International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8, and every year at this time, it’s our tradition to feature our partnerships with women-led fair trade businesses. This year, the pandemic has amplified the importance of supporting women-owned businesses and women artisans. Our first interview is with Allie Sundet, the Marketing & Engagement Manager for the nonprofit Bright Endeavors. These candles are one of the few product lines we sell made in the USA. Bright Endeavors is a long-standing, successful social enterprise that supports at-risk women who are young moms in underserved communities in Chicago. The women receive guidance and professional skills to secure quality employment and start a path towards success for their families.
How did Bright Endeavors get started in Chicago? What inspired it?
Bright Endeavors was started in 2007 by two women entrepreneurs who saw the need for job training for women in Chicago. Quickly, local non-profit, New Moms, became the number one referrer of participants to the program. And in 2010, New Moms officially acquired Bright Endeavors to be its job training program that added a critical program to its holistic, supportive model.
We know that every business has had to pivot during the pandemic. How has COVID impacted the way the women on your team work (and/or how you work with them)?
When the pandemic first hit, we moved to an all virtual learning model. Once the state of Illinois signaled that it was OK to return to work, we implemented a hybrid model of part-time at home and part-time in the production space. The Production Assistants work from home on Mondays and Fridays and are in the candle facility pouring candles Tuesday-Thursday.
Even in instances where in-person activities have become virtual, like Parent Support Group and Financial Fridays, there are silver linings.
The addition of technology, like Zoom, has also allowed coaches to infuse positive parent-child interactions into the program. Staff have been trying to find a way to incorporate these activities for a long time. And now is a great time because moms are at home with their children on Mondays and Fridays!
Overall, moms are still finding employment after the program at the same rate as before the pandemic, which offers hope in navigating the changing workforce landscape and economy.
Our new Bright Glass Collection has been very popular! We created this collection to offer more scent choices and candle vessel options for our customers. The collection also requires less steps for us to create. Since we have less people in the space making candles due to spatial distancing requirements, we are able to produce more of this collection in a given time period.
When women work, the impact of the investment is greatly multiplied. What benefits or positive changes have you seen in the communities where the young moms work and live?
We know that when the life of a mom is positively impacted, it creates a ripple effect out to her children, to her family, and to touch-points in her community like schools and businesses.
We love Bright Endeavor’s commitment to empowering others. What advice would you give to women and girls who are interested in getting involved in causes they are passionate about?
Our advice would be to get curious. Find out if there are volunteer opportunities at a local organization, learn more about the cause, and who are the leaders in your community. In addition, try to learn what structural forces are at play that require the necessity of such organizations. It might be helpful to get involved with a friend or coworker so that you can hold each other accountable to furthering the cause.
What woman on your team or woman in your life has had the biggest impact on you personally?
Our COO, Pam Bozeman champions the important work of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in our organization. She notes that, “DEI means our young moms are prepared for a competitive employment opportunity, are treated equitably in the employment recruitment and retention process, and that they have a voice in the policies and practises that shape their lives.” This lens has a big impact on all of the work we do and why we do it. This not only informs how we operate as an organization, but also how we think about advancing equitable practices in the current workforce landscape.