areas around the world, replication of our approach would require thoughtful adaptation to the local context in which it was being applied.”

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Sasha Kramer:

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I think about it from the perspective of an ecologist.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We’re transforming a public health risk into an environmental solution.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“2.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to a toilet.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Globally, soil fertility is declining.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We learned that lesson the hard way.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I was very curious to understand these two different perspectives.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“By being forced to start slowly, it gives you a chance to establish the relationships.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We designed a system that is not heavily reliant on heavy infrastructure.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“You’re going to fall on your face so many times along the way.” Sasha Kramer, @SOILHaiti”]

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