Starting your first entrepreneurial venture at age 50 might seem crazy. Launching a business in a field in which you have zero previous experience may seem irresponsible. Convincing yourself that you can truly change the world might seem unrealistic.
But even though I had no experience as an entrepreneur, even though I was not a twentysomething in a hoodie, and even though my goals were lofty, I did it.
This is my story--what led me here and what’s next for a company whose mission it is to provide opportunities for women in developing countries to support themselves and their families.
The Path to Becoming an Entrepreneur
I had spent the previous decade at home raising my son. But in no time at all, he had transformed into a young man. I found myself at a pivotal point. Some women leaving the childbearing years consider returning to previous career paths. Although I had spent 20 years in sales, marketing, and promotions in the beauty, fashion, and advertising industries, I found this was not my calling.
Instead, fueled by the inspiration and education my family gained when my son’s seventh-grade class took on a yearlong philanthropic project, I found an increasing desire to contribute to society in a meaningful, global capacity.
The Life-Changing Trip
In January 2009, our family embarked on a trip to the Galapagos Islands and Peru. What we saw opened our eyes to the hunger and poverty percolating throughout the area.
We saw families struggling to survive. Many of the heads of households were women who had been affected by atrocities such as illness, spousal abuse, unemployment, war, and death. These women served as the sole providers.
At first, I felt hopeless. There seemed to be no way to emotionally reconcile the upsetting dichotomy between the poverty-stricken families and the innate beauty of these regions.
Yet as I learned more about the region, my hopelessness turned to wonder. Despite living with these realities, many of these women (who, I observed, could create beautiful handicrafts of all sorts) had tremendous artistic gifts that were exhibited throughout the country. And those gifts had found their way down through generations and generations of skilled artisans.
The Eye-Opening Revelation
The life change didn’t occur right away. But once I returned home, I couldn’t stop thinking about my experiences in the Galapagos Islands and Peru.
I was inspired by those capable women, and began to contemplate ways to help them use their unique talents to lift themselves from poverty. I sensed that their creative skills could become their means to a better life, given the right circumstances.
This insight drove my desire help change their situation for the better.
Now on the brink of 50, I wanted to channel my energy and resources into making a difference for these women and their families. But a handout wasn’t the solution; what the people needed was a hand up—and for the first time in my life, I realized that I could be the one who made this happen.
The Problem-Solving Solution
I took another trip later that year to meet with a number of artisans and gauge the feasibility of my intentions. I sought ways to assist these women in creating handicrafts attractive to a Western market while providing access to a marketplace to sell their products.
In this second journey south, I became more acutely aware of the poverty and artistic heritages and talents. Women are the sole provider for a family’s survival not just in Peru, but all around the world.
Amidst this adversity lay opportunity. I saw the potential for a business that could yield life-changing results if it operated with four main duties:
- Provide work for artisans (predominantly women) and pay them according to fair trade principles.
- Provide a global marketplace for artisans to sell their products and receive upfront payment.
- Allocate half the net proceeds to fund improvement projects in the artisans’ communities, focusing on clean water, health care, and education.
- Allocate the remaining half to U.S.-based nonprofits, which the consumer would choose during the checkout process.
With these guidelines, and after several months of research and deliberation, I had formulated my business model. Just 14 months after my trip, Shopping for a Change launched online. At 50, I became a founder and CEO.
The Bright-Eyed Vision
Since the launch, I’ve focused on building the business from the ground up. With support from my husband, son, board of directors, and growing base of loyal customers, Shopping for a Change has become a global venture helping indigenous artisans from impoverished communities raise their standards of living, while subsidizing community improvement projects abroad as well as U.S.-based charitable organizations.
Shopping for a Change is now partnered with more than 50 organizations started by individuals wanting to organize groups of artisans in locations throughout the many countries we work with. Offering trainings, designing products, and teaching artisans how to conduct business--together we provide an environment whereby the artisans are able to lift themselves from poverty, growing their businesses as well as our own.
When my son was born, I couldn’t have imagined that in a decade I would be not only the CEO, but also the founder of a global company. But through this journey, I have learned that nothing--or almost nothing--is impossible.
It seemed that to take even a small step to change the world, I had to first find some change in myself. By some random twist of fate, I encountered my catalyst for change in the hills of South America that winter in 2009, months before my 50th birthday, and I’ve never looked back.