Sheryl Sandberg has become an icon for women and particularly women in the workplace. She is the current COO of the world’s largest social network, sits on the board for V-Day and Women for Women International, encourages women to reach the top of their professions, and has spoken out about gender income gap, all while leaving the office at 5:30 every evening to have dinner with her children by 6:00.
Over 8,000 miles away from Menlo Park to Bandung, Indonesia – where women are still widely considered to play the sole roles of wife and mother – a young female entrepreneur has found her inspiration in Sandberg.
“A few years ago I saw her TED talk and it absolutely changed my life. Because there was one moment when all my friends were getting married and the questions that came to me were ‘When are you going to get married’ or ‘When are you going to quit’,” said Nadya Saib, co-founder of social enterprise Wangsa Jelita.
At the time, Saib was just starting her business and had no intention of stopping. A graduate from a pharmacy program at the Bandung Institute of Technology, Saib and two peers from the same program co-founded Wangsa Jelita, meaning beautiful dynasty, to create natural soaps.
In 2009, the team headed to the town of Lembang, where there is an abundance of agricultural farmers, to see what natural resources they could use to produce their soaps. They initially thought about using strawberries because there were copious amounts. In order to validate their idea, they wanted to approach an expert strawberry farmer, but he was busy giving a workshop to rose farmers. Still, the trip turned out fruitful.
“We went there for a whole month because the workshop was held for a month and we started a relationship with the rose farmers accidentally. We learned how they were very dependent on middlemen and how the middlemen had the power to control the price of the crops,” said Saib.
For rose farmers, their access to market lies solely in the hands of the middlemen. The middlemen create a system where the price of roses is based according to the length of the stem. The longer the stem, the higher the price would be. But the farmers can’t make the length grow to a certain size, and roses with shorter stems get a significant price reduction.
Wanting to figure out a way to help the rose farmers, they thought of creating soap with roses instead of strawberries.
“What we offered was to buy the roses which were valued the least, but still in good condition, at the same price as the highest valued roses. It doesn’t matter how short the stem is because we only use the petals,” said Saib.
The mission is more personal for Saib. “When we met the rose farmers, there were so many women who were our age or even younger, but ended their education at the elementary or junior high level. The reason why it happens is because they have no choice. They don’t make enough.”
Often these women have to choose between making a living to survive, or their education.
“The idea is to make sure their children get better education.”
In regards to the growth of social enterprise in Indonesia, Saib says the idea of creating a business that has social impact is emerging. “Since 2010, there have been many competitions that support business with social impact. I think people start to realize that this is the way to help people sustainability.”
She adds that competitions are still one of the best ways to get funding to start a social venture.
In January, Saib was one of 50 Global Shapers to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting. She was a discussion leader alongside Professor David E. Bloom for a conversation about shaping the post-2015 development agenda after the Millennium Development Goals expire. The session revealed that the two goals people wish to focus on were eradicating poverty and education for all.
At WEF, she also had the opportunity to meet Sandberg to thank her for her inspiration.
“After her session Women in Economic Decision-making I waited to speak with her, thank her for her talk, and tell her she changed my life,” said Saib. “To my surprise she said ‘Oh really, thank you so much for sharing that. Would you walk with me and share with me your story?’ So we walked together and I told her my struggles during the first years, my sentiments about my business and me being a woman, and how her talk really motivated me at the time.”
Having felt the benefit of Sandberg’s talk, Saib hopes to reach out to other women and share her lessons learned.
Photo courtesy of Nadya Saib.
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