From a Cardboard Shack to a Sustainable Life: Dona’s Story

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Dona

Dona’s Story: World of Good Inc

Dona, a lively, energetic woman, becomes solemn as she begins her story. Tears melt into her weathered face as she talks about her five children and abusive husband.

With very little income, her family lived in a makeshift cardboard shack on the streets in the Zona Roja. She was unable to work and was reliant on her alcoholic husband to bring home food for her family. On numerous occasions, she found herself lying awake at night, hungry because her husband never came home and fearful that once he did come home, she would have to take her children and flee to avoid his abuse.

One morning, Dona awoke to find her daughter sick and needing immediate medical attention. She had heard of a free clinic in the Zona Roja run by a non-profit called UPAVIM or “United for a Better Life,” and immediately set out on foot in search for help.

While waiting for her daughter at the clinic, Dona learned of a program at UPAVIM that employed women to produce fair trade crafts for the local and export markets. As the woman from UPAVIM rattled off all the services provided to the members of the cooperative, including childcare and education for their children, hope slowly started to flow through Dona’s tired and desperate heart. She knew that UPAVIM was her only escape.

After completing 32 hours of required volunteer service, Dona’s membership into UPAVIM was accepted. She started working for their crafts program and immediately her life began to change. With her new found income, Dona was able to free herself from her dependency on her violent and unreliable husband. She became the sole provider for her family and was able to break the cycle of hunger and abuse, which had plagued her children since birth. Today, in her sixties, Dona lives in a cinderblock house near the UPAVIM headquarters. Through her work, Dona has been able to provide her children with an education so that they may further their lives. One of her daughters has decided to follow in her footsteps and is being trained on craft production. Dona spends her free time helping Angela, UPAVIM’s craft director, maintain her rooftop garden.

She is proud of her accomplishments and even though it has been years since she lived on the streets, she still becomes emotional when she shares her story with others. I am inspired by Dona’s courage and determination.

She is just one of hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan women faced with the constant threats of poverty, domestic abuse and hunger. UPAVIM in partnership with World of Good, Inc. provides a way out of this cycle of poverty for thousands of women in Guatemala City.

Established in 1988, today the cooperative has nearly 70 members; their craft sales, soymilk production and newly developed internet center support a dental and medical clinic, pharmacy, as well as tutoring, alternative learning, day-care and nutrition centers, all on site. UPAVIM is an outstanding example of what a community can accomplish and is making sustainable and influential changes where Guatemala City needs it most.

World of Good has been partnering with UPAVIM since 2007 to transform the lives of women in Guatemala City by offering them consistent orders and financial stability.header_logo

Tweeting for Good

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[tweetmeme] Social media’s rapid growth has been no secret to anyone here of late. In fact, within the last year, social media has seen a traffic increase of 62%…a trend that doesn’t look to slow down anytime soon. With growth, it has evolved in functionality as well. Starting out as a way to keep in touch with friends, it has blossomed into a unique and somewhat cost-efficient marketing tool for businesses. Even with no clear, tangible ROI, businesses haven’t shied away from jumping on the social media bandwagon.

So it’s apparent that social media, Twitter more specifically, is being used to drive more business for companies. In addition to increasing a profit margin, Twitter has also proven to be an effective tool to help better the world we live in.

How has this been accomplished in 140 characters or less?

Many individuals and/or organizations have used Twitter as a fundraising tool for various causes. Most recently, it has been used to fight cancer and fund more research. @Drew, cancer patient and creator of the website Blame Drew’s Cancer, recently put his Twitter username up for auction, donating all his proceeds to the Livestrong foundation for cancer research. The Price is Right host Drew Carey (@DrewonTV) made a large bid and challenged the Twitterverse to help him reach 1 million followers. In return he would donate $1 million to cancer research.

The companies MillerCoors and eBay also sponsored #beatcancer, a 24 hour experiment in social media attempting to draw the most tweets on a topic in that time period…ever. Donating one cent per hashtag, the effort set a Guiness World Record and effectively helped raise $70,000 towards cancer research.

Other socially responsible organizations have seen substantial amounts of exposure via Twitter. Most of these organizations, nonprofits nor social enterprise groups don’t have the cash to spend on traditional forms of marketing for their causes. They’ve seen success too. Most people want to feel like they are part of something good and a simple follow on Twitter is one way people are able to connect.

The exposure has helped these organizations receive support they normally would not have. Last Thanksgiving the group Epic Change hosted “Tweetsgiving,” a 48-hr fundraising effort for funds to help a school in Tanzania. The goal was to raise $10, 000. The result? $11,000. Over 98% of that money came from donors who had not previously supported their organization. This simple viral fundraising campaign has potential to have beneficial long term results, attracting hundreds of new donors that could potentially help in the future.

Including ourselves, several of our partner organizations have established presences on Twitter including @womensbean, @brightendeavors and @divinechocolate. With the help of followers, all these social enterprise groups hope to gain more support in order to change more lives. How are you tweeting for good?

Michelle’s Story: Women’s Bean Project

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As seen in earlier posts, the true stories of the people involved with our partner organizations reminds us why we make the effort to do business with these social enterprises. The following story is from Michelle, a woman who was able to make a positive turnaround in her life with help from Women’s Bean Project, one of our partner groups.

Michelle’s Story

I lost my mom when I was 17. I managed to at least graduate from high school living on my own. But my older brother introduced me to drugs. I was in and out of jail starting at 18 because of criminal acts and abusive relationships. For 16 years I felt alone. I was distant from my family because of my drug use.

I was married in 2004. My husband had melanoma cancer and it was his dying wish to be married. We were only married 3 months when he died. Other than losing my mother that was the most painful thing I had ever been through. After he passed away, I was working as a personal care provider but that wasn’t enough money to pay the bills. So I started selling crack cocaine. In 2005 I was arrested and went back to jail.

A year ago, I completed probation. I never really had figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have any Michellegoals. I became pregnant with my first child. I was 37. I decided I needed to be a mother and to find a career that would support me and my son. I didn’t want to be a mother on welfare.

My son was 3 weeks old when I applied for the Bean Project in February of 2008. They called me in July to come in for an interview. I finally figured out that there was a chance for me to have work skills and a goal for long term employment.

After the interview I was on pins and needles. I didn’t wait to be called, I called the Bean Project the next day! I was so excited when they said, yes you are hired. I hadn’t worked for 3 years.

I came and was willing to learn all the skills and the production line because I was so eager to have a job. I’ve learned you have to be organized in your life. You have to have a schedule and you have to be compatible. The Women’s Bean Project is a wonderful opportunity for women to learn skills, stability and flexibility. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of the program.

When I leave the Bean Project, I would like to pursue a career in the grocery business. I worked at King Soopers years ago and had a great experience. I would also like to get my CNA license because I have a passion for helping people. And may some day get a CDL and drive a truck.

My family is back in my life. My sister is more accepting of me now that I am clean and sober. And of course they love my son. I want to thank my coworkers here, the staff and the organization. I wish we could open a bigger facility for more women to have an opportunity to be a part of Women’s Bean Project and gain all of the knowledge and skills that I have been able to receive.

I thank the Women’s Bean Project for giving me an opportunity!

(This story, along with others, can also be found at our home website. Check it out here!)

Social Responsibility at the Motivation Show

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A Snapshot of the Helping Hand Rewards Booth
A Snapshot of the Helping Hand Rewards Booth

To most attendees, the Motivation Show saw a decrease in attendance and overall size. For us at Helping Hand Rewards, it was quite the opposite.

The HHR booth at last year’s Motivation Show displayed six partners in a 40×10 space. However, this year’s show saw nine partners all having their own individual displays shared in a 60×10 booth space.

It’s safe to say that we’ve grown a bit in a year.

The show was more than just an excuse to taste test Greyston Bakery’s brownies, WHOWomen’s fruitcake, Divine Chocolate’s samples and Women’s Bean Project’s chocolate covered coffee beans. With a larger megaphone this year, we were able to meet several new people and talk with them about social responsibility in our industry. It was great seeing how several show participants knew of some of our partner organizations and had even done some sort of business with them. Many other people we spoke with were also engaged with other organizations outside of ours that also worked towards some sort of social purpose or socially responsible goal.IMG_0113

The show also provided a great opportunity for representatives from all of our partner organizations to connect personally. Many of us had only made contact via email or Twitter, so three days of interaction at the show and at the HHR dinner on Tuesday night gave us all a chance to connect, share ideas, and genuinely enjoy the week!

All nine of our partner organizations all have different social purposes and missions. They all seek to fill a need in whatever capacity they are able to reach. However, the main underlying goal with all of our partner organizations (and HHR of course) is to do business in such a way that makes our world a better place to live in by helping others.

Social Enterprise: What is it?

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The term “social enterprise” is becoming an ever popular buzz word in the world of social responsibility gurus and aspiring world changers.

What exactly is a social enterprise?

Many individuals group social enterprises in the same cluster as non-profit organizations. While it is true that many social enterprises operate under a non-profit status, many more are actually generating revenue. Social enterprises are becoming an increasingly popular business model and provide more financial flexibility for doing good than a traditional non-profit model.

So what separates a for-profit social enterprise from any other money making company?

One huge difference…and this may be a shocker…social entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily in it for the money. They design a business model to make profits but aren’t obligated to serve the interest of share holders or investors looking for a large ROI. Most social enterprise groups reinvest those profits into their business or into the community around them. For example, Helping Hand Rewards partners like Greyston Bakery, Bright Endeavors and The Enterprising Kitchen use the profits generated from their products to teach life skills training, job skills training, and help find more permanent employment situations for individuals in their programs.

In a nutshell, social enterprises are fulfilling a need. According to an article in the Telegraph:

 “Wherever there is a social or environmental need, social enterprises will be working on solutions- whether that’s saving the local village post office or shop, tackling global warming, combating homelessness or providing better health and social care services.”

For-profit social enterprises believe that being a competitive and profitable business is the best methodology for attaining socially responsible goals. What do you think?

Bright Endeavors: Jamie’s Story

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Helping Hand Rewards partner Bright Endeavors is a Chicago-based social enterprise that is committed to helping homeless and at-risk young women, between the ages of 16-25, gain the necessary skills to become self-sufficient, successful adults. They offer transitional employment through its natural candle line Dreambean Candles and provide each participant with the guidance and training needed to build a foundation that leads to the achievement of personal and professional goals. Profits generated from the sales of Dreambean Candles go towards funding for training, support, education and permanent job placement for their participants.

The following is a personal success story of one of their participants. It’s stories like these that make doing business with social enterprises make even more sense!

Jamie’s Story

Jamie was a nineteen-year-old single mother when she joined Bright Endeavors in May 2008. Initially, Jamie expected simply to learn how to make candles but she quickly realized there was much more to be gained.

Every day presented new challenges for her both at home and at Bright Endeavors. Outside of Bright Endeavors Jamie had experienced homelessness, inadequate health care for her son, the loss of family support and the everyday struggles of raising a newborn baby by herself. Frequently Jamie would come to work appearing to be overwhelmed by the various day-to-day demands on her, but she was able to find warmth and support with the staff and participants at Bright Endeavors.

One of Jamie’s first struggles was managing a work schedule while meeting the ever-changing needs of her infant son. On one given morning Jamie appeared to be less connected to work than usual. She didn’t participate in the daily pre-shift meeting and returned to her work station with little enthusiasm. In most work places this would be misinterpreted as an employee with a poor attitude and could lead to future workplace issues. Because of the staffing design of Bright Endeavors, a manager was able to pull her aside and talk through the negative performance. What became clear was that her behavior had nothing to do with the work at hand. Her son was ill and Jamie was out of solutions. The lack of support and erratic suggestions by her doctor to alter her son’s diet, coupled with the clinic’s inability to vaccinate her son, sent Jamie into a tailspin. Reeling from the stress and worry of her son’s well being, Jamie was paralyzed and unable to think of anything else. With Bright Endeavors’ support and input Jamie developed a firm plan; she was able to proactively manage the health care of her child, find a new pediatrician and elevate her work performance. Now she is a valued leader on the production floor. She trains new associates in candle production and often leads pre-shift and post-shift discussions.

In the future Jamie hopes to have a home for her and her son and be on her way to earning a medical degree, specifically in pediatrics. In her own words, “There aren’t a lot of jobs or programs that you can go into that are actually going to be concerned with what happens outside of work, and here there is always someone to talk to and help you with your problems.” She embodies our motto, “renewable resources…renewed spirits”.

(This story, along with others, can also be found at our home website. Check it out here!)

Ending the Prison Cycle with Social Enterprises

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After an individual has paid their debt to society, all there’s left to do is get a job and get on with life, right? Sounds easy enough.

Then how come so many people who’ve been to prison once keep going back?

Some may be surprised by this but as it turns out around 60% of employers, upon initial consideration would not hire an individual released from prison or jail. This doesn’t bode well for recent inmates in a time when even those with college degrees and unscathed backgrounds are having trouble finding employment. In California, between 60-80% of parolees were still unemployed after a release from prison and over 89% of parole violators were unemployed at the time. Just in California the annual cost of re-incarcerating individuals on parole is around $2 billion. Not million, BILLION. That’s a solid chunk of change to have to do something over again. Reincarcerating individuals is costing us all a lot of money. It seems to me that employment would solve a lot of these problems and cut costs. But where to begin?

This is where social enterprises come in. Several social enterprises will focus on hiring those who have recently come out of incarceration, teach them job and some life skills during employment, so eventually they will become more “hire-able” to other employers, ultimately be able to create more sustainable lives for themselves and break the prison cycle. The state of New York is a big proponent of this, using social enterprises to cut down the number of inmates by 9,000 over the last ten years and cutting re-incarceration rates by 40% (while inmate populations in most other states continue to increase).

Helping Hand Rewards partner The Enterprising Kitchen (TEK) is a social enterprise with the same sort of mission as the ones mentioned above. They give recently incarcerated women employment opportunities while teaching them job/life skills and producing high quality soap and spa products along the way.

Among individuals interviewed two years after hire into a social enterprise, 74% were working and 12 percent more were in vocational education. Just as many people have stayed out of jail through social enterprise employment as people going back into prison while being unemployed. Corporations and individuals can support these causes by doing business with these different social enterprises. For example, an individual can purchase soap and spa products from a company like TEK, brownies from Greyston Bakery, or even eco-friendly candles from Bright Endeavors. Corporations can use these social enterprise groups when assembling corporate gifts to clients and/or employees. Most of these types of items are purchased normally, why not do it and help someone in need along the way?

Doing business with these companies and supporting their efforts keeps everything growing and helps break this costly prison cycle. Can you think of any social enterprises like these in your area?

WHOWomen: Heather’s Story

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Helping Hand Rewards partner Women Helping Other Women has been aiding women in making better lives for themselves. The North Carolina-based company offers a variety of gourmet holiday cakes, special order gift baskets and other products made by women eager for a new opportunity. While under the employ of WHOWomen, women learn life skills that will better enable them to build new lives. Profits generated go back to the community in the form of scholarships for women who may otherwise find it difficult to finance an education.  Scholarships are awarded to women who come to work in the bakery who want to improve their life and the lives of their children or to high school graduating young ladies who may not otherwise be able to attend college.

One of the best things about social enterprises is seeing how they change people’s lives. The following is the story of a woman named Heather, whose life was truly changed as a result of her time with WHOWomen.

 Heather’s Story

“I was born the youngest of three into a abusive and alcoholic home. The saving force for us children was our grandmother Clara Wilson. She taught us to survive in a hard world with love and the example of her life. I was nine years old when my parents divorced and my sister and I went to live with our mother. By the time I was fourteen I was on my own working and paying bills. I lived with friends until at sixteen I found out my mother had given birth to my little brother, Thomas. She intended to give him up for adoption, but I couldn’t see giving away my little brother. My older brother, sister and I were very close growing up and Thomas was one of us. I moved back in with my mother, worked full time and cared for Thomas. At nineteen I couldn’t live with my mother any longer so Thomas and I got our first home. I was married at twenty-one and lived peacefully for six years. In 1999 I developed cancer and underwent six months of chemotherapy. At the end of the chemo I began having severe headaches and a brain tumor was discovered. I had surgery in January of 2000, then another six months of recovery time.

During this year I lost my brother to my mother and my marriage to adultery. I worked as a restaurant manager for four years and assumed I would never have children of my own. HeatherHowever, in 2004 I discovered I was pregnant! I was excited, but scared because it was the pregnancy hormone that had made the tumor grow to a dangerous size. I made it through the pregnancy without any major problems and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Hollie Clara named after my grandmother. I tried to make things work with her father but he became abusive and I couldn’t put Hollie through the pain that I had gone through, so with a bag of clothes and $20 we came to Burnsville N.C. to the women’s shelter. My strength and self esteem was gone and I didn’t know how I was going to care for myself and my daughter.

The Lord led me to WHO WOMEN and they gave me a chance that I couldn’t see at the time. I cried almost every day for a month and Mat James (the founder of WHO WOMEN) gave me a shoulder to cry on, but after a month she showed me that the time for tears was over and the time to begin building my new life was at hand. WHO WOMEN provided me with transportation to work and school where I got my GED. I was able to get enough money for a car and enough to get our own apartment. I however didn’t have enough to pay the deposit on electric service. WHO WOMEN came through yet again with a loan of the $200.00 which was paid back in installments.

I worked in the kitchen of WHO WOMEN for four months baking, packaging, and shipping the wonderful products all around the country. I was given the responsibility of working food shows with Earthfare, managing the kitchen, and shipments which helped me regain my confidence.

My job with WHO WOMEN was a seasonal one and with the encouragement I received, I was able to get a job with a local grocery store as the produce manager. In the last year I have helped to increase sales by nearly fifty percent, and have received all the bonuses available. WHO WOMEN, however, was not out of my life. They honored me with their first scholarship to begin a degree in computer technology. The scholarship included a computer which I never could have afforded on my own. I now have a bright future to look forward to and more importantly, my daughter has opportunities that I never had.

The love and support I have received from WHO WOMEN has not only taught me the meaning of giving to others who need a helping hand, but this experience has taught my daughter the same lesson of love. I now look for ways to give back whenever I can I still work with WHO WOMEN in any way they need, I also serve on the Board of Directors of the Family Violence Coalition, and recently donated fourteen inches of my hair to Locks of Love. I was taught as a child by my grandmother that even though life can be cold and cruel, sometimes it is the people with the strength of love in their hearts that bring the warmth back to those that need it the most. Through certain hardships that I have faced I almost forgot that important lesson, but the wonderful women at WHO WOMEN have reminded me of it by the example of their lives and unwavering devotion to all those who come in contact with them.”

(This story, along with others, can also be found at our home website. Check it out here!)

Better Business With Social Responsibility

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To say that a corporation taking the initiative to become socially responsible is a “good idea” would be a solid understatement. Sure, giving back gives all of us a warm and fuzzy feeling all over, but what’s in it for the giver? True giving is generally done with the attitude (or at least should be) of not expecting anything in return. However, a company that gives back will reap many benefits in return.

What’s one major benefit in corporations engaging in social responsibility? Increased employee engagement. If a company is perceived by its employees to be socially responsible, the workers are more satisfied with where they work and ultimately become more committed to achieving success within the industry. What does it mean for these corporations? It means potential increased sales and profits as a result from having a more motivated workforce. This article describes changes in operating income for companies as a result of participation (or lack thereof) in corporate social responsibility. The results show that companies engaged in social responsibility saw an average of 19% increases in their operating budgets while companies that did not take an active “giving back” role saw an average of 33% losses in their operating budgets year to year.

If employees are more engaged as a result of social responsibility and that helps your company while you help others at the same time, what is there to think about?

Ben and Jerry’s: Socially Responsible Ice Cream

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Chocolate Fudge BrownieIt was announced this past week that Ben and Jerry’s will be adding operations down under and opening a new flagship Scoop Shop in Sydney Australia. This is good news for Australians who have posted Facebook groups demanding a supply of Ben and Jerry’s in their country. The arrival of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream also is welcome news to disadvataged youth living near the coming Scoop Shop in Sydney. Sticking to their traditional business model, Ben and Jerry’s plans to give back to the local community by partnering with Mission Australia to employ local disadvantaged youth in their flagship Scoop Shop.

This is not the only socially responsible partnership that Ben and Jerry’s is part of.

Greyston Bakery (a Helping Hands Rewards partner) has long been the producer of brownies used in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavors such as Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Half Baked, and Dave’s Magic Brownies. Since 1988, the production of brownies used in their ice cream has helped several thousand lives turn around.

The mission of Greyston is to provide employment and support services to former homeless, low-income and disenfranchised people and their families. To hire and train those who otherwise might not ever find a job. Also to get them on the path out of poverty and on to self-sufficiency. So far this has worked well with over 2,000 lives a year being affected by the good coming out of the bakery. This idea has even captured the attention of national media, with the Today show featuring a news clip about Greyston Bakery.

The slogan of Greyston is simple yet powerful: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.”

What is your company doing for people?