We don’t hire women to make candles. We make candles to hire women.
By Siiri Morley (Founding Partner, Prosperity Candle)
“Born or made?”
This was the question posed to me at the end of a panel discussion where I was speaking about my work with Prosperity Candle. The question asked whether I believed I was born or made an entrepreneur.
As I answered, I realized that I didn’t become an entrepreneur because of an inherent interest in business. I became an entrepreneur because I am a social justice and human rights activist at heart and found that business was the right tool to achieve my goals of empowering women.
After years of working with nonprofit organizations and fair trade initiatives, I realized that business could be a vehicle for creating some of the social change that I wanted to see.
My career is centered on my determination to find ways that women can become more economically empowered so they are able to better invest in themselves, their families, and their communities.
Empowered women lead to a tremendous ripple effect in society. I have devoted myself to working to create a business model that is flexible enough to meet the needs of women in places like Baghdad and Port-au-Prince, while also making sure it is sustainable, scalable and ultimately profitable for all involved, especially the women involved.
Business can create this type of impact, but it doesn’t do so naturally. Businesses need to be purposefully designed to consider their social and environmental impact as a key priority.
In the case of my company, Prosperity Candle, we create and sell candles made by women from distressed parts of the world to empower women economically and socially. This is our primary goal. Our success will hinge on our ability to create a financially viable venture, but this is a means to an end. We exist to offer women economic opportunity.
As we grow Prosperity Candle in its third year of operations, our team is continuously analyzing our three bottom lines, or three business priorities:
- Social impact
- Financial impact
- Environmental impact
The social impact of helping women rebuild their lives and offering them an economic opportunity to earn above a living wage is paramount. The financial impact is what we need to ensure to make our social impact viable (i.e. without selling and profiting from the sale of our candles, we have no means of offering opportunity to women). The environmental impact of our work is something that is less critical from a business point of view, but we see it as a critical part of working responsibly in the world. Environmentally sustainable practices make good economic sense and help us deepen the trust with our customer base.
Running a business while juggling these three priorities is not easy. It keeps us on our toes and makes decision-making and resource allocation challenging. But it is a challenge that our team embraces – and we’re lucky not to be alone in striking this balance.
Companies like The Body Shop, Tom’s of Maine, Equal Exchange and so many others have paved the way for customers to think differently about what type of products they purchase. We’re now part of a wave of social ventures that are thinking deeply – and creatively – about the change they can make in the world by radically changing their thinking about how business is done.
We’re proud to have become a Green America Certified Business, illuminating our commitment to be both socially responsible and environmentally sustainable. And we’re in the process of becoming a fair trade business as well. Joining these types of organizations not only helps validate our claims of being a triple bottom line business, but it helps us find like-minded partners and allies.
Want to see firsthand how a triple bottom line business works? Try purchasing one of our gifts for a mother in your life this Mother’s Day to see the quality of our products and the connection with the woman who made your candle. Our gifts give back in so many ways. What better way to show Mom that she passed on her values to you than by supporting another mom as she rebuilds her life?
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Siiri Morley is a Founding Partner of Prosperity Candle, a social enterprise that aims to empower women entrepreneurs in regions of conflict. She has worked on poverty reduction and sustainable economic development projects in Afghanistan, Croatia, Ecuador and Kenya, and was a business capacity development advisor with the U.S. Peace Corps in Lesotho. She has consulted on social impact measurement to design firm IDEO. Siiri holds an MBA from the Heller School of Social Policy & Management at Brandeis University. Follow her on Twitter at @siirimorley.