Prosperity Candle: Celebrating Women as a Global Force for Peace & Prosperity

Prosperity Candle: Celebrating Women as a Global Force for Peace & Prosperity

Iraq
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We are a social enterprise that partners with women entrepreneurs in places of conflict & distress to establish scalable businesses with sustainable links to global markets. We design & sell high quality candles made by women in regions where few others are unlikely to invest - places like Iraq & Haiti. Through our model of shared prosperity, we aim to empower women entrepreneurs to truly thrive.

About You
Organization:
Prosperity Candle
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Section 1: About You
First Name

Siiri

Last Name

Morley

Country

, MA, Hampshire County

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

Organization Name

Prosperity Candle

Organization Phone
Organization Address

P.O. Box 60602, Florence, MA 01062

Organization Country

, MA, Hampshire County

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, BD

Innovation
What makes your innovation unique?

The Prosperity Candle model is unique for 5 key reasons:

1) Our model of shared prosperity. We focus on empowering women entrepreneurs to build businesses that enable them to move beyond a survival wage to one that can truly grow to provide them with a prosperity wage. Unlike many efforts that work with women, our model emphasizes entrepreneurship instead of charity. We treat women as independent business partners who are eligible for quarterly profit-sharing.

2) We focus on regions of conflict and distress. We intentionally go to regions where the private sector is unwilling or unable to invest. We understand that these areas are where sustainable business models are often needed most. This is our passion and purpose.

3) We seek strategic partnerships to leverage existing resources. We know what we are good at and we know where we need the support of nonprofit partners who work with women and offer microfinance services. We are also developing strategic partnerships with the media, faith-based organizations and other businesses to propel our work further.

4) Scalability and replicability. Our business model is designed to be replicable and customized to different environments and cultures. We will easily be able to expand beyond Iraq to Haiti, Rwanda and Afghanistan as we expand our product line and access new markets.

5) We have an extraordinary team that spans three generations and has decades of experience in import/export, women’s enterprise development, sourcing from conflict zones, product development, marketing and e-commerce.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

Many income generation activities focus on crafts for local markets that allow for a supplemental income rather than a highly scalable enterprise opportunity. Our model was developed to deliver an opportunity to build a prosperous business, provide employment for others, and offer a sustainable link to global markets with direct customer feedback channeled back to each woman entrepreneur to help her improve her products.

The social impact of this vision is tremendous. With the growth and success of her enterprise, each entrepreneur is able to support her family, learns business skills, and is empowered in her community as a leader. Women – especially widows – are better able to care for their children’s needs in health, education and shelter. In our pilot project in Baghdad 32% of the 25 women who exported candles earned a supplemental income; 68% earned a minimum wage (equivalent of $120/month) or more. Nine of the women earned the equivalent of over $200/month with 4 of them crossing $300 – well above the average wage in Iraq. And Nazahat, whose dream is “to have a big candle making business,” exceeded projections by producing and exporting 228 candles, earning the equivalent of over $500/month – twice the average wage in Iraq. This provided the proof we needed of the potential for income generation that our innovative model for shared prosperity can offer.

The social impact of Prosperity Candle’s model is perhaps best presented in the women’s own words:

“I am widowed with four sons. My husband was killed by a mortar which dropped onto his grocery store and also hurt our son. But I am a strong woman and very optimistic. I have a lot of dreams. One day I hope to create a small candle-making factory. I will employ all my friends in the community. I hope that my candles will reach the whole world, that they will reach president Obama so that he will know that it is us Iraqi women who are sending him prosperity candles. I hope to put an end to these dark days in my life so that they will be bright and shining.” – Wafa’a

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

Our innovation addresses three main problems:

1) Lack of viable opportunities for women. Prosperity Candle partners with women entrepreneurs because we deeply believe that investing in women as business leaders creates the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous society. This is especially true in places where women are left to single-handedly rebuild their lives and support families in the shadows of conflict and the aftermath of disaster. Women-owned enterprises have a central role to play in the world as an untapped source of employment, economic growth, and social stability. When a woman thrives, an entire community thrives.

2) Regions of conflict and distress are in need of entrepreneurial opportunities to bring more income to local communities. Many well-intentioned efforts attempt to provide these opportunities but often fail to provide links to international markets to sustain them. We believe we are uniquely positioned, with our expertise in import/export, international development and experience working in conflict zones, to create a business model that will work in some of the toughest parts of the world.

3) Nonprofit development partners are seeking market linkages to sustain their work with women’s vocational and entrepreneurship training. We offer nonprofits a way to achieve their mission by offering this market-driven connection to sustainable business opportunities, one of the most challenging things for development organizations to achieve.

4) Increasingly it has been shown that consumers in Western countries are looking for gifts that are socially responsible and meaningful. Both of these market segments continue to grow. We seek to meet consumers’ need for a useful, high quality product, a meaningful gift and an emotional connection with the producer.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

Our innovative model has been developed over the course of 6 years, informed by decades of import experience and work in poverty alleviation. Each phase of the pilot project was carefully planned and executed. First, we selected a highly regarded partner (Women for Women International) with years of experience implementing income generation programs in conflict regions. We then personally trained field staff to transfer vocational skills and a complete understanding of our model. Before selecting and training the women participants, we field-tested our customized business kits to ensure compatibility with Iraqi conditions. Our detailed entrepreneur’s guide was translated into Arabic and in-country training was supplemented by video conferencing. Ultimately, success depends on reliably delivering a high quality product from kitchens in conflict areas, so a quality control system was implemented. Next we will be partnering with a microfinance provider to ensure the women have access to credit, and have begun discussing entrepreneurship training with several organizations that can help the women develop their business skills. Recognizing that some of the participants in our pilot project are not yet able to make export quality candles, we are developing several new products that will enable them to earn an income while continuing to practice their skills.

The business model is simple to describe, but challenging to implement. We provide kits and training to women in places of conflict and natural disaster to enable them to start highly scalable candle businesses from the safety of their homes. Our model starts with the operational structure of the founders’ previous successful import companies. It then modifies the value chain to incorporate thousands of independent producers in challenging environments by integrating existing programs of international NGOs (non-governmental organizations), removing intermediaries, and returning profits to women entrepreneurs. Essentially, we rearrange the key players to account for a higher cost structure, and then distribute the benefits upstream. Perhaps the most important step we are taking to make our innovation a success is measured growth. Already a number of organizations have approached Prosperity Candle with interest in expansion, but we are resolute in our belief that slow growth will lead to our success.

Working in places of conflict brings to mind many events that could prevent our success. Solutions include: production lead times that account for long periods of violence with brief windows for safe transport, checks and balances through linked database systems and 3rd-party reviews, equipment and procedures to minimize candle-making hazards, and adherence to Customs and Treasury rules.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

We expect that as we train additional candle-making entrepreneurs, expand to new countries (Rwanda, Haiti and Afghanistan), and build a stronger market for the Prosperity Collection of candles that women will have increased opportunities to grow their businesses, employ other women and earn significant income. Because each entrepreneur has the freedom to grow her business as she desires, we know that not all will expand their production or employ others. We do expect, however, as evidenced in our pilot, that about 40% of the entrepreneurs will invest to some extent in growing their businesses, while 10% will invest significantly.

By 2012, we expect to have $4.8 million in sales revenue with at least $1.3 million being returned to hundreds of women entrepreneurs in Iraq, Rwanda and Haiti. By 2012, we expect to have trained 700 women in three countries, about 10% of whom will have the opportunity to earn more than a living wage in their home communities. We also expect that candle quality and employment of others will increase over time.

While income and entrepreneurial opportunity is our main focus in the business, we also plan to track less quantitative indicators of our impact such as engagement in society, self-confidence, satisfaction with the business model, access to health care, and the nutrition and education of family members.

How many people will your project serve annually?

101‐1000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?

No

If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Approximately 150 words left (1200 characters).

Sustainability
What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?

No

Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

As evident in our model, partnerships are absolutely critical to our model. We strongly believe that we should work with strategic partners who have synergistic goals. When two organizations can work together to collaboratively achieve their missions, all the work is more efficient and sustainable. Working with key NGO partners allows us to focus on our strengths of importing, product development, customer relationship management, marketing and sales. NGO partners allow us to be nimble and quickly adapt to local conditions. We rely on our NGO partners to help us customize our model to adapt to local conditions. Partners like Women for Women International also provide critical marketing support as they have experience with private sector partnerships and communicating product offerings that support their mission to their large and engaged customer base.

As noted, we are establishing a partnership with a local microfinance organization as well as initiatives to support women’s entrepreneurship in the developing world. We are also exploring strategic marketing and media partnerships here in the U.S.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Our model is financially supported by our candle sales. As a for profit business (an L3C – low profit limited liability company), we are designed to be self-sustaining from our sales revenue. Our revenue is a volume, unit-based revenue model that becomes more efficient over time, as our fixed costs are low. We expect to break even in the summer of 2012. Until then, we are seeking debt financing to support the company until we reach cash flow break even.

Because we are an L3C, we are eligible for PRIs (program related investments) and grants from foundations and will also be exploring this form of support. The Prosperity Candle Foundation, our nonprofit organization, will be supported by donations and foundation grants.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

From social innovator, Ted Barber:

"This innovation – the shared prosperity model – was developed over the course of several years. The defining moment was perhaps when, after working for a year on projects seeking to alleviate poverty through enterprise support, I realized the terminology frequently used in the field of international development often referred to common business practices. I was surprised to find that the promotion of “embedded services” as a way to foster microenterprise development was no different than the assistance my own company had provided many small producers. This insight led to thinking about the ways that the private sector was already involved in poverty alleviation as a matter of business, and how this contribution could be greatly improved, broadened and made more sustainable. The linkages in global trade that offer the greatest potential benefit are most often tenuous and subject to decision-making that prioritizes profit margin over positive social impact. But what if a for-profit import and marketing company was designed with the goal of sharing success with every individual who made a product for it, and its success depended on sustainable, long-term linkages with those same individuals? From this simple idea was born Prosperity Candle’s model for social impact, which includes partnering with non-profit development organizations with aligned missions and programs (such as Women for Women International)."

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Ted Barber is an engineer by training, but has spent most of his professional life working with artisans and small enterprises in developing countries and transition economies. Having grown up in a small family retail business, he relates to the challenges, risks and hard work that entrepreneurs face. In the decade he spent building an import and wholesale business, he saw up close how the seemingly simple decisions a company makes every day can have a significant positive or negative impact on workers and families thousands of miles distant. His volunteer work in Ghana and subsequent years of contributing to enterprise development projects funded by international aid agencies reinforced the belief that well-intentioned and fair trade – the ancient art of commerce – can be a tremendous force for good in the world when it is based on market principles rather than charitable intentions. Ted cares deeply about the mission of Prosperity Candle, and the commitment made to each woman who chooses to work with the company and start her own business in far more challenges circumstances than he can possibly imagine. His guiding lights in this endeavor are his wife and parents, whose support and belief in the mission – and wise counsel – are the cornerstone for success.

One might wonder why a man would be so deeply involved with women's empowerment. He has a deep respect for women and women's work - perhaps in part because he was mentored by his mother and now has two daughters. This commitment is not based on trends, but rather on a deep and authentic passion for supporting women and creating economic models based on empowerment.

Ted is incredibly talented, yet deeply humble. His ability to start-up businesses, manage mature ones, import from far-flung conflict zones without breaking a sweat, lead product development and work with producers under tight resource constraints is unusual and critical for Prosperity Candle's growth and success over time.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Personal contact at Changemakers

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