The financial fallout has many young professionals being forced back into the job market.
After Bear Stearns’ demise in March 2008, Stephen Chen found himself in this very situation. But instead of searching for another job in the financial sector, Chen got together with friends Alastair Onglingswan and Iris Chau and launched a nonprofit. What they created was GreenSoul Shoes, an organization that works to provide footwear for impoverished children around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia.
Web entrepreneur Alastair Onglingswan envisioned the company after visiting his hometown in the Philippines. After enjoying the country’s scenic beaches and luxurious resorts, he drove through a shanty town. He was shocked to see the living conditions. Young children had to rummage through a vast garbage dump simply to survive. The children wore no shoes and were subject to foot injuries from nails, glass, metal and needles. He drove to the nearest department store and bought every single pair of children’s shoes—then donated each pair to the children of the waste site.
Alastair quickly realized that he wanted to expand this effort into a working business operation that would aim to shoe the 300 million shoeless children around the world.
Chen wasn’t the only casualty of the investment world: Iris Chau left JPMorgan. Winnie Ho, the newest member in charge of designs and contests, left Citigroup. The GreenSoul Shoes employees quickly realized that working at a nonprofit start-up could be just as challenging as working for an investment behemoth. Less than a year after GreenSoul’s launch, Stephen is still discovering the parallels between work environments. “I believe we carry many of the same skill sets of modeling, finances, operations and talking to investors,” said Stephen. “The only difference is that previously we were beholden to our investors. Today, we take into account our peers in third world countries.”
He added that in both cases he had the opportunity to work with a team of dedicated professionals to build an innovative company that seeks outsized value. GreenSoul Shoes empowers local artisans through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Heritage Watch to hand make 100% recycled sandals out of old tires. For every pair of shoes sold, one will be given to a shoeless child. Its innovative business model allows consumers to directly support an underprivileged child.
Iris noted distinct differences, “I joined JPMorgan Chase eleven years ago. While, my hours ranged from ten to fourteen a day, it was very structured and project oriented. It was difficult for me to measure the impact of my work to my customers. Since I joined GSS in February, I have the opportunity to create direct impact to the organization and the people that we serve. My hours are a lot more flexible and decisions can be made a lot quicker. Because we are a smaller team, we can act quickly. In addition, I have met so many people outside of our organization with a common goal to help others.”
She has seen GreenSoul through the common challenges of a start-up. “The downside of a smaller organization is the limited support and the resources,” she said. “We’re supporting this company solely with our savings.”
While the economy sours, Stephen says the strength of their business model differs from traditional charities. GreenSoul uses market-based restoration to guard it from financial blows. For example, they are adding more shoe lines and working with different shoe designers to use recycled materials.
GreenSoul has developed these three strategies to continue being the non-profit that will keep on giving.
1. Crowd-sourcing Shoemakers
GreenSoul is leveraging community-based designs, otherwise known as crowd -sourcing. By leveraging mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, it aims to market this opportunity to shoemakers globally. Newcomers to the shoemaking community are given an opportunity to practice their skills, while veterans are challenged to keep on their toes.
Additionally, GreenSoul covers the entire costs and development process which cuts down the time it takes to produce a shoe and get it into the market.
2. Soulmates Program (Distribution Patterns)
GreenSoul Shoes is planning to expand its operation to include distribution of stores nationwide. Owner funding and internally generated cash flow will enable most of the expansion plan.
The Soulmates distribution partnerships will allow the team to partner with retail businesses. These retailers will help expose GreenSoul to critical audiences, areas and demographics. It also gives these businesses an opportunity to take a charitable platform. The primary distribution channel for shoe products is through regional and national product distributors. GreenSoul employees are actively pursuing agreements with distributors and will be attending major industry trade shows to develop contacts with distributors in other regions of the country. The secondary distribution channel is through direct retail sales, specialty catalog sales, and website sales. They are also actively pursuing agreements with retailers and specialty catalogs.
3. Shoe Drops
To deliver shoes to children, GreenSoul Shoes will embark on Shoe Drops. A shoe
drop lasts one to eight days, and is carried out by a team of volunteers and GreenSoul Shoe employees. GSS teams up with internationally recognized organizations like UNICEF and Orphans International to access to need of villages and their shoeless children. We do this because we don’t want to give 400 shoes to a community only to realize there are 600 shoeless children—leaving the last 200 children without shoes.
Visit GreenSoul Shoes at http://greensoulshoes.wordpress.com/