Today I have the joy of interviewing Devin Hibbard, a lady on a mission to help 1 million women. Her story is pretty amazing and my favorite thing about it? It’s so relatable! Devin isn’t a billion dollar founder or member of congress, she’s just a women with a big heart and a calling to make positive change.
So let me share how it all started. In 2004, Devin and her two girlfriends, Ginny Jordan and Torkin Wakefield– all from Colorado- were walking through a Ugandan slum. By chance Devin stopped to talk with a lady who was sitting outside her mud home, rolling beads. The lady’s name was Millie.
Millie’s joy in creating beautiful things touched their heart. The ladies bought a few necklaces but had no idea that that encounter was about to change the course of their own lives- and thousands of others.
Returning to Colorado, so many people would look at the strings of beads around their necks and ask: “Where did you buy that?” The ladies decided to go back to Uganda, buy 200 more necklaces and throw their first ‘bead party,’ selling them and sharing stories about the women who made them.
Fast-forward 15 years later and their organization has evolved into a million dollar plus jewelry organization and a women-empowering empire with it’s training program; Street Business School.
Street Business School is now active in 16 countries around the world, with 183 certified trainers and 81 partner organizations! On a mission to lift 1 million people from poverty through entrepreneurship by 2027, SBS is being used to address 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
What fascinated me was how three women- with no business experience or training or strategy- found themselves involved in such a big entrepreneurial vision.
I hope my talk with Devin will inspire you and also uncover some home truths; that while success is down to practical skills like bookkeeping and selling, it’s also a case of inner and mindset work too.
Enjoy and please leave comments below!
Suzi: How did Street Business School start? You went from a small company selling paper bead jewelry to a social franchise wanting to change the lives of a million women by 2027! That’s an amazing journey. Where did it begin?
Devin: “Street business school grew in a really organic way. It began with Bead For Life, an organisation working with women in Uganda, who were living in desperate poverty. We started buying jewelry from them to help them support their families, send their kids to school etc. But quite quickly we realized that we didn’t want them to get too dependent on us! We wanted something sustainable. “
“So we began developing an entrepreneurial curriculum. It has certainly evolved over the years. There’s been a lot of tweaking and changing and evaluating what’s successful. Now it’s an incredibly robust 6 month training that allows women to triple their income.”
“Women we serve typically go from earning $1.35 a day to $4.19 a day, 2 years later. Can you imagine you went from earning 135k to 419k, how much that would transform your life? It’s creating quantum change.”
Suzi: So none of you had any business experience when you started? I loved reading that as I imagine it must have taken some courage to get serious about this?
Devin: “Yeah. Our motto at the time was: “Say yes to the river!” And it really did feel like there was this the river was sweeping us. It was our job to say yes and to embrace it.”
Suzi: I love that! I know so many women who really struggle with impostors syndrome. That voice inside that says: “I don’t know enough” or “I am not qualified enough to do this or that.” It’s amazing that you didn’t let that stop you! What an example you guys are of women who decided to move forward anyway.
Devin: “Yes, even when running a million dollar plus jewelry organization, it’s SO interesting, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur!”
“A year ago, someone came to me and offered me a job. It took someone offering me a job for me to realize you know what- I am an entrepreneur! I love to create, I love to grow, I love to vision what things could be. “
“I don’t know why I didn’t allow myself to really claim it before.”
Suzi: What do you think stopped you from claiming it?
Devin: “I don’t think entrepreneur is a word many women resonate with.”
“When we think of ‘entrepreneur’, we think of a white man. I think it was that I didn’t see myself in those terms!”
“I think also I was afraid to step out and say I want to help a million women. The thought was terrifying. To speak with that confidence, I had to overcome a lack of believe in myself.”
Suzi: Well, I think that’s something a lot of us can relate to!
Did you have one moment where you felt: “Wholly crap, we did it! Look how far we’ve come?!”
Devin: “I met a lady called Nuru a few years ago. She had gone through Street Business School, she had many children and was sitting at home with nothing to do.”
“Her husband had irregular work and so they were struggling to eat. She had always loved to cook and started this restaurant called Blessed Restaurant (love that name). She then got bolder and started selling shoes outside of the restaurant. She then started selling vegetables too.”
“Nuru turned to me one day, very softly spoken, and said: “You know what women can do anything.” She was so beaten down, for her to then turn around and say that was a huge moment for me.”
Suzi: I was reading the success stories on your site, they are so moving! Women in these communities can find themselves with nothing, if they don’t have the support of a husband or father.
How were you able to stay positive about the mission when you must be exposed to tragic stories day after day?
Devin: “It can be heartbreaking. I have two boys. We have lived in Africa for five of the past 15 years, I’d often see women who are no different from me really struggling.”
“On the other hand, the women I work with give me such strength and courage. They are so determined! Even though they are faced with incredibly challenging circumstances, they do not give up! How hard they work is really an inspiration to me.”
Suzi: So you take women for six months and in that time you not only teach them how to have a business of their own, but a profitable business. What kind of sessions are involved in the training?
Devin: “Business school combines two aspects. We have eight modules of business training, where we walk around with them and look for what business opportunities there are in their area.”
“The next part of that is we look at the personal aspects of someone’s lives- do they have children? Do they have time constraints? We teach them practical things like bookkeeping, which is challenging if you are illiterate.”
“But the other thing we do, which I actually believe is more important, is confidence training. I’ve seen it working with thousands and thousands of women. With ladies like Nuru, the biggest barrier we had is not lack of access to capital, it’s women believing in themselves.”
“We bring in alumni who are just like them that now have a successful business. Once women start to think, “Maybe I can do it,” then they can really take the new skills and knowledge and implement it into their own lives.”
Suzi: Wow. I really, really agree. I know confidence is very powerful but it’s amazing to hear it put that way.
In your experience, are women more likely to underestimate themselves than men?
Devin: “Absolutely! In fact, there is a word in the local language: ‘ubotonoma.’ It means not underestimating yourself. I asked a lady who had just graduated what her biggest transformation was, she said: ‘ubotonoma.’”
“Women everywhere around the world underestimate themselves! It doesn’t matter where they are from. We are taught by society that there are these standards that we don’t live up to. All of us need confidence and believe in ourselves to do the amazing things we were born to do.”
Suzi: I couldn’t agree more, I talk about this with a lot of women I work with! And isn’t it funny how you can teach this stuff and 100% know the power of self-believe is transformational and YET still struggle with self-doubt yourself? I know I do!
It’s like every time you go to a new level that fear/doubt/insecurity will pop up to say hello again! In your 15 years experience of doing this, what would you say is the best method to find confidence and strength inside of yourself?
Devin: “Actually my goal is no longer to not feel afraid! I think I will always feel afraid! I’m afraid every single day. One technique I use is to feel the fear and keep going anyway.”
“The other is knowing that the fear is my friend- it keeps me on the edge. And if I am feeling a lack of confidence or really scared, I go to the people who I know have my back. I ask them to help me through this.”
“In insecure moments, the people around us can be such a better reflection of who you are than the voice in your head that’s saying: “Maybe they won’t like your proposal.’ ‘Maybe you’ve just embarrassed yourself.” Whatever it is. “
“People outside of us, that love us, are such a better reflection of who we are.”
Suzi: Wow Devin, I truly love that! A support team of people, who you love.
Devin: “Or, my best friend from high school says: “If all else fails, just wear big shoes!” It could be killer heels or big chunky ankle boots! They totally give you confidence. “
Suzi: Hah. I love that! I just love that!
Devin: “I know, right?”
Suzi: For me, what’s helped is realizing that fear is always going to be there! And maybe if you don’t have it, you’re not stretching yourself. Or growing as much as you could.
Suzi: So, speaking of stretching, what’s next with SBS?
Devin:“The way we are reaching 1 million women is through social franchising, taking our proven model- which triples a woman’s income- and pairing it with other people who can best teach and reach women in their area. We’ve now trained over a 100 people to train women.”
“Most are non-profit organizations, doing different things- working in health, preventing women being sold to human trafficking etc. The common thread is that they know that helping women achieve economic independence will help them achieve their goal.”
Suzi: What do you think the biggest challenge will be?
Devin:“We are so well known in Uganda but lots of organizations don’t know we exist. We want to raise the profile, speak at different events etc.
We are also raising money to spread across Africa and then Asia! Asia is how we are going to reach our million.”
Suzi: Do you ever get frustrated that you’ve got this proven model and maybe things aren’t moving fast enough?
Devin: “I am so impatient! I want everything to have happened yesterday!”
“It’s definetly not moving fast enough. There are 700 million people right now living on less than $1.90 a day! Today! That’s one of every ten on the planet! I wish we could reach 10 million today.”
Suzi: What keeps you going?
Devin:“I know 100% that these methods and what we are doing are working. I know it’s going to catch fire and spread across the world, it just takes time and years to get the visibility.”
Suzi: Totally, look how far you’ve come already! I can’t believe I’m speaking to someone who started this with NO business experience. It’s so ballsy and so brilliant. Is there one lesson that you wish you had known when you started?
Devin: “So many! I actually think the whole process of not exactly knowing where we were going with it all gave us incredible strength. All our DNA is based on what people’s needs are, evaluation, tweaking our model and talking to the women we are teaching.”
“So actually I think what made us strong is not having a five year plan!”
“I do wish I had known more about the importance of telling your story though. Everywhere you can! Telling your story brings allies and friends on board and creates opportunities you never even knew existed.”
“We’ve been telling our story in small ways but now we want to get on the global stage.”
Suzi: Is public speaking something you are comfortable with or are you terrified?
Devin:“Oh no! I love to speak. I am so passionate about this. It’s not just African women who are learning to believe in themselves, it’s all of us.”
“Whether we are in poverty or vast wealth, whether we are in Africa or America, there are such common experiences and challenges that tie us all together.”
Suzi: It sounds like the longer term effects were really important to you?
Devin: “Yes! For me, the definition of sustainable change is that someone can live out of poverty without any need for intervention in the future. Evaluating how are they doing years later is critical. I tell my staff if we are not creating meaningful change in people’s lives, let’s go home. We are not doing this for the sake of employing ourselves.”
Suzi: How do you measure success?
Devin: “We go back 2 years after they graduate. Most graduates we haven’t had contact with for 2 full years after the course! What we see is not only do they sustain the increase in income but that they’ve grown it!”
“In 6 months, women grow their income 54%. 2 years later, that’s grown to 211%. A big part of the change happens after they graduate, which is so inspiring.”
“The other statistic that I love is after 2 years, 89% of graduates have at leats one business open. 46% have two or more businesses. There is this incredible diversification of their entrepreneurial spirit.”
Suzi: What is it that creates that staying power?
Devin: “That women believe in themselves. It’s not just another class. We help women believe they can do it. This impacts every area of their lives- their material income, yes, but it really is about them seeing themselves in a new way. That changes everything! In all areas it creates transformation.”
Suzi: What about women, who might be reading this, who could have a good idea or big vision but feel intimidated and full of self-doubt. What advice would you give to them?
Devin: “If you have a big vision and a big dream (or a small vision and a small dream), my advice is to go for it! And the best way to go for it? Speak it out loud!”
“There is something about putting that intention out into the world that is just magical! It also brings allies and supporters, who are there to help you on your way. Tell the world! Even if you don’t believe it in your heart just yet, speaking it outloud has power.”