How Chrissie Lam Took a Novel Idea and Turned It Into A Flourishing Social Business

This article was written by Tobias Roberts for Change Creator Magazine.

We have all heard inspiring stories of how massive corporations got their humble starts in some struggling college student´s garage. Growing from a one-person entrepreneurial idea to a multinational corporation employing thousands of people can be difficult to imagine.

Chrissie Lam, the founder of the “Love is Project”, however, offers an encouraging story of how a novel idea, focused effort, and great intentions can come together to launch a successful and flourishing business model that impacts people from around the world.

We sat down to talk with Chrissie and learn about the story of how the “Love is Project” took off.

How did the Love Is Project Get Started?

Chrissie spent much of her career working in the fashion industry for companies such as American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch. According to her LinkedIn page, she has leveraged 12 years of experience in trend forecasting for multi-billion dollar brands to help translate global trends into successful product lines.

At the same time, Chrissie is an avid world traveller who has been to 104 different countries. Her experiences in meeting people and different cultures from around the world helped her to make contacts with inspiring people and organizations doing uplifting work to help people living in marginalized situations of poverty.

According to Chrissie, “what is interesting about (my) travel is that I want to incorporate my travel with my job.” After leaving her corporate job about two and a half years ago, she decided to dedicate more time to her interests in international development and design. While visiting Kenya, she spent time working with different women´s artisan groups of the Maasai people.

The support she offered these groups in product design eventually led to a unique beaded bracelet that could be marketed in order to help these women support their families and feed their children.

While this international development work that she participated in was originally launched as a personal photo project and social media campaign, she realized that there was enormous potential for the bracelets made by the women of the Maasai people to grow into something much more.

About two years ago she created a brand focused on using those bracelets to get people to talk about what love means to them.

Using her contacts from her previous corporate jobs, Chrissie pitched the bracelet idea to American Eagle and received a $250,000 order for the bracelets made by groups of women from Kenya.

The organic grocery store Whole Foods followed up shortly after that with another massive order that helped jumpstart the business. Since that initial starting point, the “Love Is Project” has grown to work with around 1,200 artisans from 9 different countries around the world.

Financially, her business has made 1.2 million dollars in revenue in just over 2 years of operations.

Importance of Staying Focused

Starting up an entrepreneurial endeavor usually comes with an enormous outpouring of energy and enthusiasm. For many small startups, however, there is a tendency to want to branch out in several different directions and try to capture the seemingly endless opportunities for growth that are out there. Chrissie, however, stresses the importance of maintaining a singular focus during the initial startup phase of her company.

“My (current) challenge is that I keep creating more countries and artisan groups (that we work with),” Chrissie mentions. “But I want to make sure that goes well before branching out. It is important to do one thing and do it well….and that is what I’m aiming for. As we grow there will be other opportunities, but capital wise…it’s good to do one thing well to get out of the gate.”

By staying focused and grounded in the bracelet industry and the corresponding media campaigns that they run, Chrissie has been able to maintain 100 percent of the equity in her business and stay completely self-funded. Her team is made up of a group of five freelancers and her mother who is currently helping her with structuring and operations.

Marketing Tips from Chrissie Lam

Chrissie says that the “Love is Project is essentially “a media company that happens to sell bracelets.” She believes wholeheartedly in the importance of good storytelling and offering compelling visuals to help her clients identify and engage with the 1,200 artisans making the bracelets around the world.

“I’m not the first person to put love on a bracelet,” Chrissie says, “but it´s the message behind (that makes the difference). It’s not just a plastic bracelet, but a product that is unique to each country. We use local resources and cultural history to make each bracelet unique.”

In each country where they work, the “Love is Project” has a group of photographers and videographers that help to make the storytelling compelling enough to make the product personal for the clients.

The combination of solid brand assets, great storytelling that highlights the artisans and the impact made, and a high quality, convincing product were important in helping to launch the brand. “People see the depth of our story and our (bracelet) collections and get excited about what we´re about,” Chrissie mentions. “We´re not just creating jobs, but also spreading the message of what is love across social media.”

Making Connections

Chrissie also mentions the importance of taking the time to meet people who could become future clients. She goes to several tradeshows each year and actively seeks to gain press attention for the “Love is Project.” “It is very important to do tradeshows to connect,” Chrissie says. “People want to meet you, hear your story, see the product in person.” She goes on to say that “having press (is) great for awareness.

You have to really be doing everything, and growing your email campaigns just to make sure you´re not leaving money on the table.”
Recently they were featured on the cover of Oprah Magazine while also being highlighted on Good Morning America. This has allowed the “Love is Project” to benefit from several different marketing channels. While they mostly market directly to consumers, they also have wholesale clients such as American Eagle, Whole Foods, Bloomingdales, Macy´s, among others.

By creating a solid proof of concept and focusing on persuasive media campaigns that are authentic (“real people sharing real messages,” according to Chrissie), the “Love is Project was also able to leverage a variety of publicity and marketing channels. Several influencers on social media channels helped spread the message. Celebrities like Anne Hathaway also have worn the bracelets to help create important, organic viral moments for the business. This, of course, led to more shareable content. The project also created a gratitude book, where they share personal “thank you´s” from customers to the artisans in each country.

Pay It Forward Business Model

As business is focused on improving the lives of women artisans from around the world, the “Love is Project” also incorporates a unique and inspiring business model that Chrissie calls the “Pay it Forward” business model.

“The idea is to do something good and someone else will as well,” Chrissie says. “The profits from each country help to fund the project in another country.” Originally started in Kenya, the project then expanded into Indonesia, and Ecuador following Chrissie´s travels around the globe and the organizations and individuals she met. Besides reinvesting the profits to incorporate more global artisan groups, Chrissie also makes it a priority to give back some of the profit to local charities and organizations.

“We are still a startup, so we have to make sure our company is (financially) stable,” Chrissie, says. “As we continue to grow we will be able to do even more. It is good to try and put money back into local communities.”

Entrepreneur Lessons from the Love Is Project

  • Stay Focused on a Specific Project at the Beginning
    • It is tempting to want to spread your business in several different directions from the outset. By staying focused on a specific product, market, or strategy from the outset, you will better be able to get your company or brand off the ground.
  • Learn Every Aspect of Entrepreneurship for Better Management down the road
    • The “lean business model” requires entrepreneurs to learn every aspect of their business. Even if you don´t actively engage in every aspect of your business, it is important to understand so that you can more effectively manage those areas of your business that you outsource or hire in the future.
  • Stay Open to Different Types of Markets
    • Chrissie and the Love is Project got their start selling wholesale to American Eagle and Whole Foods, but now sell direct to consumer. Stay open to different types of marketing schemes to attract different types of clients.
  • Importance of good photography/videography
    • You can do simple stuff on your own with your iPhone, but be willing to spend the money for campaigns and important advertising material that will captivate your potential clients.

Listen to the full interview with Chrissie Lam Here

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How to Start Creating a Brand That Matters with Mona Amodeo

This article was written by Tobias Roberts and was originally published in Change Creator Magazine.

People in business know the importance of branding. Besides setting you apart from competitors, a brand can also promote company recognition and represents the unique promise you bring to your customers. From traditional logos and symbols, to video-based outreach on social media, and even to the unique customer service you provide, branding certainly transcends most aspects of how businesses function.

Mona Amodeo, founder and president of the IDG group, believes that building a brand that matters should go beyond simply improving the profit margins of your company. Instead of employing and promoting your brand for short-term business visions and purposes, Mona believes that successful brand development can positively impact your customers, employees, the community where your business works, and the wider world.

Who is Mona Amodeo?

Mona has a Ph.D. in Organization Development and Change, and works with several companies and organizations promoting Branding from the Core®, a multi-disciplinary approach to strategic brand development. She also is involved in helping businesses to become more engaged with their local communities and develop sustainable business operations while making corporate social responsibility an elemental aspect of business identity.

After working as part of a team at the University of West Florida making documentary films to tell the stories of people around the world, Mona gradually transitioned into finding ways to help businesses tell their stories as well. “I became interested in the power of organizations to be a force in the world in a positive way,” says Mona. She wanted to help organizations matter more to the people who work for them, the communities they are in, and the wider world, and believed that brands had the unique ability to do just that.

The Changing Face of Branding

“Everybody has a different idea of what a brand is,” Mona clarifies. “For me, a brand is simply the associations people make when they hear the name (of a business), and the meaning that people associate with that.” In a sense, then, branding is the intentional process of creating meaning.

A couple decades ago, manufacturing processes all made similar products. The early pioneers in the industry of branding relied on psychology and the need to create an identity to convince customers that their products were different. The history of branding, then, is closely associated with discovering how to tap into that human need to belong and to identify with something.

Over the years, the underlying principles behind the beginnings of the process of branding remain very similar. However, how we use those principles and what people are looking to identify with, is shifting as our society changes.

“I believe that we can use this idea of wanting to belong and of wanting to be a part of something to engage people in a different way of living,” Mona states. She goes on to say that business should utilize the desire for people to belong “to connect people to things that matter to them and to things that will leave the world a little bit better.”

Changing Consumer Demand

Branding is usually seen from a marketing standpoint. We want people to recognize the product or service that our company offers in order to develop a loyal customer base. However, Mona believes that people today are less interested in the sometimes trifling product differentiation and much more eager to attach their loyalties to businesses that tap into their wider sense of identity and purpose.

“With products and services,” Mona admits, “there is such parity…and very little real difference.” Without undermining the importance of product quality, she believes that people want to follow and be a part of things that they identify with and that reflect positively on that identity.

Businesses that promote the ideas of purpose and responsibility (both environmentally and socially) not as an add-on corporate social responsibility gesture, but as foundational to who they are and how they operate, will be able to capture the growing consumer demand for businesses that offer products and services that reinforce who they area.

If 86 percent of Americans will support a brand that advocates for a cause they believe in, companies that don’t actively attempt to tap into their customer´s needs for identity and purpose, might be losing out on business.

The Process

Mona says that the first step in building a brand that matters to potential customers is through helping leadership teams at different businesses identify their values and discover what their story is. “Every organization has to answer these questions,” Mona believes. “Who are you and why should I care?” The answers to these questions help consumers discover who you are, what you believe in as a company, and what you can offer that sets your business apart.

From a branding perspective, the most important element is not just how we tell our stories, but what those stories actually are. The difference that we want to make in our communities and in the world is what people want to be a part of in today´s society.

By aligning your business plan with a branding strategy that taps into the need for identification and purpose, businesses can build a loyal customer following.

“Creating a tribe of people who want to be a part of your business because it represents something they believe in is essential,” Mona states. “Branding is the vehicle for building meaning and for connecting people (as your most valuable resource) to create your most valuable asset (your business´s reputation).”

Shifting Business Culture

The process of creating a brand that matters, both to employees, customers, and the wider world, begins with businesses and organizations that are willing to change their company culture. “I like to think of culture as the operating system of a company,” Mona says. “It is what holds everything together. If that operating system is not correct, then there is nothing that will hold the system together.”

Actively changing a business culture begins with what Mona calls an identity narrative, which is what the organization says to itself.

“It is important for leaders to understand that this identity narrative cannot be forced down on people, but is rather created through dialogue.”

Having people in your company critically reflecting on their values, how those values affect their behavior, and what sets them apart from their competitors has to live in the hearts of the people who are a part of the organization. This is what we call Digital Conversations™️ here at Change Creator. 

“A brand story is a co-creation,” Mona recognizes. “It is what you say to the world and what the world says about you. You have to be clear about where you want to go…and then translate that story and create a performance culture that reflects that narrative.”

Convincing Versus Connecting

Whereas traditional branding focused on convincing consumers that your product or service was superior to those of your competitors, this new type of branding that Mona talks about is more focused on connecting on a deep level with a customer base that shares vision, purpose, and identity that your brand communicates.

The best way to connect with customers is through the authenticity of the story that you tell to the marketplace. “You create authenticity by engaging people inside your organization with this narrative,” Mona says, “and connecting them to this sense of purpose and why we´re all here.” She goes on to say that collective purpose creates a level of performance that cannot be forged, and this in turn creates genuine motivation for people in your company to be a part of what the brand is attempting to communicate.

“When you tap into the inner sense of people´s desire to do something that matters…to have an impact beyond the moment, that’s a whole different level,” Mona believes. “When you tap into that, when you present people with challenges, innovation arises.”

A Few Important Business Lessons from this New Concept of Branding

Branding has a tremendous power to create connections because it is focused on connecting with people´s innermost sense of self. Through engaging in the process of changing the culture and forging a brand that matters, a business can not only prosper but also make powerful differences in the world. Below are a few key business insights that arise from the challenge of taking your concept of branding beyond a hip company name or a colorful logo.

Consumer demand is changing due to the interconnectedness of our digital world. Now more than ever people are demanding that businesses act ethically, and people are much more willing to show loyalty to a company that shares a purpose and an identity that they can connect with.

Branding is a vehicle to create a reputation. Instead of simply adding corporate social responsibility as an add-on, making it a foundational aspect of your business culture will allow your authenticity to shine through so that customers can connect with who you are and what your business stands for.

Creating a brand that matters and that is authentic begins with fundamentally changing company culture. This cannot be a top-down process, but rather has to be forged from internal dialogues that engage people who belong to the organization.

Creating a brand that matters is more about connecting with people who interact with your business than convincing them to purchase what you have to offer. From an employee standpoint, connections on a deep level allow innovation to arise. From a customer perspective, connections allow them to allow your company to forge a part of their identity.

Listen to our full interview with Mona here…

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How Sarah Kauss Grew S’well into a $100M Company Combating Plastic (interview)

SWELL change creator

Humanity has failed its planet remorselessly.

Freshwater resources have diminished by 25%, oceanic dead zones have ballooned, and we’ve produced 6 billion tonnes of plastic waste since 2015. We buy a million plastic bottles every minute. The resulting fragments of waste have become suspended just beneath the ocean’s surface, where they’re consumed by marine creatures and, ultimately, people. So goes the lifecycle of toxic waste.

Humanity is perched somewhere between enlightenment and extinction, and we need thousands of eco-heroes to tilt us towards a more hope-filled future. Sarah Kauss is one such warrior, and her efforts to hack away at plastic usage has grown into a $100 million dollar business named S’well. You could call it a bottle production company, but if that were true, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes would be speaking about more interesting things. The truth? S’well is a movement, and the dying world is paying attention to it.

If you think a single trendy product can’t carry a revolution, you haven’t met Sarah Kauss. Her reusable bottle, which keeps drinks cold all day, has become an icon of social advocacy. She’s built her brand on the back of enough ecological causes to make UNICEF blanch. Its revenue brings clean water to the most vulnerable children in the world. It fights alongside cancer research groups, plants thousands of trees each year, and is leading humanity towards an AIDS-free day.

S’well is as famous for its causes as it is for refusing to seek out angel investors when it was still a sparkle in Sarah Kauss’ eye. She pumped $30,000 of her own money into the startup instead, then patiently nudged it towards success.

Her far-sightedness has become an inextricable a part of her brand, which is why S’well products aren’t bottles. They’re hydration accessories. S’well is not a business. It’s a picture of the future. Kauss is not a social entrepreneur. She’s a dreamer, and her goal is to displace 100 million bottles by 2020.

Overcoming Hopelessness

She’s no stranger to hopelessness, and that’s precisely the reason she’s managed to bring hope to a situation that seemed doomed from the start. Humanity’s race towards its own extinction has gathered enough inertia to carry it towards its own horrific end, so it needs leaders who’ve learned how to find light in dark places. “No matter how insurmountable the situation may seem,” says Kauss, “I’ve been there before and always come out okay.” She keeps a five-year diary to remind herself of what she’s managed to accomplish in the past. This leaks into her approach to social entrepreneurship, which must push against humankind’s distress until something breaks through.

The term “social entrepreneurship” was coined in the Eighties. It’s a new approach to societal distress, so every leader must invent their own business model. That many of the world’s most successful social entrepreneurs are potent branders is no coincidence—they must invent needs in a compelling way while simultaneously invigorating causes that have traditionally attracted indifference.

Sarah Kauss is no different.

As a Harvard Business School graduate, she’s refused to squeeze herself into old fashioned business models. “It might be good to say that I had a complex business plan with detailed financial goals, but I didn’t. I had a basic business plan with this amazing ambition to enhance the drinking experience in the hopes of ridding the world of plastic bottles.”

Sounds simple, but you can’t build an empire out of dreams.

The road towards a plastic-free future is a challenging one requiring slow, steady growth.

“I wanted to position S’well as a premium brand and not just a reusable water bottle. I set out to learn everything I could about retail and manufacturing to bring this idea for a new kind of reusable bottle to life. Then I hit the pavement hard, going to 17 trade shows my first year. But I didn’t say yes to every opportunity that came my way and took growth slowly. This was pivotal to creating and maintaining our brand positioning.”

The trendy S’well bottle is a miracle of industrial design, but it’s also every bit as elegant as the brand itself. You want to drink out of this bottle, but maybe its contents are infused with a little hope and a generous sprinkling of spirit.

If you had the entire world’s ear right now, what would you say about our plastic pollution problem?

“Action is our friend and together we can do more by doing less. Here’s what I mean: the problem of plastic can be overwhelming. We’re bombarded with stats and stories that can create paralysis because you just don’t know where to begin or believe that your individual actions can make a difference. But they can. If we can find ways to simplify the challenge and offer easy solutions to act on, we’ll be able to get more people on board. That’s what we’re doing with the Million Bottle Project. We’re trying to educate people on the impact of single-use plastic bottles and the simple steps we all can take to reduce consumption.”

When you started S’well, how did you overcome the fear of losing it all?

“I so believed in the business I was creating and the good that S’well could do that it helped push any fear aside. I [also] had an amazing network of people who were willing to help me learn from their experience. This goodwill only made me that much more determined to be successful.”

What have been your biggest challenges growing S’well?

We had to on-board new people and new systems while trying to maintain quality and deliver an enormous amount of product around the world. We made it through the crises of unexpected growth and took a hard look at the business. We made some tough decisions about certain partnerships, created a few new relationships, further built our infrastructure, and basically recalibrated.”

You never raised funding. Why did you take that approach and how did you make it work?

“Using $30, 000 of my own funds was about being in control—growing the business the way I felt made the most sense for the brand. I wanted to keep the consumer at the forefront and not have to settle in an effort to grow the business quickly. Through patience, I was able to make it work. From the start, I wanted to position S’well as a premium brand and not just a reusable water bottle. It was—and is—a hydration accessory. This new concept took time to take off.”

What can we expect from S’well over the next year?

“We’ll be launching new accessories and some exciting new products, plus a range of fresh designs and collaborations. We’ll also be working with our partners, like UNICEF USA, RED, and Breast Cancer Research Foundation.”

Based on your experience and success as a true change creator, what key lessons would you share with a mentee?

“We all dream of growth, but if you don’t have the right people in place when it comes, it can be daunting. Having the right talent from the start will not only help you grow faster, but give you more agility when you’re punching above your weight.”

Speaking to Sarah Kauss is like getting a fresh injection of entrepreneurial spirituality.

She’s replacing industry analyses with determination, strategic triangles with optimism, and basic logic models with hope. That’s not to say she’s abandoned theoretical frameworks, only that she’s throwing all the optimism she has at them. And it’s working.

Stanford Business Review once called social entrepreneurship “a wave of creative destruction that remakes society.” When you’re dealing in drastic goals like AIDS and cancer, all the branding talent in the world can’t save you from compassion fatigue. Sarah Kauss seemed to understand that right from the start, so her secrets to success include patience and autonomy—and why shouldn’t they?

Entrepreneurship is about far more than just strategy. It is, at heart, a grand attempt at personal greatness, and Sarah Kauss is now one of America’s top female achievers. That means she has, indeed, achieved greatness. That greatness just happens to have pumped many of its profits back into the earth.

S’well’s core beliefs are “Sip well. Serve well. Sleep well.” That’s enough philosophy to turn a droll day into something brighter, and those tiny echoes of change are the figurative butterfly wings that cause hurricanes on the other side of the world.

The wind is already turning into a gale. Kauss’ 1 Million Bottle Project recently took the brand to the Sundance Film Festival, where 6,000 people took a pledge to abandon plastic bottles for a year. The product waltzed onto the pages of O Magazine, through Fashion Week, and into TED gift baskets.

It all began in 2001 when an unknown accountant named Sarah Kauss left for business school. That’s when the first plane hit the Twin Towers and the world became covered in thick, sticky dread.

The next year, Kauss opened her five-year journal and realized how far the world had come since September 11.

She had watched the world dig an impossible hope out of the ashes, which is why she can see beyond today’s smoggy horizon. And if Sarah can see the sun, maybe, just maybe, it’s because it is, indeed, rising.

Check out one of our favorite bottles!

Key Takeaways

  • Rapid-fire start-up growth isn’t the only way to broach social entrepreneurship. Sometimes, slow and steady builds the strongest brand.
  • Build a network of supporters who will fuel your determination during the first years of your business plan.
  • Simple business plans can build empires if you develop a powerful brand identity.
  • Sometimes preserving your vision is more important than preserving your bank account.
  • Premium brands take time to take off.
  • Prepare for growth by hiring people who can manage your mature business from the start.
    Social causes require work, not complexity. People need small, achievable actions if they’re to be motivated to create change.

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10 Business Lessons From The Head of Legal Policy at B Lab

Change Creator sat down with Rick Alexander, the Head of Legal Policy at B Lab who is also an expert in Corporate Governance and Benefit Corporations; Author and Speaker on Governance Topics.

B Lab is a non profit organization dedicated to helping corporations and business owners shift their focus from profits to the impact that they have on their community as well as the planet.

This interview led us through the process of becoming a more socially-conscious business owner and being the change needed to redefine the way that the world conducts business.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about what it takes to make this change, here are the top 10 key takeaways and lessons that we received while speaking with Rick.

1) The Issue for Aspiring Social Entrepreneurs Lies in the Current Business Infrastructure

“We think that the current infrastructure much more encourages companies to put profit above purpose,” Rick told us early on in the interview.

The issue with the current business structure is that there is a heavy emphasis on the financial bottom line for business owners. The legal systems that are currently in place for businesses prioritize profit over societal impacts and also make it difficult for already established corporations to turn their attention over to these areas of focus.

Therefore, in order to change the way that we do business and to make it easier for corporations to focus on social good, we need to change the systems that we have in place.

2) Change Begins With the Legal System and Our Bottom Lines

At the moment, business is almost entirely focused on earning and infinite growth.

Our legal system encourages owners of corporations to set their sights on making more money while not putting equal importance on the ability of a company to make an impact on the world around them.

While capital is certainly an important part of running a business, purpose and impact should be a main focus as well.

How do we change the system so that we focus on all of these aspects? To make this change, we need to implement tools that make it so that the legal systems recognize the importance of focusing on profit, economic impact, and social impact.

3) What a Benefit Corporation Is

Simply put, a benefit corporation is a type of corporate entity that deviates from the normal profit-driven model and instead seeks to benefit all of those working within the company as well as the outside world.

In addition, benefit corporations are also focused on being more transparent and accountable when it comes to their business operations.

4) A Benefit Corporation Is Still a C Corp (With Some Minor Differences)

A C Corp is a term that refers to a tax status given by the U.S. government to corporate entities that are taxed separately from their owners. Although it may seem as though a benefit corporation would differ from this structure, a benefit corporation is still a C Corp. The only difference between the two is that a benefit corporation explicitly states their intent to focus on profit as well as their impact within and outside of their company.

5) It All Starts With a Provision

There are no special types of qualifications that a potential corporation needs to meet in order to become a benefit corporation. A corporation that wants to become a benefit corporation need not change anything about the traditional structure. All a socially conscious business owner needs to do in order to form a benefit corporation is to add a provision that states its intention to be a socially responsible benefit corporation. They are still technically a traditional corporation, however.

6) Not All Lawyers Are Knowledgeable Or Aware About Benefit Corporations

The term “benefit corporation” is a rather new term and is not known amongst all law practitioners. This can make it difficult for entrepreneurs who want to form a benefit corporation if they decide to seek help from a lawyer who is not well-versed in social entrepreneurship. “I think it’s important for these younger entrepreneurs to make sure they’re talking to the right people,” our founder Adam Force advises, “just because someone has a big resume doesn’t mean their knowledgeable in these new, upcoming approaches.”

Rick builds upon this piece advice by telling us that some law firms are skeptical about benefit corporations and will actually advise against forming these structures rather than helping them do it.

7) The Differences Between Running a Socially-Conscious LLC and a Benefit Corporation

For beginning entrepreneurs and for those who are running a small business, an LLC is the way to go according to Rick. LLC’s are much simpler to run and have less tax implications than a corporation.

Once an entrepreneur begins raising capital and expanding, their attention should turn their attention to building a corporation. However, both can be successfully run with a socially conscious structure.
B Lab gives both LLC’s and corporation’s the advice and language necessary to turn their business from one based on profit into one based on both profit and impact.

8) Altering Business Operations Means Altering Our Way of Thinking

If you approach anyone in business and begin talking to them about a business structure that may not make as much money but will make more impact, it is extremely likely that they will not take you seriously. In business, money is often the meter of success, not impact. In order to change the way that people conduct business, we need to alter first the way of thinking.

This is exactly what Rick seeks to achieve through his work at B Lab. Only through a better understanding of how impact can make a difference in business will people be able to choose change over profits.

9) The Impact Assessment Tool

The B Impact Assessment Tool is a tool that entrepreneurs can use to understand what it takes to be a socially responsible company. The tool takes entrepreneurs through an assessment that will determine their current social and environmental impact, gives them a comparison with thousands of other companies to see which areas they are struggling in and which they are excelling in, and helps them determine what they can do to improve their impact.

10) Rick’s Book, Benefit Corporation Law and Governance: Pursuing Profit With Purpose

Rick’s new book, Benefit Corporation Law and Governance: Pursuing Profit With Purpose, serves as a reminder to readers that it is important for business owners to focus on impact in order to improve the world around us and helps walk them through the process of using benefit corporations as a tool for social good. You can learn more about his book here.

Are you interested in forming your own benefit corporation? Are you an LLC owner who is trying to have a bigger impact on the world around you? If so, you can hear the full interview with Rick Alexander here and you can learn more about B Lab and their mission on their website.

Listen to our full interview with Rick Alexander

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The Motorcycle Ride That Led Jake Orak to His Multimillion Dollar Life Mission

jake orak change creator

The path you are on now is probably not the one you envisioned when you set out on your journey. Life has a way of leading you down unexpected avenues and, sometimes, far off the beaten track. And it is off one such beaten track, in the highlands of Vietnam, that Jake Orak found his calling.

One minute Jake was rubbing shoulders with chemists, thermodynamic experts, and mechanical engineers in the bustling metropolis of Minnesota (USA), and the next he was discussing business terms with the Hmong people up in the northern highlands of Vietnam. It’s not quite a tale of rags to riches, but Jake is on a mission to make the world a better place, one hand-made textile at a time.

Before Ethnotek: Craving Something More?

Jake studied product design at University and, after graduating, seemed destined for a flourishing career in the design industry. He landed a nice paying job at 3M, complete with a handful of perks and benefits. The folks at 3M set Jake to work designing interesting items such as stethoscopes, Iodine Surgical Applicators, and RFID Library Scanners.

Yet Jake was “craving something a bit more ‘lifestyle’,” something a little less corporate and more suitable to his personality. When he found an opportunity to intern with an international bag company, Jake knew he had to take that “leap of faith.” The challenge was that this internship would require him to move to Vietnam, millions of miles away from his life in Minnesota, and also meant giving up his well-paid career.

While Jake’s friends and family were a little surprised by the fact that he would leave his job for a $500 a month design internship in a foreign country, they were supportive none-the-less. Fortunately for Jake, and much to the reassurance of his parents, the internship worked out well. He was quickly promoted and began learning a lot of interesting things about the bag industry; things that piqued his curiosity. He loved it.

The Birth of an Idea

Jake soon discovered that he loved designing bags. After completing his internship and learning as much as he could about the industry, he continued working for that company for three years. It was during this time that Jake discovered another passion. Textiles.

Jake explains that Vietnam has many national holidays throughout the year, and it was on one of those holidays that he decided to go on a 10-day solo motorbike trip through the highlands of Northern Vietnam. It was a life-changing trip because it gave birth to the idea behind Ethnotek. “It came out of just exploring the northern highlands,” says Jake, “and interacting with the indigenous Hmong hill tribes that are still thriving there.”

With a keen understanding of design, Jake became enthralled with the delicate process that the Hmong people went through to create beautiful fabrics and textiles. “To see [the textiles]” Jake explains, “was inspiring.” He immediately thought “it would be so cool to combine these textiles with a technical, functional bag.” Jake was also curious to see if any other, similar cultures around the world could collaborate and create an ethical sourcing model on which he could grow a business. He was right, but it would take him another three years to bring his initial idea to fruition.

Watch artisans in action doing what they do best as Ethnotek travels the world


One common rhetoric in entrepreneurship is “follow your passion”. The reasoning behind this logic is that if you are working on something that you are passionate about, you will continuously be motivated to work on it. In reality, motivation comes from many different sources. For Jake, it was the reward of connecting talented, hardworking people with the rest of the world.

The trip to the Vietnamese highlands made Jake aware of a saddening decrease in the demand for textiles from certain cultures. High costs and long lead times are a major deterrent for businesses in the textiles industry. They want things cheaper and faster.

Jake realized that this trend would eventually diminish the long-standing textile and fabric weaving tradition in these cultures. A problem, which was easily solvable, and one which served as good motivation to start a business. He initially wanted to incorporate the Hmong fabrics into garments but realized that he had no real knowledge of garment design or the fashion industry.

After acknowledging that designing bags was not only his strongest skill but also the field he enjoyed the most, Jake decided to combine his passion for design, his desire to help communities, and his love of handmade fabrics with his knowledge of bags.


While Jake had already become a talented and experienced designer, he knew very little about the variety of aspects required in running a bag business; supply chain, distribution, seasonal inventory, etc. These were things he did his best to figure out himself during the startup stage, but it was through mentorship from other experienced business connections that helped Jake take Ethnotek to the next level.

Most of Jake’s mentorship came from reading stories of other successful social entrepreneurs. Jake discovered “it was important not to be afraid to ask questions..“people all over the world were so eager to help if you just ask them.”

Jake’s business idea drew the attention of one advisor in particular that Jake refers to as a crucial mentorship. This person offered valuable advice and guidance on a weekly basis and asked one small thing in return: the pleasure of being part of such a great business. “He has helped us avoid a lot of potentially big mistakes,” says Jake. A mentor is important in any business.

Marketing: How Sharing the Company Story Led to Success

Paying for advertising is one of the quickest ways for a startup to build brand recognition and begin generating revenue, which is important to consider in the early stages of creating a business. However, Jake chose a different approach for Ethnotek Bags – he decided on good old fashioned word-of-mouth marketing.

“Once you understand what we do, it’s pretty easy to get excited about it.” Jake Orak

Word-of-mouth is the oldest and one of the most effective forms of marketing. But it often takes time. But Jake had a great business and a fantastic story behind it. That is just what Ethnotek is, as Jake says, “Once you understand what we do it’s pretty easy to get excited about it.” Aside from a few recent Facebook boosted posts, the company has not paid for any advertising, instead creating authenticity with the brand, and building strong relationships with customers.

The Future

Ethnotek currently sources its products from cultures across three continents. Jake Orak is the proud CEO of a successful company that provides durable, practical and stylish bags. Each sale helps to ensure the revival of a tradition, the preservation of unique cultural identities and the livelihood of global communities.

Jake lives and runs the business from headquarters in Vietnam. Ethnotek’s growth is continuous. The product range now includes laptop bags and accessories such as travel wallets and sling bags. It is a global movement — it’s all about the future of these artisan villages that Jake is so passionate about celebrating and empowering.

Listen to Our First Interview With Jake Orak

Google Fool’s Day and the Guerrilla Marketer

In days of yore, April Fool’s Day was about leaving glitter bombs on car seats and planting grass in colleagues’ keyboards. These days, it’s a marketing event glitzy enough to compete with the Super Bowl. Brands across the globe put their senses of humour to work in an attempt to win attention from a target demographic that just isn’t listening.

It’s been 12 years since Google launched its April Fool’s Day campaign, and it continues to gather a wider audience. The world’s favourite browser has reinvented the day, and every year marketing publications from Forbes to The Independent publish piece after piece about what Google pulled out of its hat this time. The brand has become such a ubiquitous part of April 1 that it’s featured on the April Fool’s Day Wikipedia Page. Take that, David Ogilvy. Even history’s most renowned copywriter didn’t manage to earn that much free brand exposure – but you can.

Nonsense and Sensibility: The 2015 Campaign

Google launched the prank ‘slow internet movement’, turned Google Maps into a Pac-Man game, and released yet another hoax app called Chrome Selfie. It merged two potent strategies into one: guerrilla marketing and video-based optimization. If you’re a small business owner with a budget small enough to cry over, it’s this combination that you need to be wielding to put your brand on the map (with or without Pac Man).

Guerrilla What?

Guerrilla marketing works because it’s absurdly cheap and easy to understand. All you need to make a campaign work is an overactive imagination.

It’s effective because today’s consumers have no patience for big budget advertising. In fact, they have no patience for anything that smells even vaguely of advertising.

Your promotions need to have an impact, but you needn’t hire Martin Scorsese to handle your video. Dropbox took itself from zero to 100 million users on the wings of a 2D explainer video and, four years later, its videos and graphics still haven’t deviated from that format. Why change what works? Google isn’t interested in Disney-worthy animation either. Why would it be when consumers aren’t?

How to “Video”

Fifty-two percent of marketers claim that video offers them a higher return on investment than any other medium, and it will account for 55% of all online traffic in 2016, so it pays to understand how to use it.
Subjective video quality has become a field of its own, unveiling the facets that resonate most with audiences.

Studies show that consumers respond well to unusual video elements like:

  • Dim lighting or night scenes
  • Bouncing images or handheld cameras
  • Animation with scrolling text
  • Ombre color effects
  • Unusual shapes and moving patterns
  • High color saturation
  • Camera pans and zooms

You might have noticed that these elements are not on the list:

  • Tom Cruise and Charlize Theron
  • Oscar-worthy performances
  • DreamWorks-style special effects
  • A Pulitzer-worthy script

There’s a reason for that. The internet is the first medium in a century to have been invented for consumers instead of advertisers. This unusual characteristic has created a new era in modern marketing. Consumers are now notoriously distrustful of advertising because the internet is their turf, not that of Saatchi and Saatchi. The second they catch you trying to sell to them, you’ve lost them, so these days, your campaign needs to entertain, inform, and engage. The masses no longer listen to corporations, but customer influencers. For that reason, the only marketing of any value today must be consumed out of choice.

You don’t get sceptical buyers to consume your videos using the kind of direction that belongs on a Hollywood set. It’s stories that achieve that. Google has capitalized on the humble yarn to turn a simple search engine into a way of life. It has woven a giant patchwork quilt of tales across the web in the form of videos for every one of its global demographics. Seth Godin summarises this approach perfectly in his essay, Shouting into the Wind: “If enough people care, often enough, the word spreads, the standards change, the wind dies down. If enough people care, the culture changes.” People spend money only when what they’re buying is worth more than its price, and Google is a lifestyle with a personality all of its own.

Where Google Ends and You Begin: Fighting with Budgets

Small businesses typically solve their cash flow problems through direct response marketing: campaigns that call for a specific action, whether it’s subscribing to a mailing list or placing an order. In a way, there’s a method to their madness: If you try mimicking the big-budget-quality of brand titans like Google and Coca Cola, you will fail. Google and Dropbox have, however, demonstrated how branding can be done on a small business budget. Chrome might have the kind of marketing dollars you can only dream about, but it knows how to make its cents count.

In video marketing’s infancy, the suggested length for an explainer was two minutes, but Chrome has put its money on 15-second ads instead: A baby chews on a laptop, a dog swings on a hammock, and a man films himself shopping. These are not exactly videos worthy of Steven Spielberg’s directing smarts, but they work because they tell the Chrome story and appeal to emotion. There’s plenty of humor there, but primarily, Google has fed old fashioned branding through the modern-day media of digital video and gamification. It’s then repackaged all three and sent them out as a guerrilla campaign. In some cases, it didn’t even film its own visuals: it’s far cheaper to source and buy existing content as long as it serves your campaign.

Doing Video the Google Way

Appeals to emotion are one of the most effective ways to sell, and brands are now focusing as much on 2D animation as they are 3D because storytelling is far more important to today’s viewers than visual impact. This may be responsible for the rise in popularity of 2D—it’s far easier to develop a novel style with it than it is with 3D, and online viewers respond, not to a particular style or genre, but to pure novelty.

Facebook’s Auto-play Generation

Getting your audience to click ‘play’ is no longer the challenge it once was. In September, Facebook rolled out auto-playing videos, which have increased engagement and made storytelling far richer for marketers. Sound and sight are instantly and automatically engaged during browsing, and once the video has been played all the way through, a carousel appears introducing two additional adverts by the same marketer.

During the feature’s test run, KLLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ ad campaign was compared across Facebook and YouTube. Fans engaged with the YouTube version 300,000 times, but 350,000 on Facebook. The auto-play option will introduce a new era of native marketing, and advertisers will no longer have a choice as to whether or not to use this kind of strategy. There is simply no option. Competitive advantage just became harder to secure without video and guerrilla marketing.

Expanding from Concept to Campaign

Video lacks a certain longevity, so guerrilla campaigns benefit enormously from other media online and off. The “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign of a small train company developed a video that exploited two catchy elements: cute 2D characters and catchy music. Its cartoons did as their namesake suggested: demonstrate idiotic ways to die. To make sure their audience retained the information, they gamified the concept, rolled out a range of soft toys, and published a book. Taking guerrilla marketing into the offline world can be expensive, but it’s not always necessary if you expand your concept to mobile, tablet, and social media instead.

How to Run a Guerrilla Campaign in a Few Easy Steps

Assess your demographic. Not all target markets are responsive to guerrilla campaigns. They rarely put forward the corporate culture needed for regulated industries such as banks and insurance companies. Guerrilla campaigns depend on ruffling feathers, so make sure they fit your brand.

Tell your story. What is your brand? Who is your demographic? What culture do you want to portray? Most importantly, what do you have to offer your customers that is more valuable than the money they would need to spend on your product?

  1. If you had to communicate your essence in five seconds, what would you say? This is the core of your message.
  2. Guerrilla campaigns rely on press attention. With that in mind, conceptualise your campaign, making it edgy enough to win the interest of both customers and the media. The insights of a PR manager are useful at this stage.
  3. Make sure your campaign resonates and draws a response. Does it inspire, provoke laughter, or demand thought?
  4. Use a combination of media: games, mobile-based tactics, text-based content… you’re only limited by your imagination.
  5. Create a way to track your results. Constantly reassess and adapt your campaign to push up your return on investment.
  6. Guerrilla campaigns demand devoted customer follow-up. After they’ve made a buy decision, you need to make contact.

Search Engine Optimization

Even a guerrilla campaign needs to catch Google’s attention.

Decide where to host your video. YouTube works well for this kind of campaign because its intent is to entertain. Self-hosting gives you more control over your search engine results, so consider using Wistia and Vimeo Pro. These are paid services, but they link to your website, which may increase your return on investment.

    • Choose keywords for your video file name, title, and the XML sitemap.
    • Keep a tight rein on your comments section. It’s a unique opportunity to offer service and develop relationships with your potential clients while you identify your top customer influencers.
    • Provide a video transcript if possible. This directs Google to your content via a wider array of keywords and keyword densities.
    • Rich snippets, markup language, and Geotagging localize your brand and attract search spiders.
    • Create a strategy for building links that lead to your videos. Blogs, third-party sites, and Facebook are traditionally used, but if you’re going the guerrilla way, it will pay to think outside the box.

Dr James McQuivey of Forrester Research claims that one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words.

These are not just cat and baby videos.The average internet user sees about 32 videos every month, and 50% of C-suite execs watch business related videos at least once a week. Most click on the marketer’s site afterwards.

According to Forbes, 90% of customers say video helps them make buying decisions and 64% of customers say that seeing a video makes them more likely to buy. Are you rich and successful enough to afford not to have a video campaign?

How to Establish Product Fit: Gavin Armstrong, Lucky Iron Fish (Interview)

Listen to our interview with Gavin Armstrong, founder of Lucky Iron Fish

This article was originally published in Change Creator Magazine issue #6

Many social entrepreneurs often wonder how they can help hundreds of thousands of people, and at the same time build a profitable enterprise so they can turn their venture from a side hustle to a full-time endeavor that multiplies their impact and income.

Gavin Armstrong, CEO and founder of Lucky Iron Fish, has made that happen. He not only created a product that has a global impact, but also successfully commercialized the venture for it to become profitable and sustainable. In this interview with Change Creator, Gavin shared his experience and insights on the evolution of the business.

Iron deficiency impacts over 3.5 billion people around the world! Here’re 5 marketing lessons he’s learned along the way, and how you, too, can apply them to navigate the world of social entrepreneurship:

Understand the Local 1 Community

Lucky Iron Fish was first developed in Cambodia as an effort to help solve iron deficiency. Gavin’s effort to understand the local lifestyle and tap into the Cambodian culture helped him align with the communities and gain traction in the market. He conducted extensive research to understand those he was marketing to.

He spent a few years in the country while launching the product, and paid attention to the psychographic of the market:

  • He developed a focus group kit to gain insights on how the villagers see and feel about things, which helped inform how he could adapt his message for different communities.
  • He talked to the women in the villages – end users who cook for the family – to understand the impact of iron deficiency in the country, as well as their cooking habits, so he could better integrate the product into their lifestyle and routine.
  • He showed them the different shapes under development to find out which one resonates.

He chose the fish design as it’s a symbol of luck in the local culture, making it easy for villagers to accept this new product and use it on a daily basis. When he was conducting research, Gavin didn’t speak the local language. He didn’t completely rely on the translator to get his answers, either. Instead, he paid attention to the facial expressions of the interviewees and the way they physically react to and interact with the product.

To make sure he creates a product that’s compelling to the end users, Gavin didn’t simply ask what they want and take the response at face value. He observed their interactions with the product at a tactile and physical level. The research and interactions with the local communities gave him valuable input to quickly iterate the design through a process of rapid prototyping and refine the product such that it’s widely accepted by the local market.

This level of attentiveness helped Gavin build trust with the community – an essential component to the success of the product. After all, he was asking the villagers to put the product into their cooking pot to make food for their families. Gavin’s deep understanding of the culture and the market also informed the development of the brand’s image and color palette. Like many social entrepreneurs operating in a foreign culture, he had to learn from mistakes and quickly adapt. For example, when they tried to cut cost with black and white package design, they found that this didn’t work because these colors are equated with death in Cambodia.

The final packaging is done in red and blue and white – the Cambodian flag color – to evoke national pride. Every element of the brand – from the shape of the product to the color palette – is carefully considered so the product can be easily accepted into the households of the targeted end users. Gavin also innovated the product to meet the needs of rural Cambodia. The principal feature of the Lucky Iron Fish is that it lasts for about five years, providing a practical and sustainable solution to the iron deficiency problem in the area.

Embrace The Origin

Gavin wanted the brand to have a global impact and implication, at the same time recognize the history of its origin. For that to happen, the brand needed to appeal to a wide global audience while staying true to its original mission. They use storytelling techniques that connect consumers with the brand on an emotional level to help build a loyal following. The design of Lucky Iron Fish’s logo and website pay tribute to the root of the brand by using the color palette of the original packaging – red, white and blue – as well as images of villagers from rural Cambodia.

Gavin shared the story of Lucky Iron Fish’s origin and local involvement, connecting consumers with the product at an emotional level. While embracing the origin, Gavin didn’t lose sight of the global market. The company leveraged the simple 3-color design of the original packaging and translated it into a template that can be adapted to different markets. The simple and customizable template allows the use of color combinations that speak to local markets while keeping a consistent image for the brand.

Develop Local Partnerships

One major blunder in Lucky Iron Fish’s early days happened in sales and product distribution. Initially, Gavin developed the idea of a “traveling road show” – he’d travel to villages and stop for a couple of days, present the product then move on. He made the incorrect assumption that because the value proposition of the product was so clear that he could just go from village to village and sell it.

The biggest disconnect occurred when he failed to establish trust within the local communities. He didn’t stick around long enough to answer questions, engage in dialogues, and give villagers the opportunity to try the product before making their purchase. To remedy the less-than-desirable results, Gavin switched gears. He partnered up with NGOs that have already established trust and a line of communication with the communities.

Local representatives of these organizations are available to answer questions and assist villagers to make sure they’re getting results from the product. Partnering with local NGOs also helps the company reduce costs. Although they still go to villages to offer talks and workshops, they can now increase efficiency by covering more ground in less time.

Leverage Media Opportunity

Lucky Iron Fish has a “Buy-One-Give- One” program – for every fish purchased on their website, they donate one to those in need.

The initial volume of sales (and the number of fish donated) worked fine for partnerships with small- and medium-sized NGOs. However, Gavin had challenges getting in the door with larger organizations.

The big break came when the company was featured in a BBC article. Their sales went from 100 in a month to 100 in an hour. Besides immediate revenue for the company, it also meant they now have tens of thousands of fish to give away. Offering free product is a great way to enter the NGO space. Almost overnight, Gavin had the volume to approach large NGOs and establish partnerships.

This media opportunity not only helped the company increase revenue by turning their online business from a secondary component to being front and center, thereby reaching a global market, but also gave them the traction to gain the much-needed foothold through larger NGOs in local communities they wanted to help.

Introduce Product to Developed Countries

Gavin saw an opportunity when he realized that iron deficiency is also a problem in the developed world. In fact, it’s a serious health concern in the US and Canada. He also recognized the gap in the market – there’s an increasing number of health and socially conscious women looking for a more natural solution that’s healthier than popping a pill every day.

The company started offering the product to this demographic – women who manage the household looking for ways to raise a healthy family – attracting them with not only the innovative feature but also the “buy- one-donate-one” program.

At the time of our interview with Gavin, the product was available in 66 countries, and as of January 2019, they have given away over 45,000 Lucky Iron Fish, helping 200,000 people.

The commercial success of the product, in turn, fuels the social impact that inspired Gavin to start the venture in the first place. There are many marketing lessons we can learn from the success of Lucky Iron Fish. Even though the specifics may vary depending on context, it’s always important to listen to your market, pivot and adapt quickly, and not be shy about introducing your product to developed countries so you can leverage the success to fuel your venture.


Turning Your Inner-Activist Into a Business for Good

The greatest social movements in this world not only bring us together, they focus on what we can do as individuals to change something intrinsically wrong with the world. In short, they give us the power and authority — as individuals — to make our world a better place.

When a radical movement can harness each of us to dig deep into our power, it becomes a compelling, sustainable force of good in this world. The activist spirit must go beyond ourselves if we want to make any sort of an impact in this world.

That is why it is so vital to celebrate “The Body Is Not an Apology” — a thriving, global multimedia platform bringing millions of people together, changing the global narrative on body activism, all spearheaded by the incomparable Sonya Renee Taylor.

Investing in Every Body

Last October, the Change Creator team went to the world’s largest social impact funding conference, known as SOCAP conference, in San Francisco, California. As you can imagine, it was an eclectic mix of people from around the world, all there so we could discuss impact + money.

Many themes emerged from that conference — much more than a pure definition of what social impact investing is, what it could be, or how we measure impact. Themes of diversity in investment — or rather, the lack of diversity in investment — was a theme that kept popping up its head throughout the week.

At one of the mini-sessions that I attended, named Money Divas, the panel discussed the lack of support and funding for women-led companies. When the panel opened up questions to the audience, I got to meet the remarkable Sonya, whose commentary on the lack of female funding was:

“If we can accomplish so much with so little, imagine what we could do if someone truly invested in us and our ideas.”

At that moment, I knew I had to get to know this force of nature. At that time, I had yet to get the full backstory but I knew I wanted to invest in that kind of presence, that kind of commitment. The simple idea that we should amplify each other’s success really struck a chord with me.

I have thought about that idea of what impact investing really means. It’s not just enough to say we’re funding ideas that change the world if we are not funding all kinds of people changing the world — women, minorities, indigenous, disabled, trans. All people deserve investment.

(Sonya’s speech at SOCAP.)

A Formula Towards Radical Leadership

I think Sonya would be the first person to tell you that everything that has led her to where she is now is by accident. The formula for her immense success — there is none. Every choice she made, every new endeavor came to her because she was examining what it meant to be human because she was intensely curious, but also because she was also intensely outspoken.

Sonya’s journey to become the radical leader she is today started with a conversation. On tour, with her poetry troupe doing the National Poetry Slam Championship in Tennessee, Sonya first uttered the words that would change the trajectory of her life. She describes this intimate conversation in her book, “The Body Is Not An Apology”:

“We were complicated and honest with each other, and this is how I wound up in a conversation with my teammate Natasha, an early-thirtysomething living with cerebral palsy and fearful she might be pregnant. Natasha told me how her potential pregnancy was most assuredly by a guy who was just an occasional fling. All of life was up in the air for Natasha, but she was abundantly clear that she had no desire to have a baby and not by this person.”

As Sonya will tell you, her nosiness and openness made it easy for her to probe into the details of how her friend got pregnant in the first place.

“Instinctually, I asked Natasha why she had chosen not to use a condom with this casual sexual partner with whom she had no interest in procreating. Neither Natasha nor I knew that my honest question and her honest answer would be the catalyst for a movement. Natasha told me her truth: “My disability makes sex hard already, with positioning and stuff. I just didn’t feel like it was okay to make a big deal about using condoms.”

That is when Sonya, in a way to comfort her distraught friend uttered these words: “Natasha, your body is not an apology. It is not something you give to someone to say, ‘Sorry for my disability.’” Sometimes all you need to do to start something is to speak it into existence. When Sonya heard herself utter those words, something quite special stuck.

“Language has the power to create. As we speak a thing, we are literally allowing it to exist in this world.”

The truth that Sonya comforted her friend with would soon become the mantra by which she lived her life. Those words would stick with Sonya for quite some time. They would not only become a poem, but a Facebook page, then a thriving movement, then a company.

In the early days, Sonya might not have imagined where those words would lead her life, but she could sense she was on to something much larger than herself, which she alludes to in this early performance of the poem as she tells the audience of the Facebook Group they must like and support. “This is the poem that spawned the Facebook page that will spawn the movement. I’m claiming it.”

And, claim it she did.

Watch Sonya perform the poem that started it all in an early performance.

Radical Self Love as the Ultimate Activism

Let’s face it. From the moment we wake up, we are inundated with messages that tell us our bodies are not good enough. These messages are hard to quiet, even if you are Sonya, on the road, touring, performing “The Body Is Not An Apology” to a new audience every night.

Yes, she knew that she had to live in her own truth of radical body love, but that outside voice telling her that she was not good enough was still there. One day, Sonya came across some an Instagram account of a plus-sized model who had just booked a substantial lingerie client. Here was this beautiful woman, unabashedly flaunting her “juicy thighs” for all to see and admire. Plus, as Sonya recalls, “someone was paying her a lot of money, too.”

That one act of defying the system led Sonya to post her own picture on Facebook, as she encouraged others to share photos where they felt beautiful, too (no matter what the outside world says).

This one act of radical self-love would lead others to do the same. The next morning, Sonya woke up to 30 other brave souls sharing their photos, as the movement was quickly picking up steam. That’s the thing about radical self-love — it can be just as contagious as self-hate. It’s up to us to choose what lane we want to live in.

What does radical self-love have to do with social change, anyway?

So many messages in our world tell us that our bodies are not good enough. That we need constant improvement, that we should be more healthy, more thin, more white — the barrage of negative talk is fast and furious, and consistent. Persistently telling us that we are not the norm so we, therefore, are not worthy.

We live in a system of body-shame indoctrination. Every act of body terrorism has been designed to support the agenda and systems of greed and power in our world. Once you realize that all those messages of not good enough are actually supporting the social constructs of society that keep us pushed down and less than, you start to get a little pissed off (at least you should).

One of the first steps in any successful activist movement is to realize when you are being conditioned, how you are being conditioned, and to get pissed off about the damaging social constructs you have been sold all your life.

If you want to dismantle the systems of the world, you have to understand how they were first constructed. That’s what activism is. This kind of thinking is what should drive your social good business first. It’s not about profit, the right business model, or even finding that unique sales proposition that will make your company unlike any other. It’s about deconstructing the systems in this world of greed and power. That starts with you.

You. Taking back the messages that we are being sold every day and replacing these outside voices with our own inner voice that radically loves us is the first step in transforming the world.

We, as activists, as Change Creators must ask ourselves: Whose agenda is your self-hate? That criticism that you have of yourself — who is benefitting from it? It is not in our best interest to support those agendas.

“Radical self-love is contagious; just as body shame is contagious. We get to decide what it is that we want to spread. If we can radically love ourselves, we can radically love the world.”

Activism by Dismantling the Social Constructs

Sonya wants us to imagine the social constructs we can eliminate if only we radically loved our bodies. Take, for example, the history of racism, as Sonya explains:

“Race as a construct was created as a way to validate the exchange of human bodies as slaves. First, the system wanted to exploit people and get cheap labor. So, the system created a structure that said we could rationalize cheap labor, thus they needed to say that these people were sub-human, which rationalized this horrific structure.”

How quickly the construct of racism is dismantled when we don’t allow others to see any human being as less than. As Sonya’s Facebook group grew, she quickly realized how powerful this idea was. She started a national conversation, not about self-acceptance, or loving your size 16 self, or celebrating your red hair — no, it was always a much larger, much broader conversation. It had to be. As she explains:

“We have internalized those messages of hate, all those messages we’ve received about what bodies are bad and this conversation about radical self-love has to be more than just about accepting our bodies, it has to be a conversation about race. It has to be a conversation about disabilities. It has to be a conversation about fatness. It has to be a conversation about queerness. It has to be a conversation about transnesss. And all of the other ways our bodies exist on this planet.”

As the conversation grew larger, so did the role of TBINAA in the world. Change is a thinking, doing, being process. We have to be in touch with our thoughts intentionally as we create that shift in consciousness. Activism has to start from within.

“We can’t create outside in the world what we have not figured out how to access inside of us first.”

5 Steps to Building a Mission-Driven Company

The steps Sonya took to grow her company were just like the rest of her journey. Yes, she quickly saw that this thing she was doing had merit, had some legs, and could grow, but in a way she could never have imagined it would become what it is today.

Here are the steps that Sonya took to build her business:

Step 1: Build an Authentic Community

If you want to build a lasting movement, you quickly have to realize that you are going to have to get people on board. In the early days of TBINAA, Sonya just shared ideas on the Facebook group. She would curate content every single day that supported that radical self-love that she was out there preaching.

After so many months of connecting with others online and on tour, Sonya had to take another look at her own actions, her own insecurities and fears and do something radical herself.

Yes, sometimes building that authentic community starts with you.

Creating the 30-Day RUHCUS Project

Sometimes, building a movement means doing something completely terrifying and uncomfortable. Eventually, we all have to face what’s really holding us back from living our authentic truth. As leaders of a movement, you have to be willing to be vulnerable at times and to always access yourself — are you out there living what you are encouraging others to do?

When Sonya realized that she still hung onto some body shame about her hair, she decided to take her own radical step. Developing traction alopecia early in life, Sonya had relied on her wigs for over a decade. The scariest thing she thought she could do was be bald in this world because she had been conditioned to believe that she would no longer be beautiful without hair.

In typical Sonya fashion, she didn’t take this step alone. No, she created the first major project of TBINAA — called it a RUHCUS (Radically Unapologetic Healing Challenge for Us). Before she was done her own 30 days, she realized how many people had taken her up and started their own RUHCUS projects.

Sonya lived her work.

She kept touring the country, building her community and soon realized that she would need to find the right people to help keep this thing growing.

Step 2: Find the Right People

When the TBINAA Facebook group reached over 20,000 people, Sonya realized she’d have to start building a team of people to keep it going. She quickly got an intern on board to manage the daily posts, curate the content, and push the vision further. She also found early adapters and volunteers who wanted to help, brought ideas to the table, and could get on board building this out alongside her.

They would ask, “I really love these ideas, can I write something? I want to support this idea; can I start a support group?” For that, Sonya would answer with a resounding “yes.” The business was building itself with the support of its members. She gave people not only the “yes” they needed to get on board and help, but the permission to bring ideas to the table and follow through with them.

As she grew the company, she knew she’d only hire the people that stood alongside her. As she’ll tell you, “It’s easier to teach skills than it is to teach values.”

Step 3: Formalize the Structure and Protect Your Brand Equity

It became apparently clear early on that Sonya would have to formalize the movement to protect the integrity of TBINAA. She did not want to see other brands exploiting this idea of body activism and radical love to sell diet aids or t-shirts. Could you imagine?

Not only did she have to get the right team of writers, supporters, and business developers on board early, she needed money to invest and formalize this growing movement. Yet, as we already touched on early in this article, finding investment as a black woman wasn’t going to be as easy as a trip to Silicon Valley.

Step 4: Monetize the Movement Early

Knowing that she had already built a solid, authentic audience, she thought it would be a radically good idea to get funding through a crowdfunding campaign. Today, looking back, she might do things differently.

The amount of work to raise that first bit of capital — a little over $40,000 — was outrageously difficult, but that was the seed fund she needed to start

That was the first step to monetizing her business and making this movement an established, structured thing.

She had to take ownership of this thing early on. If you don’t own it, somebody else will. It became clear that she needed to create some concrete organizational structure around this movement if she wanted to hold on to it and watch it grow.

Step 5: Grow the Vision of the Company (and Keep Making Money)

After trademarking her company and establishing her ownership of the company, it was time to create some deliberate growth and that takes vision.

At this point, TBINAA had a team, some initial startup funds, and a trademarked idea. Figuring out that monetization model would not be easy. It would take some tweaking to find that sweet spot and to explore ways to support the organic growth that was happening.

Today, their model is a subscription-supported model that provides their supporters (on all levels) to monetarily back the vision and growth of the company. Building out webinars, workshops and products is also an integral part of the business plan as value increases. They also have millions of visitors to their website each year and continue to grow as they continue to build out authentic, relevant content that people cling to.

Building a strong monetization model is so vital when growing your movement if you want to build long-lasting social change. Don’t be afraid to make money early. Money can continue to be the fuel that spreads your message and grows your community — it’s not only okay, but it’s vital to monetize as soon as you can!

How You Can Find Your Inner Activist

As we have seen from Sonya’s success, all great activism starts with the inner journey. All social change begins with radical self-love. Loving ourselves, not just accepting ourselves, can deconstruct the social systems that build oppression.

It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

If you want to change the world, start with yourself. But, as we have seen, that journey from the social constructs we’ve grown up with to that fiercely powerful, radical self-love is not linear. There will be times when we doubt our greatness, when we transfer that doubt to others, and when we fall flat on our faces.

Recognize that radical self-love is the first step. Do the hard work of looking at your own social constructs. What do you believe? What are your core values? Do the inner work first, before you begin to change the world.

Remember, you can begin today to speak into existence that which you hope to change.

Key Takeaways

Be your own Sonya. Live in your truth. Align your business to your values from the get-go; it’s the only way to build lasting results.

Get early supporters on board to help build your vision. Give them the authority to make decisions, bring ideas to the table, and make it their mission, too.

Monetize your movement if you want to build a sustainable solution. Figure out the business stuff, too; don’t wait to start making money.

Listen to our exclusive interview with Sonya Renee Taylor


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University of the Future: The Sustainable Education Model

How do you teach a human to be human?

This might sound like a trick question, but it’s a question that Gabriella Geffen has to deal with every day. “Gabi” is a business development expert at the Maharishi Institute and is also a member of the National Task Team responsible for developing Entrepreneurship and Social Entrepreneurship in South Africa.

The world has changed dramatically over the course of the past few decades, and many people are coming face-to-face with a harsh truth: humans will never be better at being robots than robots themselves.

This has dramatically changed the global employment market, and in places like South Africa, it has contributed to massive, systemic unemployment. Some 27 percent of South Africans are unemployed. Youth, meanwhile, face an unemployment rate in excess of 50 percent.

Gabi notes that so many are unemployed even as over a million jobs in South Africa remain unfilled.

Employers want employees and South Africans want jobs.

However, there is a disconnect between the skills and education that employers need, and the skills and education that many South African youth possess. Even those bright South African students that succeed in the face of abject poverty and failing public education systems often find the doors shut when it comes time to acquire an advanced degree.

Many South African public universities have acceptance rates on par with Ivy League universities. Meanwhile, yearly tuition comes in at about $2,000, an insurmountable sum for many of South Africa’s impoverished.

Maharishi Institute founder Taddy Blecher, featured in issue 12 of Change Creator Magazine, realized this after helping impoverished high school students learn meditation techniques that helped them perform better in school. Many students deserving of an opportunity to attend college were simply denied the chance.

How do you break the cycle of poverty?

In a world that is increasingly dependent on college education and people skills, a lack of access to higher education can all but ensure the perpetuity of poverty. So how does one break that cycle?

How do you provide students with an education that will equip them with the skills they need to succeed in the modern world? How do you ensure accessibility, especially for those who are impoverished and disadvantaged?

Gabi and the other staff at the Maharishi Institute grapple with this challenge every day. And the solutions they have come up with may ultimately revolutionize the modern higher education system, both helping teach people to be people in a modern world, and ensuring access for all.

Finding Sustainability to Increase Accessibility

The Maharishi Institute started out with the same ambitions as many other university programs targeting impoverished communities: simply be free. However, as Blecher and other early-day Institute employees found out, there’s no such thing as free. The money always has to come from somewhere. Donations are great, but they are hard to sustain.

The Maharishi Institute shifted towards a pay-it-forward model.

Students would pay fees, but these fees are more affordable than the public universities in South Africa and students are given access to loans. The Institute started with a no-fee model but found itself too dependent on the whims of the donors. However, by having students contribute, the university can better sustain itself. All tuition fees paid go towards ensuring opportunities for future students.

Another challenge would help the Maharishi Institute become even more sustainable, and could pave the way for a tuition-free future. Institute leaders soon learned that many employers didn’t want just a degree, they also wanted experience. Students in South Africa faced the same conundrum students in other countries have to deal with: Employers demand experience but students can’t acquire that experience because no one will hire them.

The Maharishi Institute provides business education to thousands of students. These students have business skills, so why not use them? The Maharishi Institute has been building out businesses, essentially hiring its own students and then paying them.

Currently, the Institute is focused on building up Invincible Outsourcing, which aims to become a first-rate outsourcing and call centre business in South Africa. Enrolled students can not only pay for their tuition but also earn a stipend to pay for daily living. This makes education not only affordable but sustainable for poor students.

For impoverished students, the ability to work through school and to be paid for that work also helps lower the often overlooked opportunity costs. When your family is barely scraping by, heading off to college to increase your future wages can seem almost selfish. After all, your family members have to eat today, not tomorrow. Shouldn’t you be out trying to earn an income now rather than in the future?

For many impoverished South African youth, this is the reality they face. The Maharishi Institute is providing a solution. Attend university and help the Institute build up businesses along the way. These business aspirations help students pay for their life in the moment. On-the-job training and work experience, meanwhile, helps students further build up their resumes, establish networks, and prove their mettle.

Some students also go on to work at partner companies, such as Accenture. The Maharishi Institute’s leadership has found that while many companies want to invest in education, few know how to actually do so, and often the results are, at best, scattershot. For companies, rather than funding a school or classroom, hiring students, paying them a wage, and then providing on-the-job training can be an effective way to contribute to the student’s success while pursuing their own business aims along the way.

Regardless of where they work, students are given an invaluable opportunity to break the cycle of no experience. With actual job experience in hand, Maharishi graduates are among the most competitive in the market. Indeed, nearly every graduate has secured a skilled job, and collectively, Maharishi’s 17,000 graduates earn over 1 billion rand per year! To put that into perspective, the Institute itself runs on just 24 million rand per year, highlighting the tremendous return on investment.

If Our Deepest Drives Shape the World – How do we Reshape it? | Gabriella Geffen | TEDxCapeTown

Meditation Is Another Key Ingredient to Success

You might be wondering what Maharishi means. This term actually refers to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a meditation guru who founded Transcendental Meditation, which in turn is another key element of the Institute’s success. Early on, Blecher and other staff members realized that many students were coming from backgrounds that were so traumatic, that they struggled to focus in class. In fact, many students were suffering from various forms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Despite his doctorate and sterling academic resume, Blecher himself was far from a model student when he began is actuary studies. In fact, he struggled in many classes and was at risk of failing. Then he discovered Transcendental Meditation, a scientifically proven form of meditation to greatly enhance concentration, clarity, creativity and learning and retention rates. For Blecher, Transcendental Meditation would be life-changing, and so it was incorporated directly into the Maharishi Institute’s curriculum.

Of course, just because meditation worked for Blecher, that doesn’t guarantee that it will work for other students. A renowned public university in Johannesburg decided to test the effectiveness of meditation in reducing stress among college students. The University took its own first-year students and the Institute’s first-year students and then measured their stress levels. Unsurprisingly, many students from both organizations were suffering from high levels of stress.

At the end of the year, an independent psychological study measured stress levels once again. The results? Students at the university reported increased stress levels. This should come as no surprise. After all, the burdens and expectations of a university can be overwhelming. However, when the University remeasured students at the Maharishi Institute, they found that stress levels had dropped substantially. In fact, many students were asymptomatic, seemingly cured of their PTSD symptoms and high-stress levels.

For the Maharishi Institute, meditation is as important an element for teaching humans to be human as formal education. While the Institute’s bread and butter is online, remote education, Gabi stresses that providing students with an opportunity to make professional connections is vital for helping them further their career.

Digital Delivery, Human Focus

Technology is at the heart of the Maharishi Institute’s long-term aims. Yes, many of the students are taught technology-related skills, but it goes much deeper than that. The Institute’s long-term aim is to continue to reduce costs. While most Universities around the world are constantly increasing fees, the Institute is constantly searching for ways to reduce them. With technology and the increased success of its business-side operations, the Institute hopes to eventually charge students only $500 per year in tuition.

Yet as Gabi points out, Universities aren’t just about imparting academic knowledge but also teaching human skills and encouraging the growth of human networks. What makes Harvard Harvard and Oxford Oxford isn’t just the world-class faculty. It’s also the networking opportunities and chances to build lasting relationships. The Maharishi Institute combines distance learning with site learning and on-the-job training. By doing so, Maharishi students can build up human networks and relationships in a way that many online students can’t.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. While many South African universities have a throughput rate of about 25 percent, meaning only a quarter of students finish their degrees, the Institute’s throughput rate weighs in at 80 percent. This, even as up to 70 percent of students arrive unequipped for a university. A combination of meditation training and foundational education allows the Institute to get students up to speed quickly. Roughly 17,000 students have already been educated, and combined they earn over 1 billion rand per year.

Now, the Maharishi Institute is looking to take the lessons learned and to offer opportunities not just in every province in South Africa, but across the world. The University aims to be on the ground in at least 15 countries in the next five or so years. Besides other African nations, India and non-African countries are being targeted. Currently, the Maharishi Institute is aiming to train 100,000 business leaders who will generate over 1 trillion rand in lifetime earnings.

Along the way, the Maharishi Institute is providing valuable lessons to other social entrepreneurs looking to shake up the education sector. It’s not enough to impart knowledge, you have to teach people to be people. In the modern world, humans can’t compete with robots, but by focusing on human skills, universities can still help students launch successful careers.

For those coming from traumatic backgrounds, that could mean teaching meditation or other methods to increase focus. Further, while technology is a useful tool, educators need to remain conscious of the need to teach people skills and to build social networks.

Key Takeaways:

Maharishi Institute moved beyond free tuition and relying entirely on donors by asking students to pay it forward with tuition fees. By doing so, they built a more sustainable model that will provide more opportunities to future students.

The Maharishi Institute leverages online learning. However, they use site-based learning as well to impart people skills and to help students cultivate personal networks.

Founder Taddy Blecher recognized that students who were coming from such underprivileged backgrounds struggled to focus. Transcendental meditation training, however, has been proven to alleviate stress-related conditions.

Listen to our full exclusive interview with Gabriella Geffen

Christal Earle, Brave Soles: How One Woman’s Mission to Save Her Daughter Led to Upcycling and Ingenuity Breaking the Poverty Cycle

The full interview with the founder of Brave Soles, Christal Earle

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Christal Earle is a lot of things; she is a social entrepreneur who believes change is possible through smart collaboration and thinking differently. She’s a social advocate for the stateless peoples of the Dominican Republic and the environment. She’s a businesswoman who started her enterprise with a lightning bolt of inspiration and only $1,000 to her name.

But most of all, she’s brave.

She’s brave because amid life-altering moments of adoption, divorce, financial despair, and literally, no place to call home thanks to governmental bureaucracy, she chose to take on a cause bigger than herself.

Does that sound familiar? As entrepreneurs, we all must be brave as we take on problems much bigger than ourselves to create positive social change through sustainable solutions.

Meet Christal, Co-Founder and CEO of Brave Soles — a social enterprise that sells 100% handmade leather shoes with recycled tire soles made from discarded tires found in the landfills of the Dominican Republic.

Her innovative solutions using upcycling, microfinancing, and community engagement are helping break the cycle of poverty for her suppliers and providing hope for impoverished communities. As a social entrepreneur, Christal harnesses the power of storytelling to teach others how small economic choices, like buying a pair of sandals, can have a worldwide impact.

The 5-minute journey that woke Christal up

christal earle brave soles

Christal Earle’s journey as a social entrepreneur started in 2000 when she co-founded Live Different, a Canadian charity dedicated to creating positive social change. In 2004 Live Different went International, making worldwide trips to impoverished communities in need of help.

In the summer of 2006, Christal took a break from her humanitarian work and vacationed at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. It was during that trip that her life would forever be changed thanks to a five-minute journey her friend asked her to take to a community she was helping at the time.

“That was my first exposure to poverty at that level. I remember sitting in this Haitian woman’s house and having her explain that her home, which was smaller than my living room, was a communal home shared by many. She told me what it was like to be her; she was a single mom with four children, their beds were up on paint tins above the ground, and how each time it rained her house would flood.”

That moment was powerful for so many reasons, but mostly for the sacred trust she experienced with that woman who graciously let her into her world, allowing her the opportunity to take a “walk in her shoes.”

And to think, five minutes up the road was an all-inclusive luxury resort! The loud disparate dichotomy based on chance (or lack thereof) was deafening for Christal, and she knew she had to do something.

Thankfully, this chance encounter would be the reason Christal decided to make the Dominican Republic a priority for her humanitarian outreach efforts where she would find both her inspiration for Brave Soles and her adopted daughter, Widlene.

Garbage Dump Destiny

After that talk with the Haitian mother in the one-room shack, Christal brought hundreds of Live Different teenagers to the Dominican Republic that year.
They would visit a garbage dump where many impoverished people, mostly stateless with no legal place to call home, worked for $1-$2 dollars a day.
Christal and her team helped these people collect bottles and other recyclables. Since recycling is privatized there, this is how most stateless individuals earn an income. While there, Christal befriended a woman with a toddler on her hip. They chatted, she helped her find bottles, and they parted ways.

About a year after this encounter, Christal learned that woman passed away, and her child was now an orphan. She and her then-husband were thinking about adoption already, so they began a quest to find that child, Widlene, which they did in 2009.

Widlene is of Haitian descent and was born in the Dominican Republic, so to adopt her required official documents and judiciary approval. This process took months instead of the anticipated weeks, and during that time Christal’s marriage began to dissolve. They completed the process only to have an earthquake destroy the paperwork and, unfortunately, claim the life of the judge.

Now Christal had a daughter who doesn’t speak the same language, she had no legal abilities to protect her nor could she leave the country with her. On top of all that, she was legally separated from her husband and now had to face the reality of being a single parent in a foreign country.
What’s a girl to do but start rebuilding her life?

“I was still working with Live Different, but I felt a pull to do something else. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and inside me, I wanted to be able to create something that was going to provide a way for me to co-create with other people.”

Christal split her time between the Dominican Republic and Canada while she and her now ex-husband, co-parented their daughter. She spent her time away making money as a speaker and while in the Dominican Republic, she continued to host teams taking them to the garbage dump to work with the stateless population.

While she had been helping them find bottles for years, her work in the dump took on a new meaning considering her financial struggles as a now single parent.

“I’m actually in the same boat as these people. It looks different on the outside, but financially, I was just as vulnerable…I had such empathy for the cycle that they were caught in. It was through that empathy that I started to see the people there and the dump itself differently. I noticed the tires.”
The tires weren’t new, but her perspective was, and that shift would lead to her moment of divine entrepreneurial inspiration.

Lightning Strikes

“What’s with all the tires?” people would ask when Christal would bring them to the dump to work. Usually, she would shrug it off, claiming ignorance as they got to work. One day, she said those famous last words many social entrepreneurs have uttered before:

“I don’t know, but someone should really do something about it.”

A few weeks later she walks out of her apartment, says hello to her neighbor, and notices her sandals. Christal said she had a “total girl moment” saying she loved them and asked where to find a pair. Her friend said she bought the handmade leather sandals in Cuba and handed one to Christal for closer inspection.

That’s when lightning struck: she could be the person to “do something” about those tires in the dump. The sole on the sandal she was holding was no better than what she could create using those tires through upcycling and a little ingenuity with the help of local artisans.

Upcycling Ideas and Resources

Christal is the first one to tell you this was not a new idea; many organizations worldwide use upcycling to help impoverished communities create goods, including sandals which she had seen from Africa and Central America.

Those were never her style, but she realized she could create something to her tastes that would address the tire issue, employ local artisans, and provide an income for her and her daughter.

She visited a small artisanal shop to ask the local shoemaker if he could help her create a prototype. When she explained how wanted to use recycled tires as the soles, he looked at her like she had lost her mind.

The next day he sent her a picture of a simple leather sandal, and he told Christal he found someone who knew how to work with tires. Everything was falling in line from a manufacturing standpoint; now, she just needed to find the money to start her business.

Posting a Plan: You’ve got to start somewhere.

Christal was still barely making it by with her income as a speaker so as a single mom, there wasn’t a dime she could commit to this project.

She knew her crazy idea could work thanks to her Haitian artisan friends so she went to her apartment and using Post-it notes, created the business model on her kitchen wall. She decided on the “Brave Soles” name, visualized her brand and mapped out a timeline based on her research.
She determined that $250 is what she needed to start. Thanks to a generous friend, she got $1000.

Then, she got to work.

Brave Soles Takes Off Running

That next day she started making shoes. Over the following six weeks she set up a Shopify site, had people wear sample sandals to gain feedback, and took some amateur pictures of her products at a local coffee shop.

On June 7, an organic Facebook post using these pictures introduced her brand to the world. This post generated 40 sales in one day.
She knew she was on to something.

At the time, she didn’t have the inventory to fulfill the orders, so she knew it was time to ramp up production. The good news was, her customers were aware they were buying more than sandals and were willing to wait for their order.

brave soles men


This vision of co-creating with other entrepreneurs would initially come at a cost for Brave Soles. While the local community wanted the work, suppliers lacked the resources and machinery to do it.

Christal developed a microloan program so these suppliers could purchase what they needed. It was a win-win; Brave Soles would be their first customer and they would now be equipped to take on new business from others. She realized that this microfinancing initiative was an essential part of her story:

“We’ve created a microloan program to give people a chance to participate in our story…and one of the things I’ve come to realize thanks to feedback from our customers is that when they talk about us online and social media, it always comes back to ‘I love that I know the story behind what I’m wearing.’”

Telling the Brave Soles Story: The Ambassador Program

Christal says this story-based selling is nothing new, but there are new and unique ways to share their story worldwide. Today, the Brave Soles Ambassador Program has representatives located throughout the world ready to sell her products and her cause to their local communities and online.
“I stumbled into the idea because people were telling me how excited they were about Brave Soles products and how they loved our story and wanted to know how they could help us succeed. I realized there’s a model for people to share a part of our story through an independent sales program…and it needed to have an element that for everyone was transformational, not just transactional.”

Christal and her team have developed several ways for ambassadors to help sell their brand worldwide using startup packages, trunk show sales, and peer network groups.

She credits the success of the Brave Soles Ambassador Program to her global sales representatives who share her passion of helping people discover ways to think and buy differently. Christal and her team are challenging the notion that one person can’t make a difference with their dollar, and that you can fulfill your need and help others simultaneously by purchasing a beautiful item that has a remarkable story.

It Takes Village: Gathering Other Brave Souls

Christal believes that it takes a village to create a successful social enterprise, and that village can sometimes come at a cost. Since she founded Brave Soles, she has relied on a council of advisors and mentors that have helped her company thrive and in return, she has supported others.

She believes there is value in “putting yourself out there” in a way that is comfortable for you. If you are beginning as an entrepreneur, it may be taking advantage of local groups and free events that provide networking opportunities. As your business grows and you want to expand your network, you can seek out paid opportunities like startup incubators or becoming a member of a local association related to your industry.

She said it’s these relationships with others that has helped create the social impact she envisioned:

“I gathered a council of advisors and mentors around me and participated in some startup incubators that were healthy ecosystems made up of people like me who were experiencing the same kind of journey, and I know it’s why Brave Soles has been successful. Our success as a brand has been a team effort.”

The Journey Ahead

Today Brave Soles sources materials from landfills to create sandals, shoes, handbags, and more. With success has come expansion with suppliers now located in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and Mexico. Christal’s dream of co-creation continues as Brave Soles currently employs cutters and sewers from these areas to help craft these handmade items.

Christal intends on pushing outside her comfort zone to seek new funding sources. She initially raised money from a private investor and now realizes that as her business grows, she needs additional funds to support that growth.

She encourages social entrepreneurs to be brave when asking for funding; to realize that as your business evolves so too will your budget and that’s a good thing if you can plan accordingly and think long-term. As she gears up for her next pitch, she relies on her previous experience and is reminded that it’s her story and passion that sells, and there is always someone looking for a reason to invest in humanity.

Action Steps and Takeaways

Know Why You Are in Business

Social entrepreneurs are passionate people working for both an income and a reason. What’s your reason? Why does it matter? What returns from your work would you like to see?

These questions may seem like a mundane exercise as you make big plans to affect social change, but they are essential to have as a new startup to remind you why you’re in business in the first place. Passion can be misplaced when other issues arise that our bleeding hearts want to address; these answers will help keep your business heading in the right direction and most importantly, viable.

Stick to Your Values

Now that you know who you are as a business, what do you stand for and how will you relay those values to your audience?
Storytelling has been integral to the Brave Soles brand since its inception and can help tell yours too. Christal’s experience with Live Different, her time spent in the garbage dump, and her personal struggles have all added to the Brave Sole brand in different ways, and the brand story keeps evolving as her business continues to grow.

How will you use storytelling to your advantage? You are selling more than products or services; you are inviting people to participate in your brand and affect social change. Using storytelling to communicate your passion and values can help create the continuous transformative sales you want rather than the one-time transactional sales you may receive.

Ethics Matter

People may love your product, but they will talk more about the experience with your brand rather than what they received in return for their money. Remember that! Love always wins so even when it’s hard to be kind, remember your mission is worth it.