UK’s Better Nature Becomes World’s First Plastic-Neutral Meat-Alternative Company

Better Nature, a UK-based producer of tempeh, has partnered with rePurpose Global, a plastic credit platform, to become the world’s first plastic-neutral meat-alternative company.

“Due to the relatively complicated food safety aspect of tempeh production, it’s really difficult to remove plastic from its production and packaging,” said Amadeus Driando Ahnan-Winarno, co-founder and head of technology at Better Nature. “It’s something that really frustrates us as a team and we’re constantly working on. We’re particularly looking into how we could use recycled or renewable materials rather than virgin plastic. We’re making progress, but it will take a while to implement, so, in the meantime, offsetting the plastic we produce is a productive step.”

Related: Solving the single-use plastic problem with Emma Rose of FinalStraw

Until the company can reduce its own plastic usage, it’s working with rePurpose Global to contribute to the removal of the same amount of plastic from the environment that it uses. Better Nature makes monetary donations to rePurpose Global based on how much plastic it uses in packaging and shipping materials. That money is sent to rePurpose Global partner Waste4Change, a social enterprise in West Java, Indonesia. Waste4Change develops sustainable waste management systems to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills.

By supporting Waste4Change, Better Nature hopes to reduce the overall amount of plastic waste globally and ensure that it’s reused in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

Waste4Change also provides jobs for more than 140 waste management workers and their families in West Java.

Related: Oglethorpe University senior has simple solution to better protect Hawaii’s dolphins

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soy product made from fermented soybeans. It’s a staple protein and a major industry in Java, where it most likely originated centuries ago. Boosting the plastic recycling industry in Indonesia helps protect waste-management employees from inhumane conditions and low wages. The Better Nature initiative boosts these workers’ income by making hard-to-recycle plastics more valuable, the company says, while supporting an experienced recycling social enterprise.

“At Better Nature, our mission is to do things the better way—for people, the planet and animals,” said Elin Roberts, co-founder and head of marketing at Better Nature. “But the better way is not always the perfect way; it’s about making whatever changes we can to get closer to our greater goals. As a start-up, it can be tricky to implement all the changes we want to from the beginning, but we’re working hard to be as sustainable as possible. Going plastic-neutral is a step in the right direction for us, and one we want to encourage more businesses to take.”

Related: University of North Carolina research explains why sea turtles eat plastic

UK Social Enterprise Will Bypass Big Drug Companies to Make COVID-19 Vaccine Available to the Poor

A new UK social enterprise has been formed to bring a promising COVID-19 vaccine to the world, sidestepping large pharmaceutical companies to make sure it’s made available and affordable to the poorest countries.

Founded by Imperial College London, VacEquity Global Health (VGH) will waive royalties and only charge modest cost-plus prices for the vaccine, enough to fund its ongoing research and accelerate global distribution.

VGH’s social mission is to rapidly develop vaccines to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and distribute them as widely as possible in the UK and abroad. “Right now we think the focus should be on how to solve the problem rather than how to make money out of it,” Simon Hepworth, the director of enterprise at Imperial, told the Thompson Reuters Foundation. “Social enterprise fits with our mission: applying scientific discoveries for the benefit of society.”

VGH is supported by Imperial and Morningside Ventures, a venture investor specializing in companies that develop innovative science for the public good. Morningside and Imperial also plan to launch a separate startup called VaXEquity (VXT), which will develop self-amplifying RNA technology used in the vaccine to treat other health conditions beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

The two new ventures are built upon the research of Professor Robin Shattock, who pioneered the technology of self-amplifying RNA. Shattock is Head of Mucosal Infection and Immunity at Imperial College London and co-founder of both VGH and VXT.

this photo shows the gloved hands of a scientist at VacEquity Global Health doing research on a vaccine for the coronavirus

VacEquity Global Health’s vaccine uses self-amplifying RNA technology to trigger an immune response in a host cell and produce immunity to COVID-19.

For COVID-19, the technology is used to deliver genetic instructions to muscle cells to make the “spike” protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. This protein triggers an immune response in the host to produce immunity to the coronavirus.

The vaccine will enter phase one of human trials with 300 people on June 15. Another trial involving 6,000 people is planned for October. If these human trials are successful, the Imperial vaccine can be distributed in the UK and overseas early next year, Imperial College London reported in a press release.

The quick progress is possible because self-amplifying RNA technology lends itself to rapid manufacturing scale-up, the company says. A large quantity of vaccine doses can be made in manufacturing facilities with a small footprint. The team’s supply chain and manufacturing partners will be ready to produce tens of millions of vaccines from early 2021, the company said.

“We have spent an intense six months to fast-track our vaccine to the clinic,” Shattock said. “Now we are ready to combat the virus through our clinical trials. We are grateful to the thousands of people helping us advance the vaccine: from donors, investors and the government to volunteers for our clinical trials. These new enterprises are the most effective way for us to deliver COVID-19 vaccines quickly, cheaply and internationally, while preparing for future pandemics.”

photo of a sample dish used in research for a COVID-19 vaccine at Imperial College London

If upcoming human trials are successful, the Imperial vaccine can be distributed in the UK and overseas early next year, according to VGH and Imperial College London.

Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said the UK is making “remarkable” progress in developing a vaccine “and the speed with which Imperial has progressed its self-amplifying mRNA vaccine has been breathtaking. Imperial’s technology shows great promise, so I welcome this further move to accelerate development of a potential vaccine.”

Professor Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London, said VGH and VXT “will fight disease, create thousands of jobs and fast-track scientific advances. We are determined to both defeat the current coronavirus and improve the world’s readiness to fight pandemics for generations to come.”

She’s the Bawse: Meet the Youngest Retailer in the History of Target

She’s five years old, and she’s the Bawse. She’s also the youngest CEO to ever sell her products on the shelves at retail giant Target.

Of course, Lily Adeleye does have one big advantage over most kids her age: Her mom, Courtney Adeleye, is a highly successful entrepreneur herself, so Lily learned from the best.

Related: Dream like a kid: The inspiring story behind Me and the Bees Lemonade

As Black Enterprise reports, Lily is the mini-sized fashion maven behind Lily Frilly, a purveyor of accessories such as hair bows, tote bags, backpacks and lunch boxes for children. Her mom, meanwhile, is founder and CEO of The Mane Choice, a dominant force in the black haircare industry. A social entrepreneur, Courtney Adeleye has dedicated herself to helping other black businesswomen live out their entrepreneurial dreams and take control of their finances. To the tune of $30 million, she partnered with MAV Beauty Brands to launch the Generational Advantage Fund, which provides support for aspiring female entrepreneurs in financial literacy, capital, mentorship, resources and support, scholarships and housing.

Lily isn’t Courtney Adeleye’s first success story, but she might be the cutest. More importantly, she’s also got a head for business, her mom said. “From the time Lily was three, I knew then she had a business mindset,” Courtney told Black Enterprise. “At an early age, as she watched me build a successful business from the ground up, it exposed her to many possibilities and goals, so with that, we didn’t wait until she was an adult to help her pursue them.”

photo of Lily Adeleye wearing one of her Lily Frilly bows in her hair

Lily Adeleye’s mother, Courtney Adeleye, believes “children have the ability to meet their full potential at an early age.”

Lily makes it clear that she’s no figurehead. “I own my own company,” she asserted in the Black Enterprise interview. “I don’t just like it, I love it.”

She also serves as a positive role model for other children who aspire to do more than play video games on their tablets all day long. “We must instill strength, power, assertiveness, authority and confidence in our growing young ladies,” the Lily Frilly website states. “Lily Frilly not only teaches our children about who they are (beautiful young women who can do anything they put their minds to), but it reinforces this vision by layering on a positive initiative with books, clothing, toys, live empowering events, charity events and so much more.”

Related: This 12-year-old social entrepreneur uses bowties to help shelter animals get adopted

Lily Frilly’s online branding is characterized by bright hues, heavy on the pink and red, and lots of photos of children wearing Lily’s bows and other items. Throughout May 2020, the company also hosted a weekly $1,000 “cash giveback” promotion on Instagram. To win, customers had to buy at least one Lily Frilly bow at a Target store, email a copy of the receipt to the company and repost a flyer photo about the giveaway contest on their own Instagram page.

In an April 2020 promotion, Lily’s Instagram followers had a chance to win a vacation to Disney World.

“Many people don’t understand the importance of instilling ‘the NOW’ into children,” Courtney said in the Black Enterprise interview. “Not in all situations do you have to wait until you’re older to pursue your dreams. Lily Frilly believes that children have the ability to meet their full potential at an early age, and we hope people see our story as an inspiration to be innovative and step outside of the box.”

Stedman Graham: Self-Leadership and Finding Your Own Identity

Among his many books, businessman and educator Stedman Graham is the author of “Identity Leadership: To Lead Others You Must First Lead Yourself” and the longtime partner of Oprah Winfrey. In this discussion with Kevin Edwards of Real Leaders Magazine, Graham talks about his “Nine-Step Success” process. It all starts, he says, with finding your own identity. “If you don’t know who you are, you don’t know where you’re going and you probably don’t know how you’re going to get there,” Graham says. It’s crucial, he notes, to “define yourself as opposed to having the world define you.”

Related: Why Mary Kay, Inc. is accelerating women entrepreneurs

From an entrepreneurial perspective, Graham also talks about overcoming your personal history and hardwiring; monetizing your purpose and skills; and managing a business as an ecosystem. And he details the importance of self-leadership “based on the philosophy that you can’t lead anybody else until you first lead yourself. We need to focus on those skills and those disciplines … that help us to be the best for ourselves first, so that we can have the foundational work to … transfer those same skills over to an organization or a group or a team [and] create effective performance.”


About Real Leaders Magazine: Located on the web at, Real Leaders Magazine is the world’s first sustainable business and leadership magazine. Real Leaders aims to inspire better leaders for a better world, a world of far-sighted, sustainable leadership that helps find solutions to the problems that 7.5 billion people have created on a small planet. Click here to subscribe to Real LeadersFor more Real Leaders video content, check out their Youtube page here.

Video: Solving the Single-Use Plastic Problem With Emma Rose of FinalStraw

The truth about single-use plastic and America’s recycling problem comes to light as Kevin Edwards of Real Leaders Magazine gets insights from Emma Rose, founder and CEO of FinalStraw in this exclusive interview. As a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics, Rose and her company design and create Foreverables, described as “responsibly made, badass products.” The FinalStraw itself is a sleek, smartly designed, highly portable and totally reusable straw (available in a wide range of appealing colors) that comes in a small case you could easily attach to your keychain.

Related: Why Mary Kay, Inc. is accelerating women entrepreneurs

In this far-ranging discussion of the zero-waste movement and the mission of FinalStraw, Rose explains why paper isn’t necessarily better than plastic, why recycling isn’t the be-all end-all solution to waste, and the problem of biodegradable plastics. “The problem is in single-use,” Rose explains. “Straws aren’t the problem, it’s the way we consume products and throw them away … What we’re trying to do is kind of retrain people to think not only about where does the product go when you throw it away but also what goes into making that product and how can we redesign things so that we’re not wasting all these materials and energy and fuel to make something that lasts 30 seconds and then we throw it away.”

About Real Leaders Magazine: Located on the web at, Real Leaders Magazine is the world’s first sustainable business and leadership magazine. Real Leaders aims to inspire better leaders for a better world, a world of far-sighted, sustainable leadership that helps find solutions to the problems that 7.5 billion people have created on a small planet. Click here to subscribe to Real LeadersFor more Real Leaders video content, check out their Youtube page here.

Video: Why Mary Kay, Inc. Is Accelerating Women Entrepreneurs

Mary Kay, Inc. last fall launched the Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator, a multipartner initiative designed to inspire, educate and empower women entrepreneurs around the world. In this interview with Kevin Edwards of Real Leaders Magazine, Deborah Gibbins, COO of Mary Kay, Inc., describes the program, its goals and its partners, including six United Nations agencies, and also talks about what being a leader means to her.

Related: Mary Kay, Inc. aims to empower women with Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator

Gibbins notes that her company was founded by Mary Kay Ash, “who got frustrated because she had trainees promoted above her all the time, so she created her own company to create opportunities (for women) … When women kind of get frustrated and they see lack of opportunities, often they turn to starting their own businesses. Women are really at a disadvantage when it comes to funding, access to mentors, access to networks … so there’s so much work that has to happen, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

About Real Leaders Magazine: Located on the web at, Real Leaders Magazine is the world’s first sustainable business and leadership magazine. Real Leaders aims to inspire better leaders for a better world, a world of far-sighted, sustainable leadership that helps find solutions to the problems that 7.5 billion people have created on a small planet. Click here to subscribe to Real Leaders. For more Real Leaders video content, check out their Youtube page here.

Mary Kay, Inc. Aims to Empower Women Through Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator

Mary Kay Inc., a global marketing company specializing in beauty, skin care and makeup products, aims to inspire, educate and empower women around the world with its new Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator, a multipartner initiative launched in late 2019.

The initiative is a strategic collaboration developed in consultation with six United Nations agencies: UN Women; United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP); the International Labour Organization (ILO); the International Trade Centre (ITC); UN Global Impact; and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Related video: Why Mary Kay, Inc. Is Accelerating Women’s Entrepreneurship

According to a Mary Kay press release, the Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator will offer a guided digital curriculum supplemented by on-the-ground training and mentorship. In addition, it will serve as an advocacy platform to eliminate entrepreneurial roadblocks for women, ranging from digital literacy to legal reform—enabling women to fully participate in the growth of their local and national economies.

The Accelerator will support global efforts to encourage businesses to establish and expand relationships with women-owned businesses, including corporate procurement. Future expansion of the program will include funding opportunities accessible to women who complete the curriculum.

“Mary Kay has empowered women through entrepreneurship and supported their aspirations for financial security and independence for more than 56 years,” said Deborah Gibbins, Chief Operating Officer of Mary Kay. “Private and public-sector organizations must work together to ensure all women entrepreneurs have access to the tools and education they need to make their dreams of financial independence a reality, lifting up their families and communities.”

photo of

The Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator initially will be available in six languages, with more to come as the program expands to 192 countries. The Accelerator also will convene an advisory committee of entrepreneurs, celebrities and advocates to oversee the expansion and promotion of the program.

“An informed woman with money in her pocket is an empowered woman. With the growing number of female innovators active today, women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment are strongly on the rise,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. “The advocates from across the world who are joining forces to create the Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator will enable more women than ever to become knowledgeable entrepreneurs, cultivate financial independence, and support their local communities.”

“At ITC we look forward to joining the Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator through our SheTrades Initiative to achieve real progress on achieving SDG5 to empower all women and girls,” said Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre. “With this partnership we will empower women and girls to pursue their entrepreneurship dreams and equip them with the skills needed to turn those dreams into business success.”

The Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator is the latest in a series of recent steps taken by Mary Kay to empower women and improve their lives around the world. Earlier this year, Mary Kay added its name to a growing roster of businesses and corporations committing to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, a joint project of the UN Global Compact and UN Women developed to emphasize the business case for corporate action to promote gender equality. Mary Kay is also a signatory of the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. During the United Nations General Assembly, Mary Kay will sponsor the WE Empower UN SDG Challenge, the first global business competition for women entrepreneurs convened by renowned fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.

Social Enterprise Takes Kids on Global Journey of the Imagination to Cope With Pandemic

A global social enterprise has tapped into the ancient power of storytelling—and the high-tech reach and capabilities of YouTube—to help children adjust to the COVID-19 crisis.

Papinee, which describes itself as a “progressive children’s storytelling company,” recently launched Papinee Club, which provides parents with a comprehensive toolkit and engaging content to help young children—between three and eight years old—cope with the psychological and emotional stresses created by the coronavirus pandemic. At the core of the initiative is a new weekly YouTube series, also titled Papinee Club. Watch the first episode here.

Dev Suj, founder of Papinee, noted that parents around the world are struggling to find meaningful and positive ways to help their children cope with the coronavirus crisis and the bewildering restrictions it places on their lives. “This is a very stressful time for families,” Suj said. “Isolated at home, parents need to juggle working remotely [and] helping their kids with distance learning, not to mention keeping everyone healthy and positive. Kids are unable to go to school, see their friends, play outside, [while they’re] waiting for things to go back to normal.”

photo of a small child reading a Papinee book that ties into the company's children's programming for YouTube during the pandemic

When they’re not watching the Papinee Club series for children on YouTube, kids can read Papinee’s books about various animals and their adventures around the world.

The project was inspired by Suj’s childhood—or, more specifically, his mother. “[The coronavirus crisis] took me back to my childhood when my mother was sick and we couldn’t leave the house, much less travel,” Suj recalled. “But through her incredible imagination, she told us many fantastic stories of animals that ruled the planet. We visited exotic countries around the world, and it gave me hope.”

Suj’s mom also took him to visit local children’s homes and orphanages every Sunday. There, she would tell share her wildly imaginative stories to empower and inspire the kids. She also invented a word, “papinee,” which meant “unconditional love,” and told each child she encountered that they were her “papinee.”

Today Suj and his team use storytelling through technology to accomplish similar goals, aiming to engage, educate and inspire children around the planet. Each YouTube episode of Papinee Club runs 15-20 minutes and showcases a carefully planned range of activities from yoga, mindfulness and nutrition to art, music and dance expression—many of which parents and children can do together. It’s accompanied by the Papinee Passport, a downloadable collection of activities that provide an educational, interactive and communal way to keep children engaged throughout the week.

Addressing diverse themes such as gratitude, courage, resilience and acceptance, each episode takes families on a journey around the world, ignites their imagination through creative storytelling and encourages family bonding through joint activities. Ultimately, Suj said, Papinee Club emphasizes a message of universal love and respect and seeks to reassure children of brighter days ahead while encouraging dialogue and sharing and suggesting ways to cope with the stresses of the pandemic.

Each episode’s segments are animated by real families and volunteers from different parts of the world who find themselves in very similar circumstances. Sharing their unique talents and experiences, they provide a window into different cultures and reinforce the concept of a global community coming together in support of each other.

“With the world essentially shut down, we had to be extremely innovative, creative and resourceful in how we created this show,” Suj said. Conceived and created in less than 14 days due to the urgency of the crisis, the entire production—from developing the original script, creating bespoke toolkits and step-by-step instructions for participating families, to editing and animation—was managed remotely and volunteer-led. “We had to find the entire creative and production team, enlist all our friends to help, and it is mind-boggling how everyone and everything just came together. We were all unified in our desire to get kids to understand that everything is OK and that we are going to make the world better together.”

this photo shows a child in need who received a free storytelling kit from Papinee

As a social enterprise, Papinee gives away a free “Inspire” storytelling kit to a child in need for every kit that is sold.

The pilot features five families and characters from all walks of life and different corners of the globe—Telluride, Colo. and Los Angeles in the U.S. as well as Portugal, Turkey and Thailand. “This is a show for families by families, and beyond providing a set of fun, educational and interactive activities, it shows kids and parents alike that they are not alone and that we are stronger together,” Suj said. “Our main goal is to inspire them to learn, laugh, and love unconditionally because that is what Papinee is about—unconditional love.”

Papinee was founded as a social enterprise to educate and inspire children to become respectful, responsible and compassionate global citizens of tomorrow. Its proprietary WHIGZ curriculum (World, History, Imagination, Geography, Zoology) draws inspiration from Montessori and STEAM as well as the centuries-old craft of storytelling. The company says its mission is to awaken a sense of curiosity, encourage respect for the planet and promote the values of universal love and human connection through the eyes of its animal characters from across the world.

Papinee is already known for its heirloom-inspired toys, interactive storytelling kits with a strong emphasis on education and pop-up amusement parks throughout Asia and Europe. As a social enterprise, Papinee also gives a free “Inspire” storytelling kit to a child in need for every kit that is purchased. The company’s Papinee Club series also brings its signature animal characters to life, animated on screen and online for the first time. Additionally, the show represents the brand’s first introduction to the U.S.

“This project has grown organically and has been sustained by the passion and tireless dedication of our network of volunteers,” Suj said. “We are working at light speed to complete it as the need is so urgent and the current situation so extraordinary and universal. We are incredibly humbled by the reception of the concept and the generosity of volunteers from around the world who helped to create the pilot. This is what motivates us to work even harder and faster, and, hopefully, when this crisis is over, the lessons we have taught will continue to inspire.”

Six additional episodes are currently in development with new episodes released every Saturday on Papinee’s Youtube channel. Full episodes, individual segments and the Papinee Passport are also available on


Dr. Stephanie Raible Seeks Social Entrepreneurs to Participate in Leadership Study

Dr. Stephanie Raible of the University of Delaware (UD) is seeking experienced, full-time social entrepreneurs to participate in a study titled, “Social Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurial Leadership or Responsible Leadership.”

Dr. Raible is an assistant professor of social entrepreneurship at UD and leads campus efforts in social entrepreneurship through her joint appointment between UD’s Department of Human Development & Family Sciences and Horn Entrepreneurship, the creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement at UD.

Dr. Raible is also the 2020 chair for the Social Entrepreneurship SIG of the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Additionally, she is a Faculty Fellow of the Sullivan Foundation and served as the Winter 2020 Faculty Director of the UD Winter Session in Berlin and Munich, Germany, where she taught a course titled “International Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystems: Germany.”

Here is the approved description of the study:

“Experienced, full-time social entrepreneurs wanted to participate in the study, Social entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurial leadership or responsible leadership, which aims to explore the leadership approaches, philosophies, and practices of individuals who have been full-time within their social entrepreneurial roles for 3.5 years or longer in the United States. I am inviting you to participate in this study participating in a one-on-one phone, Zoom, or Skype interview. The purpose of the interview is to hear more about how social entrepreneurs experience view their roles as leaders both within and outside their organizations. The information learned from this study may help educators and mentors increase their understanding of how social entrepreneurs experience their roles as leaders. For their participation in this study, eligible participants will be offered a $25 online gift card. To volunteer your participation or confirm your eligibility to participate, please contact Dr. Stephanie Raible at; please note, direct messages outside of email will be redirected to email channels and promptly deleted.”


Wofford College Social Entrepreneurs Plant a SEED. for Global Change

As founders of a new social enterprise called SEED., Mackenzie Syiem and Grace Gehlken, both students at Sullivan Foundation partner school Wofford College, put a lot of thought into everything they do—including the placement of that seemingly incongruous period at the end of their company’s name.

It’s definitely not a typo.

The two young women—Syiem is a freshman and Gehlken a sophomore—are part of the growing menstrual equity movement, aimed at ensuring that girls and women around the world have access to the feminine hygiene products they need without stigma and without giving up their basic human rights. Period.

Related: Scotland’s Parliament makes sanitary products free to all women

It’s a cause that’s dear to both of their hearts, as is the idea of using the principles of free enterprise to do good in the world. Syiem and Gehlken decided to partner up after meeting through Wofford’s Launch program, which helps students develop an entrepreneurial mindset and supports them in establishing business ventures.

Their goal: To create a social-impact business that empowers artisans and craftspeople to sell their products—such as jewelry, artwork, bags and more—internationally, with profits going to support the programs that Syiem and Gehlken care about. Along the way, they hope to use SEED. (which stands for Sowing Empowerment Every Day) to help impoverished communities around the world bootstrap their way to economic success.

this photo shows social entrepreneur Mackenzie Syiem of Wofford College, who is passionate about promoting menstrual equity

As a native of India, Wofford College freshman and SEED. cofounder Mackenzie Syiem has experienced the stigma surrounding menstruation personally and has become a passionate advocate for menstrual equity.

“SEED. first became a concept around January 2020,” recalls Syiem, who hails from Shillong, Meghalaya, India, and plans to double-major in English and Spanish at Wofford. “My partner, Grace, and I have this overwhelming passion to help people. That’s where SEED. as a concept really originated … The inspiration for SEED. was really just the fact that both of us connected over our love for people, travel and service.”

As a high schooler, Gehlken, a double major in Finance and Spanish from Charleston, S.C., had developed a strong interest in sustainable community development and economic empowerment. Syiem, too, was still in high school when she became passionate about the fight for menstrual equity after watching the Academy Award-winning short-subject documentary, “Period. End of Sentence.” The film explored the stigma surrounding menstruation in India and a group of women who learned how to make and sell their own low-cost sanitary pads.

“Watching that really clicked a lot of things in my life together,” Syiem reflects. “It verbalized for the first time this strange and unpleasant experience I had had my whole life of being shamed for a natural body process. Growing up in India, I saw firsthand how negatively menstruation was viewed and how women had to suffer from this shame, all because of a lack of proper education on the subject.”

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Malik Seals on a quest to cure multiple sclerosis

“This cause is very important to Grace and me because that experience isn’t isolated to India,” Syiem adds. “There is a global problem surrounding menstrual equity that needs to be fixed because no girl deserves to miss school because she doesn’t have the resources or feel ashamed of something that is so incredibly natural.”

Syiem and Gehlken may be young, but they’re already global citizens and travelers. So they feel confident they can build connections in developing countries and put together the network of suppliers they need for SEED. “Our partners are both the artisans that we want to procure products from and the organizations and community leaders we want to work with to support social programs in those places,” Syiem said. “We find partners through our travels, research and mutual connections. Honduras and Tanzania are both places that Grace has been to and made connections in. She’s been traveling to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, every year since seventh grade. I have connections in India since that’s where I was born and raised. We’re always excited to travel to new places and find even more communities that we can work with!”

Although social enterprises like SEED. are designed to generate a profit, fostering social change is what Syiem and Gehlken are really all about—and they only want to team up with other serious changemakers. “We are very intentional when we choose our partners,” Syiem said. “We want to make sure that our partners are dedicated to making true change. Our artisan partners will benefit from the work opportunities, and the organizations we partner with will benefit from our support financially. We will also work to highlight both the artisans and the organizations and make sure that our customers know where and how they are making an impact.”

photo of social entrepreneur Grace Gehlken of Wofford College

Grace Gehlken, one of the co-founders of SEED., believes economic empowerment is a far better solution than charity when it comes to addressing social issues.

Including community leaders in solving social issues is crucial to real economic change, Gehlken notes in a blog on the SEED. website, and nonprofits can only help so much before their efforts become counterproductive. “Although charitable organizations who give money and resources to those in need provide short-term relief, charity is not the answer to ending poverty,” Gehlken writes. Citing a 2011 study showing that charity fails to significantly reduce poverty, she notes that it has, in fact, “contributed to the creation of a permanent underclass, the breakdown of family structures and the degrading of self-worth. Many nonprofits approach poverty alleviation with their own methods and solutions. They fail to recognize the need for community leaders to be included in identifying the problem and providing solutions.”

Gehlken stresses that economic empowerment is the best way forward for struggling and underserved communities—and for women as well. “At SEED., economic empowerment is ingrained in our business model,” she writes in the blog. “We buy our products from artisans in both local and global communities, such as handcrafted art and jewelry. We then in turn sell those products and donate a portion of the proceeds to our program partners. We believe in supporting already established organizations rather than trying to create our own in order to allow community leaders to develop their own solutions with tools and resources that will empower them. As a result, SEED. will not only support multiple community development projects but will also play a hand in economically empowering hundreds of local artisans.”

Related: Jonathan Molai: My life was forever changed by Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreats

SEED. will initially focus on selling its partners’ products on the company website, but Syiem and Gehlken will also look for direct sales opportunities with farmers markets, boutique shops and other local retailers. To raise money initially, SEED. marketed handcrafted “Dare to Dream” earrings created by a Spartanburg, S.C. jeweler—and quickly sold out. They will continue to hold fundraisers while applying for grants to support the business.

SEED. quickly sold out of Dare to Dream earrings, a Spartanburg, S.C. artisanal product that’s helping to finance the social enterprise in its start-up phase.

“Finances are a big concern for start-ups and even more so for social ventures like SEED., but we are confident that we can gain the support we need to carry out our vision,” Syiem said. “We are very aware that we cannot do this alone nor do we want to. We believe in the power of community and feel very comfortable asking for help when we need it.”

Syiem also got a confidence boost from attending the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh, N.C., last September. “I got to meet amazing entrepreneurs who had created powerful social ventures and hear directly from them about their experiences,” she recalled. “That trip inspired me and helped me feel like I could do the same thing that all those amazing founders had done as long as I had the passion and was willing to put in the work.”

Related: Campbell University student discovers power of creative placemaking during social entrepreneurship field trip to Chattanooga

“The greatest lesson I got from that trip was to just do it,” Syiem continued. “There’s no real instruction manual to starting a business. So much of the experience is figuring out things for yourself and doing what works best for you. There’s always help when you need it, and you should never feel hesitant about reaching out for that help, but you can’t get that help if you don’t start in the first place. So, I’m very grateful for Sullivan and that trip. It empowered me and made me feel like what I had to offer was worth offering.”

And what Syiem, Gehlken and SEED. have to offer are products that can set off a chain of positive events globally, they believe. “Our products will stand out in the marketplace because when you buy a SEED. product, you’re not only supporting our social programs— you’re stimulating local economies and empowering artists,” Syiem said. “You are playing a direct role in shaping the world to be more mindfully interconnected and symbiotic. We want to empower people to do more with what they choose to buy. And, hopefully, that taste of mindfulness and empowerment will create a snowball effect that will allow them to feel empowered in other parts of their lives.”

In short, she adds: “We want to change the world and we want everyone to play their role in changing it. That’s it. That’s the vision. It’s that simple.”