The ancient adage, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime," is the new mantra of many 21st century social enterprises. Naturally, socially focused companies have cemented its place in the private sector with greater intensity and more prevalence. The internet has leveled the barrier to entry that used to prevent businesses from flourishing. Entrepreneurs can now execute and distribute their vision to the masses with little investment.
Likewise, the online sphere has also transformed how we consume information, providing readers greater independence to choose what they wish to focus on versus the one-way messaging of radio and television. The internet's viral capability has magnified social injustices a half a world away and brought them into the light. The marriage between these two transformations developed a new type of business that eliminates the invisible separation between for profit companies and nonprofits.
Independent entrepreneurs logically choose to help their chosen causes through a business enterprise because it is a prism they know and understand. What's interesting, however, is the amount of lifelong humanitarians disposing their traditional nonprofit structures for business-focused organizations. It allows them more flexibility to embrace a more self-reliant strategy to help their cause.
A social entrepreneur myself, I developed TheDoGooder.com as a way to help struggling schools, facing devastating budget cuts, bridge the operating gap financially. Instead of developing a traditional nonprofit that left me at the mercy of outside donors, I wanted to create an organization that generated its own profits, which could be reinvested in my cause. Schools and other nonprofits can fundraise through our DoGooder Deals, which are 40-60 percent discounts on sustainable or socially responsible products/services. Every time members purchase a DoGooder Deal, a portion of the profits go back to the school/nonprofit they have chosen as a partner.
Many philanthropists are following a similar strategy and not just offering aid, but a sustainable model that the disadvantaged can use to help themselves. Mass poverty today is usually the consequence of an unstable economy. Instead of providing direct need-based resources like food, medical supplies and clean water, hundreds of social entrepreneurs are creating sustainable advances through their businesses. Many times, they focus on empowering specifically women because it is not only helping the women, but also their families. Two organizations that we have chronicled in our DoGooder Spotlight have done this and teach all of us the valuable real life lesson: help others by empowering them to help themselves.
An early spotlight feature was about the company, Krochet Kids International. At the time, they were a small company with a bold mission. After our feature ran last May, the company rocketed to success when they were featured on a Bing.com commercial spotlight. Founder, 25-year-old Kohl Cresculis and his childhood friends, Travis Hartanov and Stewart Ramsey, made their unconventional hobby of crocheting the center of their Krochet Kids International. The organization teaches the art of crocheting to women living in poverty and empowers them with a living wage and skill set.
Krochet Kids started in Northern Uganda where a rebel army ravaged the northern part of the country, and left hundreds of thousands of people to live in government camps for nearly 20 years. Krochet Kids International aims to replace the need for humanitarian aid completely with the motto: "Buy A Hat. Change a Life." The nonprofit's headquarters in Costa Mesa, Ca handles the operations and coordinates logistics while the Uganda compound oversees the actual education cycle. The three-year cycle provides the women with a job, education and a mentor so they can create a unique and sustainable plan for their future. The women's wages are the same every month to provide steady and consistent pay.
Krochet Kids took a simple idea, like crocheting, and combined it with a model that could self sustain hundreds of Ugandan women. Additionally, Liz Bohannon devised a similar model to help the same women and country, which was also featured as a DoGooder Spotlight. While volunteering at a Ugandan-run boarding school, Bohannon realized Uganda's education structure put women at a natural disadvantage. In an impoverished and male dominated society, many of these young Ugandan women struggle to find fair work to pay for their education.
Bohannon remembered how many compliments she received from her homemade sandals created using leather and some ribbon. She decided to teach girls how to make them and provide a platform for them to earn money. Along with her now-husband Ben, Bohannon started Sseko (say-ko) Designs.
Sseko Designs is a self-described "not-just-for-profit" enterprise. It was important to Bohannon for her company to be a registered part of the formal economy. She recognizes the power of business and responsible consumerism to support sustainable economic development, which in turn affect a country's educational, justice, and health care systems.
Both Krochet Kids and Sseko are not only helping some of the most disadvantaged people on the planet, East African women, but are also stimulating economies by empowering these women with a respectable wage. These jobs are not just covering the basics (shelter, food and water), but also offering an independence and self-worth to a segment of the population that has been beaten down and marginalized for generations. This not only changes the trajectory of a woman's life, but the life of her entire family. The employment that Krochet Kids and Sseko provides offers stability and the space for employees' children to have access to a formal education and basic civil rights, which is central to Uganda's long-term future. Social enterprises are redefining the ways we can support those most in need. Through these models, a simple crochet hat or a pair sandals can spark immeasurable good.