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.
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.
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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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.
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.