Becky StrawFor The Adventure ProjectNew York, New YorkPhotos & Story by Lauri LevenfeldMakeup & Hair by Irmina Martinez Loeffler
1. What were you like as a child? Who are you today?
I think I was an adventurous child. I grew up in Northern California and we had a creek in our backyard. I loved collecting frogs and building forts. I also loved playing sports. I wasn’t very good until high school, but I loved identifying as a tomboy and a jock. I was competitive and stubborn. I remember being called stubborn a lot growing up. Actually, I’m still called stubborn (ha!). But I love that word. To me, it means I fight for what I believe in.
I am very lucky to have parents who let me be myself while teaching me that the greatest gift is serving others.
2. Describe your life’s work.
I am passionate about creating jobs for people born into extreme poverty. I learned early in my career that handouts and charity are always appreciated, but what people desire more than anything is a good job. Because when you have a good job – you have the ability to care for your family, send your kids to school and lead a happy life.
So, in response to the nearly one billion people living in extreme poverty, my co-founder and I launched, The Adventure Project five years ago, with a goal of creating jobs for people living in poverty in developing countries. Our movement is supported by thousands of small supporters – each giving a little to help pull people out of poverty.
3. Where did you gain the insight and confidence to take on Global Change?
I gained insights through experience, I think. After undergrad I volunteered at a group home in Romania for a few months. Parents in the village would ask us if we could take-in their children.
They asked not because they didn’t love them, but because they couldn’t afford to care for them. I learned that a stable economy could solve so many issues affecting children and orphans. The confidence comes from listening. By sitting down and chatting with people living in poverty, it became clear to me that everyone knew what their biggest issues were in their communities – and they wanted the skills and training to solve those issues themselves. So I knew there was a void in the market. The key was to find local organizations tackling those issues with comprehensive job training.
I knew with my heart we were doing the right thing. My confidence has grown as more supporters have joined our movement. It’s incredibly encouraging to have 10,000 supporters who share our vision. All of us want to use our gifts to help people thrive. In many ways, we’re teaching people to fish.
4. Your philosophy is to “Take the Hard Road, Because it’s the Right Road”- What does this mean to you? How have you fulfilled?
Well, I just want to take the Right Road – but the Right Road is often harder. ;) For example, 36% of all wells in Sub-Saharan Africa are broken – leaving millions of people to go back to drinking from muddy swamps and streams because they don’t have access to well mechanics, spares parts or tools to fix their wells.
It’s easy to drill a well; the hardest part is building the supply chains and the financial models to keep wells working. The Adventure Project focuses on training well mechanics– because doing those “hard things” ensures people can keep their wells working, long after we’ve gone.
Nearly 900 million people globally live on less than $2 per day.
5. The Adventure Project tackles our World’s greatest issues? What are they and how is the org fighting each?
The Adventure Project (TAP) is an organization committed to solving the world’s greatest problems with entrepreneurial solutions. We work strategically to invest in jobs that solve local problems and help communities thrive. Simply put, we create transformative jobs.
The TAP partners with local organizations in developing countries are creating jobs in four sectors: health, hunger, water, and the environment. In just five years we’ve created over 800 jobs in India, Haiti, Kenya, and Uganda. Those jobs have helped over one million people gain access to better food, clean water, improved health, and a safer environment.
Why we focus on these four issue areas:
1. Health: Every minute, six children die in the developing world because they do not have access to basic medicines – treatments that cost less than a cup of coffee. TAP’s solution is to train local leaders to become health care agents, so they can earn a living selling over 60 health products at affordable prices. Each person cares for approximately 800 people in their community, paying special attention to pregnant mothers and young children.
2. Hunger: 80% of the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa work as rural subsistence farmers. Each night, 75% of their children go hungry because they struggle to grow enough to feed their families, especially during the dry season. 12-15 million farmers in Africa would benefit from irrigation. One irrigation pump can lift a farmer and his family out of poverty and into the middle class in as little as one harvest. On average, each farmer with access to irrigation grows enough to provide produce to 50 community members, and earns enough to send one child to school for the first time.
3. Water: Over one-third of all wells drilled in the last twenty years are now broken – 50,000 are currently broken in Africa alone. They remain broken because communities lack access to spare parts, tools and trained well mechanics to keep them working. TAP helps to train local well mechanics and caretakers to fix and maintain wells, creating a sustainable way to ensure wells are working so people always have access to clean water.
4.Environment: Cooking over open fires is one of the world’s biggest, but least known, killers. Four million people die each year from breathing in toxic cooking smoke. We help to recruit and train local
people to manufacture and sell fuel-efficient stoves locally that reduce toxic cooking smoke. A stove saves a family 20% of their daily expenses because they use 50% less fuel each day. One stove also saves six trees from being turned into charcoal each year, and reduces 1.5 tons of black carbon emissions each year.
6. What was the biggest a-ha moment in your life?
My clearest a-ha moment happened in Haiti. I was standing in one of the largest displacement camps outside Port-au-Prince with my co-founder, Jody Landers and Esther Havens, a humanitarian photographer, when three burly men called out and approached us. My heart began racing. How would I explain why we were there? We were not handing out food or water. We had no aid to offer. Surely, I assumed, these guys were going to beg for something. Instead, one wrung his hands and sheepishly said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but we’re wondering if you are hiring? Because we really want to work.”
Through sad TV commercials of orphans covered in flies, we have been told we can only end poverty only with handouts and charity. These commercials broke my heart and because of them, I set my sights on becoming an aid worker. I thought it would be so romantic to travel the world “saving” others. Then I stopped and listened.
I realized people all over the world want the same things: the opportunity to care for their families, send their kids to school and lead healthy lives. Aid is always appreciated, but a job has the power to move an entire family out of poverty forever.
With that vision in mind, Jody and I launched The Adventure Project. Now when someone stops me in a village and asks if we’re hiring, I get to smile and say, “Yes, we are.”
7. You have mentioned the many mentors that have influenced you, that being said, what does it mean to you to support women-where have you seen this and with whom?
I’m so lucky to have a crew of supportive men and women who have shaped TAP and helped us grow. When we started, Jody and I didn’t take salaries for over a year-and-a-half, because we wanted to prove our model, first. When I maxed out my credit cards (whoops!) I put my stuff in storage and friends took me in. For nine months I bounced between 15 friends couches. It was their generosity that kept us going.
8. With a wedding around the corner, how do you show up or define love?
Oh gosh. I actually didn’t have a “real boyfriend” for ten years until I met Garland (so don’t give up hope, single ladies!).
But on our first blind date he told me he was a cancer survivor and had a rare sarcoma when he was 25 years old. In a tragic twist of fate, my mom had just been diagnosed with the same sarcoma he had, but her cancer was unfortunately found in her lungs.
Only two months into dating, he met my parents and swapped stories with my mom about chemo drugs and losing hair. When she passed away four months later, he flew out again for her funeral. He met my entire family, helped move her hospice bed out of my parents’ bedroom and held my hand through her memorial service. That’s the kind of great man he is. He shows up.
9. What more do you have in store for us? Where do you see yourself in five years? The Adventure Project?
We have a big vision. Our goal is to create one million jobs in the next ten years. If successful, those jobs will be serving half a billion people living in poverty. We firmly believe our generation has the ability to alleviate extreme poverty in our lifetime. We want to be part of it.
10. With Mother’s Day around the corner, how can each mom, woman (and man) get involved (and where)?
The heart of the campaign is simple. We’re determined to help educate and train 25 women in Uganda to become new Community Health Promoters (CHPs). In return, they will earn a living by providing lifesaving health care to pregnant moms and children in their communities (the perfect way to celebrate Mother’s Day, if you ask me). ;)
There’s a matching gift challenge to this effort – so if we raise $25,000 – One Days’ Wages Foundation will match it to $50,000 (huge!).
This would be enough to employ 25 women to provide healthcare to over 20,000 people (again, huge!).
My goal is to find 100 women (and/or men!) to join us in fundraising, and we will be featuring their stories on social media throughout the next month.
Signing up is super simple (takes five min).
1. Click here: http://bit.ly/LadiesLeading
2. Click on the “Start a Fundraiser” button and add your profile photo. Just raising $25 means you will help provide 10 people with access to health care (well, 20 people – because it will be matched!).
3. You can also dedicate your efforts to someone special. I’m personally setting a goal of $1K (enough to fully train one women to become a CHP – caring for 800 people) and fundraising in honor of my late mom.
4. E-cards for Mother’s Day are also an easy way to gift someone a contribution of life.
I cannot stress enough how profoundly impactful these CHP’s are. Results of a four-year-study revealed just having one female CHP in a community reduces child mortality over 25%. Imagine – being able to save 25% of the children who needlessly die each year from preventable illnesses! It’s incredible. It’s why I’m passionate about this campaign and the opportunity to create 25 more jobs for women in Uganda.
To follow more on the TPFW Women (Zanna Rassi Roberts, Suzanne Lerner, and Lubov Azria- go girls!) who are doing their part to support TAP’s campaign, check out their stories (and amazing must-have bags!) on IFOnly and The Coveteur. And special thanks to One Day’s Wages who will match all of your contributions.
And last, if you want to contribute to Lauri Levenfeld’s personal campaign to raise 1K, sign up here. In the spirit of moms everywhere, thank you!