How one business is helping female entrepreneurship grow

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling budding social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

Chris Baker first traveled to the Himalayas when he was 18, and hasn’t stopped going back ever since.

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Chris Baker spending a day at the office in Nepal. (Photo via Chris Baker.)

In college, Chris researched rock carvings in the area surrounding Mt. Everest, and held the position of President of the Yale Mountaineering Club. Shortly after graduating he became a Kiva fellow in Nepal, working closely with Patan Business and Professional Women (BPW Patan), a micro credit program that provides women with business development resources.

From his experience in Nepal, Chris saw a real opportunity in linking the mindful traveler with local communities and entrepreneurs. Combining his passion for social enterprise and the mountains, he created OneSeed Expeditions.

OneSeed invests 10 cents of every incoming dollar directly into microfinance initiatives that provide capital to women entrepreneurs in Nepal. You take an amazing trip to Everest Base Camp; a local woman launches or expands her business.

Obstacles

Chris’s first step was laying the groundwork. As a teacher with Teach for America, Chris would spend his summers off in Nepal getting to know the people and land even more.

But as with any idea, Chris ran into a few challenges along the way:

Obstacle: Committing to the idea
Solution: After things started rolling, every founder had to make the decision to commit full time, which meant quitting jobs and possibly moving. Once everyone did there was no turning away from OneSeed.  “It’s easy to waver and and find reason not to do something, but at a certain point you have to commit and do it wholeheartedly,” Chris says. “There’s a level of momentum that comes with that complete commitment.”

Obstacle: Getting on the same page
Solution: When starting the social enterprise, the other two founding members were from Nepal. It was important to be clear and figure out what OneSeed’s core values were right away. It helped cause less confusion when communicating about the details over many Skype calls and to this day, Chris and his team are careful not to lose sight of their original principles. “The conversations and connections that come from sitting around a stove and drinking tea form the foundation of our company,” he says.

Obstacle: Fear of the unknown
Solution:  “It’s easy to be blinded by optimism,” Chris says of being an entrepreneur.  He had to become a true realist and take a self-assessment of the projections, which meant sitting down and asking himself and the team if they were going to meet their targets and goals. Once they evaluated their chances of success, Chris said they just had to jump. “When you’re making your idea a reality there is always a high risk and reward,” he says. He now has a thriving social enterprise that’s expanding, and everyday he loves his job. “I get to spend time in beautiful places with amazing people and we do a little bit of good along the way.”

Advice

Discovering the Annapurna trail in Nepal. (Photo via Chris Baker.)

Chris is now busy bringing the OneSeed name to Chile, offering expeditions in Patagonia beginning in January 2013. To date, OneSeed has raised over $16,000 for women entrepreneurs, and has trained and hired more than 30 local guides in Nepal and Chile.

Chris is of the belief that making a plan can’t be overstated enough. “Ideas are plentiful; execution is rare,” he says. “Some things wind up easier than you think.”

Specifically, here’s how he encourages you to move forward on your idea:

  • Know your limits of what you can and cannot do.
  • Be aware when you need to bring in other team members to collaborate.
  • Draw upon your networks to find true experts.
  • Recombine and link ideas across contexts e.g. travel and microfinance.
  • Ask a lot of questions.

Finally, Chris advocates for acting on your idea no matter what.  “Remember you’re always going to have people warning you of the constraints, challenges, and impossibles,” he says. “But if you’re willing to follow through, you find that you can do things that seem out of reach.”

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Starting your own social enterprise and need some advice? Feel free to reach out to Chris: chris@oneseedexpeditions.com.

 

 

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Idea File: Pitch your idea at a "Sunday Soup" potluck

Today’s idea funding model

The idea

Food + creativity = community. That’s the concept behind Sunday Soup, a micro-granting model that brings together those with a taste for innovative ideas and the people who want to help fund them.

Here’s how it works: a local group organizes an affordable meal. People pitch their ideas for a creative project during the course of the gathering, with attendees voting on who to give the proceeds of the meal to. Think Kickstarter, but offline and with good grub.

So far, the network has collectively granted almost $60,000 to initiatives around the world such as an art project that transforms abandoned signs in Albuquerque, NM; a documentary featuring children’s thoughts on the political situation in Egypt; bike taxis in Toledo, OH; and more.

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Photo of Detroit SOUP event by Vanessa Miller.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Cheap and easy. While it’s the meal that brings people together, the idea is that it should be low-cost, like soup.
  • Circumvents bureaucracy. The people who decide which idea will benefit your community are the ones you pass in the street everyday – not foundation officers whom you might never meet.
  • Increases supporters. Don’t lose, schmooze. Even if your project doesn’t win the cash, it’s a great opportunity to make contacts – maybe even an employer or new flame. And, Amy adds, getting your project funded from a Soup event also gives you a leg up when applying for funding elsewhere.
  • Awesomeness awareness. There are probably a gazillion good ideas waiting to be discovered where you live; why not get them all out in the open?
  • Adaptable in many contexts. The model is flexible and Sunday Soup encourages you to adapt it, taking regional and cultural quirks into account.

How you can replicate it

First, see if one already exists where you live. If not, and the 63 groups from the U.S. to South Korea to Ukraine have whet your appetite, check out Sunday Soup’s tips for getting started.

We also reached out to the folks at Detroit SOUP, who’ve helped other SOUPS in Michigan and across the U.S. get up and running, to hear their tips on how to make your group a success.

Here’s what Lead Coordinator Amy Kaherl had to say:

  1. Don’t restrict the types of projects. Allow everyone from business entrepreneurs to artists to activists to pitch their ideas to keep the discussions and voting process interesting. Here are the Detroit project proposal guidelines.
  2. Know what’s affordable and what’s not. Detroit SOUP, for example, charges $5 per plate so as to include as many community members as possible.
  3. Ask for help. Local restaurants, gardens, farms, and friends might be happy to donate food.
  4. Proposals first, dinner second. People are more likely to converse and exchange ideas when there is a point of connection.
  5. Stay informed and curious. Listen to the community’s needs, and cultivate an environment where people are encouraged to ask questions.

“Don’t be afraid to fail either with the dinner or with the projects,” Amy finally says. “When things break down, we all learn from one another about what to do and not to do.”

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If you’re inspired to bring Sunday Soup to your community, feel free to email Amy for more advice: detroit.soup@gmail.com.

Do you know of other projects that are fun and potentially replicable? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, leave a comment below or email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Headlines: Muhammad Yunus; Diversity at work; Japan relief

Microfinance and leadership change

  • Microfinance Under Fire (New York Times): For context on the situation of Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, and a caution: “When an organization has a founder who is intimately associated with it (as Jobs is at Apple), the leadership transition needs to be handled with great care.”
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Tim McNichol, "White Males and Diversity" consultant and coach. Photo credit: OregonDOT (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Diversity at work

  • Diversity is Inefficient (New Organizing Institute blog): Ashindi Maxton writes, “With demographic realities and righteousness on our side, we strive to build diverse movements and organizations. My sense – and tell me if I’m wrong – is that mostly we fail…I’d like to make a few concrete suggestions for how any of us can start right now treating inclusion as a part of our purpose rather than a diversion.”

Relief for Japan

  • LivingSocial offered a unique coupon after the earthquake and tsunami: if subscribers donated $5 to the Red Cross to help with relief work in Japan, the company would match it. Total raised: more than $2 million.

Send us a story for our not-exhaustive news roundup: If you read something that moved you to action or gave you hope, leave a comment below or tweet it to us @idealist.

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The way out: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

The United Nation’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is this Sunday, October 17th, and this year’s theme is “From poverty to decent work: bridging the gap.” After an economic downturn that has skyrocketed the number of people living in poverty or with precarious labor situations, it’s no surprise that the U.N. has chosen to focus this year’s events on organizations and ideas that lead to sustainable models for economic stability through job creation.

The Test of Poverty from Trickleup.org

Microcredit, small loans to budding social entrepreneurs, has received a lot of attention recently, especially as it proves itself to be not only an effective tool in empowering people to lift themselves out of poverty, but also as it increasingly becomes a profitable means of investing. You can become a micro-lender yourself by making loans through Kiva.org, which has facilitated over $160,000,000 in loans to over 225,000 recipients since it’s founding.

Another organization working in the realm of microfinance is Trickle Up. Working in Asia, Central America and West Africa, Trickle Up approaches microfinance through a wider lens than solely the facilitating of financial resources. Reaching out to people living on less than $1.25 a day, the organization provides one time grants, training on how to operate and sustain a microenterprise as well as ongoing business development and community building. You can check out a short video of Trickle Up’s work here.

Programs like Kiva’s and Trickle Up’s enforce that the true power of microfinance is it’s ability to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty – but that money, without knowledge, is not always enough to create the safety nets and sustainable livelihoods that lead to lasting social change. Do you know of any other organizations or individuals that are supporting this year’s theme for World Poverty Day? Share them with us!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Student Loans for All

By Flickr user gabofr (Creative Commons)

Microfinance, a model well known for helping out small business owners throughout the world, is now being applied to student loans.

One such initiative, called Vittana (which I learned about through the TBD newsletter), has a premise like Kiva’s—people anywhere in the world can lend any amount they want ($25 is suggested) to the recipient of their choice, and the loan recipient eventually pays back the interest-free loan in full. In the case of Vittana, all of the loan recipients are students, studying a range of subjects from English to law to accounting. Right now, the students are all in Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru, where Vittana works with local microlending organizations to select loan recipients and distribute funds.

Another site, UniThrive, is experimenting with the microlending model at Harvard University, where they’ve set up a system for alumni to lend to students, interest-free. And if alumni wish to go beyond financial investment, they can choose to offer career advice and other forms of assistance to students. UniThrive hopes to expand to other schools soon, after its trial period at Harvard.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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New Social Investing Guidelines from the Grameen Foundation

If you’re familiar with the person-to-person microlending site Kiva.org, or the work of Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank, you might be interested in the recently released Social Investing Guidelines from the Grameen Foundation.

Over the past several years the concept of microfinance (providing financial services to the poor), and specifically microcredit (providing small loans to the poor who would otherwise not qualify for traditional credit), has gained a lot of attention. Many see it as part of the solution to poverty — research shows that microfinance helps poor households meet basic needs and protect against risks. It’s received its fair share of criticism as well — arguments include the fact that the touting of microcredit programs as a solution to poverty can lead to budget cuts for public programs, and that small loans generally do not lead to job creation which is fundamental for countries trying to reduce their poverty rate.

If you’re interested in becoming a lender with a micro-lending site such as Kiva (where you can make loans as small as $25, choose the exact entrepreneur you want to support, and know that the default rate on loans distributed through Kiva is only 2.2%), or if you already are, you might want to read the Social Investing Guidelines. The guidelines are based on the Progress out of Poverty Index, a tool that measures poverty levels of groups and individuals. The Guidelines encourage individual investors to ask questions of the microfinance institutions they’re working with, including: What measures are taken to ensure that investments really support the poor and poorest populations? and How does the investment manager define poor, very poor, and extremely poor?

Tools like these Guidelines seem crucial in order for micro-lending programs to truly be effective, accountable and part of the solution.

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