In October of 2013 I arrived in Mumbai with unbridled enthusiasm as I checked into a mosquito-infested AirBNB that cost $37 a night.
Two weeks before I had won $10,000 from a social enterprise competition that was held by LinkedIn. I pitched them on a pretty simple idea: what if, in a country where 70 million people lack access to hygiene products, we could recycle usually discarded hotel soap and provide it to those living under the poverty line, while employing women at a fair wage?
That idea became a non-profit organization and in 7 years we expanded across India, Myanmar and Uganda, employing over 50 women full-time to distribute soap and provide basic public health and hand washing lessons to nearly 200,000 children living below the poverty line.
This journey has been full of countless highs and lows, but I know one thing: it wouldn’t have ever happened had I not gotten the confidence boost and funding from that award.
It made one thing clear: that in a world where it is so easy to doubt yourself, especially as a woman, they believed in me.
This encouragement carried me through some pretty rough times: my first employees leaving unexpectedly, multiple visits to the hospital and a broken engagement. I kept going because I knew someone else believed in me and invested in my success.
Throughout my work in India, Myanmar, Rwanda and Uganda, I have been approached by many talented entrepreneurs with ideas on how they could improve their own communities. Time and time again, each potential entrepreneur was met with the same challenge: a lack of funding and resources, which prevented them from turning their vision into a reality.
It is clear to me that while talent is equally distributed, capital and resources are not.
Motivated by this injustice, today Sundara is launching our first social innovation fund, RISE: Rewarding Innovative and Sustainable Entrepreneurs. RISE empowers women to establish small businesses that improve their local communities through improved access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in middle and low income countries. We are using our expertise to support the next generation of young, talented social entrepreneurs.