December 29, 2020
WomensNet, which is committed to supporting and funding women-owned businesses, is pleased to announce the recipient of its annual $25,000 Amber Grant for Women.
In the words of Vanessa: “Our aim is to provide customers with premium essential oil products that contribute to wellness, justice, and sustainability at home and around the world.”
Despite an extremely challenging year, Vanessa had a busy and productive 2020. Here are the highlights, in her words:
WomensNet: Today, we are talking to Vanessa, she’s our $25,000 2020 Amber Grant winner. We’re so excited and I have the awesome privilege of giving you a call that Saturday morning and letting you know, and that was amazing for me. I’m sure it was amazing for you too.
Vanessa: I think I screamed and said, you’re making me cry. I’m gonna cry. Yeah, it was a huge honor. Huge honor.
WomensNet: We know that you’ve already won one, the monthly grant award, and now you’ve won the 2020 award. So our readers are a little familiar with your business, but maybe you can talk a little bit about what you guys do and how you impact the world.
Vanessa: Yes. So Savhera is actually a Hindi word that means new beginning. And, it was named by our very first employees in Delhi because this represents a new beginning for them. So, what Savhera does is we turn the sales of organic aroma therapy products into jobs for survivors of sex trafficking in both India and the United States. So that’s kind of the, the meat and potatoes of our business is, wellness products, aroma therapy, products that contribute to the holistic wellness, mental wellness, spiritual wellness, physical wellness of our customers, as well as our employees. And that’s what we’re all about.
WomensNet: Yeah. And one of the things that I’ve read about in your company report was your model around how you restructure your business. You have an acronym P.I.E.S that you use. So maybe you can explain a little bit to our listeners about that model.
Vanessa: Yeah, so because Savhera is a social enterprise and our primary impact is on the people that we employ. We have what we call our human flourishing model. And it’s called pies, as you alluded to. And P.I.E.S stands for physical intellectual, economic, and spiritual growth and development. And because we are all about the employees that we serve and all about human wellness in general. As a company, this is a holistic flourishing model for human beings, not just for survivors attracting, not just for the women that we serve as a company, but for everybody. And the way that the PI’s model works is essentially looking across all four of those dimensions, physical, intellectual, economic, and spiritual, and saying, um, we recognize that each of us has health or unhealth in these areas at our, at an individual level. And so, the first layer of the PI’s model is looking across those four dimensions at the individual level.
And then the second layer of the PIES’s model is looking across those four dimensions at the interpersonal level. And so, looking more at families and communities, and then finally, after your personal needs are met and your family and community needs are being met across those four dimensions, we get out to the macro level, which is really the giving back level. So, it’s to say that our needs are met here and here. And how can we then start to give back what we have in the physical realm, intellectual realm, economics realm, and spiritual realm, because we all have things to contribute to the world, but we’re not able to contribute those things if we’re not healthy ourselves first. And if our family’s needs are not being met. Secondly, we want to get everybody to the point where their physical intellectual, economic and spiritual needs are met, their family needs are met so that they can then contribute to the world, the gifts that they’ve been given, the opportunities that they’ve been given, the talents that they’ve been given, um, so that they can begin to give back.
Vanessa: The interesting thing about the model is that, you know, as I said, it’svfor all human beings. It doesn’t just apply to survivors of extreme trauma or complex trauma. It really applies to all of us. And so even, you know, for me, I recognize personally where I’m at along the PIES’s model on any given dimension on any given day. If I’m under an immense amount of stress, I begin to operate as though I’m in survival mode, as though I’m in fight or flight mode. And I might go have a day of retail therapy and spend a bunch of money, which is not good for my economic piece of my PIES’s model. And so, recognizing those things, understanding those things, understanding where the triggers are, where the needs are, then allows you to kind of intervene. And it’s a flexible model. It, it allows for a lot of flexibility and fluidity, depending on where anybody is at, at any given point in their life or any given day. And so, that’s what we use though, as kind of a base we have, we operationalize it with a baseline survey, a baseline assessment where we kind of assess where the employees are at when they first come to Savhera and then we monitor and evaluate their progress over time on the various dimensions of the PIES’s model. And it’s, you know, it’s, it’s really cool because of the systematic way of looking at their progress and then seeing how far they’ve come from, where they started.
WomensNet: I really love that. Especially the self-awareness that’s incorporated in that model. It really is built to help people grow. We know that you spend quite a bit of time even developing your employees, helping them to even have life skills, math skills, all sorts of skills and I really loved that your company principle is not just do no harm, but to do more. I think you said, do no harm is not enough, actively do good. So that’s pretty amazing. How do you consciously run a business and keep in mind your goals or company goals at the same time of following through with the greater good of your employees of the planet or of everybody? How do you balance the two?
Vanessa: To be totally honest with you? It is not easy. And I would love, I would love to say that it’s easy in that we’ve kind of like cracked the code on it, but it’s not. And it’s definitely hard to manage knowing that at the end of the day, you do have a bottom line. You know, if we are running a business and we are a for-profit entity, while simultaneously not cutting corners on various things, which, you know, a lot of companies do, we know that supply chain scrutiny, supply chain transparency, polluting the environment are all ways of cutting corners, of getting things done in less time, and for less money. I think that the way that you have to approach it is you have to be proactive. It has to be part of your mission and your ethos as a company, you cannot contribute to the world in a reactive way, right?
You, you can’t make positive change by being reactive. You have to be proactive. And in order to be proactive, you have to be intentional. And in order to be intentional, you have to have a plan. It has to be part of your strategic plan. It has to be embedded in the very fabric of who you are as a company. And so it doesn’t just happen automatically. It takes up a lot of thought. It takes a lot of intentionality. It’s difficult. I mean, there’s no question that it’s hard, but I think that the adage do no harm is, is passive, right? It’s like, we’re gonna, we’re gonna operate to try not to harm the planet and the environment, but we’re not going to actively do anything to actually try to benefit it. Whereas flipping that on its head and saying, no, that’s actually not good enough.
We need to do better. You have to really have a plan for that. And so that’s kind of how we do it. As we approach everything. As we have our values, we are a value driven company. We know who we are, and we don’t want to compromise on our identity as our corporate identity and who we are. And so, every single decision that we make, it has to align with our values. And we have to judge that decision based on whether it aligns with our values. And unfortunately, it’s way easier if you didn’t have to think about these things, it’s so much easier to do business. And if you’re not doing like an immense amount of due diligence on every decision that you’re making, but when you put people first and you honor the planet, because none of us would be alive without the planet, we have to have a healthy planet to continue to sustain humanity globally.
Vanessa: When you put those things first, it is difficult. I mean, it is much harder to do business that way, but I think that it’s the only way to do it. And I think that it’s the way of the future. I think Millennials and Gen Z-ers understand this is much, much better than like the older generations, the baby boomers and the generations. And we’re going to start seeing a significant shift in the way business is done. And so I think, I mean, Savhera wants to be in those conversations. Savhera wants to be leading the charge in that way. We want to be on the cutting edge of how to be a business that not just does no harm, but actually does good, but it’s difficult. And it does take a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of thought,
WomensNet: Well, I know that it is, I’ve tried your product myself. And it is a wonderful product, and it feels really good knowing the transparency from the beginning, all the way to receiving it. And so that’s a really wonderful, wonderful story, and it makes me personally feel proud. Thank you so much. So, this year we know that COVID has brought many challenges to many businesses, and certainly, you know, as you develop this business from 2018 to now, there are probably, I’m guessing, other struggles as well. So, what would you tell our women business owners that are up and coming that have been doing this maybe for a year, what keeps you going? What keeps you motivated? What helps you to not throw in the towel and say, all right?
Vanessa: Yeah. COVID has presented many, many challenges. So many businesses and ours is, of course, no exception to that. We have nine employees in India and India had a Countrywide lockdown for three months. So, there was zero productivity happening in India over the course of those three months. And you know, of course, a lot of businesses during this time or laying off employees, that’s kind of where you first looked to cut. If you need to make major cuts to your budget. But as a social enterprise that exists to provide jobs, that’s why we exist. That’s not an area we can cut. And so, what do you do, you know, especially when you’re already running on a shoestring budget? I am very proud of the fact that not only did we not cut any employees during that time, but nobody missed a paycheck and that was not easy to do. But when you’re a social enterprise and you know why you would do this and you exist for one reason and one reason alone, and that is to provide dignified employment to people and wellness product to customers, you have to make those decisions, you know, and so we didn’t make the paycheck, but that was hard.
Vanessa: I mean, it was, it was very, very difficult. In addition to that, you know, a lot of boutiques were going out of business at the time because nobody was shopping outside of their house. Amazon stock went through the roof, but the rest of, you know, the small businesses and many of them are women owned, ended up going out of business because they didn’t necessarily have an online presence and they couldn’t easily pivot to having, you know, a website that people went to. And so, for us, that meant that all of our wholesale orders tank, we all of a sudden went from having, you know, in a matter of four months from when we first started Savhera, we had 16 wholesale accounts and we got those 16 wholesale accounts in our first four months of business. And then COVID hit and it went to zero and building back up again has been extremely difficult.
Vanessa: Um, and so that’s another major challenge that we have faced as a result of COVID. How we keep going? You know, I know that everybody is motivated by different things. You know, some people are motivated by mission. Some people are motivated by money. I happen to be a mission driven person and because of that, I know myself well enough to know that if this company was about money for me, I would have been out a long time ago. I would be like, you know what? This ain’t worth it. Not worth it. Okay. Cause it’s hard and everybody that has ever run a startup, knows it is hard. Right? So, if it was about that, I would have, I would have been out, I wouldn’t have stuck with it, but because fundamentally our business has a mission. And that mission is about women who have very few other, if any options or alternatives, for a livelihood outside of this job, because that is the mission. I will not stop. I will not stop working. I will not stop putting one foot in front of the other. I will not stop advocating. I will not stop, you know, proclaiming the message of our wellness products and why they’re good for you, why they’re good for our employees. And why they’re good for the planet. Why we’re good for the world. I won’t stop. And, and I’m not a salesperson. I, you know, I’m a professor, okay. I like to teach, I don’t do sales, but we have an amazing product and we want people to become loyal to Savhera because we have amazing products, but we also exist because women need jobs and they need advocacy and they need people to support them.
And I believe so deeply in their value as human beings and what they can contribute to the world. I believe that we’re providing jobs to the most resilient human beings on the planet. These are people who have experienced levels of trauma and exploitation that the vast majority of us cannot fathom. They are the most resilient, talented people on the planet. And if you can give them an opportunity to thrive and grow, the potential is endless, endless. And so that’s what motivates me. You can tell when I talk about the mission and the purpose of the, of the company, that’s what really gets me excited. Um, and that is what motivates me to never give up and to never stop. And has it been hard? Oh my gosh. You know, I can, I can share story after story, after story of why this is so hard.
Any startup is so hard. But I think every individual has to identify for themselves what drives them. And if there’s not an element of what drives them in their business, then the business probably is not going to last. But if there’s an element of what drives you in your business, if your mission is about people and you believe that your product can genuinely help people, then I feel like that’s what allows us to keep going and to keep moving forward. And some people, it is money. They are motivated by making a lot of money and that’s fine. That’s fine too. And those, those people, you know, hopefully can eventually find a business model that does get them that money, but you have to know yourself first. Um, and what drives you and then, and then, and then go from there.
WomensNet: So, it sounds like even one of the first things, any aspiring business owner it to know is yourself, knowing your value system, because that’s going to be the thing that’s going to really keep lighting the fire under you.
Vanessa: Absolutely. It’s so fundamental. And then as you grow as a company and as you have more and more employees, um, you get to know yourself better and better and better because you get to realize the ugly sides of you, the bruise sides of you. Um, that’s the parts of you that need to acknowledge that you don’t know the answer that you do have decisions, the team that you do need help in this particular area that you do have this blind spot. You know, it it’s, you, you get to know, you have to know yourself to begin with, but then be open and honest with yourself to continue to get to know yourself better for the safety of your employees and for the sake of the company.
WomensNet: So, one of the things that we want to know, we know that there’s other oil competitors out there that, you know, provide essential oil business is a big business. And through this interview we’ve seen what makes Savhera different. Is there anything else you’d like to add in terms of what puts you in a special place?
Vanessa: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, it is a pretty saturated market. The essential oil market, that market is, is very saturated. And you know, a lot of people know kind of who the biggest players are in that market. So, we are different in a variety of different ways. So first of all, obviously the social mission, right? So, we provide salary jobs to survivors of trafficking. They all are making over the living wage. Um, secondly, all of our essential oils are organic. Um, we don’t sell any essential oils that are not USDA certified organic, and there’s no other essential oil company that sells only organic products, meat. We’re really the only one, there’s a lot of essential oil companies that do sell organic essential oils. But in addition to other non-organic essential oils because of our adage of like benefiting, um, people and planet, that’s the reason decided to really only sell organic products, um, because these are, uh, farms that have undergone certain, um, regulations and standards to be certified organic.
And so, we only sell organic products, which is another thing that makes us very different. We actually also try to integrate our social mission into every step of our supply chain. So most recently we actually have a new blend that just came out, actually two new blends that just came out, but this one is called warm memories and it is formulated, the blend was formulated by a registered aroma therapist who herself is a survivor of sex trafficking. And every sale of this, a certain percentage goes back to her and her small woman owned, survivor owned business. So, we are always looking for creative ways to partner with other specifically other women owned businesses. And to the extent that we can support survivor owned businesses, um, to continue to make a difference at all, all levels of, of our company.
Vanessa: Also, we felt things like, for example, this is a ceramic lamp that was there and this was made handcrafted and designed by a female artists in, in its small back. We only have a few of them, but it was handcrafted and designed by a female artisan in India, who was one of the very first female artisans to really make it big. And I don’t even know that I would say it’s that big, but to make it in a very heavily dominated male industry in India. And so again, supporting other women owned businesses in our supply chain is something that’s very, very important to us. Um, so our, our environmental sustainability, our social impact, as far as the people that we serve, um, all makeup, no makeup, very different. And then obviously the two main multilevel marketing or essential oil companies that a lot of people think of are multilevel marketing companies.
And unfortunately, a lot of people assume that we’re a multi-level marketing company when they hear that we sell around what they therapy products and essential oils, but we are not, we are not. And so, one of the, one of the ways that we also are different is because we’re not a multi-level marketing company, our prices are significantly lower than those other companies. You know, we’re not having to pay a commission all the way up the line. And so, despite the fact that our oils are organic, our prices are actually lower and that’s just because of a different business model. And I think that that’s a really important point for people to really understand as well, is that just due to a business model, oftentimes you’re paying more money, not necessarily because of the quality of the product. We get all of our oils independently tested by a third-party lab, and we make all of our test results available on our website for every batch of oil too. Um, so that all of our customers know that they are in fact, a hundred percent pure unadulterated uncontaminated on diluted essential oil. So, you’re getting a very pure organic quality product for a very affordable price while simultaneously investing in the lives of marginalized women who really need, um, need support and need jobs.
WomensNet: Yeah. And making essential oils accessible to one, otherwise not be able to afford them.
Vanessa: Yes, exactly. Oh, and again, as far as our supply chain goes, these are our essential oil houses that you can, you know, about 12 bottles of art oils that in these houses, and these are also made by, um, survivors of trafficking in Calcutta. So again, all of our organic, a hundred percent organic cotton, and then the insides are aligned with upcycled material. And so, you know, just again, everything that we do, all of our decisions that we make as far as what products we carry and where they come from is very, very intentional and as much as possible working with and serving women owned businesses.
WomensNet: And where can our listeners, viewers buy your products?
Vanessa: Yeah. So, we sell our products online at Savhera.com. And of course, it’s spelled, you can see it in the back, but S A V H E R A.com. And, yeah. all of our products are listed on our website.
WomensNet: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.
Vanessa: This has been super fun.
WomensNet: It’s been a big privilege, so thank you.
Vanessa: Thank you.