Sarah Adeel has a sharp eye for design, but an even sharper mind for social enterprise.
Born in Pakistan, she is a Fulbright scholar and architect who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Following her study of design and architecture, Sarah wrote her Masters thesis on the impact of family and community structures on underprivileged children. She discovered a social disconnect between charity and sustainability that drew her back to Pakistan with a fiery drive for change.
In her studies, she identified two major gaps in the efforts of charitable organizations to address the needs of the estimated 100 million children living and working in the streets in Pakistan.
- Charity, by definition, is completely at the mercy of donors and is not self-sustainable.
- While emphasis is placed on meeting their immediate needs of food or shelter, few resources are meeting the children’s psychological and emotional needs—critical to their long-term successful integration in society.
In 2011, LettuceBee Kids was born out of Sarah’s research. With self-sustainability as its goal, LettuceBee builds the confidence, character, and literacy necessary for underprivileged children to transition from the streets to society.
It’s not so much a school, but rather a central location in Islamabad, Pakistan that helps prepare the children for school and life. It does so through four main programs.
This is the core revenue-raising stream for LettuceBee. The children grow their confidence as they learn art; indeed, some have never picked up a pencil in their lives. Their art is then exhibited, auctioned, and even printed on stationery and sold to socially responsible businesses.
The drawings are also printed onto textiles such as lamps and cushions. These carefully and thoughtfully designed pieces have been successful to the point that Sarah and the LettuceBee advisors are looking to pioneer a new concept—to turn the children’s drawings into a complete, themed bedroom set.
The set will include wall art, bedsheets, pillowcases, and curtains, as well as a book with a short biography of the Pakistani child who made the drawing.
Research shows that there is a definite link between music the ability to focus. LettuceBee Band gives the children a chance to learn various instruments, as well as sing and play together as a group.
The children are given vegetable patches where they learn how to grow food—a skill they can take home. The patches give the children responsibilities, which pave the way for legitimate confidence and self-esteem.
Locally sourced produce, as well as some from the LettuceBee garden, is available for sale at their location in Islamabad.
This initiative invites older members of the community to spend the day with the children. They read, watch movies, and go for walks. These activities not only build social skills and respect in the children, they also promote social inclusion for the adults.
With her sights set on expanding throughout South Asia and beyond, Sarah is quickly finding herself constrained by the non-profit system.
The LettuceBee bedroom set designs are sellable, unique, and in demand. But at the rate of revenue coming in and expenses going out, LettuceBee will only be able to sustain at its current capacity. It will not have margin to grow.
LettuceBee is at a crossroads as investors shy away without an assurance of profit, despite a solid business plan. Sarah is now looking into transitioning LettuceBee away from non-profit status, largely because of the financial principles she learned through the Income|Outcome business acumen workshop. The board game helped her grasp the financial needs of achieving her expansion goals, and she realized a change must be made.
In the meantime, it is important for investors to understand that non-profit does not mean non-business—just as non-profit also does not necessarily mean charity.
We met Sarah, and 15 other social entrepreneurs, when we presented an Income|Outcome workshop for the Acumen Regional Fellows in Pakistan.