Looking back at 2016
Dear Supporters, Customers and Fans of Esperanza & Upward Ventures,
As the founder of Upward Ventures and our daughter company Esperanza Soaps, I’m writing to summarize what this year has meant to us, and to tell you why we believe it is so important that we continue the work we are doing. I’m sorry my summary of the year is a little long, but please, take a few extra minutes and read till the end.
Our mission has always been to employ the poorest women we knew, and this has proved radically more difficult than we had thought. As we have moved forward this year, we have needed to get truly creative, flexible and, unfortunately, to curb our expectations if we were ever to provide lasting jobs to the women of Las Malvinas. For example, they learned much more slowly than we had anticipated. It took about 8 months of constant training and constant, repeated instructions for them to consistently produce soap that met our standards of quality, and to produce it without direct supervision. Secondly, there are the cultural barriers. I had never heard of a boss who had to go house to house collecting his employees to come to work (especially if work had started half an hour ago), yet that was their initial expectation, and this is what I did for the first couple of months. Then there’s the overall lack of respect to women in the DR, especially for women who live in a slum. I had to be ever vigilant against men barging into our workshop, demanding our ladies to stop and fetch them water, coffee, food or just go run errands. This might happen several times a workday, and even our American volunteers sometimes got the same treatment! Additionally, there’s the cultural expectation that women carry all of the responsibility for looking after their children - so I had to get used to working around kids because their children rarely left their mothers’ sides. The factory and my house (where we cut, stored and packaged the soap) are always teeming with little people.
Of course none of this is their fault. Being born into poverty means they were never offered a formal job and slim opportunities for education. Quite the opposite, it means they were told by family, friends and strangers that they could never be (or would never) be a stakeholder of any significant company. It means they learned, sometimes the hard way, that they could never expect earn a fair or living wage. So it meant that WE had to invest so much more in training, encouragement, and personal support to re-train their expectations.
Aside from all the training and soap-making, we have started selling and marketing our brand in the Dominican Republic. We investigated farmer’s markets and outdoor fairs, visited stores and scouted various tourist attractions. It turns out there is a substantial local market down there. Although we have had to test different formats that would meet the locals’ desire and willingness to pay for a bar, Dominicans are eager to use natural soap, and we’re on a steady path to get the right product mix for locals, with several months of consistent sales growth under our belt already. We are also selling directly to customers at several fairs and filling the shelves of more and more stores. In October we hired an enthusiastic, hard working part-time saleswoman. She has been a blessing, and has been instrumental in boosting our sales. We have additionally branched out and started to produce exclusive “private label” soap for a few companies and “small batch” soap for special events like baby showers, wedding favors, etc. The coming year, 2017, is the year we could be break through the ceiling and become persistently profitable!
Other highlights have been sending over 40 kids to school with our Las Malvinas Back to School program - we enabled 41 children, especially teenage girls, to go to school this year by providing the uniforms, backpacks and supplies their parents couldn't provide. Thanks to our amazing customers we were able to raise these funds!
We've also been paying college tuition for Massiel, a very bright young woman in the community. She's extremely poor, works and studies and against all odds is getting through college. For 2 years now we have been paying her tuition and hope to incorporate products that will directly benefit Massiel and other girls of the community .
However, I will admit it’s been incredibly hard and frustrating. Starting ANY company is a lot of hard work, but starting one in a slum is extraordinarily hard. I’ve had to re-learn everything relating to running a business and managing employees, starting with myself. The support and love of my wife, family, friends, volunteers, and pastor have been what has carried me through on some of those days.
On the other hand - I’m convinced this work is good, meaningful and just. Work is not something we do in order to pay our bills; a job is so much more than a list of tasks we perform for money. In a job we find dignity, a sense of worth, and a place in the economy that God uses to provide for all of us. Work should be used as a vehicle to serve and care for others. Yet poor people are frequently deprived of work; often because they are poor, or because they don’t meet a “regular” company’s expectations of a worker. That’s how Esperanza is different. It is a company designed to employ and empower the poorest people we know, serve the entirety of our communities, and still be profitable. After a long year of hard work, watching this little startup grow, we know it’s possible. We CAN employ the poorest of the poor, be profitable, produce a high quality, socially responsible product, and provide good jobs to people that are usually excluded from the jobs market.
To that end, I am excited to announce we are exploring a few other for-profit business ideas, the most promising is producing drinking water directly in the community from an unused cistern we have, and expand the number of products we offer at Esperanza.
Now, at this year’s end, we encourage you to donate to our tax deductible nonprofit Upward Ventures so that it can continue to be a business incubator for Esperanza and other job-providing initiatives in Las Malvinas. We cannot survive on current sales alone, and we still need capital to get us to a point of steady profits. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve others, the generous donations of all our supporters that have allowed us to get here, and there’s still a long trail ahead. If you wish to donate, please visit our website at www.upward-ventures.org/donate/ or the site of our fiscal sponsor Mercyhouse here. Or contact me at 4136584885, email@example.com
Thanks to all who have supported us this year with their resources, time, encouragement and prayers. And thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ for the good work He sets before us.
Founder Esperanza Soaps
Founder Upward Ventures