The Easy Way

I once told my friend Lucy something I secretly had been thinking about for a while.

I told her I wanted to get rid of the few things I keep around in life, and move to the Dominican Republic to work for Esperanza International – an anti-poverty institution that I love and admire.

I’d spend half my time at headquarters, helping to improve operations and fundraising. And I’d spend half my time in the field, working directly with the women who are empowered by Esperanza.

It’s so compelling to me. For the rest of my life I would know that I had helped, hands-on, some of the most vulnerable people in my human family. I would forever have those memories, being shoulder to shoulder with the women and the field workers, changing lives. I would have the incomparable experience of helping to build a first class poverty fighting institution.

Lucy is one of the most practical people I know, so I thought she was going to tell me that wouldn’t be very wise for my career or retirement plans. But that’s not what she said at all. Her eyes flashed, and she spoke sharply, so I would remember it.

“Salah! You’re being selfish!”

It wasn’t the reaction I expected after just explaining that I wanted to get rid of all my worldly possessions and move to another land to help impoverished women.

Lucy said, “You’re mixing up feeling good about what you do with actual impact. There are many people who can go help the women of Esperanza. There are less that can help improve the operations of Esperanza, but there are still a lot. But you told me that you are working on a business model that could enable thousands of entrepreneurs to impact the lives of millions of people around the globe.”

“Your problem,” she said, “is that you are scared that you might fail. If you strive for something really big and really difficult, the likelihood of failure is high. You might waste precious years in your effort to create a platform to empower millions of lives. You might be left with nothing to show for your work. But if you don’t make the attempt, you will certainly not achieve your potential.”

“If you go to the island, the likelihood that you will help a few people is very high. It will certainly make you feel good. But you will be squandering any chance you have at making a big, worldwide impact. There’s nothing wrong with that – but see it with clear eyes. It’s selfish.”

If you are a social entrepreneur, I hope you have a Lucy in your life. Whenever I have a difficult decision to make, I remember what she showed me that evening. It helps give me the courage to go all-in. It keeps me from accidentally taking the easy way.

Thanks Lucy!

I’d like to hear your stories about risk taking and impact. Comments are open, or e-mail me at salah@soaphope.com, or connect with me on Facebook.

Heroes

Dr. Muhammad Yunus
Professor Muhammad Yunus

Most entrepreneurs, myself included, are independent spirits.

The “independent” part has always been a big piece of my personality. I’ve never aspired to be “like” someone, and when those stock interview questions show up I’ve always cringed at the one that asks “Who is your hero?”

That is, until 3 years ago.

Three years ago, I found myself with heroes, and someone I want to be like.

In 2010, I heard Professor Muhammad Yunus speak about humanity. He spoke extemporaneously for 45 minutes, sharing first hand stories of mothers and daughters whose lives had been transformed through education and opportunity; a vision for the end of the man-made condition of poverty; a call to action to all people to end the unacceptable suffering in our worldwide community.

It was the first time I ever had the thought, “I want to be like him.”

Yohaustria Pena, Hero
Yohaustria Pena, Hero

That same year, I went to the Dominican Republic and to Chiapas to see the work of poverty-ending microfinance institutions in the field. I saw for myself the bravery of women standing up against cultural oppression; taking steps that no woman in the history of her family had ever taken before so that her children could go to school; finding the right balance between personal initiative and working as a community; taking risks and succeeding with so little capital and time that they put entrepreneurs like me to shame. I found my heroes.

When I first started Soap Hope, my intention was to create a strong example of social entrepreneurship so that we could make a huge impact in ending poverty, both with our own company and through others adopting the model and learnings that came out of Soap Hope. And while Soap Hope did grow again for the third year in a row, and we did fund over 10,000 days of microlending for women entrepreneurs this year, most days my vision for Soap Hope still seems distant and fragile to me.

As if on cue, this week a friend sent me a video about social entrepreneurs, and when I clicked play I heard the unmistakable compassionate voice of Professor Yunus – there once again to motivate and inspire. Every time I hear his voice, I hear my calling. And when I go inside and ask what I’m to do, Soap Hope always is the answer I see.

When someone buys one bar of soap from us, it funds one day of microlending for a woman. So I say, “A bar of soap is a day of hope.” This spring, I’m starting a new initiative at Soap Hope called “One Million Days of Hope” – to fund one million days of microlending through sales and partnerships with other companies and organizations.

Everywhere Professor Yunus goes, he looks for ways to create partnerships with people, companies, and institutions small and large, to further his vision of ending poverty in our world. Yes, I want to be like him. So I will do the same.

One million days of hope would mean 100 times the impact we had last year. It would provide tools and opportunity to thousands of the women who have become my heroes. That’s not something I can do alone. You’ll surely hear me ask you for ideas and action, partnership and participation.

Watch for #onemilliondays. Think about how we can partner together. Expect a call from an independent spirit.

Stop Talking About The Poor

  • “I’m looking at the best models out there for using business to solve social problems.”
  • “This is so hard – I’ve been looking for the right organization to work with for almost a year. I don’t want to waste my time working on something that won’t really make a difference.”
  • “One day, I hope to get involved in ending poverty, so I’m studying as much as I can today.”

These are a few of the things I’ve been told by people in the last month who have e-mailed and called because they are passionate about social entrepreneurship and microfinance.

I hate to be the one to break it to them, but talking with other people about helping the poor does not help the poor. While you are talking, they are still hungry.

If you want to discover the best model for combining business and social problems, the very first thing you should do is start a business to solve social problems, or go work for one – right now. Then you will learn what is really involved in a social enterprise. I can tell you from experience, you will be throwing out almost all the ideas and opinions you have about the matter until you do it yourself.

If you want to find the best organization to work with, go work for any organization that is focused on changing any life besides your own – right now. During the year you have been carefully avoiding wasting your time, you have wasted a year.

If you are studying as much as you can today, you have forgotten that while you are studying the problem, a child has missed her opportunity to go to school, so the cycle of poverty is being extended an entire generation in her family. Why are you studying to work on the problem later? The problem is now – work on it right now, and you will learn more than any book could ever teach you.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk, reflect, or study. But I have noticed there are too many people who are mostly talking, reflecting and studying. Ask yourself now, am I spending more time talking about changing the world than I am actually working on it? If so, I suggest correcting that imbalance – now.

Stop looking for the perfect way to participate. Go do anything for those in extreme poverty, anywhere – not for you, for them. Not a conference – first provide a meal. Not a study – first send money for medicine. Not a meeting – first fund a water well.

Raise money for Grameen Foundation. Volunteer with Women For Women. Buy a scarf from WORN. Fund a Bank of Hope at Esperanza International. Donate services to CitySquare. Start a weekend business that funds microloans.

Stop talking about it, and do it.

How Good Is Magnified (or, thank you Herb Kelleher)

Today I was at a luncheon honoring Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines. He probably doesn’t realize it, but 27 years ago I got a letter from Mr. Kelleher that would change my life – and if I get it right, that will change the lives of millions of women in poverty around the world.

Although I was only 15 years old at the time, I had already decided that my career would be as a classical concert pianist. The proof came when the head of the piano department at the University of Texas at Austin extended an offer to accept me as a student in his college studio. We didn’t have the resources to pay for those lessons, and he offered to teach me without pay. The only problem: how would I get from my home in Dallas to my professor’s studio in Austin for my 3-hour lesson every two weeks?

Without telling me, my teacher wrote a letter to Herb Kelleher explaining the investment that he wanted to make in a promising young pianist and asked for his help. A few short weeks later, I received a surprise letter from Mr. Kelleher. It contained 12 round trip vouchers in it – enough for half a year of lessons – and a note wishing me good luck in my career.

Well I did have good luck – seven years later I was fortunate enough to travel the world playing concerts in America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. While on tour I was invited by the Ambassador of Kenya to a high-level dinner where I was seated by the country director of the World Bank in Kenya. He told me a story that has always haunted me: he explained that at least 50% and perhaps up to 90% of the aid being delivered to the people of Kenya was being lost to corruption. His story led me to a lifelong interest and study in creating effective solutions to end poverty.

What Herb Kelleher did for me is what an antipoverty group like Esperanza International does for its clients. It gives people an opportunity to break free of circumstantial limitations and create their own destinies. I have been to visit with these women, so I know from first hand experience that the poorest in our world have powerful internal resources: intelligence, drive, creativity. They need just a small amount of education, healthcare and capital to become self-sufficient and to break the cycle of poverty for their children and their communities. To become a concert pianist, you need the startup resources to get to your teacher. To have a microenterprise and escape poverty, you need the startup resources to learn your trade and start your business.

Now 27 years after receiving that letter, I spend all my efforts to scale enterprises that address global challenges, starting with poverty in women. My social venture Soap Hope sells natural products nationwide and then invests 100% of profits into antipoverty efforts for women. I’m on a nationwide recruiting effort to bring 1,000 more companies under this model, which I call Good Returns, to create a billion dollar capital pool for scaling sustainable social ventures.

The moral of this story is: don’t hesitate to help those around you. Do it in small ways and large, as often as possible. You don’t know how the seed you planted will grow. Herb Kelleher sent me 12 tickets to Austin; he didn’t know those 12 tickets would start a process that would lead me around the world and ignite a passion for making a global impact on poverty. So listen for those opportunities, and be a Herb Kelleher for someone in your world as often as you can.

And Mr. Kelleher, thank you for the tickets.

Salah Boukadoum
Co-Founder, Soap Hope

Please share the Soap Hope mission – empowering institutions that help women in poverty around the world – with friends,  family, and the media. Buy from Soap Hope and help change the world.

Good Returns = Good Incentives

One of the special benefits of the Good Returns model is that it causes all the parties in the model to be incentivized for desirable outcomes.  A quick recap of Good Returns:

A business invests 100% of profits into sustainable non-profit organizations each year, for a rolling one year term, in the form of an interest-free loan.  The non-profit uses the cost-free capital to increase the reach of its sustainable mission (for example, providing more microloans to women in poverty, or issuing more low-cost student loans in Africa, or providing low-cost medical services in Guatemala, or … ).  At the end of the next year, the original funds are returned to the business and the process repeats itself.

Here are some of the interesting structural outcomes that Good Returns creates:

Management is motivated to maximize profits. The company’s management team is motivated to drive the company’s bottom line, just as in any traditional capitalist business.  This incentive is a big advantage over non-profits, which often burn money and other resources because they are not required to generate profits to survive.

– Non-profit partners are motivated to become sustainable. The vast majority of non-profits are unsustainable – they must continually raise funds from donors in order to survive. In order for a company to invest in a non-profit and be assured of the return of capital, the non-profit must be sustainable, or at least have a segregated sustainable program. Good Returns will drive more non-profits to develop sustainable programs.

– “Mission-fudging” is eliminated. In many traditional for-profit social enterprises, the management team must be incredibly strong in its convictions about the mission, because every dollar spent on the mission is one less dollar in profit, which results in lower compensation for the management team.  It’s simply not realistic to count on large numbers of people to give up personal gain for mission on an ongoing basis.  Under Good Returns, every extra dollar of profit is an extra dollar toward mission, not taken from it.

– Investors will come. In its first year in business, Soap Hope had more than 45% month-over-month revenue growth on a fraction of the marketing budget that a traditional startup would require.  How did we achieve this growth? By the passion of our customers for our mission – they communicate virally to friends, family, and through online social networks. If a company can create significantly more leverage from its marketing budget, it can drive higher return on capital for its investors. We plan to prove this assertion through the financial results from Soap Hope and other early Good Returns companies.

I’m curious to see what else we will learn about the structural benefits and drawbacks of the Good Returns model over time.  Please share your thoughts and experiences with me.

——————–

Many people have asked how they can help. I ask for and welcome your help:

  • Purchase your all natural soap and body care products from Soap Hope – it’s less expensive than in the store, even with shipping
  • Use Soap Hope for corporate gifting and personal gifts
  • Connect me with national radio and tv personalities if you have those relationships
  • Write about Soap Hope on your blog
  • Share the Soap Hope fan page on your Facebook wall
  • Tweet about us as often as you are willing

——————–

Coming Soon:

Non-profits: I’ll be writing a post for you about many different types of programs that non-profits can implement that are all sustainable.

Investors: soon I will write a post about how down the road dividends will be insured against loss while they are doing their one year of service.

Good Returns: My intention is to develop Good Returns as a stand-alone organization that provides certification for sustainable non-profits, financing programs to mediate timing differences between companies and non-profits, an insurance guarantee for invested funds, a brand that companies can use to attract and retain customers – I’ll discuss this and more in an upcoming post.

——————–

Thank you for your loyalty and support!

Regards,

Salah Boukadoum
Co-Founder, Soap Hope

One Billion Dollars Toward Ending Poverty – Let’s Do It

A reporter asked me today what my goals are for Soap Hope, and I gave her the answer that most of my friends know by now: to teach 1,000 small businesses the Good Returns Model and thereby raise one billion dollars for anti-poverty microloan initiatives.

I’m pretty sure this reporter was shocked – she said, “How much?!,” and actually sounded a bit disappointed. I think she felt I was being naive. Others have told me to start with a more “realistic” goal.  I’d like to show you how I believe it is reasonable to raise a billion dollars for microfinance over ten years, with just a few key numbers:

50 small businesses just like Soap Hope
In each of 20 American cities
Each generating $100,000 in profits
Each lending their profits interest-free to a microfinance institution for just 1 year
Over a 10 year period.

50 businesses x 20 cities x $100,000 x 1 year interest-free loan x 10 years = 1 billion dollars.

Let me share some key milestones and goals with you:

  • 2009 marks Soap Hope’s first full year in business
  • I first discussed the Good Returns model in public in the summer of 2009, just a few months ago
  • We’ve already had two small businesses in Dallas spontaneously ask us for help in implementing Good Returns in their own companies
  • In 2009 we’ve formed partnerships with three non-profit microfinance institutions
  • In 2010 we’ll be launching an organized effort to teach Good Returns to businesses
  • Simultaneously we will define sustainability programs that help nonprofits become ready for Good Returns style investments
  • In 2011 we’ll be working to form an insurance fund that guarantees the return of Good Returns investment capital to participating businesses, virtually eliminating participants’ risk

One billion dollars may sound like a big number – but when you break it down, it’s right within our grasp.  If you read my last post (We Need 166 More People To End Poverty Worldwide) you know that there are six million people in poverty in the Dominican Republic.  One billion dollars is just about what it would take to give each of them a microloan.

1,000 Good Returns businesses generating one billion dollars toward ending poverty through microfinance – I don’t think it’s naive at all. Let’s do it!

Regards,

Salah Boukadoum
Co-Founder, Soap Hope

———————
Please help us eradicate poverty: tell someone you know about Soap Hope right now.

shop: SoapHope.com
learn: Soap Hope Learning Center
facebook: facebook.com/soaphope
twitter: @soaphope

e-mail: info@soaphope.com
phone: 888-893-SOAP

Soap Hope Bar Soaps
Some Soap Hope Bar Soaps

Soap Hope

My last business was a 60-person technology firm.  It was “all business” and had no consciousness other than serving customers and providing its employees with a good place to work.  I sold it in 2005 to a publicly traded company. I decided then that I would change my focus to creating businesses that are aware of, and responsible to, our world community.

Soap Hope (www.soaphope.com) is my model company that shows how a business can have a fully-integrated social mission, be environmentally responsible, and also make a profit.  Soap Hope invests 100% of its profits every year into nonprofit organizations that provide microloans and business training to women in poverty, enabling them to create businesses that lift them and their communities into sustainability.  This is not a handout or a charity – all the funds are repaid (interest-free) after they have been leveraged for their social purpose for a year. Our shareholders delay their profits by one year, and the company is thereby able to transform the lives of women around the world.

Soap Hope sells top-quality goods online from boutique makers of all natural body care products.  We have among the best products and prices in our industry.  We carry only products that are 100% all natural, no artificial colors or aromas, no parabens, and always cruelty-free.  We continually evaluate and improve our environmental and social impacts.

We don’t have the marketing budget of a big “unconscious” corporation – we need help in getting the word out about Soap Hope.  If you feel that our mission is worthy of support, we would appreciate anything you can do to let people know about our products and our purpose.  If you have ideas for us about how to reach more people, I welcome your advice – please e-mail me!

I’ve asked you in this post for support, contacts, and advice. Let me also offer the same to you: if I can assist you with your mission and purpose, please let me know how I can be of support.  I thank you!

Regards,

Salah Boukadoum
Co-Founder, Soap Hope

———————
Please help us eradicate poverty: tell someone you know about Soap Hope right now.

shop: SoapHope.com
learn: Soap Hope Learning Center
facebook: facebook.com/soaphope
twitter: @soaphope

e-mail:  info@soaphope.com
phone:  888-893-SOAP

Soap Hope Bar Soaps
Some Soap Hope Bar Soaps