Interviews

Two Business Driving Change In The Developing World

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Interviews

Two Business Driving Change In The Developing World

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Two Business Driving Change In The Developing World

We chat to two very different entrepreneurs who share a passion to improve the education system, and thereby health, inclusion and long-term lives of people in Africa.

Jeremie Warner’s company is Power a Life is a mobile accessories brand led by the worlds' most empowering phone chargers. For every product sold, a solar light is gifted to a child who lives without electricity in a developing country.

Charitable products have a perception of being poor quality, but these receive high levels of customer satisfaction.

The benefits are enormous; carbon emissions are cut; the children are safer, healthier, and can study longer.  We have lit up thousands of children's lives.

Sarah Jordan’s business, Y.O.U. Underwear is a sustainable underwear business. Y.O.U. stands for "your own underwear."

Every time a customer buys a pair of Y.O.U. underwear, two pairs go to Smalls for All. a Scottish charity that collects and distributes underwear to vulnerable women and children across Africa and the UK.

Through this, they have supplied thousands of pairs to vulnerable women and children. They are on track towards a target of 23,000 pairs donated by 2023.

Below they explain what they do and why.

What started you on the social enterprise path?

Jeremie: I trained in architecture at Strathclyde University with Stephen (business partner), and in my fourth year, I went on a project to Singapore working on amazing, multi-million-pound houses.

I kept watching the people building these houses in their bare feet. At this time, it was at the height of the credit crunch, but all I could see was that it was making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

So, I came home and changed my Masters. intending to run a social business. We didn't want to just give money; we wanted to find a problem and contribute to solving it.

Sarah: I did a degree in geography and computing and then went into the tech-for-good space. Firstly, this was in education and then for Oxfam. That was partly to encourage supporters but also to increase efficiency in their programme work.

I did a similar job for the M.S. Society, helping sufferers with both education and symptom maintenance.

As part of the work for Oxfam, I was lucky enough to travel a lot on educational and fundraising trips. I went to South Africa, Malawi, and Namibia on a mix of holidays and work.

When was your lightbulb moment?

Jeremie: Stephen and I went to Senegal. All we had was one phone number for a project worker there. I researched by giving the kids photo workshops, asking them ten questions, ranging from who their family was, what they eat, what they would like to improve.

The major problem was light. There was no electricity. A round trip to re-charge my laptop was 40km.  The villagers survived on hazardous kerosene lamps or cheap Chinese torches for which the batteries were costly.

The emotional pull was tremendous as I had two kids of my own. When my young boy wakes up in the middle of the night crying, it is easy to switch on a light, but millions of children do not have this.

The people of Senegal are fantastic. They live this very harsh life, yet they are happier than we are. They are exceptionally honest, very proud, and have a great sense of hospitality. You can never visit one of their houses without having something to eat or drink.

The diet is very different. The village invited me to a feast where the focus was on tripe. I discovered the reality of what life was like there when I ended up traveling to the health centre on a drip on the back of a donkey cart.

Sarah: I went to Uganda in 2016 as part of the Uganda International Marathon programme. I was 40 that year and wanted to do something that would make a difference and that programme was all about volunteering and raising money for local community groups.

The program I was on uses sport to engage the runners with the local communities.  As well as running, you spend a few weeks volunteering, helping with projects from repainting the playground to building the local library.

I worked on a project helping a group of female entrepreneurs who were making good quality nappies and sanitary towels. The latter was not selling and what we found was that vast numbers of girls and women didn't own any underwear so couldn't use them.  For the girls, that meant missing school regularly.

I knew from my work with Oxfam the effect lack of social inclusion and the knock-on effect of that lack of education would have on the women’s long-term development. Education was part of empowerment, yet it wasn’t happening for the sake of a pair of pants.

How did you come up with the business idea?

Jeremie: We worked through dozens before whittling it down to two. One was low-cost irrigation, and the other was lights for kids. The irrigation equipment had several obvious complications with delivery, not least local corruption.

We measured the potential impact of the provision of lights. We went to Zimbabwe, where they found children were tested in Maths and English every two weeks. We gave the children lights so they could do homework after the sun went down.

The results were dramatic. Maths at P5 level improved notably, tripling previous levels of achievement. If we could get the children lights, future generations could get to high schools, change their lives for the better, earn more, live longer.

Sarah: I had never worked in manufacturing or fashion, but I thought the problem of providing pants had to be an easy fix. I didn't want to make a short-term donation because if we were going to change women's lives long-term, it had to be sustainable. Sustainable meant a business.

I started to look into the sourcing of cotton and the industry behind it and discovered the tragedy of cotton farmers' lives in India.

I learned about their reliance on farming jobs, the domination of pesticides, and how these resulted in sickness and death from poisoning. After that, I made up my mind to use only certified organic and Fairtrade cotton.

What have been your biggest challenges?

Jeremie: I was "rather naively" determined to set up as a Ltd Company to go up against the big names. At that time, investors were very shy of social brands, not liking the idea that a large chunk of the profits would not flow their way.

Enterprise Agencies tended to think that Limited Companies couldn't be social enterprises, and they were sent back and forth between the two.  Eventually, they managed to raise £101,000.

The supply chain has been hard on both products to sell and the lights themselves, which are now strong enough for a land rover to drive over and still keep working.Finding manufacturing partners for 150 different products was tough.

Sarah: Being sustainable means higher costs. Aiming for inclusivity means higher costs too. Because we offer items in a vast range of sizes, that means a massive amount of stock.  But inclusivity and diversity are vitally important.

I quickly learned how complex it is and that nearly everything you do is a compromise.  The more you unpick what genuinely sustainable means, the more there is to tackle.

You have to have a vision of where you want to get to and get your head around the fact that you are on a journey and that you won't be perfect at the start. You have to get better along the way.  You also have to balance fashion with making the ethics behind it inspirational without being boring or complicated.

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Two Business Driving Change In The Developing World

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