As we embark on the adventure of finally selling our first Queen Bee products, I feel obligated to stop for a moment and relate my educational preparation to this current experience.
To start, my personal definition of social enterprise is the exchange of quality goods for the betterment of human livelihood. The creation of Queen Bee started as research into honey harvesting and manifested into a full-flown cosmetics business. From our first batch of hand creams in November to our finalized recipes in May, we’ve been constantly adjusting, criticizing, and improving our product. I truly believe that we now have an incredibly high-quality good that can stand alone on market shelves and succeed.
What then, distinguishes Queen Bee from the Nivea lotion or Chapstick tube I always carry in my purse? It’s the understated social value add. It’s the fine print on the bottom of every Queen Bee sticker. “Our profits go to support community development and education projects in rural villages surrounding Chimaltenango, Guatemala...”
To be honest, this value add hasn’t been easy to come by. CEMOC has fought financially to stay alive at times during the past ten years. They responded by starting social enterprises long before it was the “catch phrase” among American non-profits. Though now a more common term in the United States now than it was a decade ago, “social enterprise” still is not regular vocabulary word for the mainstream American. Imagine then, the struggle to explain and legitimize this relatively unknown concept in a developing nation.
Guatemala as a whole, I argue, cannot be categorized as “Third World.” There are plenty of individuals in this country who have traveled to Miami, Paris, and Madrid. However, the rural parts of this nation are undeniably neglected in the areas of infrastructure, education, and general healthcare. Particularly due to the lack of physical and bureaucratic infrastructure, our work starting-up this small operation has been double, if not triple, the amount of headache required to start-up a social enterprise in Nashville, Tennessee.
Actually, it would be far easier/ cheaper for us to register our company, collect all our primary materials, and fabricate Queen Bee in the US and mail the profits to CEMOC monthly. Why don’t we just do that, then? Because it doesn’t create ownership or develop the skills and abilities of our partners here in Monte Cristo. When our students’ mothers come learn how to make Queen Bee, they will receive a skill in return plus a paycheck and a contribution to their child’s education.
Our school’s director often says that each time they try a new idea, it’s like buying a lottery ticket. Eventually one of these ideas has to work. Queen Bee might not be Monte Cristo’s winning number, but it has a great team, a great product, and a great cause. We hope Monte Cristo’s example will inspire others throughout Guatemala to embrace social enterprise. If just one business can succeed to make a change in this country, though it might be small, we all win.