We have all heard of the economic and humanitarian challenges in the poorest parts of Africa, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to do to help.
When LA-based social entrepreneur Nicole Lindler (pictured above, left) first learned about the increasingly high rates of preventable infant mortality in Uganda, she made it her mission to make a change. She packed her bags, traveled to Uganda and was inspired to create BundleTree Baby, a collection of baby blankets and accessories, all handmade through her fair trade partnerships with rural mothers in Uganda. In addition to creating jobs in the community, the company gives proceeds of its sales to provide ongoing healthcare and education to the mothers to ensure the wellness of their babies.
“I think everyone on the planet deserves the right to thrive and to be happy,” Lindler says. “But this won’t happen until certain fundamental things like access to clean water, education, healthcare, etc are considered human rights and not privileges only for the fortunate.”
See how this businesswoman stepped out on faith to follow her passion for purpose and find out her advice for entrepreneurs who want to do the same.
Name: Nicole Lindler
Occupation: Founder, BundleTreeBaby.com
Education: University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business
Previous Job Experience: Real Estate Agent
HELLOBEAUTIFUL: What made you choose to quit your 9-to-5 to become a social entrepreneur?
Nicole Lindler: I had a great lucrative career in the real estate industry helping my community, which I thought I would never leave. But when I came across a blog that described what it was like for mothers to give birth in Sub-Saharan Africa and the startling rates of infant mortality, it stayed with me. Every year in Uganda, approx 45,000 children (1 out of 9) will not live to their 5th birthday. These deaths are largely due to preventable health-related causes. This was a world I knew nothing about and it fascinated me enough to want to change the statistics—so I left my job and founded BundleTree Baby. Our mission is to reduce the rates of child/infant mortality in Uganda by providing mothers with economic opportunity, empowerment, and sustainable healthcare and education for their babies.
When I travelled to Uganda to build our partnerships with the women there, after conducting interviews it became pretty apparent that all they wanted was the ability to provide for their children. The women had grown accustomed to living without hope. It was so difficult for me to hear their stories, but in those moments I became more determined to help.
HB: Where are the company’s products designed?
NL: All designs are initially created in our Los Angeles office by our team, and then we work closely with our mothers and partners in Uganda to recreate them. We use locally sourced supplies in Uganda to support economic growth within the region. Each item is signed by the mother who made it for a personal touch. [Meet the mothers here! ]
HB: How do you find the women you work with? How often do you communicate with them?
We built our partnerships with a couple NGOs in the northern and eastern regions. They help to identify and train the most vulnerable, at-risk women in their respective villages—many of whom are refugees. We communicate as often as possible about challenges, new ideas, and general weekly updates. I visit our partnerships as often as possible and have a local ground team in Uganda year round. We give updates from the field on our Facebook page and company site.
HB: What have been the biggest challenges of doing business overseas?
NL: One major challenge is all of the uncertainty. Usual ways of doing business or accessing resources will not be the same as we are used to in US, but part of being a social entrepreneur is the ability to adapt quickly in this type of uncertainty. In the developing world things change rapidly and are often unpredictable, but I think we have the opportunity to learn the most when we can rise to challenges and get creative about making it all work. It’s also super rewarding when you manage to get the “impossible” done, but you must be resourceful.
How long did it take you to get your company off the ground from the time you had the idea?
NL: It took about three years to turn my dream of helping these mothers and their babies into a reality. The learning process was steep since I had no prior design knowledge and had never built partnerships overseas. But despite that, I kept my passion to move forward and connected as much as I could with people who had prior experience or skills in the field and leaned on them for a lot of initial advice.
In those three years there was a lot of late nights, early calls and endless research.
What’s the biggest challenge working for yourself?
NL: Remembering that everything does not always have to be perfect! I think many entrepreneurs, including myself, strive toward fast perfection but everyday is a learning process and plans always change in business. Perfect is not possible, but passion is. And that’s the key thing I try to keep in mind now.
HB: What are the biggest perks of working for yourself?
NL: Just being able to see the positive impact that my company has on increasing wages for the rural mothers we partner with has been amazing. For most of the women, working with us is their first chance to earn wages. It’s great to hear that they feel empowered as breadwinners and can take care of their children.
HB: What does ‘having it all’ mean to you?
NL: For me, it would be the ability to look at the journey of my life with satisfaction, knowing that I’m living on purpose and helping however I can to lead with a positive impact.
HB: How do you maintain work/life balance?
NL: I like to set and keep my daily work routines pretty consistent. I schedule everything! This is important because I can make sure I build some necessary me-time into my day, and as a general rule I won’t answer my business line or respond to emails after 7pm. It helps keep me sane!
HB: What advice would you give someone who is considering becoming an entrepreneur?
NL: Be bold and take a leap a faith. I think companies realize that our generation is taking on some of the greatest challenges and taking control of what will be deemed relevant in the future, and so we are seeing a lot more “businesses with heart” and overnight entrepreneurs pop-up because of it. The rules are changing, finally. The best thing anyone can do is to believe in their own abilities and do not settle for anything less. You don’t necessarily have to start a business half way around the world as I did to make a difference (unless you want to). You can start in your own community or office—take steps to question the status quo and be unapologetic about it. Don’t stop until you are living your purpose.