WHEN TO CREATE A HYBRID FOR PROFIT AND NOT-FOR-PROFIT ORGANIZATION
International Princess Project employs over 150 survivors of human trafficking in three sewing centers in India. These women are given hope and dignity by being taught a trade, and their craftsmanship produces quality pajamas and loungewear. Founder and CEO Shannon Keith offers her insight about running a successful social enterprise.
Is your business for-profit or not-for-profit, and why did you choose to set it up one way or the other? It is a hybrid of both. It was initially set up as not-for-profit, but we realized the best opportunity to fulfill our mission of helping women and children escape sexual slavery and find a pathway to freedom was to scale the business and create more jobs. Scaling a business is very hard under the non-profit umbrella so it was necessary to have two separate entities that work together.
Did you set out to create a business or was your initial intention just to find a way to help others? I thought I might see if anyone else was doing what my vision was and if alignment existed I was open to helping them, but I quickly realized there were major gaps in this space and no one was focusing on the job creation piece.
How did you fund your venture in the beginning? Personal finances and then donations from friends and family once we gained non-profit status as a 501(c)(3).
What obstacles do you think social enterprises face that traditional small businesses might not? Funding and being taken seriously as a REAL business. Many people are just learning about what social businesses are and they are not yet familiar with the value proposition; they might not easily appreciate that a social enterprise is an actual, profitable business that just happens to want to leverage its success to help a social cause. This hybrid of doing good and doing business requires a savvy investor who wants to make money while at the same time benefiting an important social cause.
When did you know you wanted to pursue your business or venture? When I found myself in the middle of a Red Light district in India in 2005. I knew I couldn’t stand by and do nothing when faced with this level of injustice.
Did your original business plan change along the way or are you doing exactly what you set out to do? The plan has generally stayed the same- job creation for survivors of sex slavery by employing them to sew women’s pajamas and loungewear which we import and sell. At the outset we were sold primarily through home parties and events, but we have evolved into an online e-commerce business.
What top three tips would you like to pass along for those who have just started to use social media? Don’t be afraid of it – baby steps! There is power in authenticity, so be yourself and establish your own voice. Share what is important to you. You have power in advocating for things you believe in, be it products, companies, causes or food.
When you think of the best people to work with, what traits do they share? Real, passionate, self-aware, smart, problem solvers, fun, collaborative, innovative!
Give a budding entrepreneur your best hiring and firing business practices. Do not hire the “big gun” thinking they will take your business to the next level. Hire smart and get folks with potential who are hungry to learn and have a winning spirit. Always fire with another person at your side. There is accountability and you cover yourself in numbers.
How do you organize your day to best optimize your time? Describe a day in your life. Wake at 5:15 three days a week to exercise, home to shower, take 15 minutes of quiet solitude with my coffee prior to the kiddos waking. Get kids off to school and then back to my home office to tackle the day. I check email and my day’s appointment calendar to know how to best organize my time and tasks. I start the day knowing that not everything will get done that needs to, so I assess and prioritize, shift anything I can to my capable team, and communicate if I am not able to meet a deadline or expectation. I also try to limit my out-of-office meetings to two days a week, which allows me to minimize my driving time and leaves me other designated days I know I can be at my computer.
Tell us about a time when you thought you should throw in the towel. What kept you going? It has honestly not crossed my mind. The issue is too important and because I wholeheartedly believe business needs to play a critical role in turning the tide on modern-day slavery, there is just no option to throw in the towel. Freedom is in the balance- what is more important than that?
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