At EasyStandard, we are proud to support women-run nonprofits through our EasyGiving program. By identifying and partnering with impactful organizations, we’re able to work together in making important strides in women’s healthcare, enterprise, and leadership. One of these partners is RISE by Sundara.
It all started with soap. The year was 2013, and Erin Zaikis was visiting a small village on the Thai-Myanmar border. There she observed many of the local school children did not know how to use soap. But major hotel chains, she knew, were throwing away countless bars of soap after only one use.
So, she founded Sundara, a program that coached women in countries like India, Uganda and Myanmar on recycling hotel soap and distributing it to people living on less than a dollar a day. In seven years, Sundara recycled more than 1.8 million bars of soap and reached 200,000 people each month with free hygiene education classes.
These efforts opened Erin’s eyes to the power women have to respond to the needs of their communities. So in 2020, she founded RISE by Sundara, a multi-faceted foundation that provides mentorship, seed funding and other resources to female entrepreneurs living in low to middle-income countries.
“The inspiration is seeing change when you give a woman a job,” Erin said. “Once her basic needs are covered, she keeps thinking of ways she can improve her community. Yet these women often don’t think of themselves as natural entrepreneurs, so we want to change that and support them as true agents of change.”
Investing in women, cultivating opportunities
Each year, the RISE fellowship program takes on five burgeoning entrepreneurs. Once selected, fellows receive personalized guidance on polishing a business plan, crafting a pitch deck, writing progress reports and launching a marketing campaign. RISE also provides seed funding to finance those first steps. The goal, Erin said, is to set these fellows up for long term success.
The RISE fellowship application process is incredibly competitive. Currently, Erin said, the acceptance rate is about 1:80, though she would like to see the organization grow to accommodate more fellows each year.
From suds to small enterprise
Most of the businesses launched by RISE fellows are focused on water, sanitation and hygiene. These projects improve public health outcomes in the communities they’re launched, which has been especially important since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Bangalore, India, Shreya is co-founder and head of design and operations at The Better Design Foundation, which creates water-efficient toilets that are installed on the roofs of multi-family dwellings. These facilities help improve sanitation, safety and dignity for people living in the slums of Bangalore.
After COVID-19 hit, Shreya put this project on pause to launch an emergency outreach effort, which included sourcing and distributing monthly food rations for hundreds of families without a safety net. Erin said she’s impressed by Shreya’s determination to keep disruptions from derailing her work.
“It shows these women are very agile and are committed to meeting the need, even when the need unexpectedly changes,” Erin said.
And in Armenia, Mariam opened the country’s first community laundromat. Almost a thousand people in her village lack easy access to running water, so they rely on the Debed River for their drinking, cooking and washing water. But the river freezes in the winter and contains industrial contaminants, which makes it an unreliable and unsafe resource.
Mariam’s laundromat not only gives villagers a place to wash clothing and linens, but it’s grown enough to create jobs for eight local women and has become an informal hub for women to gather and discuss solutions to other challenges within the community.
“There’s a ripple effect,” Erin said. “When we support one woman, she supports hundreds — even thousands.”
Want to get involved?
Here are three ways you can contribute to RISE by Sundara’s efforts: