Category Archives: Empowering Women

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

If you like this post, won’t you please share it? And if you have thoughts about this post, please comment here:  http://wp.me/pv0Gr-8i.

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. )

Thank you, Malala

As part of our Soap Hope Community you have probably noticed that we consistently communicate two unique messages at the same time.

On the one hand, we always want to share great products and specials with you. We want you to know when you can get a free Zum bar, or when we start carrying something we haven’t had before, like eye liner and eye gel.

And we always want you to know about our mission and the women we empower, and our belief in the capability and responsibility of businesses to take part in resolving our world’s biggest problems.

So in our shop you’ll hear as much talk about women’s economic development, social impact, poverty and education as you’ll hear about new colors and designs, product purity, safety and new developments in natural products for body and home.

This week we were reminded once again of Malala Yousafzai, the amazing young woman who has been standing up for the right of all people to be educated, regardless of their gender, religion, or geography.

During this very difficult week of violence in the world, it’s easy to get dispirited. Malala reminds us that we need to stay committed to education, even in the face of fear and violence. She reminds us that one of the best roads to peace is the empowerment of women.

If you haven’t seen Malala, watch her talk with Jon Stewart below about what motivates her to stand up for women’s education rights.

Thank you, Malala!

Try

Here’s a dilemma for you.

Every week at Soap Hope, we get together to talk about what to write on this blog and what special offers to send to the many customers who get our weekly email.

The team wanted to do a makeup promo, since we’re big fans of the Pacifica line – the products and packaging are just gorgeous, and our customers love the quality.

Normally that would mean I would pull out the research I did on natural makeup when we decided to carry it and write up some important points about natural makeup, what to look for and how to use it.

But this week I also saw a very touching music video called “Try” by Colbie Caillat. I really wanted to share this song with you, because it made a big impact on me.

But I was conflicted about sending out a promo about makeup, and also sending you this song. You’ll see why when you watch it. (I’ve put it at the end of the blog for you.)

I talked with my friend Kathy and told her about my concerns. “Is it insensitive to promote makeup in the same week as you share a song like this?”

Kathy asked me, “Well Salah, why do you sell makeup?”

It’s not a short answer, but it’s a simple one. I sell makeup because I wanted to create a company that solves big human problems by selling everyday things to my community. I wanted the company to use all of its profits to empower women to escape poverty. And I only wanted to sell things that were healthy and high quality, with the highest integrity I can bring.

I started with something simple: soap bars. And customers – you – showed up to participate. And then you asked for more – for shampoo, for lotion, for new brands, and yes, for makeup.

In return, I asked Kathy why she wears makeup. “The same reason you cut your hair a certain way. It’s fun. It makes me feel good. I like the way it looks. And some days I don’t wear it.”

In the end, Kathy and I decided you would understand everything. That there’s nothing wrong with selling makeup for the right reasons. That it’s OK to share this video with you about how we don’t need to be wearing makeup – or doing anything else – for the wrong reasons. And that I shouldn’t have to worry too much about sharing things with you that moved me, and that I think might move you too.

I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below.


(Can’t see the video? Click here for the original post and scroll to the bottom.)

The Story of Bienvenida

When Soap Hope first connected with Esperanza International, I took a trip to the Dominican Republic to visit the women they serve there.

One of the most memorable people I met was Bienvenida Nina. Bienvenida is an amazing woman and a successful entrepreneur. She started with nothing but vision and commitment. 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. Today she is launching her third business, an ice cream parlor.

I was moved to the core when Bienvenida walked with us past “homes” in the village near her businesses – she pointed out a small concrete room built on dirt, with a doorway but no door, and only half the roof covered by a sheet of corrugated tin. She said “I used to live here.” As we continued down the pathway and listened to her story, we came around a bend and saw a wonderful two-story house, colorfully painted, with a garden in front and an ornamental gate.  She pulled out a key, and we realized this was Bienvenida’s home.

“This is where I live now,” Bienvenida told us. She chose to build her new home in her community, demonstrating an example of hope to her neighbors.

I knew then that Soap Hope needed to empower as many women like Bienvenida as possible. That’s why when you place an order with us, we send every dollar of profit to women in places like the Dominican Republic for one year, interest free. The women start businesses and then return the funds to us a year later.  Each five dollars that you spend with us funds one day of a woman’s loan. That’s we say, “A bar of soap is a day of hope.”

Bienvenida took us to her restaurant, which is now famous for it’s fried chicken. Our friends at Esperanza told us we could share her “secret recipe” with you today. (For my vegetarian friends, it works just as well with tofu!)


Bienvenida Nina’s secret … shhh

The inspiring Bienvenida Nina
Bienvenida Nina inspires us at Soap Hope.

Soak chicken in vinegar
(Tenderizes)

All spices are to taste:
Jalapeno pepper
Celery salt
Crushed whole oregano
Garlic powder
Salt if desired

Coat in flour and fry
Enjoy!

Donated by Bienvenida Nina


Esperanza Means Hope

(If you can’t see this video in this post, you can see the original here.)

Have you ever wanted to know more about what happens to the profits that are created when you shop at Soap Hope?

  • When you buy a Zum Bar at your grocery store, the profits go to the grocery store shareholders.
  • When you buy a Seaweed Bath Co. shampoo at Amazon, the profits go to Amazon shareholders.
  • When you buy a Hugo Naturals bath bomb from the Hugo website, the profits go to Hugo’s shareholders.

But when you choose to buy those same products from the Soap Hope website instead of at another store, something amazing happens:

We send all the profits to groups around the world who lend the money to women, so they can start and grow their own businesses and escape poverty. They use the money for a year and then return it, interest-free.

We call it “volunteering our profits.” Only after the profits have spent the year in service, do our founders then receive their earnings.

One of Soap Hope’s partners around the world is Esperanza International, working in the Dominican Republic. “Esperanza” is the Spanish word for “Hope.” We think that’s a fitting name, and they are certainly a fitting partner. At the top of this post we’ve shared a three-minute movie about some of the women whose lives have been changed by Esperanza.

Just think, the bar of soap or candle or face wash you buy today might be an everyday product for you – but Soap Hope will make sure it changes a woman’s life. All you have to do to make a difference is to choose Soap Hope as the place you shop for your natural products.

Thank you for being a part of our business and our mission!