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.
In America you can start a business to do just about anything, anytime, and usually without anyone’s permission. We wanted to sell soap bars to change the world. It took a two-page form, twenty minutes, and $300 to incorporate a company in Texas. We filed the paperwork online from the kitchen table.
In America you can freely compete with other businesses. It might be hard, and the big guys might have an advantage, but any person can decide at any time to be an entrepreneur. Here, an entrepreneur’s only limitation is herself.
In America you can freely state your opinions about the rules we live by together, and you can work to change them if they are wrong. If you don’t like the rules, you can get your voice heard, organize a movement, nominate a candidate, and create change.
Do you agree or disagree with the notion that companies should label foods that are genetically modified? Do you agree or disagree that there should not be new taxes on Internet sales? Do you agree or disagree that plastic microbeads should be prohibited in products that reach our water supply? You can elect representatives who share your values.
If you want your voice to be heard you can get to know your representatives, learn about the issues by researching online and talking with others, and vote. Election day is November 4.
As entrepreneurs we value everyone’s right to vote. That’s why Soap Hope has a policy in support of employee voting. Every team member gets paid time off to vote in local, state and national elections. If you are a business owner, we encourage you to consider a similar policy. You can find ours here: Soap Hope Policy in Support of Employee Voting.
One of the most important things we do at Soap Hope is to evaluate the ingredients in products. It’s a much tougher job that you might imagine. Not everything that’s natural is good for you, so we have to keep tabs on everything used in every product. And makers update their ingredients all the time, so we’re constantly reviewing the field research, making sure that everything we carry is up to our strict standards. Our vision is that if you find it at Soap Hope, you can trust that it’s good for you.
Did you know that not everything that goes in a product is required to be on its label? One terrible ingredient that has made its way into thousands of products is called microbeads. Sometimes they are labeled simply “PE” or “PP.” It’s in everything from toothpaste to facial scrubs to shower gels. And it’s terrible for people, animals, and the planet.
Microbeads are tiny plastic particles that manufacturers put in products to make them scrubby or for visual effect. They go directly into our water systems. Our drainage systems were not designed to filter them out, so they end up in our water supplies and in the oceans.
These plastic beads do not break down. Marine creatures eat the microbeads, which ultimately end up in our food. They cannot be removed from the environment.
Microbeads are getting even more attention lately because they have been found lodged in the gums of many people who are using Crest toothpaste. No one knows how much damage they are causing to the very teeth that were supposed to benefit from the product.
Manufacturers of these products are fully aware of the harm they are doing to humans and to nature – but they put profits above all else and use them anyway. When a recent outcry finally got Procter and Gamble’s attention, they promised to eliminate microbeads from their toothpaste – in two years.
You’ve heard the saying “corporations are people.” It’s true in this sense: businesses are run by people, and those people make conscious decisions every day either to responsibly serve customers, or to earn profits regardless of the impact on people and the world. When you choose companies that care about humanity and pay attention to the consequences of their decisions, you contribute to more good in the world.
We’re paying attention to things like microbeads for you. Of course nothing at Soap Hope has them. We don’t have Procter & Gamble’s problem of what to do with two years worth of unacceptable ingredients. We never carry those kinds of ingredients in the first place. When our makers want a product to be scrubby, they use sea salt, or flowers, or cocoa seeds.
In our view, business should be of service. When we prioritize the well-being of our customers, our employees, and the world we all share together, it’s easy to make the right decisions.
The Crest controversy has led Soap Hope on the search for great quality toothpaste that is effective and free of harmful ingredients. We’re working on boarding oral care products for you soon. In the meantime, be sure to avoid products with the words polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), nylon or Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) in the ingredient list.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Co-Founder, Soap Hope
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.
Last week, Environmental Science and Technology published the results of a study by researchers from Arizona State University and State University of New York’s Downstate School of Public Health.
The study tracked 180 pregnant women in Brooklyn, New York. The study found triclosan – a commonly used chemical in antibacterial soaps – in 100% of the women’s urine. Every one!
The same researchers also found parabens in 100% of the cord blood samples they tested, with triclosan in half of them.
Endocrine-disrupting parabens like triclosan affect the body’s hormone system. It has been clearly shown that there is a relationship in humans between triclosan levels in the body and allergies. A study by the National Institutes of Health shows that the more triclosan you have in your system, the more likely you are to develop allergic reactions to a variety of foods, for example.
The irony is that other studies reveal that simply washing your hands with plain soap and water is just as effective at eliminating bacteria as using a soap with triclosan in it.
Triclosan does act as a preservative in consumer products – but so does vitamin E, which is what many of our makers use in their products. Why do big manufacturers use triclosan? It’s cheaper. They don’t appear to be concerned about the side effects on people or the environment. They also know there’s nothing especially “antibacterial” for the user of their product, but they market it that way anyway.
We have strict standards about what may be used in products at Soap Hope. Triclosan, and every other paraben, is banned from the products we carry at Soap Hope. Our carefully selected products simply will never have parabens, period.
Essential oils? Definitely. Vitamin E? Yes, please. Parabens? No thanks.
Our goal is to free you from reading labels – we read them for you. If you find it at Soap Hope, it has passed our research test. And when you buy it here, the entire profit for your purchase goes to empower women. Soap Hope means “Everything Good for Body and Home.”
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.
Co-Founder, Soap Hope
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“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. )