By Emily O’Connor
Founded in 2010, several years before the global refugees crisis began to dominate international headlines, Prosperity Candle had a mission to provide opportunity to women in conflict zones. The founders, Ted Barber and Amber Chand, were looking for a way invest in women entrepreneurs to address poverty through the creation of long-term economic opportunity. The goal of alleviating poverty and empowering women through a sustainable, scalable business model was the foundation of Prosperity Candle. The product, hand-poured candles, was selected to drive the business because of the relatively low cost of production, consumable nature of the product, and both local and global market demand. The social enterprise began its first pilot program in Iraq by employing Iraqi widows to produce candles. Since then, Prosperity Candle has shifted its main business operations to focus on manufacturing domestically in the US by employing women who have been resettled in western Massachusetts as refugees. They also continue to work with female entrepreneurs in Iraq and more recently, Haiti. In addition to generating employment opportunities through its candle making business, Prosperity Candle utilizes a hybrid model by operating both as a registered social enterprise and with a registered 501(c)(3) called Prosperity Catalyst. The nonprofit side of the organization provides training and support to its female entrepreneurs as a coordinated approach to sustainably empowering women to move out of poverty.
Currently, the company’s main business operations are based in Easthampton, Massachusetts where they provide employment to Burmese refugee women who have been resettled in the area. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been a country characterized by decades of corruption, military dictatorship, civil war, violence, extreme poverty, and currently conditions of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Human Rights Watch, an international nonprofit organization, estimates that in 2015 more than 100,000 Burmese refugees fled to the neighboring country of Thailand. The United Nation reports there are almost one million stateless people in Myanmar and approximately 140,000 internally displaced people due to the civil war and ethnic violence. This has resulted in a severe refugee dilemma in Southeast Asia, compounding the current global refugee crisis even further. The US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration reports that since 2005, the US has welcomed and resettled more than 73,000 refugees from Myanmar. One the destinations for resettlement has been the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which has welcomed hundreds of Burmese refugees within just the last few years.
Prosperity Candle provides employment and job training to refugee women resettled in western Massachusetts as a means for them to build a new life, support their families, and be empowered to thrive in their new communities. At the US office, the female artisans hand pour, craft, and ship the company’s high-quality candles made in repurposed glassware and pottery. To demonstrate the organization’s commitment to creating sustainable, positive change, Prosperity Candle has undergone the process to become a registered Benefit Corporation. As a certified B Corp, the Massachusetts-based artisan candle company prioritizes its commitment to pay its employees a competitive and livable wage, utilizes environmentally-conscious business practices, and make a positive impact in both the local and global community of female entrepreneurs. In 2015 the social enterprise was also awarded B Lab’s “Best for the World” honor by scoring in the top 10 percent on the B Impact Assessment.
While the social impact of Prosperity Candle is certainly clear, the product itself, artisan candles, is a unique choice in the world of social enterprises. The founders of the organization say they chose candles because it required a low level of initial investment and was a product that provided the room for growth and scale through repeat customers. On the other hand, by selling a luxury consumer item, Prosperity Candle may encounter market demand challenges faced by many social and fair trade business and nonprofits. However, an aspect of the company’s business model which provides a competitive advantage is the company’s focus on securing large production contracts through corporate partnerships and creating custom products for large events, companies, and conferences. By becoming a leading producer of high quality, handcrafted candles with customized labels, Prosperity Candle is able to provide socially conscious, handcrafted products on a large scale for companies and wholesalers. This business strategy provides an advantage that will further allow Prosperity Candle to expand and scale its efforts to create sustainable opportunities for women in the United States and around the world.