I want to take a little break from my regular posts on New Hope Initiative and hiking and share about another work that I’m involved in. My friend, Ava Darnell, is the founder and owner of Slumlove Sweater Company. Slumlove is committed to providing ethically made, high quality products that give back to the community. Ava works with local Kenyan knitters providing jobs for them and opportunity to provide for their families. In addition to using ethical business practices, Ava gives a portion of the profits of her sweaters to New Hope Academy to provide free education to children living in Kibera.
I remember meeting with her over a year ago in a coffee shop in Austin, Texas to hear her vision for Slumlove. She’ll admit, she doesn’t have it all figured out, but I was so impressed that day with her creativity and passion to not only start a business but use it for social good. Since I was moving to Kenya, I offered to help. That has meant helping meet her knitters and facilitating orders or shipping final products to the States. Yesterday, I met with a potential new partner for Slumlove and was reminded how much I love business and how it can be used to do so much good in this world.
I’ve always had an interest and affection for business. When I was young, I use to tell people I wanted to go to college to learn how to make money. So, I majored in Finance and eventually got an MBA. But, my career started out in politics where there is very little money to be made especially when you start as a staffer on Capitol Hill making a salary that is considered below the national poverty line. Over the years, my desire to make money turned into a desire to help others and do social good and, for me, I thought that meant working in ministry or non-profit. Now, I see that making money and doing social good can work together instead of being at odds with one another. I believe that God can use our businesses to serve others in this world providing opportunity and even serving and caring for the people and world around us. Quite frankly, I don’t think God just “uses” our businesses, I think He has called us (Christians) to this kind of work by being productive with our time and resources – theologians call this the Creation Mandate (Gen 1:28).
You can call this CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) or social innovation or social entrepreneurship, but I think it’s more of a mind-set, a decision when you set out in business to be intentional about how you will conduct your business. It’s not a department or an after thought or something you add on to your existing business model. It is your business model. The purpose of business becomes serving others instead of maximizing shareholders’ profit.
Two of the large companies leading the way in social innovation are Warby Parker and Toms (and I would add Chick-fil-A from my home state has been doing this for years), but there are many entrepreneurs out there like Ava doing this work. I think it is changing the whole landscape of business and how we do business. As I look to what is next for my career, I am hoping this is how I invest my time and resources. We’ll see what that means for me…
In the meantime, take some time to visit Slumlove’s website and purchase a sweater, because it’s not just a sweater, it’s a cause!