By Ritika Kumbharkar
I thoroughly enjoyed the talk given by the Cotopaxi’s CEO and Founder, Davis Smith, as part of last semester’s SEI Speaker Series, and it pushed me to seriously consider designating more time for my own dream of starting a social enterprise in India to promote women’s empowerment.
Firstly, I loved how Smith connected with the audience by sharing his personal endeavors. He told us about a kayaking trip where he risked his life and how it required a lot of dedication and will power to get through it. He also spoke about a friendship he had made during his travels with a young street kid in Peru, known as Edgar, who made him realize that he wanted to do something for others.
Most of us have been through some sort of community service or travel experience where we have been confronted by inequity in the same way that Smith has. Smith illustrated how social entrepreneurs are born through personal experiences and how important is it to keep pushing and to not give up hope. He showed us that with hope and perseverance it is possible to create impact and change the world.
Usually when you hear from social entrepreneurs, they don’t mention the struggles they have faced while starting a social enterprise. But Smith highlighted how he wasn’t financially capable of starting a social enterprise earlier in his life and how he tried various ways to fund his ventures, starting with an online pool table company and then a baby products website in Brazil.
In addition to Edgar, Smith shared with us how his hero, Steve Gibson, inspired him to start his own business and create real impact in the world too. Gibson is a successful entrepreneur who later in his career founded an incubator in the Philippines. Another wake up call, was when someone had challenged Smith by asking him, “ How does selling baby products change the world?” And so he started Cotopaxi as a company that sells outdoors products primarily in USA with fair trade around the world.
The idea behind Cotopaxi is innovative because it ties together a community linking developed countries with developing countries as well as gives power to communities to create change when given the right resources.
Smith ended the talk by asking us, the audience, “Who is your Edgar? Who is the person who will help you look beyond yourself?”” and gave me goose bumps. It really resonated with me on a personal level. I have done a lot community service in India and as I am Indian myself, this really made me see that there are vast differences between me in compare to someone living in a village in India. I will use some of methods from the way Davis Smith started his social enterprise, as I believe that what Cotopaxi is doing is replicable and scalable in other nations such as India.