Hey Change Maker! My guest this week is Devin Hibbard, Founder and CEO of Street Business School—an entrepreneurial training program that helps women living in poverty go from an average of $1.35 to $4.19 per day by starting their own businesses.
We begin the episode by discussing what exactly Street Business School is: an entrepreneurial training program designed for women living in extreme poverty. Street Business School helps people start small businesses and triple their income, ultimately changing their lives. The program was born out of twenty years of working with women living in deep poverty in Uganda.
We then shift to talk about Bead for Life, one of Devin’s first initiatives to help provide Ugandan women with dignified employment and a source of income. Bead for Life is a nonprofit social enterprise that works with women in Uganda to make beads out of recycled paper. These beads are then used to make jewelry – necklaces, bracelets, and earrings – that’s sold around the world.
Devin discusses how Bead for Life wasn’t born out of a preconceived plan, but rather out of an experience she had while visiting Uganda in 2004. During her visit, Devin met a woman who had fled from Northern Uganda with her five children and was making necklaces and bracelets out of these recycled beads to earn money for her family. Without having a staff, office, or a plan, Devin began asking the local Ugandan women about their needs, wants, dreams, and fears. She credits the responses of the local women as the DNA for Bead for Life. Her goal was to help women learn how to make recycled paper jewelry so they could become self-sufficient and find the economic capacity to support themselves in the local market forever. Later in 2004, an article about Bead for Life was published in Orpah’s magazine, which resulted in sales of $90,000 of recycled paper jewelry in six weeks.
We then dive a bit deeper into why Bead for Life is so essential to the local Ugandan women beyond providing them with income. Devin describes that at the end of the day, our goal has to be walking by a woman’s side – a term she likes to call “accompaniment”. Through Bead for Life and Street Business School, women living in extreme poverty are given opportunities to start a new journey for themselves, and Devin and her team are ready to walk alongside them. Devin stresses that when they partner with these women entrepreneurs, everyone is a “coach”. Everyone has something to learn from one another, and the term “coach” helps the women entrepreneurs claim their dignity. According to Devin, “Women living in poverty have everything to lose.” If we can create a situation where these women can gain the confidence, knowledge, and tools they need to become entrepreneurs, this is the best path to raising women out of poverty.
After that, we talk about Devin’s shift from paper bead making to entrepreneurial training. The shift to entrepreneurial training came from the realization that a dependance on access to external markets would not be sustainable to these women entrepreneurs.. She knew that within Bead for Life’s model, there needed to be an opportunity for these entrepreneurs to make money and gain skills on how to run their small business in the local community. After searching for a training program without much success, Devin learned that there wasn’t a training program that existed that could meet the unique needs and circumstances of the women they were working with. Thus, entrepreneurship training was created initially as a part of Bead for Life. At the peak of the program, Devin had about 300 women enrolled. However, this figure was just a very small portion of the total number of people living in extreme poverty – 700 million. As part of her effort to reach even more people, Devin separated the entrepreneurial training from Bead for Life, and Street Business School was born.
I next ask Devin about her BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Devin’s goal is to reach 1 million women by 2027 to help them lift themselves and their families out of poverty. If the average family size is 5 people, this translates to a ripple effect of 6 million people. To achieve this goal, Devin decided to scale Street Business School through the concept of social franchising. The proven service they had in Uganda – training women entrepreneurs on how they could generate a viable, sustainable, and local income for themselves and their families – needed to spread to organizations in other countries.
Street Business School began to partner with organizations in other countries that possessed a deep knowledge of their local community and wanted to add a proven economic training model, but didn’t necessarily have that area of expertise. Devin and her team work to train these organizations on how to use Street Business School and customize the training program to the unique needs of their local communities. Currently, Street Business School has over 120 partners in 25 countries that have been officially certified to deliver their training model to women entrepreneurs living in extreme poverty. Women in the Street Business School triple their income from an average of about $1.35 a day in earnings to about $4.19 a day.
I then ask Devin how an organization might go about partnering with Street Business School. Devin replies that Street Business School isn’t limited to just organizations serving women in economic development, but rather can be applied to all sectors. Street Business School’s current partners are working to address 16 out of the 17 sustainable development goals. Devin talks about how Street Business School works with partners to run training for small groups of people, exclusive training for larger partners or networks, and even a master training program. I also ask Devin why she chose to work with women in entrepreneurship. Devin replies that “Women are the biggest opportunity for solving global problems that we face today.” She describes how entrepreneurship is so important in the global picture of the informal economy, and how the best way to solve global poverty is through training those who don’t have a chance of entering the formal job sector.
We also discuss barriers to the women entrepreneurs in the program. Devin describes how the biggest barrier to women entrepreneurs living in extreme poverty is not a lack of knowledge or startup capital. Rather, the biggest barrier to these women is that they’ve never had somebody believe in them. She remarks that one of the more important things Street Business School does is hold up a mirror to women to help them see their innate abilities. Devin talks about how visits with alumni are particularly important to women in the program, as they get to see first-hand a person who has been in her shoes and made a successful entrepreneur out of herself.
To wrap up the episode, I ask Devin a few questions to give our readers some guidance and advice. To women who want to make an impact but don’t have the confidence to move forward with their ideas, Devin emphasizes that they can’t let fear stop them: “Say hi to the fear and keep going anyways.” When I ask Devin what keeps her going when things are hard, she replies that her stress and worrying is all worth it knowing that she can help someone who is really struggling. When asked who inspires her and why, Devin replies that the female entrepreneurs she works with are her true inspirations. She relays the story of a woman named Rosario who was able to start and grow a successful vegetable stand in front of her house, despite starting from next to nothing and enduring negative comments from her neighbors.
Devin emphasizes that Street Business School is always looking for partners looking to amplify their impact, and encourage listeners to send partnership inquiries her way. She also encourages listeners to help sponsor their entrepreneurs, citing that it costs about $346 to train one woman. Finally, listeners are encouraged to learn more about Street Business School by visiting www.streetbusinessschool.org or by following them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.