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Why did we create RISE?

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

After nearly a decade of soap recycling, the Sundara team is excited to introduce a new program: a radically different approach to creating sustainable solutions in the hygiene space.

It was one of those brilliant mornings that only occurs after a long rainy season. The dry breeze and clear skies opened up around us as our small team zipped through central Kigali on the back of moto-taxis between partner meetings. It was June 2018, and the Sundara team had been invited as consultants to Rwanda to meet with several organizations to discuss hygiene solutions in this small yet complex central African nation.

Throughout our ten day visit, we met with organizations of all kinds: a small soap recycling initiative operating within an informal settlement, a women’s empowerment group focused on the power of storytelling, a community initiative focused on micro-financing for small businesses on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The resounding message in these meetings with community leaders and organizers was the same as our own organization: we want to make our communities healthier and cleaner, we want to empower our women and help them realize their potential, and we want to make our health and the health of our children a priority.

Our visit left us feeling inspired but we were also faced with a larger, more fundamental question. How do we make Sundara, a small female-led non profit, more impactful? Was there a way to adjust our approach to help more women create more change across the globe? Over the next few months we visited social enterprises in South Africa, Ethiopia and Nigeria and realized that there are so many female social entrepreneurs with brilliant solutions to global health issues, who lack start-up capital and mentorship to grow their enterprise. So, that is why on an autumn evening in 2019, we created RISE.

Our new program (Rewarding Innovative and Sustainable Entrepreneurs) was born out of the desire to level the playing field for female entrepreneurs in the developing world, who have sustainable solutions to improving access to water and sanitation in their communities. We will provide critical seed funding of up to $5,000 and mentorship to our fellows to help them scale, prototype, and refine their sustainable WASH models.

Through our work in India, Myanmar, and East Africa, it has become increasingly clear to us that while talent is evenly distributed, capital and resources to start a social enterprise is not. We hope that our program will help not only level the playing field for female social entrepreneurs, but also create an emphasis on sustainable WASH solutions where the need is most critical. We are so excited to begin this journey, and to share the work of our fellows as we announce our first cohort.

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