Kari Davidson is the co-founder of a non-profit called Haiti Babi, which she juggles along with her career at Microsoft and her two loves of soccer and travel. When I interviewed her, I was really struck by her passion for social entrepreneurship, which she explains as “taking business solutions and applying them to social problems.” Kari is one of the incredible women who views the world and looks for ways to make significant change.
Her story inspired me and it makes me really proud of @Interviews With Incredible Women. When I asked her how she does it all, she revealing one of the key truths that I find in incredible women. There might not be a master plan, but there is a significant amount of determination. Like Kari said, “I just kept running. Falling down and running and falling down and running.” Incredible women keep getting back up and running.
Q: You can read the full story of Haiti Babi on their website – www.haitibabi.org – but I asked Kari what part of the story was untold. What should the world know about Haiti Babi that isn’t on the website?
KD: The most inspiring part of working on Haiti Babi is watching the women and their children’s lives change. We have watched as their lives have transformed. We have witnessed their personalities begin to shine in a way that simply can’t come through when you’re living in extreme poverty. It’s hard to capture their stories.
Haiti Babi is an innovative non-profit with the mission to keep families together in Haiti. We employ women to create artisan handmade baby products.
Our mission is to keep families together is challenging in a country like Haiti. Currently, 1 in 10 children in Haiti live in an orphanage and 80% of those children have families. There aren’t enough jobs to provide for families, so women end up feeling like the only option is to give their child to a center where they can be cared for. The root of the problem is that people need jobs.
Q: How did you recognize the need for an organization like Haiti Babi?
KD: My business partner volunteered at an “infant care center” in Haiti and she saw the line of women waiting to receive support because they didn’t have the means to care for them. As an “infant care center,” adoption wasn’t the goal; it was that the children would be cared for. The women were in a hard situation because they wanted to keep their child, but wasn’t able to care for them financially. There were visiting hours crowded with moms who wanted to be a part of their kids’ lives.
My business partner fell in love with a little boy there, but after meeting his family, and seeing how much they loved him, it was clear that the best way she could support him was to help his family find work to earn the financial means to care for him.
Q: So that is how your business partner conceived of Haiti Babi. What’s your story?
KD: Kaitlin and I met at a social enterprise event. It was a startup weekend, an intensive and collaborative weekend where teams create business plans, present them, and refine them. I was there because I was taking business classes and had fallen in love with the concept of social enterprise. There is a huge opportunity for design in this space to combine a social need with a market need. I seek areas where I can use my understanding of design to learn more about social enterprise and business.
This space of social entrepreneurship is really interesting because it’s not solving a problem through guilt. Instead, social enterprise applies a business model to support a social need. It’s like you’re filling two needs and overlapping them, rather than a consistent fundraising and donation model. It’s a more sustainable solution.
We have awesome examples of other organizations who do that well. I’m excited to see what social enterprise as a movement can become.
Other inspirational social enterprises that use design to create social change.
Krochet kids – sustainable economic development through product creation: Peru & Uganda. https://www.krochetkids.org
Della – sustainable fashion made by women in Ghana
Same Sky –jewelry creation by women in Africa. http://www.samesky.com
Q: What has been the biggest challenge and biggest delight with your non-profit work?
The biggest challenge of Haiti Babi is time. There are so many more ideas and things that we want to explore and we’re inspired by than we have hours in the day. My day job is at Microsoft and I’m very passionate about that as well. The challenge is that so many things pull at my heartstrings in different ways. I consistently have a To Do list of at least 25 things and I have to live with the fact that it’s never going to go away.
The moment that have I felt most delighted was a year ago, at Haiti Babi’s first Christmas party. It was the first time that I got to reconnect with a few of the women that I met before they started working with us. The change in their personality after being employed for 6 months was incredible. I saw their kids and their kids had gained weight. It was the first time that I got to see the impact we had on their lives.
Another delightful moment was our first big fundraiser, last May, in Seattle. It was incredible to see the community of people that have come together to support Haiti Babi. We have had to put ourselves out there in ways that were scary and this community has been so supportive. Having everyone celebrating this project together was another huge moment of delight. It’s amazing how much a community can surprise you. People will truly bend over backwards to make something good happen.
Q: What has shaped you into the person you?
KD: Obviously my family, I have one of the most wonderful mothers in the entire world. Seriously. A big part of why Haiti Babi is so important to me is the value of this relationship. My life would be so different if I didn’t have someone who loves me as much as she does. I can’t imagine having a mother who loves me so much but who would be unable to support me for financial reasons like the moms were see in Haiti.
Soccer has also shaped who I am. I played for the University of Washington. Sports helped me think of life as a training field. How can I be better, how can we be better, how can we all be more efficient as a team. Because of sports, I don’t want to look at anything and accept it as just the way things are. I want to figure out “How can we improve this?” We look at problems and try to collectively find a solution. To me, that’s what social enterprise is to poverty: a solution that we, as a race, work on trying to solve together.
Q: What inspires you?
KD: I want my life to be daring, ambitious, and impactful. There’s a sweet spot of inspiration when I feel a little bit afraid of where I am headed. If I feel entirely comfortable, I’m not in the right spot.
Traveling is my biggest inspiration, because of the people I meet and the conversations I have. Every person has this piece about them that is their own inspiration and their own gem. The most inspiring thing is trying to find that gem in each person. Being able to celebrate that piece in each person in different ways is hugely inspiring to me.