Bead for Life – The hybrid model

Devin Hibbard – Bead for Life – How to create a hybrid model between nonprofit & a business.

Bead for Life is a really interesting sort of hybrid model between a nonprofit and a business. Our goal is poverty eradication in Uganda, and education Americans about poverty eradication. So we have that whole pragmatic focus, and we have an amazing way to work with women in Uganda to empower them to get out of poverty long term.

But we also have a financial base of distributing the product that is made in Uganda around the world. We do the program work, but we also have quality control issues. We have supply chain issues, we do fulfillment, we do distribution, we do marketing. All of that is part of what we do.

And unlike most nonprofits in the world, we’re almost entirely self-funded. So we also pay our own way with the revenue of our sales. So our work in Uganda is very much around sustainably empowering women to change their own lives, and we do that by bringing them into our program, helping them earn money, most of these women are living on less than a dollar or two dollars a day, they come in, and they learn how to make beads out of recycled paper, and in some cases now, to gather Shea nuts for our Shea butter products.

But they take that money, and they immediately start to get business training as well, because our goal is not to work with one group of women forever. We’re not a fair trade company in the traditional sense that we team up with one group of artisans. Our goal is to help women move through and out of poverty, and then to graduate them so that they’re truly sustainable. So the business training, the entrepreneurial training that they receive, and the money that they’re earning, some of that goes to help them capitalize their first business that they want to launch.

And during their time in the program, we want them to open at least one business. Some people open two or three businesses that are not bead making, that are supplying produce or selling shoes. So that they’re rooted in the local economy so that they’re truly sustainable over time and able to support themselves. And if Bead for Life ever disappeared, they would be fine.

So, that’s our model in Uganda and we have a vision in the next couple years to actually hone and tweak our curriculum so it really is applicable around the world, and then to share it broadly with anyone who wants to use it, because it’s truly the sustainable way for people to get out of poverty, and it’s based on not giving handouts, it’s really giving opportunities for people to do it themselves.

On the North America side, we have this incredible business engine, in which we try to both sell products, which fund all of our work, which is incredibly important, but to do so in a way that also really engages people, because we know how important it is for people to believe, number one, that extreme poverty can be eradicated in our lifetimes, that there are smart and effective ways to do that, and number two, that they can get involved. It’s not just this issue that’s so overwhelming you want to go bury your head in the sand, that in fact, things I can do every day, the way I shop, the way I vote, the way I talk to my friends, how I educate my children, can all lead towards solving this enormous global issue.

So our distribution model is mostly at this point a business to consumer, we have women from all across North America, Europe… really around the globe, who bring beads and shea products into their community, into their offices, into the schools of their children. And they share the beads and the shea products, but they also really share the story of these women who are working so hard to change their lives, and I think that women get the struggles that we all have, they’re not so very different between here and Uganda.  We all want our kids to have a better future.

So that’s been incredibly powerful, and it’s been an incredible economic engine. We are generating about 3 million dollars a year in revenue to fund the work that we want to do in Uganda and to help these women get out of poverty. In the future, we’re hoping to diversify our funding base, even more, to do more wholesale accounts, to look at private label opportunities because we believe that beads can be everywhere. Right now our price points are incredibly affordable because we think of this not only as a product but as a symbol of women rising out of poverty, so we want everyone to wear them.

Our products start at 4 dollars and go up to 30 dollars, but we might introduce a luxury line in the future for people who can and want to pay 100 dollars for that symbol of women rising out of poverty. So we really are trying to think about the best way for us to both tell the story and connect to people, and to have a very strategic and smart business model that utilizes all the distribution channels we can to have huge impact.