Startups have the power to change the world, and more and more are putting causes at the heart of their business to truly make a difference. One major thing that holds back development globally is gender inequality; by supporting female causes we an lift more people out of poverty than ever before, helping empower women and improving the lives of everyone.

We talk to Lara Sengupta, founder of CorkYogis, and Frances Lucraft, founder of Grace and Green, about why it’s important to them to run businesses that do social good.

Tell us a little about your businesses and the causes they support

Lara: I’m the founder of CorkYogis, a new London-based yoga business. Our mission is to revolutionise yoga and empower women.

Yoga has been my passion for six years and so has my quest to find the perfect yoga mat! I have combined my love for yoga with my passion for working with under-privileged women in India (where my family come from) to create CorkYogis. We work with sex slavery survivors in Kolkata and fund education and provide jobs for the women.

Frances: I founded Grace & Green to be a socially-motivated hygiene brand that would connect women through the creation of exceptional hygiene options. Our period products are not only safer and kinder to women's bodies and the environment, but we also champion social causes in areas where, for some women and young girls, having a period is much harder than it should be. 

Access to feminine hygiene options and taboo around reproductive health is a huge problem globally. Little or no access to products for women to manage their periods, plus cultural taboos and lack of education about menstruation, hamper millions of women from continuing  a normal life of dignity, continuing their education and working, as well as leaving them vulnerable to health issues.

One of the causes we are most proud to be partnering with our the  The Unmentionables  whose work involves supporting some of the most vulnerable refugees by providing goods considered “unmentionable” – underwear, feminine and intimate hygiene products, family planning tools, and related education. 

Why is it important to you that your business does social good, and helps women specifically?

Lara: My experience is in charities and I have always been inspired by for-profit companies that are doing really great things in the world. One of my biggest inspirations when starting my company was TOMS shoes - they managed to expand into a multi-million dollar company without losing integrity or social mission.

My grandmother was also a big inspiration when starting this business - she grew up in a small village in India and didn’t go to school until she was 13. She grew up to be an amazing doctor with her own practice, and she also did a lot of charity work working with vulnerable women in India. I know how hard it can be to grow up in a poor family in India, especially for women. Our goal is to give these women a second chance and support to become anything they want to become.

Frances: We want to be an antidote to corporate brands, with their big budget ads just churning a profit; we wanted to revolutionise the hygiene market to provide women with transparency and authenticity.

Ultimately, period products are more than a necessity for some women and young girls. They are a powerful commodity giving them the freedom of choice: the ability to live their life with dignity. Our core value and belief is that all women and girls should be able to live their lives this way.

Everyone can do simple things to make a difference, and every little bit really does count. We want to assure our customers that their choice to buy Grace & Green products makes a positive impact on not only their health and the environment, but also helps enhance lives.

What is the impact you ultimately hope to have with your business?

Lara: One of the biggest impacts we hope to have is to raise awareness of the problem of sex slavery and human trafficking in India. So many women fall victim to this awful yet profitable trade. We want to not only help to change lives, but we also want to give these women a platform and a voice to talk about their experiences.

Frances: We hope to readdress and inspire our customers to value provenance and origin - to ask of the where and why something is made, the impact products have on our health and our planet. In an unregulated industry, we want to champion alternative and innovative production models and methods that provide the safest, healthiest and most effective options, but without compromising on polluting our environment.

In supporting the valuable work conducted by organisations like the The Unmentionables, we hope to inspire and connect women. Ultimately, its about supporting those who are less fortunate than ourselves, supporting some of the most disempowered women and girls in the world as they challenge the injustice of inequality.

Frances Lucraft, Grace & Green

What has been your biggest challenge, and your biggest achievement?

Lara: I think our biggest challenge was getting off the ground in the first place. When you are creating something that is so close to your heart it is easy to let doubting voices get the better of you and to just not launch. We have had nothing but support since launch and I feel like we are getting more confident and more passionate as a business.

Our biggest achievement I would say would be getting investment interest. Having another company want to give you money and be a part of your journey is really flattering and a complete game-changer really. It has enabled me to quit my day job and focus solely on the business, which has had amazing results - no regrets so far!

Frances: One of the challenges I find is that there are also so many other companies now adopting ‘causes’ into their core mission statements, so it’s no longer a USP. If everybody claims that everybody is doing a great thing for such and such a cause, sooner or later consumers become sceptical. I think authentic brands going forward will not only have to be transparent about how they are raising money and how they are spending it, but they also now will have to show how they are making social impact. This is something that we are working on to build within our new website.

We’ve not yet launched yet, but I actually find that some of our biggest achievements have been achieved through our decision-making. Every decision we make must adhere to our core principles, ethics and beliefs. For example, one of the most difficult decisions we faced was deciding not to stock one of the most popular product choices for women in the UK: applicator tampons. This could be seen as professionally risky or stupid to many of our competitors (for losing out on a huge chunk of the market and in turn profit), but because we couldn’t find any applicators that were not sustainable and good for the environment (even the those made of cardboard or marketed as “plant-based”) it would have been hypocritical of us to stock this as a product. We can now say with confidence that we champion the most ethical and sustainable manufacturing principles at every level.

Any other tips?

Lara: I think there is always a temptation to create a business that you think people will respect rather than something you are really passionate about. I think passion is infectious and some people will love it and some people won’t get it, but by reaching the people that love your mission you are creating ambassadors for your business, which are invaluable for early start-ups. Not only this but as a founder you are always going to end up working harder and longer than you ever expected, so at least make sure its something to get you out of bed in the morning!

Frances: My biggest tip would be to stay authentic. Business is not all about driving a profit, but it’s just as imperative that you are transparent and you stay true to yourselves. We all know that, as customers, you can see through sweeping marketing statements and claims about 'ethics' and not backing it up; so make sure your business doesn’t fall into the trap. Make sound ethical discussions and forge great collaborations with fantastic NGOs that show they make an impact, not ones that just say they do.


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