Category Archives: Empowering Women

Stories of Hope: Pastora

From our latest stories of hope at Soap Hope, we learn about Pastora – the King of Refrigeration.

A born entrepreneur, Pastora’s story of hope began a few years ago. Pastora ran a small business selling food items to members of her community in the Dominican Republic. However, without the capital to make repairs and ensure the safety of her food supply, she was forced to close down her business.

In 2007, Pastora’s life changed when she obtained her first loan of 7,000 Dominican Pesos (about $185 USD) from Esperanza International and opened a tiny ‘tienda’, or shop, selling shoes.

Esperanza: Creating Stories of Hope

Esperanza’s mission is to eliminate poverty in the Dominican Republic. Their approach is to provide more than just financial support. They also support their microfinance loan recipients with education, training, health, and hygiene services.

Esperanza’s mission to help children and families facing poverty pairs perfectly with our mission at Soap Hope. Today, our partnership is fruitful and thriving, as evidenced by other stories of hope like that of Bienvenida.

As a result of the partnership between Soap Hope, Esperanza, and You, we are able to impact the lives of women around the world – women like Pastora.

The Rest of Pastora’s Story

Pastora in her refrigerator repair shop.Pastora has a knack for understanding the needs of her community. She has been able to adjust her business model to the changing demands of her customers and the resources available to her.

She still recalls closing her first venture due to food spoilage – a huge problem for businesses in the hot climate of the Dominican Republic. That’s why Pastora decided to open a shoe business with her loan, a product that would not have to contend with the Dominican heat.

A few years after opening her tienda selling shoes, Pastora expanded her lines of business to sell refrigeration repair equipment. Today, “The King Refrigeracion” is thriving, and Pastora has more plans to expand in the future.

In addition to the loans Pastora received to launch and grow her businesses, she has benefited from other services provided through Esperanza — benefits like dental and health insurance for her family —  things that would otherwise be difficult to come by in her area.

Pastora also loves attending the business trainings that Esperanza organizes near her home. She is thankful to the organization for providing her with “abrir una puerta para trabajar,” or, “an open door to work.”

A Partnership of Hope

Esperanza is committed to alleviating poverty in and around the Dominican Republic. Soap Hope is dedicated to lifting women from poverty through organizations like Esperanza. Together, we are able to impact the lives of women like Pastora. But we can only do it with you.

A single bar of soap can fund a woman’s business for two days. Imagine how many days you could fund simply by skipping the store and purchasing all of your body care and house cleaning products online at Soap Hope.

When we make the choice as business owners and consumers to direct our money into world-changing social causes, we write a new chapter in the stories of hope for women who may not have had a chance to escape poverty otherwise.

Esperanza, Soap Hope, and You – making the greatest impact, together. What stories of hope will you write today?

Stories of Hope: Ramya and Rani

Ramya Elayaraja and Rani Murugesan are two stories of hope from Milaap’s microfinance program in India.

Ramya heads up a group of women who manufacture and sell homemade masala powder out of their homes in the village of Koothur, India. Rani also runs a home based business selling sundries like soaps, shampoos, and facial powders.

The masala business is comprised of five women, all of whom work other jobs during the day, and all of whom received microloans to launch their own business. After their regular daily jobs are complete, the women gather at Rani’s house to roast, grind, blend, and package the masala powder.

When it comes time to blend a new batch of masala, raw ingredients for the powder are purchased from local grocers. A single batch of masala powder can bring the business about four months’ worth of sales revenue. This is how Ramya uses her funds from Milaap to build her business month after month.

Organic Garam Masala

GROWING A MASALA BUSINESS

Word has spread about their masala powder, and the success of the business is growing. The women report that people are now coming from several blocks away as word of mouth spreads into the community. On the crowded streets of India, this type of growing publicity is no small feat.

The Village of Koothur is located in a metro area with more than one million people, 25% of whom live in the slums in and around the city. Ramya and the other women running the masala business, however, have impressively managed to grow and expand a small business under harsh economic conditions.

Demand ebbs and flows, but the women are happy to report that the five of them currently take home at least 1,000 Indian Rupees per month from the venture. The additional income of their masala business has a tremendous and transformative impact on the community where these women live and work.

Indian Food

MILAAP MAKES IT POSSIBLE

Milaap has a unique approach to microlending. Their mission is to make lending “personal, transparent, and sustainable.” These qualities make Milaap an ideal mission partner for Soap Hope. Together we are able to work to eliminate poverty, empower women, and support education where it is most needed, and often the hardest to come by.

All Soap Hope profits, 100% of them, are committed for a full year of service towards lifting women from poverty worldwide through organizations like Milaap. By partnering with microfinance experts like Milaap, we are able to impact the lives of even more women around the world than if we were to do the work on our own.

Your purchases at Soap Hope empower women like Ramya and Rani. It only takes one bar of soap from Soap Hope to fund a woman’s business for 2 days, and a bottle of laundry soap will fund a business for 7 days. Together, we create a lasting impact on the lives of women.

Looking for a quick and easy way to spice up your next meal? Try this DIY recipe for garam masala, courtesy of the Organic Authority:

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon cardamom
  • 1 Tablespoon ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Method

  • Mix ingredients and store in an airtight shaker container.

Empower Women. End Poverty.

(Article written by guest contributor Amy Wynn)

Entrepreneur Magazine recently published an article highlighting the ONE campaign, urging legislators to empower women by promoting gender equality through their work.

“Girls and women living in extreme poverty – those often hit hardest by the injustice of gender inequality – have been left out of the conversation,” the letter says, asking for data, funding and policy changes to support its cause.

Signed by heavy hitting advocates and activists like Sheryl Sandberg, Amy Poehler, Condoleezza Rice, and Melinda Gates, the open letter concluded in a bold statement that read, “Poverty is sexist.”

Women at Risk

Worldwide, women are far and away the most at risk for facing extreme poverty, preventable disease, and other limiting circumstances. As these limiting circumstances increase, it becomes more challenging for women to get access to many basic resources that could help reduce or eliminate the problems.

Soap Hope was founded with a mission focused on lifting women to a place where they have power to improve their own lives, their families’ lives, and the lives of members of their communities.

Why Soap Hope Supports Women

As we’ve discussed on past blogs, women are the backbone of society, key players in the success of communities large and small.

  • Women consistently invest more of their money back into their families and communities than men.
  • The participation of women in an economy is a proven factor in the stability of a country, and has been linked to lower levels of corruption within government.
  • When a woman is struggling simply to eat, to feed, and to access care for her family, there is little room for her to step into a position of active participation within her community.  Women facing extreme poverty are inherently excluded from participating in leadership and decision making, the very fields from which we all benefit the most from their equality and inclusion.

In short, empowering women is good for everyone.

How Soap Hope Empowers Women

To us, empowering women means giving them a voice and an outstretched hand, not only as a way towards an education or starting a business, but also to empower the women as leaders and decision makers in their communities and around the world.

Through our mission at Soap Hope, women are being brought to the table to participate in and lead these larger conversations. By providing women with resources to lift themselves up, we are able to help loosen the grip of poverty on their lives and free them to contribute to their own communities and society at large.

Every dollar of profit generated from Soap Hope purchases – 100% of it – goes out into the world for one year through programs that provide capital and business training to women so they can start, build and grow their own businesses.

From microloans through Milaap in India, to Esperanza in the Dominican Republic, we join forces with our mission partners to plant the seeds of change for women worldwide.

Don’t Let Poverty Persist

Poverty is a global problem. And as the article from Entrepreneur Magazine reminds us, the key to ending poverty is empowering women.

Women around the world, including in your own communities, are struggling to survive, to provide for their children and families, and find themselves severely limited by their circumstances.

We – you, us, and our mission partners – are doing good by maximizing our collective ability to raise women from poverty. Through your purchase of natural, healthy products at Soap Hope, we are able to partner with organizations around the world to make real, tangible changes in the lives of women.

Conquering poverty takes all of us, working together.

Stories of Hope: Microlending through Milaap

We’re grateful at Soap Hope — for our customers, of course, but for our mission partners, as well.

These partners are addressing some of our planet’s biggest issues like poverty and access to education, and they share in our vision of creating impact through bigger innovations.

We’ve previously highlighted what our nonprofit partner, Milaap, has accomplished through their distinctive approach to microlending.

Milaap was founded by three entrepreneurs in 2010 — friends with a vision “to change people’s concept of giving and make it a personal, transparent, and sustainable process.”

Their program and platform are unique — when you give you Milaap, you’re able to choose from a list of eligible borrowers, categorized by their needs and loan requirements. Borrowers receive 100% of the funds, and when the loan is paid back, those repayments accumulate in your Milaap account as credits. You can withdraw your money or re-lend the funds to other Milaap borrowers.

It’s an easy and engaging way to lend money to the causes you care about most: ending poverty, supporting education, or (if you’re like us here at Soap Hope) helping women who want brighter futures.

Supporting Small Business

Vanraj Mahila Mandal is a small collective of industrious women from Dahod in Gujarat, India (pictured above). These women are all running their own small businesses in order to support their families.

Parvati (pictured in the middle) leads the group. She’s a 35 year old woman and runs a petty shop in Dahod, selling items like sugar, rice, and tea to the community. Other women in the collective own similar businesses, selling groceries and other household products, or offering services like sewing.

The loan from Milaap has given Parvati the means to  add inventory in her shop and expand her business. Funding from Milaap ensures a better standard of living for these women and their families, and ultimately the communities they live in.

Supporting Real Impact

By partnering with organizations like Milaap, Soap Hope creates more impact with our profits.

We believe that businesses everywhere can create this kind of change in the world, and the support of our Soap Hope customers ensures that we facilitate bigger change.

Want to learn more about our Soap Hope mission? Visit our Mission page here. 

 

 

//Photo credit: Milaap

PeopleFund: The “Economic Gardeners” of Texas

As part of our mission at Soap Hope, we invest 100% of our profits into programs that support and empower women around the world. One of those programs is PeopleFund, which was founded here in Texas in 1994.

The state of Texas has long been lauded as one of the best states to start a small business. With low taxes, low cost of living, and a high job growth rate, it’s an ideal environment for entrepreneurs to thrive.

But the resources that might be available to Texans aren’t always accessible to everyone who want to start a business.

Enter PeopleFund, a microlending program and business assistance nonprofit that provides small business loans to those with limited access to resources.

The PeopleFund Mission

Since being  founded in 1994 in Austin, Texas, the financial and educational assistance PeopleFund provides “has helped create thousands of jobs and empowered an even greater number of Texans on a path to financial stability and independence.”

PeopleFund not only issues small business loans to the underserved, but also offers business education and a host of workshops and programs to support the entrepreneurs that are participating.

According to their mission, the goal of PeopleFund ” is to give people the opportunity to turn their talents into a sustainable livelihood and achieve financial stability for themselves and their families.”

Andrea’s Story

Andrea Thomas is a savvy and resourceful business owner, here in Dallas, Texas. Her background as an architect — full of long hours and high demand — was preparation for an even more intense vocation: being a mother.

Andrea PeopleFundAndrea is a devoted parent, and when her daughter developed eczema, she knew she had to do something about it — and that’s how ScratchMeNots was born.

ScratchMeNots are designed to be worn as a cardigan, and were originally created to prevent children from scratching themselves. The clothing is also made from certified organic cotton and bamboo, for kiddos with sensitive skin.

When Andrea realized she needed capital to help grow her business, she turned to PeopleFund.

The financing that Andrea received allowed her to not only invest in more inventory, but she was able to respond her immediate customer demand, so that ScratchMeNots could meet its projected goals.

“PeopleFund has helped us gift parents with peace and their children with relief,” says Andrea.

And we’re thrilled here at Soap Hope to work with PeopleFund so that we can tackle widespread issues and continue empowering women — at home and abroad.
To learn more about PeopleFund, visit their website.

Check out Soap Hope’s mission and how we’re changing the world, one bar of soap at a time.

 

Milaap: Connecting People Through the Giving Experience

While the issues of poverty and lack of education around the world are still daunting, we’re grateful here at Soap Hope to partner with organizations like Milaap, who are addressing these problems with innovative new platforms and technology.

Milaap: Creating Connection through Technology

Milaap means “connecting people” in Hindi, and was founded by three entrepreneurs in 2010 — friends with a single vision “to change people’s concept of giving and make it a personal, transparent, and sustainable process.”

The Milaap microlending program is unique in its implementation of a technology platform that allows for people to lend money to a number of people in need.

Lenders are able to choose from a list of borrowers, based on their needs and loan requirements. The eligible borrowers are selected by Milaap’s field partners, who are “established organizations that have a strong presence at the grassroots [level], a deep understanding of their communities and challenges, and a commitment to serve their needs.”

The borrowers receive 100% of the funds, and lenders are able to track the process of the loan through the Milaap platform, where the stories and progress of the borrowers can be shared with a larger audience.

Usha’s Story

IMG_1949_1438344515

Usha is one of the borrowers who has benefited from Milaap’s giving platform and your Soap Hope purchases.

Usha is 28 years old and leads Samanvaya SHG, a company that produces natural home décor products. Samanvaya has been up and running for the last 8 years, and regular production activities have helped its members to support themselves and save for the future. Usha was able to purchase a small facility in her hometown from her savings.

There are other women who want to join Samanvaya SHG, but Usha needed adequate machinery and infrastructure to accommodate more women, which is why she applied for a loan from the Milaap program.

Supporting Usha will allow her to grow Samanvaya and empower more women in her community to support their families and save for brighter futures.

Creating a Wider Impact

By partnering with innovative organizations like Milaap, Soap Hope is able to create a wider impact with our profits. We believe that businesses everywhere can create this kind of change in the world, but only through the hard work and creativity of companies like Milaap that share this vision.

 

//Photography credit: Milaap

Esperanza International: Addressing Poverty by Creating Real Opportunity

It’s important to us at Soap Hope to make a greater impact.

Our mission incorporates both our dedication to providing natural and safe products for our customers, as well as our commitment to making opportunities available to underprivileged women around the world.

We do that by partnering with organizations like Esperanza International, a nonprofit that focuses on freeing children and their families from poverty.

Bienvenida’s Story

When we first partnered with Esperanza, our cofounder, Salah Boukadoum had the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic, to witness the impact that our organizations were making in communities in underserved countries.

That’s where Salah met Bienvenida, an entrepreneur who was able to grow her business through her own determination and with support from funds that she received.

“She started with nothing but vision and commitment,” Salah said. “With the support of a few small loans and training, and through her own hard work and dedication over many years, Bienvenida now has a convenience store, a restaurant, and a home anyone would be proud of.”

Bienvenida is a shining example of how entrepreneurship can change lives
Bienvenida is a shining example of how entrepreneurship can change lives

Bienvenida chose to build her home in the neighborhood she was a part of, demonstrating her own commitment to strong community and hope for the future.

Esperanza Means Hope

Eighty-seven percent of the loans that Esperanza disburses goes to women. Strictly from a business standpoint, women are more likely to pay back their loans and are less of a credit risk. Women like Bienvenida use their earnings to help educate their children and do good in their community.

Women like Bienvenida are key players in ending poverty and building up communities that are underserved.

“People do break out of the cycle of poverty,” says Esperanza International’s founder, Dave Valle. With financial support from organizations like Esperanza, serious issues like poverty can be addressed in the Dominican Republic.

And Esperanza doesn’t only provide microfinancing for these individuals. Their “microfinance plus” model is designed to address poverty and community development through a combination of financial services and health and education initiatives.

“It is designed to address the cultural, social, spiritual and economic forces that frequently prevent families from breaking the chains of poverty, so that they can be free to create their own brighter futures.”

Esperanza implements a number of programs focused on vocational training, literacy, health and hygiene. Health screenings and dental care are also made available in the communities where Esperanza works, helping individuals to “prevent various infections and illnesses, make nutritionally-sound dietary choices, create STD and HIV awareness, conduct self-exams for breast cancer, and encourage participation in cervical cancer testing.”

Esperanza recently announced that they’ll offer micro-insurance, the first product of its kind in the Dominican Republic.

“We are always looking for new ways to help children and their families and we know that one of the most vulnerable areas for our associates is their health. This is due to a deficient healthcare system in the DR, especially within the public hospitals.  This service will give them to the ability to go to private clinics for treatment.”

And it’s through the opportunities that Esperanza makes available to women like Bienvenida that we can start to tackle widespread issues like poverty and education. It’s through these opportunities that we can spread hope.

To learn more about Esperanza International, visit their site here.

To learn more about Soap Hope’s mission, you can click here.

And remember — every dollar that you spend at Soap Hope goes towards a program like Esperanza. You can shop and spread hope by visiting our Soap Hope store.

 

(Image credit: Esperanza International)

Entanglements

Have you seen this striking video of divers freeing a giant manta from fishing line? It’s amazing and beautiful. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look:

Can’t see the video? Click here for YouTube.

You probably know that Soap Hope was founded to put the Good Returns model into action. Under this special business model we send 100% of our profits to women in the U.S. and around the world to enable them to escape poverty. These women start their own personal enterprises and are responsible for their own success.

During the time I’ve been working on Good Returns, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about the reasons that people find themselves in poverty and what should be done about it. I have received hundreds of e-mails and letters from people who are passionate about the fact that every dollar of profit from every Soap Hope purchase goes to empower women.

But I’ve also received letters that say that people in poverty should be left to figure it out for themselves. I’ve been told that if a person is poor, it is because she is irresponsible or lazy. I’ve been told that providing loan capital to the extreme poor just enables more bad choices. (I was also told by one cranky customer that “those women should get off their butts and work.” She didn’t understand that we don’t give money away – we lend it interest-free to entrepreneurial, responsible women who work harder than most people she will ever encounter.)

The video of the manta reminded me of both the women we help and the commentary of naysayers.

The manta became entangled in fishing lines and couldn’t free herself. Who knows, maybe she made a poor choice that got her in that situation. (We all make poor choices from time to time.)

There was no way that the manta could free herself from that entanglement without help. Those fishing lines would never have disintegrated, never have come loose on their own – like some of the women I have met in Central America, who spend hours each day just hauling water, seemingly with no chance to change their situation. (How much could I accomplish if I had to spend 4 hours each day just to obtain water for my family?)

The diver had a tool – a knife – that could help free the manta from that bondage. They both took a risk and he used the knife to help her. In that moment, there was great respect for the manta. The diver didn’t create an entitlement by helping her. (If my company can send small amounts of capital to a woman to help her start a personal enterprise, it could free her to send her children to school.)

In fact, the diver got one of the most memorable moments of his life from the process of helping free that manta. The diver and the manta both had a life changing moment together. Each one received a great gift.

That’s how we feel at Soap Hope. The women to whom we provide capital are like the manta – with amazing stories of grace and times of trouble, willing to do something together with us that can change their lives and ours too. They are entangled in the challenges of poverty. They are willing to take a risk that can free them, and so are we.

If you like the Good Returns business model, help it grow: shop at Soap Hope for your home and body products and gifts, and tell a friend about us. One bar of soap funds one day of business for a woman, so I say “A bar of soap is a day of hope.” 

– Salah

(Photo Credit: Steve Dunleavy, Lake Tahoe, NV)

Good Intentions

If you’ve ever ordered from Soap Hope, you’ve seen a little scrap of folded paper fall out of one of your products when you unwrapped it. It says, “Can Shopping at Soap Hope Change the World?” In the packing room we call it the “Easter Egg” because it’s hidden in your order.

Like most things at Soap Hope, the Easter Egg is very intentional. We hide it in your package. It’s a symbol of extra impact that your order made, on a woman’s life far away from you. It’s a surprise to make sure you know about the mission of Soap Hope, even if you skipped the paperwork we include.

Inside the Easter Egg, we explain that we were inspired by Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Dr. Yunus is known as the father of microfinance. His efforts have touched the lives of millions of women around the world. I’m driven every day by his achievements.

In 2010 I heard Dr. Yunus speak at Austin College in Texas. He told the story of a woman who lived in extreme poverty in a village in Bangladesh. She received a small loan to help start a personal business that could provide income for her. She took and repayed a number of loans over the years and slowly increased her standard of living. She was able to send her daughter to grade school – now the daughter could read, even though the mother could not. Through continued access to training and credit, she was able to afford to send her daughter to high school. Her daughter was able to fund her way through college, and then medical school.

Think about the change in the standard of living from mother to daughter – from a life of illiteracy and poverty to that of an independent woman with a career as a medical doctor, in one generation.

This opportunity is why we started Soap Hope. Can we realistically expect people here, with busy lives, families, and interests, to figure out how to send girls in Bangladesh to school? Maybe not – but Soap Hope can:

We partner with local institutions like the one established by Dr. Yunus. Since Soap Hope sells things that everyone needs for everyday life, and uses all the profits to fund loans for women so they can afford to do things like send their girls to school – that means now everyone can participate. Wash your hair with shampoo from Soap Hope – help teach a girl to read. Wash your dishes with dish soap from Soap Hope – help teach a girl algebra. Drink a cup of tea from Soap Hope – help empower a generation of women.

We’re intentional about the products we curate for you, the environmental impact of the box your order is packed in, the placement of the Easter Egg, the use of the profits your order generates. We do this so that you can simply shop for your everyday needs with us, and the rest is taken care of. But we do need your intention too: Remember Soap Hope. Remember to shop with us for your family. Remember to tell others about Soap Hope. Remember to share your thoughts and ideas with us about how to grow this movement.  It’s our actions together that matter.

Yours,

Salah

You know by now that every bar of soap purchased from us funds one day of a woman’s business – “a bar of soap is a day of hope.” If you’re a follower, you also know by now that I want to sell one millions bars of soap, to create one million days of hope. Let’s tell a million people about it, and get this done. #milliondaysofhope

Beginnings

Salah's Itinerary
I ran across the itinerary for my 1993 six week concert tour through Africa and the Middle East.

 

Prelude

Some of you know that I started my working life as a classical pianist, not as an entrepreneur. In 1993 I was very lucky to go on a six week international tour through Africa and the Middle East, traveling through almost a dozen countries and playing concerts in national theaters, universities, and ambassadors’ halls.

The core idea behind Soap Hope really started all those years ago. After one concert, I had the fortune to spend time with the Director of the World Bank in Kenya. He explained to me about his efforts to address poverty in Kenya. He told me that of every ten dollars sent to alleviate poverty in Kenya, nine went to corruption.

That challenge stuck with me for years: only 10% of the aid that was intended for the extreme poor was making it to those who needed it.

Main Event

It was three companies and 15 years later that Soap Hope was born. When we designed our model for addressing world problems, we wanted to learn from the lessons of that evening in Nairobi. We didn’t want 90% of our effort lost. The Good Returns model was born.

We don’t give money away – we invest in women. When you buy your household products every month from Soap Hope, we send all the profits to women – every dollar – so they can start or expand their own small enterprises around the world, whether in Kenya, or in the Dominican Republic, or right here in Dallas.

How do I know the money isn’t being lost? Because every dollar is repaid after one year, interest-free. We don’t take anything out of our company until those profits are returned. Only then do we get the rewards of our entrepreneurship.

Our intention is to provide opportunity with accountability: yes, all of our business profits are loaned interest free, but all of those profits are required to be returned after they have done good in the world for one year. This approach puts us and those we help on the same page, responsible to each other.

Our vision is to take Soap Hope from the small business it is today to a nationally recognized enterprise, serving millions of customers and millions of women around the world. Then we want to teach many other companies to do the same. I’m so grateful and delighted that you have been an early adopter, creating this vision with us by shopping at Soap Hope and sharing the Soap Hope story.

Encore

I still love music and playing the piano, and when the day comes that Soap Hope is big enough to operate without me every day, I will start working on concert material again. The next time around, I want to play fundraiser concerts to raise awareness and money for sustainable social enterprises. I hope you’ll join me then too.

Yours,

Salah

Salah Boukadoum
Co-Founder, Soap Hope
salah@soaphope.com