Why India and why a slum?
In February 2016, I took a week long trip to India to attend a wedding in Mumbai. To be frank, I've done quite a bit of first world traveling, but this was my first foray into a developing country (outside of my ethical homeland of China). When I arrived, I couldn't have been more shocked.
In most developing countries, there are pockets of poverty especially when one wanders to the more rural areas. However, in these places, it's clear that everyone is poor and that conditions are similar across most families. In other words, your standard of living is somewhat close to your neighbors, even in the big cities. While Mumbai displayed very similar characteristics to those in other booming cities in developing countries (the juxtaposition of luxury high rises against the neighboring slums, poor living and working conditions for laborers, etc) there is one thing about Mumbai and India that is significant- the number of people everywhere. It is really difficult to imagine +1 billion people living in one single country, especially in a place where the infrastructure for trash, sewage, and transportation is still being developed.
I am not here to tell you that slum life is terrible. In fact, many slums have their own businesses, and some generate an astounding GDP. Some who travel to the cities only to end up in a slum fare better compared to their previous rural lives. In fact, many slums have television- they rig their televisions to the electric grid and somehow acquire a satellite dish. But, there are many people who end up in a slum worse off than before and are devastated by the expensive living standards of the city. I was fascinated by the entrepreneurial nature of slums and I left wondering how b.a.r.e. soaps could help economically empower those who needed it most in the slums.
How we met our partner, Sundara Fund
Enter Erin Zaikis, founder of Sundara Fund. She contacted us via Instagram and a conversation began to emerge. We met in person, exchanged a few stories, and decided to continue speaking after each of us had returned from our respective trips to India and Uganda.
I cannot stress how difficult it is to find the right non-profit partner. As a for-profit business, we have no trouble finding interested non profits to work with us. Despite what you may think, it is extremely difficult to have complete oversight into what a non-profit is doing. Even companies who give back in the form of a "buy one, give one" model typically have no way of fully tracking their non-profit partners. So many times, choosing the right partner is a gut feeling. For us, it's about choosing someone who we trust from the getgo and have aligning visions. It also means finding an organization who we can grow together with.
Sundara Fund's model is quite simple but brilliant. They approach local hotels to acquire used soap that would otherwise be thrown away in order to reprocess them into new bars to be distributed. Then, Sundara employs local women to shred the soap to rebatch them. These women are paid 3x the local wage (with benefits) and are given a real chance to break out of the poverty cycle.
This may sound easy, but it's no easy feat to get a hotel on board. Sometimes maids may forget to set aside the used soap, as recycling soap may not be a top priority. Hotels are also subject to the cyclical nature of tourism, so there are periods when this soap supply is constrained. Add in cultural barriers and you've got quite the challenge.
What does this partnership entail?
This program intends to support a soap recycling initiative in a slum area and give women fair wage livelihood through soap reprocessing work. The soap will be distributed every month to 500 migrant school children living in the surrounding slums, along with a basic health care and hygiene training aspect. Similarly, 500 migrant slum women will receive the recycled soap when they come to the local Shravan health clinic for free health care services. This will be done along with awareness training on the use of soap in good hand and body hygiene practices. Together, these activities will help improve the health and wellbeing of children and women of Kalwa East and reduce the occurrence of frequent hygiene related illness that currently plagues this slum community.
Number of Beneficiaries: 500 Migrant slum children + 500 Migrant slum women
Location of Program: Bhaskhar Nagar, Kalwa East, Thane, Maharashtra
- The beneficiaries of this program are primarily migrant populations from the northern states of India. Living within an underserved slum area, there is a tremendous struggle for these people to get access to the basic health care facilities. When they do require healthcare, they are forced to travel outside the slum area to get services they often can’t afford and are thus driven deeper into the cycle of debt.
- Women here are most often employed as servants or vegetable sellers and would greatly benefit with an opportunity to supplement their small family incomes. Sundara pays these women a rate that is 3x the local wage, plus provides them with benefits.
- Children and women alike need awareness about hand and body hygiene (unfortunately not taught at school or even informally) that will prevent the occurrence of frequent hygiene related illnesses (primarily diarrhea and pneumonia) and skin related diseases.
- There is a high mortality rate of young children (especially under 5) in the slum of Kalwa East due to the lack of access to basic health care facilities.