Investing In Dignity: An Interview With Becky Straw of The Adventure Project
Becky Straw is the Co-Founder and Chief Adventurist of The Adventure Project.
For those who aren’t familiar with The Adventure Project can you tell us a little bit about it.
Sure. We’re a new non-profit working to “add venture” to support social enterprises in developing countries. A social enterprise is an organization solving social problems through innovative business models.
A good example of a social enterprise is the well mechanics business we support in India. In rural India, one third of all drinking water wells are broken, often because there’s no one who knows how to fix them. WaterAid stepped in, hiring and training men and women in well repair. Now, when a well breaks down, the village can call the mechanic and he or she rides a bike over. It’s a simple business model, bringing clean water to hundreds of people each month.
We focus on four high-impact, low-cost solutions to end poverty, and raise awareness and funds to help these organizations scale. Each solution saves lives and creates jobs.
So far we’ve focused on charcoal-efficient stoves in Haiti, the handpump mechanic business in India and irrigation pumps for small farmers in Kenya. In August we’ll launch our forth and final initiative, which we’re very excited about.
What was the inspiration behind The Adventure Project and what’s the big vision here?
I believe Jody, my co-founder, and I have been inspired by many experiences. But we started The Adventure Project because we wanted to create a shift in giving. We wanted to educate and inspire donors to get involved and learn about innovative solutions. Social enterprise is about investing in dignity. We support organizations that treat people as people — not “the poor.” We believe in that.
Our big vision is simple. We want to help one billion people and create one million jobs in the next ten years. Easy, right? Ha…
How do you identify the social enterprises to highlight and help?
We look at many factors, but there are three main areas we identify:
1. Organizational Leadership. The non-profits we work with are leaders in their fields and recognized on an international level. Maybe they’re not a household name, but that’s ok. We look for organizations that have a strong track record in the field and the right people behind them.
2. Impact. The organization has a product or service that creates a deep, long-lasting impact where they work. They focus on sustainability and are always investing in research and development. They constantly test new ways of service delivery, affordable technologies and
products that people want.
3. Scale. The organization and model can be replicated to create large-scale change in the world. Their goal is to do something really well, and then focus on taking it to scale.
Can you give us an example of a social enterprise you are looking to help
A good one is International Lifeline Fund. They are a small organization focused on water and charcoal-efficient stoves. Working in Africa, they decided to expand their stove program to Haiti after the earthquake. In Port au Prince, 40% of a family’s income is spent on cooking fuel — and each charcoal-efficient stove cuts the amount of fuel needed in half. So there’s huge potential for a family in Haiti to use these stoves. The Adventure Project had been raising funds to help with their expansion to Haiti, and to establish a production factory — which will provide local jobs.
You have a new campaign running OneTo1000, can you tell us about that, and how our readership can get involved?
YES! Huge, really. You can sign up at: www.theadventureproject.org/oneto1000. It takes two minutes, and you can have the opportunity to be part of something big. Today’s the last day.
We have been raising awareness for Kickstart, a social enterprise focused on affordable irrigation pumps for small farmers in Kenya. Three weeks ago someone forwarded us a blog post by Bill Gates, asking for the most creative ways to raise awareness about small farmers in developing countries. Winning entries by May 31st (today!) will receive recognition by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The challenge was too good to pass up.
We realized, we had to do something big to reach Bill Gates … and needed a lot of people to help. So we thought, “What if we get 1,000 people to give up ‘themselves’ to raise awareness about small farmers?” We have accrued 800 donors since we’ve launched, so we knew this was a stretch for us.
We decided to try and find 1,000 people in ten days, and find sponsors to donate if we did it. So far we’ve raised over $15,000, mostly from the generosity of The Prem Rawat Foundation ($10K) and about.me ($2,500). Individuals have also pledged to donate if we succeed. If we don’t enlist 1,000 people by Tuesday the 31st, then we don’t earn the funding — which could potentially help 250+ farmers. That’s what makes this a fun (and stressful) challenge for us.
How else can our readership help you push along your mission?
Join our Tribe. Our Tribe is a movement of people who share our mission and want to take action. We’d love for everyone to join and learn more about us.
Photo provided by Becky Straw