Enjoy wearing handmade jewelry and headbands and save a life at the same time
This concept was devised by two dedicated female humanitarians who shared a passion to create lasting change in the world.
And today, SIMBI INC founders Birgit Grossman Coles and Lori Manuel Steed are helping Haitians by bringing fresh drinking water and jobs back into a region ravaged by the devastating 2010 earthquake and ensuing Cholera outbreak.
Their foundation Aqua Haiti is based in Port-au-Prince and helps to educate and create awareness of the ongoing plight of the Haitian people.
Today 80% of the population continue to live in poverty there, whilst almost 50% has no access to clean water.
‘We’re seeing first hand how properly filtered water is literally saving lives. If we were to close down tomorrow, it’s sad to say, but people would die.’ – Birgit Grossman Coles, Co-Founder SIMBI INC
Here, Birgit tells Nativa World about her company and its vision. She also details how vital its efforts are in transforming the lives of thousands of Haitians in need
Birgit, what does the word ‘Achieve’ mean to you?
It means ‘reaching my goal’. My vision is to enhance Haiti’s image by making available to the world, the incredibly beautiful products that are made in Haiti. And through generating a demand for these products, create sustainable jobs and filtered water for thousands. So far I have achieved that goal and look forward to doing much more.
How was SIMBI INC founded with Lori?
Lori and I met almost 20 years ago, never realizing that one day we would combine our mutual passion for art with our shared compassion for Haiti. After experiencing the devastating results of the 2010 earthquake, we were both compelled to help. SIMBI came into being with a mission to ‘Save, Improve, & Empower Lives’ by creating sustainable jobs and providing clean water for the people of Haiti.
How do SIMBI and Aqua Haiti work in tandem?
SIMBI produces top fashion accessories and handmade jewelry recognized as much for it’s cool beach and surf style as it is for transforming the every day lives of Haitian families. SIMBI’s unique and eco-friendly accessories create an instant feeling of carefree fun and laid back freedom. Funded by proceeds from our products, SIMBI’s non-profit foundation, Aqua Haiti, is the bridge that supports, promotes and finances our water purification projects and partners with organizations to bring awareness and education of the importance of filtered water and proper hydration.
Why does Haiti strike a chord with you?
Having raised my children here, Haiti has been my home for over 20 years now. After the catastrophic earthquake, the need to play a role in rebuilding the country was instinctive.
What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced as a founder?
Our biggest challenge was Supply Chain Management. In Haiti this is VERY difficult, but everything worked out once we put in place our own system.
How has your work been received so far?
We are so thrilled that our retailers are as willing to support our cause as their customers are in buying our products. The Surf Industry has been one of our strongest supporters, and we are so grateful for it!
Can you share a special moment of success?
A moment I will always treasure is when TARGET sent us an e-mail asking if we would sell SIMBI in their stores. They wanted to support Haiti and our giveback cause. I still get goose bumps to this day thinking about it.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey?
By far it is to see the difference we make in Haiti every single day. Hundreds of people go home with money in their pockets to support their families. And, we are seeing first hand how properly filtered water is literally saving lives. If we were to close down tomorrow, it’s sad to say, but people would die.
Do you think the business world has long way to go with regards to being socially responsible as a whole?
I believe that there’s a longing for a sense of meaning in one’s day-to-day work. Up and comers today tie their personal values much more closely to their career than previous generations, and they are looking for ways to change the world from the inside out. Smart leaders today know that we must go beyond profitability and deliver a sustainable impact in our global society. I would say TOMS has paved the way for social enterprises like SIMBI. They have proven that people are willing to pay a bit extra for products made to support a great cause and that might save a life.
Who inspires you in business and why?
Suzanne Lerner, Co-founder and owner of Michael Stars Inc, was always a phone call away when we needed advice. She is an extraordinary, selfless person who not only runs a highly successful business, but also supports Haiti and women empowerment in the world!
Did you have a mentor or a support network at the start?
I credit my husband, Phillipe, as my mentor and champion, for he helped guide me in learning the ins and outs of Haitian manufacturing.
What’s involved in the process of making SIMBI accessories?
It takes a combination of innovation and determination to deliver high quality products, and the lack of resources, infrastructure, and political instability in Haiti is very challenging. Thankfully, both Lori and I are very patient, open-minded people, and we know WHY we do what we do which inspires us every single day!
What’s SIMBI clay and why are the organic bracelets so meaningful?
Made from pure clay harvested in the mountains of Haiti, SIMBI Clay beads are hand-rolled, painted, and strung, making each piece unique just like the person who wears it. The beads are 100% organic and biodegradable, nurturing the earth’s cycle of life and reminding the wearer that we are all in this together. Legend has it, once a clay bead is lost it brings good luck. With each bracelet sold, enough money is made to purify 1 gallon of water per day which can save a life.
What’s behind the name?
Ironically, I used Simbi as my online username for many years not ever knowing her real role here in Haiti. As the Water Spirit of Haiti, she is called upon to bring solutions to problems. So when I discovered this while researching a name for our company, I have to believe it was meant to be.
What’s your top tip for starting a non-profit?
LOVE what you do!!
How can we be more socially responsible ourselves?
- Purchase with a purpose
- Care about how you leave this earth to our children
- Re-purpose when possible
- Don’t waste!!! (water, food, electricity, etc…)
- Support causes through social media.
Photography courtesy of SIMBI INC