Not many entrepreneurs would cite a three-month volunteer trip in Africa as the major influence for their business, but then few are quite like Lauren Shuttleworth, the founder of eco-friendly print and stationery social enterprise Words With Heart.
Volunteering at a school in Kenya, Shuttleworth quickly realised the enormous challenges facing girls in trying to get an education; considered essential in the journey to economic empowerment and rising above poverty-stricken circumstances.
Meeting a girl named Esther who said she wanted to become a doctor, Shuttleworth soon learned that Esther’s orphanage would be unable to pay for her to continue school. To help, Shuttleworth paid an entire year’s tuition for her.
But unanswered questions gnawed at Shuttleworth: Who would pay the tuition the following year? What would happen to Esther? What about all the other little girls facing a similar fate, whose families couldn’t afford to send them to school? What becomes of them?
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that about 130 million girls are out of school – 9 million more than boys – and an estimated 65 million girls are being denied basic education, increasing the likelihood that they will live in poverty or die young. To say the scale of the problem is huge is making light of the subject matter.
Returning to Australia, and stewing on how she could help transform lives by breaking the poverty cycle through education, Lauren had her business breakthrough as she walked passed some notebooks at the airport. They would make the ideal product to sell and she could donate parts of the profits to help fund education for girls in need.
In 2014, she set about working on her business vision, partnering with ING Dreamstarter, an initiative that supports Australian businesses that create a positive social or environmental impact through products. Together they launched a crowdfunding campaign, raising almost $20,000. It was the kick-start the social entrepreneur needed to pursue her revolutionary idea.
Words With Heart is a game changer in the stationery business. It seems like any other stationery business on the surface; it creates a range of printable and custom prints, beautifully designed notebooks, business and wedding stationery and even Christmas wrapping paper.
But you only need to scratch the surface to know that this Australian business is so much more than your average stationery business.
For starters, every Words With Heart purchase funds female education. Through their charity partner CARE Australia, it donates a portion of each sale to education projects in developing communities in Asia and Africa that focus on empowering women and girls through primary and secondary education, as well as business and skills training. Last October the business reached a huge milestone: 100,000 days of education was funded for women and girls through sales of its products.
“Back when Words With Heart launched in 2014, UNICEF reports stated that over 66 million girls were out of school,” Shuttleworth writes on Facebook. “That number seemed HUGE to me at the time.
“Then in late 2016, a new UNESCO report found that many girls in developing countries were not being counted. In fact, 130 million girls between the ages over 6 and 17 are not currently attending school – that’s more than the population of the UK and France combined.
“Our work plays a very, very small part in tackling this problem, but if I’ve learnt anything over the past four years, it’s that small actions create a big impact.”
It’s not just the plight of underprivileged girls the business cares about, it cares about its impact on the planet too. All Words With Heart products are made using 100% post-consumer recycled paper. The inks are veggie-based which are non-toxic and eco-friendly, its headquarter uses green power, and reusing packaging and recycling is a non-negotiable business practice. Its products are also locally made in Australia (though they ship to businesses across the world).
Four years since they first crossed paths, Words With Heart and ING Dreamstarter have collaborated yet again, creating one-of-a-kind 100% recycled wrapping paper dyed with eco-friendly inks in time for Christmas.
Working with three talented illustrators, Bill Hope, Luca Ionescu and Mulga, there are three unique Christmas wrapping paper designs to choose from, each inspired by the festive season but communicating important messages when you look more closely at the artwork: there are environmental and conservation concerns, protection of native flora and fauna, and helping communities in need. These are issues that ING Dreamstarters are all working to help solve.
What is especially notable about this Christmas paper is that it is double-sided, with illustrations of other eco-friendly and ethically-made gifts produced by some of the social businesses that ING Dreamstarter have partnered with over the years. And staying true to form, each sheet of wrapping paper sold funds several days of education for women and girls.
Want to help Lauren and Words With Heart fulfil their purpose and empower a generation of females in developing countries? Purchase this limited-edition recycled wrapping paper here. In doing so you’ll be tapping into the true meaning of Christmas and making a real difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
To find out more about how ING Dreamstarter helps Australian social enterprises create a positive impact, visit their website.
Disclosure: This post is proudly supported by ING Dreamstarter. For more information about our policies, click here.