In 2010, Becky Straw was 29 years old. She had just spent three years working to develop charity: water, a non-profit organization that brings clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations. Directing funding in Africa, South Asia and Haiti, she exchanged with many people living in difficult conditions, listening and learning from them. Along the way she met Jody Landers, a mother of six from the state of Washington who was actively raising funds for the organization’s work in Liberia. The two began to compare notes, and realized that in order to make the most social impact, they would need to assist people in being able to take care of themselves and their families. The Adventure Project was born out of that idea.
The Adventure Project is part of a movement to honor the dignity of individuals who require assistance by helping them find work on life sustaining projects. The 10-year goal of the organization is to create one million jobs worldwide. With current operations in India, Haiti, Uganda and Kenya, they focus on projects related to four areas: environment, health, hunger and water.
Through strategic branding and PR, Becky and Jody have built an enthusiastic “tribe” of supporters. Individuals, families, even swim teams, support a project and become part of an adventure. It’s direct engagement of the best kind! People see their charity dollars investing in vibrant and innovative social enterprises that put people to work. In their first year, they raised $250,000 in small donations to fund 170 entrepreneurs in four countries, serving 100,000 people.
Here’s one great example. The #1 cause of death of young children in many of the countries where Becky visited is respiratory illness caused by breathing toxic fumes from open fires commonly used for cooking. To combat this problem, the Adventure Project supports the local production and distribution of charcoal-efficient stoves. The initiative helps increase the health of families while cutting down on negative impacts to the environment, at the same time as it creates more jobs and income.
I asked Becky about the challenges involved in launching her own non-profit organization. To be sure, having Jody as her co-founder has been an enormous help. Even still, Becky has logged many months sleeping on friends’ couches and maxing out credit cards, and there were times she found herself negotiating with big corporate donors while living on little more than candy bars. But from a $4400 initial investment, she can now boast of a recent one day fundraising drive that netted $50,000 (with the help of a matching grant from the Prem Rawat Foundation).
Has being a woman made things more difficult for her? Quite the contrary. “Being a women has been helpful, because so many people want to see women succeed.” She’s received lots of support from friends and mentors to get to the next stage, and in the corporate sector, she’s been fortunate to find people asking, “Where are the women and how can we help raise them to the next level?” Becky has stepped right in to answer that call.
Her greatest inspiration has been in matching the passion of the Adventure Project’s supporters and the work of partner organizations such as Kickstart in Kenya, and Water for People in India, with the incredible potential she has seen in the communities where they are working. When she started, Becky wasn’t sure if people would catch on to the idea of using their charitable contributions to support the creation of jobs. Apparently, the underlying philosophy of facilitating self-sufficiency in people across the globe is catching fire. With ten chapters across the country, the Adventure Project’s ambitious 10-year goal of creating one million jobs worldwide is well on its way to becoming a reality.
Hear my complete interview with Becky Straw below:
Interview by: Deborah Oster Pannell, a Smith College graduate, is a writer who specializes in the arts, media, holistic health, advocacy and events. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, She Says Yes. Currently she is launching Project Mavens, a literary, editorial design collective, with partner & writer Lillian Ann Slugocki. On Twitter @projectmaven.