Meet Rebecca Kousky Interview
What if you could indulge your passion for fashion and make the world a better place at the same time? Now you can (and should!), with Nest.
Rebecca Kousky founded this online artistic community to provide small loans to talented women artists in developing countries. These micro-loans allow women to set up shop and create their own sustainable, arts- and crafts-based businesses. Nest raises these funds through the sale of clothing, accessories and home merchandise created by successful artists and designers, which are available on the Nest website, http://shop.buildanest.com
What I learned from Rebecca: Sometimes "no" can feel like rejection but end up serving you best in the long run. Value enthusiasm as much as any other skill.
Destined to Change the World
"After graduating from Wake Forest, I went to India in 2004 to work with an organization that helped children and adults with polio learn how to be productively employed. I taught children during the program and this experience inspired me to go on to get a Masters in Social Work from Washington University. Afterward, I began applying for jobs to teach pre-school or work in international adoption, but something in my soul told me I wasn't supposed to do that. I spent a couple of days reflecting. Two weeks after I completed my masters, I started Nest."
Create the Job You Want
"During those days of reflection, I still felt called to social work. But I also love fashion, design and art. I wanted to combine those passions with working internationally with women. That job didn't exist. So I had to create it."
What's in a Name?
"I love the idea of the 'nesting instinct'. Universally, women have a compelling desire to create a sanctuary filled with objects of comfort and joy for themselves and their families. Our eclectic line of merchandise reflects this: beautiful, affordable, one-of-a-kind specialty items for women and their homes. But more importantly, our loan program brings this promise to women worldwide.
More Than Pretty Things
"And Nest is more than just the object's each artist has created. It's a place where women artisans across the globe come together to bring about lasting social change. Nest has become a virtual gathering place and an online artistic community for everyone involved. From the designers, who create special objects as well as donate their time and share their expertise, to the loan recipients, who are now able to provide for their families. From the facilitators, who arrange our microfinance loans in countries all over the world, to the volunteers, who assist Nest in all endeavors. And finally, to customers, who want their purchases to make a difference in the lives of women."
Nonprofit vs. Profit
"Both nonprofits and profit-based businesses can have a social mission, but it's a secondary goal for the latter. I wanted to do this for the women, not for the profits."
Investing in Women Who Invest in Themselves
"I encountered micro-finance and other forms of aid while in India and
when I studied abroad in college with Mayan Indians. A lot of aid
programs tend to export ideas. It's much more powerful to build up the
skills, talent and abilities that people already have - to support
communities in their existing talents."
"Our micro-finance model, unlike some others, allows women to be very invested in the process. They decide the amount that they're asking for and the length of repayment. We like them to be invested in the process."
When Rejection is Inspiration
"My original idea was to open a store. I went to the bank and asked for a loan and they said no. I was only 24 with no business experience or collateral. I thought, Okay, how do I make this work now? Then the idea to move Nest online came to me, so I didn't need the loan. It drastically reduced the overhead cost.
"Honestly, the hardest part has been growing, not starting. I'm a social worker by nature, not a businesswoman - so it's a steep learning curve for me."
Giving Up: Not an Option!
"Sometimes, late at night [I've thought about giving up}. But, I love what I do. I wake up every day, thrilled that I built a job totally based on my passion. The women I work with domestically and internationally are phenomenal, so I am always inspired."
When Two Jobs Are Better Than One
"I'm a nanny here in St. Louis, where I'm from. I supported myself doing it through graduate school and I loved the family I worked for. The mom offered to be on my board and to keep me employed while I launched Nest. The whole family is very supportive.
'But... even with my second job, I am absolutely hands-on with Nest all day."
Getting the Best Directors on Board
"Each member of our Board of Directors was recruited not only for the resources and skills they can contribute - including media and nonprofit expertise, artistic judgment and skill, and commitment to social justice in the developing world - but also for the enthusiasm they bring to the Nest mission and vision.
"We've got an international human rights lawyer, a woman in fashion PR, a freelance journalist, a boutique owner - and one of our most active members is Courtney Cole who leads Ladies Who Launch in St. Louis. She was my incubator leader and after she provided endless support and advice, I invited her to be on the board."
Ladies Who Launch on Board, too.
"One of the biggest things is that half of what we do involves partnering with people here. So Ladies Who Launch has been great for that. It's exposed us to designers and boutique owners from all over the country and the world. I love Ladies Who Launch!"
Searching the World for Deserving Women
"We have facilitators who work with us in eight countries. So they're looking for the women. Each functions as our go-between, to translate and have rapport in a community. Half of them are social workers, the other half are designers or artists.
"One of the cool things we do is create mentor relationships between American designers and the artists we choose for the program. It's rewarding for both sides, making it so real for the designers here to experience directly the impact they are having on these women. The women over there are thrilled to be working with other artists who understand them."
Women Helping Women
'In the beginning, we concentrated on emerging designers. I read Domino Magazine and circled designers and emailed them. I was hoping for 10 by the end of the first summer we launched and ended up with 45. It snowballed as we've grown and gotten more press. Now that we're established, designers have been contacting us and we have over 80 at this time.
"Nest designers not only offer exclusive merchandise for sale, with the proceeds used to fund loans, but many have also agreed to advise loan recipients on building and maintaining art-based businesses. In this way, Nest is a worldwide network of artists helping artists - and largely women helping women."
The Waiting List
"We have a waiting list of women who need money, which is exciting in some ways and sad in others. So we just want to keep getting our name out there to help these women. (By August 31st of this year, Nest has been operating a year and given $9,000 in loans.)"
How So Little Can Change a Life
"It's really amazing that some of our loans are as small as $50 and that can change a woman's life. We so easily spend that kind of money - we drop that on a pair of shoes. For the cost of a handbag, you could change a woman's life. With us you can do both, get the handbag and change a woman's life!
"Our first loan recipient was Meral Tuncer, who lives in Izmit, Turkey. She received a Nest microfinance loan to grow her jewelry business and sell her earrings through Nest. It made me cry when I heard her response to learning how much she was going to make from her first earring order. She was so happy. Combined with the loan, in one week she's making more than she might make in a month. You can imagine her excitement!"
[Nest profiles each of the recipients on their site. You can add a tax-deductible donation to your purchase and earmark it for a specific woman artist.]
The Presiding Nest Mantra
"I love the John Muir quote, 'Everyone needs beauty as well as bread.' I think that captures what we are trying to do.
"As for Nest, what I want to stress is that it takes three powerful ideas: entrepreneurship, social activism and microfinance, and combines them into a business model that is both sustainable and philanthropic. This is unique because Nest has found a place that isn't wholly business, strictly social enterprise or only microfinance. It takes the best of the capitalistic spirit - creating products people want to buy - and combines it with a serious social mission: assisting women in developing countries to become self-sufficient. Then adds in a way to achieve concrete results: microfinance loans. As far as I'm aware, there is no other enterprise like Nest out there."
Advice to launchers
"Pay attention to serendipity. In ways too numerous to talk about, Nest has been defined by remarkable coincidences - where a chance meeting turns into a valuable business relationship. Accidental events aren't really accidents, but actually profound and meant to happen. These are the things that help you know you're on track."
You can meet Rebecca in person at a Nest event on September 27th, from 6pm - 8pm at Tory Burch in New York, 257 Elizabeth Street, NYC 10012.
For more info or to rsvp, email email@example.com
This Featured Lady was profiled by Lauri Maerov, Founder + President of LA-based creative services company, WriteThink. Lauri and her team bring out the true essence of each client's brand through their award-winning copywriting, naming, brand voice and design. Visit Lauri