Twenty-seven years ago, Women’s Bean Project was founded with a simple idea: that teaching women to work while actually working was the cure for poverty. The reaction from our community when we started was interest in the novelty of what we were doing, but little belief we could make much of it.
In the beginning, we were a mission that happened to have a business. As a business we were always at risk of not being able to fulfill orders, of losing money, of making big and costly mistakes. But being a mission with a business wasn’t sustainable. Eventually, to survive, we had to become much more business-minded. We had to document processes, understand our true costs, get safety certifications, and communicate clearly the benefits of our work. In short, we had to become a real business, with an infrastructure, documentation and protocols. We’ve had to learn to take the business just as seriously as the mission. And because there weren’t many other groups running social businesses, we had to invent ourselves.
This transformation taught me that the more we treat ourselves like a business – the more we require the systems that it takes to operate a multi-million dollar consumer packaged goods company, the more the phone rings with prospective partners interested in carrying our products, the more there is acceptance and momentum for what we do. As a result our products can now be found in nearly 1,000 stores across the country, and can be purchased online through some of the country’s largest retailers.
Our increased focus on running a better business has also allowed our mission to grow. By being clear that sales create jobs, we can translate for our retail partners the number of additional women their orders have helped to employ. We’ve also found that these retail partners have wanted to be involved with us in other ways – by volunteering, providing pro bono support and even hiring our graduates – ways that would have never been possible without having a solid business relationship first.
We have accomplished all of the above while also demonstrating some of the best social outcomes in the country. From program graduation, to job placement and job retention rates, the results our women are achieving far exceeds our peers in transitional employment. And so it is from this position of strength that we are doing a refresh!
We’ve been fortunate to hire Sterling Rice Group to help us examine food trends and shifts in how people eat today. Over the coming months we will begin introducing new products that will capitalize on these shifts, create opportunities for our current customers to try something new from Women’s Bean Project, while we enlist new customers to begin supporting us. In 2017 you will also see an update to our appearance and packaging of our products to be more current and fit better into the variety of locations where you can now find Women’s Bean Project products.
Thank you for coming with us on this journey. I feel fortunate to have so many long-time supporters and look forward to hearing your thoughts about our reimagination.