Interview with $25,000 Amber Grant Recipient Savhera
March 16th 2021
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Yamalis Hernandez sat down for an interview with 2020 year-end Amber Grant-winner Vanessa Bouche. You can learn all about her company, Savhera, in the video interview above — or you can browse the transcript below.
A special thanks to Vanessa for her time.
Today we are talking to Vanessa Bouche. She’s our $25,000 Amber Grant winner from 2020. And we’re so excited. [Vanessa]…I had the awesome privilege of giving you a call that Saturday morning and letting you know [the news]. That was amazing for me. I’m sure it was amazing for you too.
I think I screamed and said, ‘you’re making me cry.’ Yeah, it was a huge honor. Huge honor.
We know that you’ve already won 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.
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. What Savara does is turn the sales of organic aroma therapy products into jobs for survivors of sex trafficking in both India and the United States. That’s the meat and potatoes of our business: wellness products [and] aroma therapy products that contribute to the holistic wellness, mental wellness, spiritual wellness, physical wellness of our customers, as well as our employees.
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. Maybe you can explain a little bit to our listeners about that model.
Because Savhera is a social enterprise and our primary impact is on the people we employ, we have what we call our Human Flourishing Model. It’s P.I.E.S., as you alluded to. And PIES stands for Physical, Intellectual, Economic, and Spiritual growth and development. Because we are all about the employees that we serve and all about human wellness in general, 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 P.I.E.S. model works is essentially looking across all four of those dimensions, physical, intellectual, economic, and spiritual, and saying, we recognize that each of us has health or unhealth in these areas, at an individual level. So the first layer of the P.I.E.S. model is looking across those four dimensions at the individual level.
The second layer of the P.I.E.S. model is looking across those four dimensions at the interpersonal level. Looking more at families and communities. 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. And if our family’s needs are not being met, secondly. So we want to get everybody to the point where their physical, intellectual, economic and spiritual needs are met, their family needs are met, so they can then contribute to the world the gifts they’ve been given.
The interesting thing about the model is that it’s for all human beings. It doesn’t just apply to survivors of extreme trauma or complex trauma. It really applies to all of us. For me, I recognize personally where I’m at along the P.I.E.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 so recognizing those things, understanding those things, understanding where the triggers are, where the needs are, that allows you to kind of intervene. And it’s a flexible model. It allows for a lot of fluidity, depending on where anybody is at, at any given point in their life or any given day. And that’s what we use, as kind of a base. We operationalize it with a baseline survey, a baseline assessment where we 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 P.I.E.S. model. And it’s really cool because of the systematic way of looking at their progress, and then seeing how far they’ve come.
I really love that. Especially the self-awareness incorporated in that model. It really is built to help people grow. We know that you spend quite a bit of time developing your employees, helping them to have life skills, math skills, all sorts of skills. And I really loved that your company principle is not just do no harm. 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 company goals at the same time?
I would love to say that it’s easy, but it’s not. It’s definitely hard to manage knowing that at the end of the day, you do have a bottom line. We are running a business and we are a for-profit entity, while simultaneously not cutting corners on various things. 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.
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. But, I think that the adage “do no harm” is passive, right? It’s like, we’re gonna operate to try not to harm the planet and the environment, but we’re not going to actively do anything to try to benefit it. Whereas [we’re] flipping that on its head and saying, no, that’s actually not good enough.
We have our values, we are a values-driven company. We know who we are, and we don’t want to compromise on our identity as our corporate identity. And so every single decision that we make, it has to align with our values.
If you didn’t have to think about these things, it’s would be much easier to do business. 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.
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 people understand this much, much better than the older generations. And we’re going to start seeing a significant shift in the way business is done. 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.
I know that it is. I’ve tried your product myself. And it is a wonderful product; it feels really good knowing the transparency from the beginning, all the way to receiving it. And so that’s a really wonderful story, and it makes me personally feel proud.
So this year we know that COVID has brought many challenges to many businesses, and certainly, as you developed this business from 2018 to now, there were probably other struggles as well. What would you tell other women business owners that are up and coming that have been doing this maybe for a year… what keeps you motivated? What helps you to not throw in the towel?
COVID has presented many, many challenges. So we have nine employees in India, and India had a three month country-wide lockdown for three months. There was zero productivity happening in India over the course of those three months. Of course, a lot of businesses during this time are laying off employees; that’s kind of where you first looked to cut, if you needed to make major cuts to your budget. But we’re a social enterprise that exists to provide jobs. That’s not an area we can cut. I am very proud of the fact that not only did we not cut any employees during that time, but nobody missed a paycheck.
It was very, very difficult. In addition to that, 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 small businesses — many of them 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 a website. And so for us, that meant that all of our wholesale orders tanked. We all of a sudden went from having, 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. So that’s another major challenge that we have faced as a result of COVID.
I know that everybody is motivated by different things. You know, some people are motivated by mission. Some people are motivated by money. I happened to be a mission driven person. 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. Because 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 been out, I wouldn’t have stuck with it, because fundamentally our business has a mission.
And that mission is about women who have very few, if any, other options or alternatives, or 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 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 I’m not a salesperson. I’m a professor, okay. I like to teach, I don’t do sales, but because the sale for me is not about me. We have an amazing product and we want people to become loyal to Savara because we have amazing products, but we also exist because women need jobs and they need advocacy and they need people to support them.
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. So that’s what motivates me. You can tell when I talk about the mission and the purpose of the company, that’s what really gets me excited. That is what motivates me to never give up and to never stop. And has it been hard? Oh my gosh. 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. And those people, hopefully, can eventually find a business model that does get them that money, but you have to know yourself first.
So it sounds like one of the first things any aspiring business owner is to know, is yourself. Knowing your value system. Because that is going to be the thing to keep lighting the fire under you.
Absolutely. It’s so fundamental. And then as you grow as a company and as you have more and more employees, 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. That’s the parts of you that need to acknowledge that you don’t know the answer. 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.
One of the things that we want to know is about competitors. We know the 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?
You’re absolutely right. It is a pretty saturated market. A lot of people know kind of who the biggest players are in that market. So we are different in a variety of ways. So first of all, obviously the social mission. We provide salary jobs to survivors of trafficking. They all are making over the living wage. Secondly, all of our essential oils are organic. 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. We’re really the only one. There’s a lot of essential oil companies that do sell organic essential oils, but it’s in addition to other non-organic essential oils.
And so we only sell organic products, which is another thing that makes us very different. We also try to integrate our social mission into every step of our supply chain. So most recently we have two new blends that just came out, but this one [shown to screen] 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 women-owned businesses.
Also we sell, for example [shown to screen] a ceramic lamp defuser that 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 [is amazing]. And so again, supporting other women-owned businesses in our supply chain is something that’s very, very important to us. So our environmental sustainability, our social impact as far as the people that we serve all make us very different. And then obviously, the two main multilevel marketing 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 aroma therapy products and essential oils. But we are not. And so 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. 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. 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. So that all of our customers know that they are in fact, a hundred percent pure unadulterated uncontaminated undiluted 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 support and need jobs.
Yeah. And making essential oils accessible to someone otherwise not be able to afford them.
Yes, exactly. And just, again, as far as our supply chain goes, these are our essential oil pouches [shown to screen]. About 12 bottles of our oils fit in these pouches, and these are also made by survivors of trafficking in Calcutta. It’s all organic, a hundred percent organic cotton, and then the insides are lined with up-cycled material. 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 we work with and serve women-owned businesses.
Where can our listeners and viewers buy your products?
We sell our products online at Savhera.com. All of our products are listed on our website.