Founding Partner, Prosperity Candle
Posted on: September 30, 2012 | Go to profile
Siiri is a social entrepreneur with a background devoted to creating social impact for women worldwide through entrepreneurial business development. As a Founding Partner with Prosperity Candle, Siiri is dedicated to a globally focused social enterprise that empowers women to rebuild their lives through candle-making. Siiri’s personal mission is to bridge divides in existing silos to create more effective, long-term social change for women through commerce. She believes in the power of partnerships and finding a role for each individual in a team to overcome obstacles. She blends her expertise in fair trade, social enterprise and international development to lead Prosperity Candle in its mission to empower thousands of women entrepreneurs in distressed regions.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: During a study abroad program I was on in college in Nepal, I lived and volunteered at a craft center that worked to empower women and girls through craft and education. It was the first time in my life that I realized that my diverse interests in art, anthropology, international studies, environmental justice, and women’s rights could all intersect in the fair trade of handmade products.
I saw firsthand how much of a difference an empowered woman could make in society, and how learning a business skill that could lead to independence, whether it be pottery, weaving or spinning, could transform everything in her life.
I became a social entrepreneur because I am a social justice and human rights activist at heart. I found that business was the right tool to achieve my goals of empowering women. After working in Lesotho, a small country in Southern Africa, for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer with a women’s weaving business, I began to put together the pieces: women + economic opportunity + education = empowered and prosperous communities.
My career is centered on my determination to find ways that women can become more economically empowered so they are able to better invest in themselves, their families, and their communities. When a woman thrives her entire community thrives.
Q: What are 3 characteristics that you believe define great leadership?
A: Empathy, humility and integrity. Truly effective leaders listen deeply, look for shared goals, work towards a mission that is bigger than them, and have deep integrity in their work. Leadership is not ego – it is about inspiring people and leveraging resources to create change.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: Be really clear about what you’re trying to achieve and what your non-negotiables are. You want to have a clear sense of where you’re going, so you can make use of your limited resources well. Look for partnerships everywhere you can – it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel, create a new program from scratch, or build your own customer list. So, if there is someone that would benefit from sharing their own with you. Seek advice and mentorship. Know your strengths and weaknesses and be sure to seek out co-conspirators that fill in your gaps.
Q: What are your top 3 tips for networking?
A: Be yourself, be generous with your time and connections, and don’t be impatient. Men and women tend to network differently. I find the female approach to networking to be more effective. Women are more focused on building authentic trust, being respectful of each other’s work, and seeing how we can build long-term transformational relationships rather than transactional relationships. If you make a real connection with someone, you never know when or how it will benefit you.
ON Career Transitions
Q: Many people become discontent with their current career yet are too afraid or reluctant to make a change. What’s your best advice for women in this situation?
A: Life is too short to spend time doing things that don’t make you come alive. Don’t wait until you’re “ready” to make a change. You’ll never feel fully ready and at some point you just need to take a step forward. Surround yourself with women who are true to themselves and their passions. The more women you find that are pursuing outside the box careers, the more possible everything seems. If you follow your heart, the money will follow.
Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
A: Our brand is distinguished by a sense of hopefulness, respect, and beauty. Although Prosperity Candle works with women in some of the toughest parts of the world, with very dark stories, we focus on light and possibility. We focus on the creativity and resilience that women have. We don’t ask people to engage with us out of an obligation or a sense of guilt, but rather about a sense of transformational connection with a global sisterhood of women. We connect each customer to the woman who made her candle and enable them to learn about each others lives; through a simple biography on our website, and the ability to send the woman a message.
Q: What simple things in life today bring you joy?
A: Although I have huge, sometimes unreasonable, professional aspirations, very simple things make me happy and grounded. My dog, long walks, the sun on my face, a ripe piece of fruit, a group of exuberant friends at a potluck, and meditating in the morning, all bring me joy.
ON Time Management
Q: We are so bombarded today with tweets, Facebook messages, smart phones, Ipads etc., how do you weed through what to consume and not?
A: Honestly, I’m not very good about managing information overload. I still get more distracted by Facebook and Twitter than I would like, and have started to focus on Twitter content shared by trusted users. I think the key to balancing this “overwired world”, as my friend Camille Preston calls it, is to remember that our tools do not control us. They are simply tools and we control them. I didn’t have a smartphone for a long time and still don’t have an iPad and I think that helps me keep my need for instant updates in check. We all need breaks and time to focus.
ON Giving Back
Q: Can you share with us an experience of giving that was extremely rewarding or transformational?
A: I gave 3 years of my life to volunteer service in the Peace Corps in Lesotho, a small country in Southern Africa. I was one year out of college and was transformed in every possible way by this experience. I learned so much about what one can do with limited resources, how connecting with people from different cultures, and how little you can actually live on. I think volunteering in the Peace Corps set the tone for my career: the most important consideration being the type of work I was doing, and the second consideration being the material gain I receive from that work.
Q: What do you believe is the secret to finding the right person and maintaining a long term, good relationship?
A: I believe that people find a partner that is right for them when they are self-fulfilled, happy and confident. That contentedness attracts the right type of person. I met my husband when I was in my element. I was working with women entrepreneurs in Africa, living in a great community, and really discovering my purpose. I was incredibly happy and busy with my life on my own. I think it’s important that we met in this context because he understood from the outset that although I had a lot to give to a relationship, I also had a lot committed to working with women around the world.
I also feel it’s critical for each individual in a relationship to maintain some separate activities and interests. Spending some time apart ensures that you are continuing to understand yourself as an individual and pursue your own dreams. A happy, long-term relationship doesn’t necessarily mean being attached at the hip. That said, having common interests, such as ours in travel, good food, activism, and the arts, is really important.
ON Cooking & Food
Q: If you love to cook, can you share a favorite recipe(s)?
A: I’m a New Englander, so I tend to think about warming comfort foods for the winter a lot, as well as fresh vibrant salads that celebrate the bounty of spring and summer. I usually don’t closely refer to recipes but instead look to them for inspiration. My husband and I receive a big box of veggies from a local Boston farm every week, so we improvise a lot. Any cookbook that emphasizes combining ingredients that are in season simultaneously works for me. One of my favorite dishes is a lentil, spicy sausage, carrot and parsnip stew. I love big fresh salads, corn on the cob, creative grain and legume salads, and a really good clam/corn chowder.
Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: Looking back, I would have to say it was Singing Away the Hunger by Mpho ‘M’atsepo Nthunya.
She is a woman from Lesotho who shares her story of hardships and perseverance. I read her book while in college in a class that was exploring the concept of the “feminization of poverty.” It was the first time I had ever seen poverty through this lens. Coincidentally, I ended up living in Lesotho for three years just a few years after reading the book.