“Once we hire each woman, we want to ensure our services are so effective and far-reaching that she is the last in her family to need us,” is the goal of Tamra Ryan, CEO of Women’s Bean Project and board chair for the Social Enterprise Alliance.
By its silver jubilee in 2014, WBP had already transformed the lives of 800 women, most of whom were caught up in a vicious cycle of misery and hopelessness. As Tamra points out, “anywhere from 60–90% of the women we hire today have histories of incarceration – almost always related to addiction. We are serving women whose lives are much more complicated, whose challenges are harder to overcome and who often are repeating cycles. The challenge we face today is breaking an inter-generational cycle of poverty.”
“We work hard to create a safe and accepting work environment that helps women to focus on their future rather than their past. We encourage them to create a dream for themselves of what their future could look like…”
Except for the dedicated staff members, WBP is also helped by an army of volunteers. They not only lend their financial support but also organize literacy campaigns, awareness programs, and Bean parties. The product base, which only consisted of black bean soup and spicy split bean soup mixes—in the very beginning—has now been expanded to include a variety of gourmet products, handcrafted jewelry, apparels, and accessories.
The business aspect is crucial to the success of the program, “Capacity is driven by sales because sales create jobs,” explains Tamra. She started as a volunteer herself before agreeing to spearhead this social enterprise. Being associated with WBP has been a singular experience for her as well. “I get to watch them from the moment they walk through the doors and won’t look me in the eye, or seem angry and defensive, through to the day they graduate and move to entry-level jobs. By then they have begun to believe they are worthy of a better life.”
Whether her ultimate dream that “someday we will put ourselves out of business, that there will be no more chronically unemployed and impoverished women to hire” is going to be a reality soon or not is another matter. But it must be said that together they have lit up a giant torch and held it high. Though flickering in the wind its glow and warmth are not going to die out soon. It illuminates the path ahead and, as their results show, quite a few have started treading on it already. And, there lies the success of Women’s Bean Project. ■