How I used my business to help create gender equality in Africa
Lotte Davis co-founded AG Hair in 1989, filling shampoo bottles by hand. Now she’s channelling that same boot-strapping spirit to empower young women in Kenya, and other African nations. Learn some ways you too can make a charitable impact with your business.
Lotte Davis and her husband John started their haircare business, AG Hair, in the basement of their Vancouver-area home in 1989. They found a manufacturer, purchased containers, printed labels and applied them to the bottles themselves at night. During the day her husband would make sales calls to salons to sell the products.
About a decade later, Davis looked up from her busy life and realized the business was profitable and growing. She knew it was time to fulfill a lifelong dream of returning to Africa, the continent where she was born, to give back and do some good.
“I got on a plane to Nairobi, and figured it out from there,” Davis recalls.
Davis grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era. The family left and settled in Canada where she continued to see racial and gender inequalities, although in more covert ways. The experiences provided Davis with a longing to help make change.
Davis has used her skills and connections as an entrepreneur to create an impact in Africa. She registered One Girl Can as a charity with the Canada Revenue Agency, and started to build it piece by piece, the same way she built AG Hair.
One Girl Can provides education opportunities for underprivileged girls in rural Kenya and other African nations. They work with the girls to get them through school and university until they are earning an income. Davis has integrated the charity into almost everything that AG Hair does: The company helps sustain One Girl Can by donating time and skilled workers, but also by providing office space to the charity, and promoting customer and employee donations.
The integration with One Girl Can sets her company apart. Davis says it has increased employee retention and customer loyalty. It’s one reason she suggests that every company, big or small, find ways to give back.
Jo-Anne Ryan, Vice President, Philanthropic Advisory Services and Executive Director of the Private Giving Foundation at TD Wealth, offers these considerations for businesses who are looking for ways to build a charitable arm of their organizations:
1) Pick a cause that is meaningful to the company
This could be a cause or organization that is personally important to the owner or employees or one that aligns with your brand and your customers. “With more than 86,000 charities in Canada to choose from, there is no shortage of need,” says Ryan, “and people are more likely to give generously when they feel a connection to the issue.” Engaging employees in charitable activities can provide great opportunities for team-building and boost morale.
2) Match your employee donations
Consider having your company match employee donations. “A matching program can be a meaningful part of a company’s corporate social responsibility program and add to employee participation and enthusiasm,” says Ryan. If necessary, cap it at a threshold appropriate for your company. Pledging to match your employee donations will result in a greater charitable impact and positive employee engagement.
3) Establish a donor-advised fund
A registered donor-advised fund is a great alternative to a foundation and allows your company to get started with as little as $10,000. As the fund grows, it allows you to choose the charities that you wish to donate to. “If your company establishes a donor-advised fund, it allows your organization to contribute to the fund during years that the business does well,” says Ryan, “and helps ensure that there are funds available to give to charities in years where the company financials are not as strong.”
− Denise O’Connell, MoneyTalk Life