With a goal of enabling 1 million women to rise out of extreme poverty, Street Business School has gone global.
By Vicki Martinez
When Devin Hibbard, her mother Torkin Wakefield and family friend Ginny Jordan returned from a trip to Uganda with unique jewelry made from rolled strips of paper, their friends took notice and an idea took root. The trio returned to Uganda and bought a large supply of jewelry from the group of impoverished women who crafted it and formed a partnership to help those women. And help, they did.
The three hosted “bead parties.” They invited friends, opened bottles of wine, told the stories of the Ugandan women they’d met and sold jewelry. In 2004, the Boulder-based nonprofit BeadForLife was born.
Shortly after its creation, the nonprofit was featured in a short article in Oprah Magazine. The “small initiative” suddenly had big demand. “We sold $90,000 worth of beads in six weeks,” says Hibbard, BeadForLife co-founder and current CEO of Street Business School (SBS). The bead makers upped their production to fill the ballooning demand.
“After our great success, we really didn’t know what to do, didn’t have a strategy,” shares Hibbard. “However, from the very beginning, our program was responsive to the needs of the women we partner with and serve. That ethos has been baked into the very DNA of, initially BeadForLife, and then SBS.”
An Opportunity for Self-Sufficiency
BeadForLife grew and expanded to include an entrepreneurial training program, focusing on economic empowerment for women. The six-month training makes business concepts accessible to women living in extreme poverty, giving them the skills, knowledge and, most importantly, the confidence needed to develop a sustainable business.
“The curriculum was created from about ten years of iteration in the field providing training to women—constantly gathering data, evaluating what worked, tweaking it and trying again—to understand what created the most impact,” explains Hibbard. The training program was called Street Business School and includes topics such as how to get startup capital (in Uganda, a business can be started with $10–20 in startup capital), how to maintain an accounting system without being able to read and write, how to identify a business opportunity, what entrepreneurship looks like, and how to use profits to grow a sustainable business.
“Stories from the Field” on the organization’s website showcases nearly two dozen success stories including that of Umazi Riziki, who earns three times what she had prior to SBS training in her hair plaiting business. Harriet Nakibuuka started a business selling tomatoes after her SBS training, and it has grown into one of the major tomato suppliers in her area. She has since opened a second business selling secondhand clothes for children.
A Global Team
In 2018, SBS became a separate entity and sister organization to BeadForLife. The SBS Leadership team consists of five dynamic women, including CEO Hibbard. Evelyn Mwondha and Catherine Nakayiza are co-country directors and Hibbard’s Ugandan counterparts. With a background in banking, Mwondha was a pioneer in developing microfinance in Uganda. Today, she oversees SBS program strategy and implementation. Nakayiza’s experience lies in operations coordination, and she is now in charge of HR, operations and logistics at SBS.
When BeadForLife and SBS became independent nonprofits, Amy Yanda-Lee took the reins as CEO of BeadForLife. Sadly, the COVID pandemic forced BeadForLife to permanently close its doors, so Yanda-Lee now sits as COO for SBS.
Chris Harper, director of global training, oversees all SBS training programs, including the recent SBS global expansion initiative. She works with a team of global trainers dedicated to teaching other nongovernmental organization (NGO) staff how to incorporate the SBS business model to support their specific work.
Since its inception, SBS has danced to the beat of a different drum. Unlike many other nonprofits, they operate under a social franchise business model. As with commercial franchising, social franchising means the organization entrusts their brand, knowledge, methods and procedures to franchisees (in this case, established nonprofits). Those local entities work to bring the parent organization’s value into their own community.
“Rather than parachuting into communities we know nothing about, our strategy is to partner with the experts there, the nonprofit that’s been in that community for years. They understand the landscape, politics, religious norms, gender norms. They’re the ones who can customize SBS to make it most effective,” says Hibbard.
Building on the success of their Ugandan program, SBS branched out into more countries, offering training to any NGO ready to make dramatic changes. SBS coaches and trains NGO staff on how to implement their entrepreneurial training program in the local community. “This social franchise model is more cost-effective. We build on the infrastructure that already exists and can get to scale so much faster,” says Hibbard.
Case in point: SBS formed in 2013 as part of BeadForLife and began its global expansion initiative in 2016. Two years later, SBS became its own entity, and now its entrepreneurship blueprint has been implemented by 150 nonprofits around the world in 25 countries. SBS has helped more than 218,000 people lift themselves up out of poverty, and they plan to help many more.
To reach their goal of changing the lives of one million women, SBS relies on two things: referrals to NGOs ready to implement a program like SBS in their local community, and donations. During SBS’ annual campaign through December, a generous donor has promised to match every gift, dollar for dollar.
Visit StreetBusinessSchool.org for more details.
$1.35/day* average income of women before SBS
$4.19/day average income two years after graduating SBS
56% income increase at the time of graduation
211% income increase two years later
89% women who still have one or two businesses running two years after graduation
46% women who have diversified and have more than two businesses
*The global extreme poverty line is $1.90/day