It’s always a telling sign when my favorite friends are suddenly all telling me that I simply have to meet someone because we’re from the same cloth and we’re destined to know one another. That is what happened with me and Becky Straw this fall. And honestly, everyone was right. We have tons of friends, passions and travel experiences in common and Becky instantly become a woman I not only wanted to be friends with but great admired. Soon it was my turn to be telling people about Becky and her new nonprofit, The Adventure Project. I’m proudly on the host committee for tonight’s Join our Nice List: A Celebration of Global Entrepreneurship honoring The Adventure Project and invited Becky to share her story of how The Adventure Project came to be and what we all can do to help.
And now, Becky’s story.
“People will tell you that it can’t be done. And you know what? They’re wrong. Nothing is ever impossible,” Gayle said matter-of-factly, before finishing off her glass of wine.
I admit I have ambitious dreams, but Gayle’s statements are not what I usually hear at happy hour. I was sitting in the clubroom at The Sheraton in Times Square, surrounded by five phenomenal women. Gayle Lemmon was speaking at the TEDxWomen conference in two days, and her friends gathered around her hotel room to hear her practice.
Gayle’s book, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, has recently become a New York Times bestseller, chronicling a young heroine working as a successful entrepreneur under the Taliban. I had been invited because my nonprofit, The Adventure Project, works with female entrepreneurs around the world.
To say Gayle’s speech resonated would be an understatement. She shared her stories behind travels to Afghanistan and Bosnia in her quest to meet heroic businesswomen thriving in conflict and post-conflict settings. I remember thinking, “Could I twitpic this, or would that come across as totally uncool?” She was bold, smart and honest. My mind kept repeating, “I want to speak as boldly as her.”
I want to speak out like her, because I share her beliefs.
A few years ago, on a ten-hour bus ride across Tanzania, I remember having a crisis. Too often, our aid dollars excel at giving, but lack long-term sustainability and measurable results. I knew it firsthand, and read it from theacademic articles strewn across my lap.
I know if more people invest in high-impact social enterprises, we can end extreme poverty. I came to theconclusion that I like charity, because it makes me feel good to give. But I want to support entrepreneurs, because I know it will change the world.
Two weeks ago I was in Haiti. I had not visited the country for a year, and I was hoping, quite frankly, it would look a lot better. The tents are still there, but most aid workers are not. Our hotel was almost empty. Two years ago, right after the earthquake, I slept in a tent in a hotel parking lot – every room in the capital was booked.
Last year, The Adventure Project supported the launch of a stove enterprise in Port au Prince. The stoves keep families from cooking over open fires, breathing in toxic smoke. The program now employs five women vendors, who earn commission selling the stoves at affordable prices. The stoves are also made locally, providing jobs for 15 masons.
On her stoop, under the hot Caribbean sun, I had a brief conversation with the best selling stove vendor. At only 19 years old, Noelle has sold 142 stoves in the last six weeks. We chatted about her business, her family, and what she purchased with her net profits (she invested in more stoves, of course).
I asked her, “Since you’re so young, what do you dream of becoming when you’re older?”
Noelle replied in two words, “The mayor.”
I smiled and thought, here’s a girl living in one of the poorest places in the world. Half a million people are still living in tents and 70% of the population is unemployed. Many people are eating only one meal per day, because all their savings have dried up. And yet, she’s a thriving entrepreneur. Noelle is selling stoves everywhere. She’s in the market, making house calls, setting up a display on her small stoop. She doesn’t just sell one stove to one customer, she sells multiple stoves to one customer. Delivering them in wheelbarrows.
I realized we may have given her that chance – but she took the opportunity, and ran.
Gayle perhaps said it best on Thursday, standing on stage in front of thousands of inspired minds, “We must move beyond micro-hopes and micro-ambitions for women, because they have so much greater hopes for themselves.”
And that is why my co-founder and I launched The Adventure Project.
The Adventure Project is helping Haiti again this year, and we want to get 10,000 stoves into the hands of these vendors. To meet demand, they will expand the business to hire ten additional women, and support the four current vendors, and the one future mayor. Every $20 donation enables a stove to be sold to a family in need. Learn more at: www.theadventureproject.org