In this blog post, we interview Sean Lawson, Co-Founder of Beeutiful Creations.
Before launching into the five aspects of social enterprise in Rwanda that you are learning about, can you remind us briefly about Beeutiful Creations, the social enterprise that you are drawing from?
How is Beeutiful Creations a Social Enterprise?
Beeutiful Creations is a social enterprise that seeks to bring people out of poverty by finding a market for the honey, candles, lip balms and soaps that our groups produce, and supporting our beekeepers and artisans through training and advice.
We aim to have an impact in the community through employing, training and upskilling vulnerable individuals and our rural beekeeping and candle making groups. The profit that is made from sales is put back into supporting others in similar ventures. So, we function as a business and at the same time, have a social impact.
What is the social impact?
Firstly, sustainable and dignifying income generation, dignifying in that people are using their skills and hard work to bring about change. But it’s about more than just putting money in people’s pockets; our team helps deal with challenges within the group and ultimately seeks to build community through our partnerships. We want to bring people together and maximise opportunities for more and more people.
Another significant social impact is environmental protection. We harvest our honey responsibly, and allow natural swarming rather than destroying whole colonies. Essentially, if you take care of the bees, the bees will take care of you, by pollinating crops. In a way, we’re indirectly supporting local farmers too.
Other business people are recognising the impact that beekeeping brings. For example, the man who owns the land where our training apiary is situated recently planted an extra 2000 coffee trees because he knew that pollination and planting go hand in hand. It’s a symbiotic relationship; the bees pollinate the coffee, so he increases his coffee yield, and the bees produce more honey because they take the nectar from the coffee trees.
Can you tell us about how Beeutiful Creations has progressed in its first year?
In our first year we’ve been able to directly employ three local individuals, and indirectly support around forty people, all of whom are rural Rwandans.
Also, we’ve sold over a thousand of our all natural ‘TAMU’ lip balms in the last seven months, and this year, we’ve put $4500 put into the local economy. But there’s still much more to do!
Any exciting updates?
There is a very real possibility of opening of our own retail location in Kigali. Obviously in doing this we hope to increase sales, and an increase in sales equates to an increase in orders, and therefore more income going into the hands of the vulnerable individuals that we work with, all while raising the profile of Beeutiful Creations.
And what are the five main things that you are learning about doing social enterprise in Rwanda?
- It takes much longer than you think.
For me as a Westerner, I am working cross-culturally, and that comes with its own set of challenges: working with vulnerably poor but aspiring individuals who have differing levels of education makes you realize how you take certain things as a given. For example, asking for precise measurements when making products, specifically, measuring on a ruler, or weighing on a set of scales. There are often different approaches to time-management and problem-solving. Working through these issues is challenging for both parties, but it’s worth it when things click into place and long-term employment becomes viable.
Also, building relationships with suppliers and establishing trust takes time. But again, it is worth taking the time because once you make those partnerships, it will help things run much more smoothly. Following on from that…
- It takes hard work and determination.
Things don’t just fall into your lap when you’re starting from scratch and don’t have much income to back you. Growth is incremental, so keep your vision firmly in mind to motivate you when progress seems slow. Stay focused on your goals. Take risks where you need to but hold back on expenditure when appropriate.
- Start every venture with a view to handing it over to local ownership.
It’s so important to build up every member of staff to utilise their potential. Encourage them to take on responsibility without causing stress. As the saying goes: ‘work yourself out of a job’. Already, I am priming one of our new employees to lead Beeutiful and take it forward, so I encourage initiative-taking and management skills.
- Don’t rest on your laurels; keep innovating with new products and fresh ideas even if you’ve found a winning product…
Because others will get there before you if you don’t, and then you’re no longer original. If you have an idea, act on it, take the risk. I’ve learnt that the hard way. I literally had an idea written down, a design drafted, and then another business announced the same product and was ready to get it to market. Of course, competition is a good thing in business, for this exact reason: we had to either do it better, or do something different. In cases like this, don’t get hung up on it; find and fill another niche in the market.
- Get your brand and your message out there, consistently.
For us, this meant getting a regular spot at popular craft fairs, getting our products out to as many suitable retailers as possible, and ‘networking’ as far as possible. Also, like it or loath it, establishing an engaging social media presence is an inevitable part of raising the profile of any business and social enterprise, so get a Facebook and Instagram account, have a good website and aim to put new content on consistently. Respond immediately to enquiries – excellent customer service goes a long way, and building and maintaining your reputation is crucial.