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.
If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?
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