- When + how + why did your business begin?
I started my career at Goldman Sachs and ultimately found myself seeking more meaningful work outside of my day job. Ultimately, a friend introduced me to UNICEF and invited me to an event. Right off the bat, I was incredibly impressed with the non-profit which saves more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. I finally joined UNICEF's Next Generation Steering Committee which is a group of young professionals working together to spread awareness and fundraise for UNICEF. I was asked to go on a field visit to Vietnam with UNICEF where I saw the impact solar energy had on developing communities. I realized that if I spent as many hours working for the impoverished communities I saw as I was at Goldman, I could make meaningful difference in the world. I put in my two weeks notice upon my return and started working on a social impact business concept. It took me some time to figure out what exactly the business would look like, what I would be selling, how I was going to structure the giveback, etc. but I knew solar energy was where I wanted to focus my efforts. It was when I was working in Paris, a candle and fragrance-junkie's dream, that it hit me: candles would be a perfect product to give back to solar energy. The idea was light for light. After that, it was all about creating the perfect candle. I didn’t want there to be any chemicals in it, I wanted it to burn evenly, and I wanted the glass and packaging to come from recycled materials. I feel I accomplished that and truly believe we have one of the highest-quality candles on the market today. Plus, what is better than giving back! The Starling Project has given over $200k to UNICEF since our launch 2 years ago which is helping benefit solar projects in Chad and Rwanda.
- Tell us about your company structure. Who works with and/or for you?
I’m proud to say that The Starling Project is women-owned and operated as our team is made up of only women. Natalie Makous is our Director of Business Development and Partnerships and covers daily operations, including retail planning, product development, event planning, partnerships, marketing, and social media efforts. We also have Shannel and Arika who help create and deliver social media and other digital content. It is empowering to work with women who have such creative, thoughtful ideas and who believe so much in this company. We are an incredible support system making a difference in this world! I couldn't do it without them. We are also thankful for our manufacturing partners who have been supportive from the start and are critical in making our vision a reality.
- One of your favorite or most memorable moments/stories related to giving back?
One of my most memorable moments, not just related to giving back, but in life in general, was meeting one of the women whose life I have positively impacted. I was on a field visit with UNICEF to Kenya and we were visiting a low-income community where solar was being used to power a local health center. The women invited us into her small home where she introduced us to her newborn. She said she and her daughter would not be alive today if it was not for the help of the doctors and nurses in the health facility because she had a high-risk birth and complications with delivery. The solar health center did not exist a year ago, but because of its existence she was able to seek the treatment she required for a healthy birth. How incredible to think that the work we are doing can help in so many different ways! Which leads me to the next question...
- What is one common misconception people have about the cause that your business helps support?
I think people might sometimes not fully understand the impact solar energy has on a developing community. It does so much beyond keeping the lights on, which is obviously valuable, but there are other ways solar helps. One example is that solar can power pipes to provide clean drinking water to communities that do not have access to safe water. When a system like this is provided to a community, women and young girls don’t need to walk long distances to retrieve safe drinking water for their families, lowering the risk of them being raped or killed along the way. Additionally, it allows those young girls to be in school during the day rather than spending a majority of the day retrieving water, which is often the case prior to these systems being put in place. Safe drinking water also helps keep children safe from preventable, yet fatal, diseases like cholera and diarrhea. With children getting sick less and less often, they can go back to school and parents can go back to work, which has a huge impact on the development of these communities and the potential of their residents. Solar energy also has the ability to power hospitals, including the machinery necessary for procedures and refrigeration of life-saving vaccines. Finally, solar is low-maintenance and can last for decades, which makes these solutions to issues a long-term fix, which is critical.
- Do you have a personal mantra/quote/affirmation/motto that you use to help guide you in your daily life and decision making?
"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi
I believe so strongly that in order to see positive change in the world, we have to be the change ourselves. I can't wait around for someone else to make a difference in impoverished communities, I have to be the one to do it. Even if I am only making a dent, I am making other people's lives easier and safer and that is at the core of every decision I make.
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