Q + A: Becky Straw, The Adventure Project
The Adventure Project (TAP) is changing the way philanthropy works. They are investing in human capital by providing people in developing countries with jobs that are a market-based need, saves lives and help the local economy thrive. TAP focuses on four targeted solutions: water, hunger, health, and environment. We sat down with the co-founder & CEO Becky Straw to learn more about their amazing work.
Tell us about The Adventure Project. How did the idea come about?
The Adventure Project is a charity focused on businesses. We work with on-the-ground partners in countries all over the world to recruit local people to become entrepreneurs. Those people learn how to sell products or services to their communities, earning a commission from every sale. We're focused on the world's greatest issues affecting people living in poverty: the environment, health, hunger and water. The end goal: saving children's lives.
We started The Adventure Project for two very specific reasons. First: I was working in Sub-Saharan Africa, installing water systems and managing local partners to help provide clean drinking water to their communities. During this time, everyone kept saying A) “Thank you so much for this water," but also B) “I’m hoping to get a job, would you be willing to hire me?” What struck me was how the international development system had it backwards. Communities don’t want handouts, they want the opportunity to take care of their families, to send their kids to school and do all the things that you and I like to do. I realized we could add a lot of value by creating an organization that was focused on creating good jobs and provide individuals with the tools and training to succeed.
Second: We wanted to ensure the jobs we created, worked towards the main goal of our mission, lifting people out of poverty. So, every job that we create has a social component. For example, training women to become health care agents. Each person cares for approximately 800 people in their community, giving special attention to pregnant mothers and young children. Health care agents have reduced child mortality by 25% in their communities. Or, teaching someone to become a well mechanic because over one-third of all wells drilled in the last twenty years are now broken - 50,000 are currently broken in Africa alone. We're hyper-focused on how we can use money wisely to create targeted solutions that are lifting people out of poverty and saving lives.
Our supporters are mainly individuals; they are the kind of individuals that are very smart and really say “how can I make sure that my money is going to the right places and lifting people our of poverty sustainably?" And also, "how is this money empowering people to be able to live healthy and happy lives?"
We're hyper-focused on how we can use money wisely to create targeted solutions to lift people out of poverty.
What's your background that led you this point?
I grew up in California, and I came to New York to attend grad school at Columbia. I thought I'd stay in New York for two years to study International Development, get my Masters degree, and get NY out of my system. Instead, I’ve been here for 12 years now! For some people in New York and Brooklyn just stays in your blood; it's hard to leave.
Before founding The Adventure Project, I worked in development and consulting for UNICEF, and also helped start a water nonprofit called charity: water. I was with charity: water for their first three years and helped grow the organization by managing their programs and finding the right partners.
Where is The Adventure Project is currently working?
Right now we are focused on Africa, because that where the greatest needs are.
How do you choose the people to work with? How do you train them and set them up with positions?
Every job is different which means every training is different. We focus on individuals who are earning less than $2 a day. We work with local partners who we’ve vetted and understand what jobs make sense for the communities they serve and look carefully at skills, mentorship and training. Let's take health care for example. Our local partners realized that they needed to work with women community leaders because communities already trust these individuals when it comes to family and health advice. In addition, these women typically already know how to read and write, so they can write referrals or prescriptions. We train these women on sixty different health care products and train them how to identify symptoms of malaria, diarrhea, or water-related diseases. We also set them up with medication at their homes, so they can better serve their communities, especially when official health care providers are far away or hard to get to. These are women who are really embedded within their communities, and we are able to train them to prescribe effective medicine.
we have set aggressive targets for scaling up, because we know that what we are doing is working.
What's coming up next for The Adventure Project?
A lot of great and exciting things! We are growing quickly, and want to expand our work to ten countries and create 10,000 jobs around the world, which is very exciting. The work that we’ve been doing has been so effective at moving people out of poverty that we have set aggressive targets for scaling up. We know that what we are doing is working because of the transformation of those we’ve hired and we are diligent in tracking results and ways to improve the work we do.
How people can get involved?
The best way to get involved is join our Collective, a monthly giving program. This is a movement of people who care about giving effectively and empowering others. When you sign up--you get access to special stories, content and you see your impact every month. And, how your dollars really are put to work. Of course, it also comes with swag and events and connections to others.
We have a great event coming up on March 22nd at Randolph Beer for the World Water Day Event. Have a drink on us, and help us give someone else a drink (of clean water) in Africa. The event is open also for non-members, and we'll have a raffle. Join us!!
What is you favorite part of your job?
As a CEO, I focus on strategy. I spend a lot of time figuring out strategies for hiring and growing our team. No day is the same! Some days I’m holding partnership meetings with our development team; other days I’m talking with our local partners around the world and figuring out how we can help them scale up. My favorite part of my job is being able to have conversations with people who have recently been hired and to see their success.
And we always ask: what is your favorite spot in DUMBO?
I have a one year old son. We took him to Jane's Carousel and he waved to us for the first time! It was so special to me! y son waving for the first time, the view and the park--it was just an amazing moment for my family and I.