A number of startups are proving you don't have to be big to make a big impact, particularly with the holidays in full swing.
Whether it’s donating to education, enabling people to buy smarter, or just a helpful prod to do something nice, these startups and websites with ties to Boston are showing that giving back is possible regardless of the size of your headcount.
Building Positive Habits
Research shows that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. One company is taking that notion to heart this month and enabling thousands of people to develop new, positive habits this holiday season.
Change Heroes, a for-profit social enterprise that helps individuals raise money to build schools in Africa through their implementing partner, Free the Children, is showing people just how good it can feel to do good with their 30 Days of Giving Bootcamp.
On each day of the Bootcamp, participants receive an email giving them a specific task to accomplish. These affable challenges range from leaving a generous tip for your waiter to calling a family member you haven’t spoken recently to giving someone a hug (with bonus points if it’s a stranger).
“It was really fun coming up with these challenges. Honestly, it was just like sitting together as a team trying to come up with ways to really make someone’s day,” explained Reanne Derkson, social media manager for Change Heroes, who initially came up with the idea for the project.
According to Change Heroes founder Taylor Conroy, the true intention behind the month-long event is to make people realize how good it can feel to do something nice.
While it may be a big leap for someone to jump into a $10,000 campaign, as is the typical Change Heroes model, it is less daunting to sign up for a free 30-day challenge.
“We just want to make people feel really good and get them in the giving spirit. We wanted to get them high fiving each other, buying each other coffee, whatever it is,” said Conroy. “In a nutshell, we just want to make them feel ridiculously amazing. And if we can make them feel really, really great maybe they’ll want to do something a little bit more next time.”
Having come up with the idea for Change Heroes in 2010 following a trip to Africa, Conroy says his company just recently surpassed the $1 million raised mark. His hope is that this project will help propel his company beyond their $10 million goal in 2014.
“It’s life changing. It’s addicting,” said Conroy. “As soon as you really realize you can change the world, or impact the lives of a 1,000 people, and all it takes is a week’s worth of work back in North America, then there’s no going back. You automatically want to do something else.”
So far, more than 4,200 people have signed up to participate in the Change Heroes Bootcamp, hundreds of who are reaching out to the company on its social media pages on a daily basis to express joy over the positive deeds they’ve done.
“Everyone is liking each other’s posts and commenting on each other photos. They love sharing what they’ve done and congratulating others and motivating others to do the same,” explained Derkson, who, herself, joined the Change Heroes team after participating in one of their campaigns last year.
To participate in the remaining days of Change Heroes’ Bootcamp: 30 Days of Giving, click the link provided and follow the instructions on their site.
Abhi Nangia has one simple mission: to reweave the way we buy, for good.
In an effort to make that mission a reality, Nangia and his team launched reweave.org in June as an alternative marketplace for people who want to purchase fair and direct trade products.
“It’s not an easy choice to start making,” insists Nangia, who graduated from Northeastern University in May 2012. “You know, it’s easier to buy better if we all do it, but the world hasn’t collectively chosen this path yet. We’re at this point right now, this perfect point, where we have the opportunity to change the entire way the world works for the better, forever. But it’s going to take a lot of conversations and a lot of people coming together to realize how much change we’ll have to make in our own choices.”
Though the site was primarily created to be a marketplace for directly traded products, the reweave team insists that the educational and community aspects of the site are equally important.
“To me, it’s not about selling things. We want to have conversations,” said Daniel Garafulic, a 21-year-old Northeastern student. “It’s about talking to someone and helping them get to the understanding that what they buy is impacting someone else. If that understanding gets across, even if we don’t sell anything, that’s okay.”
According to Nangia, the site has seen an increase of visits and sales in the last few weeks.
“The holidays have been fun, and people are continuing to show how much they care,” said Nangia, adding that the top selling items have been chocolate, coffee, tea, and recyclable grocery bags. “Those four things are our best sellers because they’re things that we use, that everyone uses, every day. Imagine if everyone in Boston decided today to make that switch on those [daily] items; things would look a lot better.”
Aside from food products and grocery bags, reweave sells a wide variety of worldly goods, including baskets from Ghana, jewelry from Nicaragua, and bars of soap from Gainesville, Florida.
“For us, it’s not about the developed world helping developing world. That’s not what reweave is. We sell things that are made here in Boston,” explained Nangia, who also noted that their most popular chocolate manufacturer, Taza, is located in Somerville. “This is about all of us coming together to create a movement for “better trade”. When people ask where we source our products from, we tell them ‘everywhere.’”
And even though his site is selling goods from all over the globe, Nangia holds strong to the idea that he is most proud about the small changes in awareness that he has seen among his own friends and family.
“It’s been really exciting to see people coming together and showing they want to see it happen. My little cousin is 8 years old and he is so excited to change the world... He’s holding conferences in his house to try to teach his family what it means to buy better. That is what we’re about. It’s not about changing one thing in your life. It’s about living a better life.”
Making Giving Fashionable
Giving back generally helps people feel good. What’s more rare is that it also makes you look good.
oOoTie Boston Bow Ties is trying to change that.
Founded in August 2010 by a trio of University of Massachusetts Amherst alumni, oOoTie is trying to make two things very fashionable with the younger generation: bow ties and philanthropy.
“We wanted to make bow ties—or at least buy bow ties—that the younger generation liked,” said Diego Torres-Palma, co-founder of oOoTie Boston. “We wanted to create something fun, and we wanted to solve our own problem.”
Being engineers, the co-founders of the trendy retail site decided early on that they wanted to give back to their academic community by donating a percentage of their funds to scholarships in technical fields.
“When we first started the company we were writing up the by-laws and decided that 10 percent of all of our profits at the end of the year go to Science, Technology, and Engineering majors,” stated Torres-Palma, 27, of Boston. “Aside from that, we also partner with probably 10 galas in Boston for many, many different events every year.”
According to Torres-Palma, designers will often approach his company hoping to create a bow tie to benefit a specific event or non-profit. In the last year, oOoTie created a handful of specialized bow ties that directly benefitted charitable organizations, including One Fund and Push America. Their next planned partnership will be in Spring 2014 with Many Hopes, a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness for, and defeat the causes of, extreme poverty in Kenya.
“If a designer comes to me and says they want to create a tie for Many Hopes, or what have you, we say go ahead and they just do it, and the proceeds of that tie will go to the fund that [the designer] is passionate about,” he explained. “The partnership can be somewhat silent on our end, or it can be very loud. We try to make it about them and make it as easy as we can.”
While Torres-Palma says he does enjoy the act of creating chic bow ties that feature ninjas, dinosaurs, and periodic tables, he insists that oOoTie is more about the larger picture.
“It’s something that we just do, to be honest with you. It just feels like the right thing to do. We have an audience and it’s our responsibility to bring the attention to different organizations to that audience,” said Torres-Palma. “We don’t just sell bow ties. We’re in the business of making the world a better place. If we can do that via bow ties, then that’s the responsibility we have, and we’re happy to do it.”