Katia Cerwin

Affecting the Girl Effect: Inspired by TOMS and Warby Parker, SHEVA aims at empowerment

SHEVA, the name, was inspired by the Queen Sheba of Ethiopia who was believed to be a woman of power who accomplished whatever she set her mind to. With that in mind, SHEVA was born as a social enterprise to inspire women and girls to reach for the stars.

We believe that girls are the most powerful force of change on the planet, if they are given the right tools and opportunities. Currently in Guatemala, indigenous adolescent girls are the most vulnerable group in the country. The reasons include approximately 30 percent dropping out of school by 10 years old (and that’s just the ones who go to school), 41 percent are married before they turn 18, and 54 percent give birth before they turn 20. Numbers can’t lie, but we don’t see a problem, we see an opportunity. An opportunity to educate girls to become agents of change in their communities.

Inspired by the business model of TOMS and Warby Parker, one-for-one, we applied the model to feminine hygiene products. Hence, in October 2014 we launched SHEVA.com as an online store that houses more than 150 products that range from tampons, sanitary pads, wipes, lubricants, pregnancy tests and so forth. Our customers range from 20-year-old college students to 35-year-old working women who are interested in helping out, and what better way than, when buying her own products, to provide sanitary pads to a girl in need? So, for every purchase made online, SHEVA distributes a box of sanitary pads to a girl in rural Guatemala. We call it the Giving Cycle. Both the customers’ and the girls’ boxes include their product and a message of empowerment, something like: “Smile because you are a woman.”

Because girls drop out of school around the age they first start menstruating, sanitary pads is the tool we decided was key to their attendance. And now, to further our efforts, we are starting to implement a two-year educational program with local NGOs. The program touches on self esteem, finances, hygiene, life planning, and sexual and reproductive health.

(Girls playing in Chisec, Guatemala. Photo supplied by Abriendo Oportunidades, SHEVA’s local NGO partner.)

It’s been proven that if you educate a girl, she’ll one day get a job and earn an income. She’ll invest it in her family in things like food, medicine and education, thus raising a healthier family. Her family will inspire other families in her community, her community will set an example for other communities, and so on. It’s the ripple effect that everyone’s talking about, now commonly known as the Girl Effect.

UNICEF states, “Investing in girls can accelerate the fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination.” And that’s exactly what we are trying to do at SHEVA. We like how Jason Silva, a modern philosopher, sums it up with a simple thought: “Next time you see a little girl, just think: ‘She could change the course of history.’”

Thanks to this powerful movement, several brands (local and international) have approached us to create a “SHEVA” branded product for them to sell, giving a percentage of sales to our mission. Just last year, a jewelry store in Guatemala created a “SHEVA” bracelet and last week announced the new design of the bracelet. Both bracelets are still in production and providing monthly funds for our mission. Furthermore, companies are joining by adding into their corporate social responsibility (CSR) a project with SHEVA to empower girls with education.

The reason behind this comes from the fact that companies are choosing how to invest in their CSR and because they trust SHEVA to do a great job, they are outsourcing it to us. As a result of the online store, many more ideas like the ones mentioned before are in the works. We are looking to new opportunities and projects that will help us grow exponentially to increase and speed up the help we give girls.

It has come to our attention that this hasn’t been only about helping girls in rural Guatemala succeed. It’s been about our own learning experience, about the taboos that live and jump from mouth to mouth between our peers. It’s been about showing the world – women and girls, boys and men, of all ages – that they all have a voice, a voice that needs to be heard, a voice that has the power to say no, and the power to say yes, please. A voice with the power of change.

We, at SHEVA, believe girls are the most powerful force of change in the planet. And that’s why it’s our purpose to provide the right tools and opportunities for them to change the narrative of the future. We are on a mission to empower 1 million girls by 2025.

Katia Cerwin is the creative director at SHEVA in charge of all things that appeal to the five senses.

Education, Environment, Health Care