Category Archives: Empowering Women

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

 

#LikeAWoman

You’ve probably seen the “#LikeAGirl” video that debuted not long ago. If you haven’t, take a minute to watch it – it’s inspiring and eye-opening.

At Soap Hope we often think about how perceptions of women either empower or limit people. Why do we invest in women? Here are some amazing facts about the behavior of women that inspire us:

  • Women consistently reinvest a much larger percentage of earnings into their own families and communities than men do. This behavior creates opportunity and advancement for more people.
  • The more economic and political participation of women there is in a country, the more stable that country is likely to be.
  • The more women there are in the legislature of a country, the lower the level of corruption is likely to be.
  • Women are far more likely than men to repay a business loan.

In short: it’s smart to invest in women.

Soap Hope was founded (by two men, incidentally) on the belief that solving humanity’s greatest problems will require balanced participation by women in all aspects of society, especially decision-making and leadership. We decided to focus on women at the “bottom of the pyramid” – those who are most disadvantaged.

We choose to make our difference by empowering those women through entrepreneurship – and we’re serious about it. Every single dollar of profit that we earn goes to fund loan capital and education for women.

These women start and grow their businesses, changing the dynamic of their local societies by bringing success, hope and opportunity to them. We believe that this, too, can and will become a pervasive worldwide phenomenon.

Who wouldn’t want to invest in a person who saves like a woman, invests like a woman, plans like a woman, strengthens the community like a woman, and transforms the world like a woman? I know I would – how about you?

– Salah Boukadoum, Co-Founder, Soap Hope

If you want to participate, it’s easy: shop at Soap Hope, share the story with others in e-mail and social media, and please write us – we want to hear from you.

Women, Take the Stage

Soap Hope co-founder Salah Boukadoum introduces award-winning global philanthropist, Mina Chang.
Soap Hope co-founder Salah Boukadoum introduces global philanthropist Mina Chang, winner of the Women That Soar Philanthropy and Humanitarian Award in 2012. Ms. Chang is CEO and President of Linking The World International, an international humanitarian children’s organization working in developing countries to break the cycle of poverty.

The Conference

I recently attended a conference about the future of cities.

Like many conferences, this one started with a packed room of attendees ready to hear some great opening speakers.

Right at 9:00, the conference chairman came on stage to welcome us. Then came the city mayor. Then the conference organizer gave us an orientation, and an expert gave a great talk about the cities of the future. And then a powerhouse panel of five world leaders took the stage.

And that’s when I first noticed it. All the people on the panel were men.

I started thinking back through the morning. Before the panel was the conference organizer, a man. The expert before him, a man. The mayor before him, and the CEO before him, all men.

The panel took questions for an hour from a moderator – a man. Next on the agenda, a scientist – a man.

It was 11:30. The whole morning had passed. Not a single woman’s voice from the stage.

Women’s Voices, Women’s Choices

Half the people in the world are women, but women do not make up half the conversation or half the decision making about its future.

I have long believed that most of the ills of our world come from the imbalance of the missing voices of women in leadership, governance, planning, and decision making.

That’s one of the reasons that Soap Hope focuses on empowering women, particularly those who are the most disenfranchised.  If women don’t have the means to earn an income, don’t have access to credit, and don’t have a seat at the table, then half the world is excluded from the conversation and the decision making. How can we expect the future of the world to serve all humanity if half of it is left out?

I agree with Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women, who said, “Microcredit is about much more than access to money. It is about women gaining control over the means to make a living. It is about women lifting themselves out of poverty and vulnerability. It is about women achieving economic and political empowerment within their homes, their villages, their countries.”

Soap Hope, Women, and the Future

The conference organizers didn’t consciously exclude women that morning. But that didn’t comfort me at all – they didn’t even notice the absence of women. There is a blind spot in their understanding of the world.

Blind spots like this don’t just disappear on their own. We have to actively work not only to raise awareness and educate, but also to take action and use our resources to change existing structures that currently exclude women.

That’s why Soap Hope means so much to me. I love the idea that we can change the world with our simple system. We provide customers with everyday things – soap bars, shampoo, candles, laundry soap – and all the profits from every purchase create income for women, bring more women’s voices to the conversation, bring more women’s leadership to the society.

Soap Hope is my way of joining my voice to the many people who are asking, “Women, please join your colleagues on the stage.” I for one am very much looking forward to what you have to say.

Salah Boukadoum
Co-Founder, Soap Hope

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Women With Drive

“One of the most critical things that gets denied to women who are oppressed is mobility.” – Meenu Vadera

 

One of the hidden barriers that women around the world face is the lack of freedom to move.

Sometimes these limitations are overt; for example, did you know it is illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia?

Other times lack of opportunity is related to a lack of access to transportation. In Dallas, if a woman’s car isn’t reliable or it takes 90 minutes to get to work by public transportation, her ability to get and keep her job is jeopardized. In the Dominican Republic, if a woman can’t get to the town market, she won’t earn a fair price for her goods.

And then there are cultural barriers: when is the last time your cab was driven by a woman? Just one percent of New York City’s taxi drivers are female.

I’ve been impressed with two very different approaches to empowering women through mobility that I’d like to share with you today.

Molly Cantrell-Kraig, Women With Drive – USA

A few years ago I had the great fortune of becoming friends with Molly Cantrell-Kraig, director of a wonderful U.S. impact organization called Women With Drive Foundation. Many women who want to work find themselves unable to gain or keep employment, only because they can’t get to work reliably or in a reasonable period of time. Molly’s organization helps these women work by providing them access to a safe and reliable vehicle.

I love Molly’s self-sufficiency requirements – they remind me of what we look for at Soap Hope in the programs we support to help women escape poverty. Her clients must have a job offer, be law-abiding and drug-free without DWIs or DUIs, and must pay for their own insurance and taxes. Women With Drive provides the opportunity; the client is the one that creates the success. Or as Molly says, “We provide access to a car … she provides the drive.”

Meenu Vadera, Women On Wheels – India

I saw Meenu Vadera speak recently in Dallas at the New Cities Summit about her impact organization, Women On Wheels. Ms. Vadera’s dual organizations are based in Delhi. Her non-profit provides extensive training to certify women as drivers; her for-profit then hires these women to provide transportation services in the city.

Women On Wheels empowers women across a multitude of dimensions: it provides training; it develops confidence; it offers employment and a path out of poverty; and it challenges cultural norms that tell women that certain kinds of professions are off-limits to them. Ms. Vadera’s clients often become the primary breadwinners for their families, eclipsing the income earned by their parents and sometimes becoming the first in the family to escape the city slums.

Empowerment Is The Key

We’re focused on empowerment at Soap Hope. We aim to empower women by sending all our profits to help women start businesses. We created Soap Hope to empower you as an individual to make a difference by consciously choosing where you buy. We work hard to empower you as a consumer by providing a place where all the products meet standards for health and purity. And we strive to empower other impact organizations by sharing their stories.

Watch Molly Cantrell-Kraig in an interview by The Success Loft (Can’t see this video? Here’s the link. )

Watch Meenu Vadera on Women On Wheels at the New Cities Summit 2014 in Dallas (Can’t see this video? Here’s the link. )