Humanity Unified is Educating Women and Children in Rwanda through their Lifestyle Brand
Humanity Unified is a new socially conscious startup brand for the traveler, dreamer, and adventurer. Humanity Unified donates 20 percent of its profits to local organizations that empower vulnerable women and children.
After traveling to Rwanda and seeing firsthand how the effects of the genocide has threatened the well being and livelihoods of many women, Maria and Anthony Russo felt compelled to work with local organizations providing literacy and vocational skills; counseling; nutrition and family planning programs; and training in sustainable agriculture methods that provide food security and economic opportunities. The couple launched Humanity Unified to inspire people to make purchases that in turn inspire and educate others and support a greater mission.
For many Rwandan women who are attempting to raise children and earn money, they have few options for childcare other than leaving young children home alone or withdrawing an older sibling from school to care for them. The Aspire childcare center offers a safe and educational environment for the mothers to leave their children, which allows them to concentrate on the program. Children are provided with two nutritional meals a day and follow a preschool curriculum.
Humanity Unified works with Aspire in developing new innovative solutions to enhance the organization’s current literacy and agriculture programs and to support the early childhood education centers.
Below is a Q&A with co-founder Anthony Russo
Did you know as soon as you left Rwanda that you wanted to start a business that would help the women of the village, or was it a long process for you to come to a conclusion on whether to start the business or not?
We visited Rwanda with the goal of learning more about the way nonprofits operate in the country, assessing the type of impact that can be achieved locally, and finding an avenue for us to help women affected by the genocide.
It wasn't very long into our visit that we discovered Aspire Rwanda, and that visit began to lay the framework for the concept of Humanity Unified. We saw firsthand the positive impact the locally run programs were having on the lives of the women and in turn the lives of their children and their communities.
There was an instant connection to Aspire’s mission because it lined up perfectly with the types of programs we are interested in supporting (agriculture/food security, education and entrepreneurship/ vocational training); it is locally run (extremely important for the sustainability of the program); and being an existing organization, it has measurable levels of success.
Most importantly, the eagerness to collaborate wasn’t one-sided; for a sustainable initiative to work, both sides have to share the desire to work together.
At the end of our visit, while we were saying our goodbyes, Peace, Aspire Rwanda’s founder said to Maria sincerely: “We will work together.” And with that our first partnership was born.
What has been some of the challenges that you and Humanity Unified has faced since launching the brand?
The biggest challenges have been the fashion component and the marketing — we’ve been in digital publishing for the last several years, so even learning the basics of fashion have proved to be a challenge. Learning a new industry on the fly is never an easy task, however it’s been a lot of fun coming up with new designs (we have a couple of new graphics coming out soon). From the marketing standpoint, an online business requires a significant time investment and a constant flow of capital in order to be “found” on the web. It seems as though a new social business is launched every day and that creates more competition for coveted keywords and for the attention of new supporters.
You alluded to a learning curve as it relates to the fashion industry. What are a few things that surprised you about the industry and maybe some likes and dislikes?
The fashion industry is a new frontier for us. It’s been both exciting and challenging to come up with the right statements, mock up designs and then work with our graphic designers to finalize them. In general, the industry has inherent challenges built in for a startup that’s trying to do everything as ethically and sustainably as possible. Because there’s so many hands in the process, you have to look at the entire supply chain, from sourcing clothing, to printing and delivery. We were lucky to find a great printer and wholesaler right in NJ which helps keep our carbon impact low while supporting local business.
What advice would you give a new social entrepreneur that wants to launch a social enterprise?
Set a clear vision for what you want to accomplish both from a social standpoint and product perspective. It’s important that your social message is clear and that you’ve found some niche in the market, it doesn’t need to be a revolutionary idea but it should have something that sets it apart from other offerings.
One last piece of advice is to start something you are passionate about. If your social business is going to make it, you need to pour your heart into it through times of excitement and times of trepidation; it’s not always a smooth ride but if you’re committed and passionate about the cause you can focus on the bigger picture and celebrate your impact.
For those who don’t know, what does Aspire do and how do they help Humanity Unified in your overall mission?
Each center provides complimentary childcare for preschool-aged children. For many Rwandan women who are attempting to raise children and earn money, they have few options for childcare other than leaving young children home alone or withdrawing an older sibling from school to care for them. The Aspire childcare center offers a safe and educational environment for the mothers to leave their children, which allows them to concentrate on the program. Children are provided with two nutritional meals a day and follow a preschool curriculum.
The women are able to learn uninterrupted in the Aspire program with their young ones taken care of. They develop literacy and numeracy skills,learn about health and nutrition, managing money and women’s rights. After graduation the women join a cooperative where they work and support themselves, contributing to a self-sustaining and peaceful community.
Originally published at magazine.stand4.com