10 Nov the7dayringproject
7 days. 7 rings. A symbol for seizing the day.
the7dayringproject is a reminder to everyone to pursue their passions, as we are all given one day at a time. Delicate yet impactful, founders Taylor and Peony dedicate their time to supporting Ethiopian ring manufacturer, Salem Designs, in selling their handcrafted ring, in addition to supporting Imagine1day in their initiative to educate girls in Ethiopia.
Inspired by the importance of education and empowerment, the7dayringproject establishes innovative relationships that not only empowers the wearer of the ring, but which also empowers their business partner and girls in the communities of Ethiopia.
How would you describe the social/sustainability focus of your organization?
T: The easiest way to explain the social impact is to tell the story of how it started. We both wanted to use business and use our degrees to have a positive impact. In my first year, I was accepted to go with my professor to Ethiopia as part of the Arc Initiative, and through that, I got to work with an entrepreneur named Salem. I fell in love with way she ran business, both from the standpoint that she treated employees fairly and supported her community, and that she had a unique business model in and of itself and delivered quality products. Then, I fell in love with one of her products: the 7dayring. I started noticing friends and strangers coming up to me, asking where I got it from and how they could get one. I also started doing more research and learning more about Ethiopia in general – I specifically learned about the current inequality of education, particularly for girls entering into high school – and I was amazed by the stats I found out. And so with all that, it came to me that I could use this ring that there seemed to be a demand for and use it to educate on the issues of girls education in Ethiopia, and also hopefully support/make a difference in girls education, while also supporting Salem as amazing entrepreneur.
The way our business model works is that we buy rings from Salem in full price so that no matter how many we buy, her business can continue growing and can gain an extra source of revenue profit. Then we cover basic costs, take what’s leftover (25%), and invest it back into the business in order to be able to grow the business (from which I started with $100 from my grandma). After that, all proceeds go to Imagine1day, which is a non for profit based in Vancouver that we work with to fund Girl Clubs in Ethiopia.
What was your turning point where you thought it was time to start the the7dayringproject?
T: It wasn’t a specific moment, but rather a combination of a few different moments in a short period of time. Within month or so, I had a number of strangers and people in stores stop me on the street and compliment the ring without even knowing the story. There was value in the product itself. I read some stats released a few days later that 6% of girls graduate in Ethiopia, and then I had a phone call with Salem – everything just seemed to fit. I also met the marketing director of Imagine1day, and hearing about work they did and how they’re a Vancouver based local organization doing work in the exact place where Salem works – that was the moment where I realized ‘that’s the missing puzzle piece’. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I could continue supporting them while supporting Salem at the same time; it just seemed to connect.
P: And seeing Taylor’s passion for something that just fell into her lap… that was honestly why we connected in first year. We didn’t want to follow the typical ‘just make money’ route – we both connected in wanting to make a positive impact, and it was seeing that passion that made me think ‘yes I want to be a part of this as well’.
What has been your biggest challenge so far behind running a socially-focused business?
T: I would probably say that one of the toughest things for us is the fact that we are dealing with a supplier who is on the other side of the world and in a place where only 2% of the population has access to the internet. Within the last year that has been a crazy long state of emergency, part of which the internet and social media has been shut off for the entire country. Because we chose to support this entrepreneur who is making them on the other side of the world, the logistics involved, things that would be easy if we were dealing with a supplier in Canada, was a million times more difficult.
P: Also the culture was a lot more different. Here, it’s fast paced – we want everything yesterday. But there, it’s a lot more relaxed and they take things slower, easier – so it can be difficult trying to keep up with our orders here while not being able to get stuff done there.
T: The time that I was in Ethiopia, I remember when we scheduled meetings with entrepreneurs and we would call it habesha time (habesha = word for Ethiopian person). We would for example book it for 2pm, but habesha time is 3pm. It’s just a slower lifestyle – no takeout coffee or anything, you sit down and have your meal. Business runs a lot slower; adding a whole other culture into the mix was something we have had to adapt to.
What has been the most significant measure of impact?
T: There are two areas of impact that can be split into two separate pieces. Firstly: recently, Salem updated us that she is getting new silversmith equipment and updating it, and she also just hired a new worker in house to work on 7dayrings. Hearing that yes, even though it is just one person who now has a job, [now that there is someone] specifically working on something we started and getting a meaningful wage and [doing] work that they enjoy is pretty cool.
And secondly, with Imagine1day – initially we were working with them to fund high school scholarships for girls in Ethiopia. That resulted in funds being used in a much more deep way in the sense that we would be providing five years of full high school education along with microloans for the family, so then we funded nine girl scholarships in total. After they switched their model in order to have a more scalable impact through Girls Clubs, to date I think we’re at thirteen girls’ clubs.
What is the biggest tip you would give students trying to start their own impact-driven enterprise?
T: One thing I would say is if you are truly passionate about it, it won’t feel like work – it will energize you to do all of the other stuff. Right when we were about to launch, I was a third year in first semester. I was a director at UBC rec, had a full course load, and was preparing for exchange – and I was doing this (7dayrings). In first or second year, I would’ve been so unhappy. But instead, I was fired up and excited about it; [that energy was what] helped me get through other stuff. All of a sudden, I could relate what I was learning in my Financial Accounting course to something I had that I was working on, in how I was budgeting and doing my accounts payable. So even though yes, I was busier – I was also happier and more energized along the way. Lastly, I would say build your story and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
P: I was going to say that you should find people who have similar passions and similar ideas… My best ideas have come through chatting with Taylor, figuring things out, getting excited about things and problem solving together. It’s kind of cheesy, but having more minds is a good thing – it was probably one of the things that pushed me to continue with the7dayringproject.
“Rather than reinventing the wheel, I could continue supporting them while supporting Salem…it just seemed to connect.”
What is the biggest challenge addressed by Imagine1day?
T: One piece: community buy-in. In high school, when I learned about education in developing countries I thought, “OK, we’re just going to build schools and then they will have an education and the problem will be solved”. But when I went to Ethiopia, we would see so many abandoned schools with the right intention but without the buy-in from the community. What Imagine1day was able to identify was that the reason why these girls weren’t in school (even though the facilities were there) was because of the short term/long term investment standpoint. In the short term, a mom can have her daughter working seven days a week in the field, cleaning the house, or making food, and providing immediate value. OR she can approach it from the long term and have her daughter in school, where she will lose out by still having to feed and provide for someone with no immediate payout to her until many years from now. For many of the communities that need education, short term value outweighs long term value because they are just trying to survive.
What Imagine1day has done is that with every school that they build, the community has to fund a certain financial % for the schools, so that they are automatically invested into it. Part of [the scholarships] would be microloans for another member of the family to learn a skill, with the intention of another member of the family being able to increase wages to offset what the daughter would make had she not been in school. And in order for them to receive that microloan, they would have to agree that their daughters would attend school for entire completion of high school.
P: When I worked for a charity called Plan International, what I learned was that one of the biggest things that were hindering girls from going to school was child marriages. In reference to the same short-term long term concept, I could either marry her off where she could have a good life, or put my girl in school. If girls are able to go to school, they get to be educated on rights, join girls clubs (what Imagine1day does), and learn about what they can accomplish by getting an education. An example from the girls club specifically – one girl who attended the club was 15 at the time and to be married within months to a much older man. At the girls club, however, she learned that she legally had the right not to be married until 18. She was then able to go to the courts and state her rights and get out of that marriage, and as a result got to stay in school. *Goosebumps!*
Any last words or messages for the audience?
T: I think one thing that a lot of university students struggle with is that they have this deep desire to have a positive impact. Where they find the tug of war is between getting a great job after university and making an impact. They think it’s impossible to do both, but what I’ve learned through the7dayringproject is that there are so many organizations out there that – although yes, some are for profit – will allow ways for you to get involved in some capacity, because they are too realizing the value of creating sustainable impact. There’s always a way even if it’s not necessarily starting your own social enterprise!
P: Making a positive impact doesn’t necessarily mean starting your own thing; you can make an impact in a lot of different ways that you don’t really expect – that’s why it’s cool that everyone is placed in different areas like business and engineering etc., because we all get to make a difference in where we’re planted!