Julie Hellwich and her Smart Women™ creations are making social change through business. Photo by Courtney Conk.
The concept of fundamental change in business practices goes beyond what Hellwich calls “pink ribbonizing”-slapping a pink ribbon for breast cancer on a product and then going about business as usual.
In social entrepreneurship, the core of a business plan is contributing to the greater good because it is the right thing to do, not because it will increase sales; the business’ mission includes bringing resources and stakeholders together to problem solve creatively and make communities better. The movement is about combining smart business practices with its responsibility to the larger community.
Hellwich is the perfect person to promote this concept-as the smart woman behind the creative and fun Smart Women products, she makes a profit by, she said, “affirming and acknowledging the strengths, brains and daily experiences of women from all walks of life.” “Smart Women Make Changes” is the tagline on the eraser. The magnet reads “Smart Women Hold it Together.” There’s a whole list of products encouraging us to vote: “Smart Women Elect to Make a Difference” and “Smart Women are the Life of the Party.”
Hellwich is helping to make a difference for Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota. The organization’s volunteers are making mittens, hats and scarves from sweaters donated to Goodwill. Smart Women distributes and brands them with the tagline “Smart Women Extend Goodwill.” Part of the label reads, ” … proceeds are dedicated for skills training programs which empower women to move toward economic self-sufficiency.”
This is the kind of social entrepreneurship Hellwich spoke about at Duke University in November. Her address was titled “Women, Business and Leadership for Public Life.”
“The bottom line is not the only measure of success,” she said. “[We] start where we are and begin with what we have,” in developing businesses to become change agents. “We don’t need more things, we need more thinking.”
Like many women entrepreneurs, the idea for Hellwich’s Smart Women product line started at the kitchen table-in this case, nearly a decade ago, when she was making gifts for a few friends. Hellwich herself has done everything from making candles to working in a battered women’s shelter.
For Hellwich, making change is a thread that runs through every facet of her business. Smart Women products are sold in independent shops locally and around the world. They are made in the U.S. from recycled materials by manufacturers with ethical business practices.
“We are using our company to bring people together [to] develop dialogues in the community,” Hellwich said.
Be a Changemaker
Hellwich’s website, www.smartwomencompany.com, is full of interesting and useful information-from her products to links to book lists and other smart companies, to information about the Goodwill project and the Duke University speech.