At Women’s Bean Project we believe that all women have the potential to transform their lives through employment. So we hire women who have been chronically unemployed and teach them to work by creating nourishing products. They learn to stand tall, find their purpose and end the cycle of poverty.
Founded in 1989, Women’s bean Project is an anomaly in the business world. It is a business, one that packages and sells bean soup mixes and other dry food products to stores across the US and online. But tucked inside this business is a human services organization designed to provide a safe and accepting work environment where impoverished women can learn the skills required for gainful employment. They are convicted felons, recovering addicts, victims of domestic violence. Many were teenage mothers and high school drop outs. They come to the Bean Project for a chance to create new lives out of the rubble theirs have become – and they do it in just six to nine months. That we train women to become great workers only so they can leave us and become great workers for other employers is remarkable and challenging. That the women transform their lives in such a short amount of time is inspiring and incredible to witness.
Initially I was attracted to Women’s Bean Project because I thought the business was intriguing. The notion that the better the business performed, the more women could be helped enhanced my interest. I couldn’t have been more naïve. I didn’t realize the human challenges involved in running a business whose employees are the neediest among us. I hadn’t thought about why our employees might not have held a job longer than a year.
As someone who grew up with a lot of opportunity, I thought anything was possible in America. I believed that if we worked hard, society worked with us to help us succeed. It was easy for me to think this way because I had never met felons or addicts or welfare recipients. While I believed that life is the manifestation of our choices, conveniently all of my choices were condoned by my community. At some point in my career I came to realize that the privilege afforded me by the accident of my birth also created an obligation to contribute to the community. That idea led me to the Bean Project, initially as a volunteer and then later as the CEO.
This transition, from private sector marketing and business development professional to social entrepreneur, has helped me see how often women are chronically unemployed and poverty-stricken not because they want to be, but because they don’t know how not to be. I have also learned about the resiliency of the human spirit. I have met countless women at the Bean Project who have faced seemingly insurmountable odds of fear, shame and lack of self-worth. And yet, they come to Women’s Bean Project and reinvent themselves as great employees and mothers and community members. They’ve made me realize that with the right opportunity, any woman can learn the skills to earn her future.