How a Trip to Haiti Inspired This Entrepreneur to Start Her Business
In The Business of Good, serial and social entrepreneur Jason Haber intertwines case studies and anecdotes that show how social entrepreneurship is creating jobs, growing the economy, and ultimately changing the world. In this edited excerpt, Haber discusses Becky Straw and the charity she founded to help people in third-world nations.
Becky Straw believes in the power of a job. It has a ripple effect that’s far greater than that one person. “What people want most in this world is the opportunity to thrive. Not with handouts, but by using their own two hands,” says the website for The Adventure Project, where Straw is co-founder.
It all started with a question. While working to help repair broken water wells in Haiti, Straw was approached by a man who asked, “Are you hiring?” This question would come up again and again.
“I realized the irony that people are desperate to work and we have nobody who has the skills to fix [water] wells. So that’s how it started,” Straw told the Huffington Post.
Since then, she and co-founder Jody Landers have launched The Adventure Project and funded innovative programs on the ground in the developing world that have the potential to achieve scalable results. The Adventure Project connects with and invests in social entrepreneurs who can earn money for themselves while bettering their community.
Whenever there is a crisis, people are very generous and rush in to offer all kinds of support, Straw explains. But then, “another emergency strikes and people leave. They always leave,” she says. It’s up to the locals who remain to rebuild their communities. But it can’t be done with handouts; they aren’t looking for handouts. They want opportunities. That’s what The Adventure Project seeks to deliver.
In the five years since inception, The Adventure Project has created almost 800 jobs that have impacted more than 1 million people -- jobs in India, Uganda, Kenya, and Haiti. These jobs have included well mechanics, health-care workers, farmers, and stove masons.
In Uganda, they’ve trained health-care workers who can go village to village delivering aid. They are certified to sell 60 products, one of the most popular being the $10 Maama Kit. In Uganda, Straw explained to me, many hospitals and health-care facilities won’t admit a pregnant woman in labor unless she brings her own supplies.
“Women save up for these kits,” she said. “This is something we would never think about in the developed world.” The kits contain plastic sheets, razor blades, gauze pads, soap, gloves, cord ties, and a child health card. The kits’ supplies are sterilized and sealed until needed.
Last year Straw and Landers won a DVF Award, The People’s Voice. Founded by Diane von Fürstenberg and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, the awards honor the work of incredible women who transform the lives of others. There was an impressive list of successful women present, including Gabrielle Giffords, Hillary Clinton, Tina Brown, Naomi Campbell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Dakota Fanning. In the very middle of these remarkable people sat Becky Straw.
The Adventure Project will do its research carefully, but it is not afraid to take risks. These risks involve both internal operations and external partners. Straw strives to achieve a balancing act. She is aware of the results that can be achieved with effective marketing, and that means spending money where it needs to be spent. The Adventure Project won’t shy away from a challenge, provided there is the ability to scale and create jobs.
The project believes in the power of social entrepreneurs to lift people out of poverty and solve the underlying causes that keep them there. For its 2015 Labor Day campaign, The Adventure Project held a fundraising challenge that allowed the top donors to design a limited edition T-shirt. All donors who chipped in $100 or more would receive the shirt. Now, there’s a shirt that can make a difference.
Muhammad Yunus took direct aim at charity in his book Banker to the Poor. “Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility,” he wrote. “Charity is no solution to poverty. Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about those of the poor. It appeases our consciences.”
Social entrepreneurship is changing this. In a sermon he wrote in 1630 in which he outlined his vision for charity, John Winthrop, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, talked about the future world he envisioned. He hoped his new colony would serve “as a city upon a hill.” Achieving that vision has been part of our culture ever since. Our leaders from both political parties have used this phrase to frame their policies. But to fulfill it, to truly become that place, it will take change makers to deliver fundamental impact that is beyond party or ideology. We haven’t reached it yet. But maybe, just maybe, we are now, finally, on our way.