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Our Leaders In Curl interview series aims to highlight the people and brands who are redefining the hair industry. Today we’re speaking about entrepreneurship and change-making with Lotte Davis, the Co-Founder of AG, a brand that many curlies are familiar with thanks to Holy Grail products like Re:Coil and their new plant-based line Curl Fresh. Following the success of AG, Davis founded the charitable organization One Girl Can to fight gender inequality through education and mentorship. NaturallyCurly got an inside look at the unique approach One Girl Can is taking to create sustainable and long-lasting change for girls and women in the communities they serve.

How does the success of AG feed into One Girl Can? 

Davis: "It’s really a very symbiotic relationship and has been from the beginning. For the first seven years, One Girl Can couldn’t afford any employees, but the team at AG was very enthusiastic about supporting us off the side of their desks. Marketing designed our logo, our website, and all of the promotional materials we needed to present a professional outward facing image. IT developed the website, finance created and maintained an accounting structure, and eventually our People & Culture helped us when we needed to start building our own team. That’s when AG started to provide us with pro bono office space in perpetuity. AG was also our biggest donor. Initially we developed promotional packages with the students we supported on the boxes, and we donated all of the proceeds to help build schools and provide scholarships. Later this morphed into Every Bottle Counts, where a portion of AG sales went back to the charity. 

"All of this created a unique point of difference for One Girl Can. Because of AG’s contributions in cash, administrative support, and free rent, we had low expenses and were able to apply 100% of our donations received directly to the programs in Kenya and Uganda. AG also benefitted in ways we hadn’t anticipated. The decision to use AG profits for the purpose of expediting gender inequality was organic and wholeheartedly adopted and embraced by our internal teams, our distributors, and our salons. The amount of goodwill, brand exposure, employee engagement, and consumer loyalty we received by simply doing what felt good, and made sense to us, was overwhelming and took us completely by surprise."

Can you tell us about your holistic approach to helping girls and women through One Girl Can? 

Davis: "Our model evolved and continues to be informed by the young women we serve in Kenya, with the intention to be personal and provide measurable results for each girl. We visit each partnering school twice a year, and we meet with our scholarship students one on one, monitor their grades, provide mentoring, and conduct customized workshops for students in the school at each grade level. Today, we partner with 11 schools and all students from those schools are eligible to apply for a university scholarship; we offer between 60 to 80 full scholarships a year. Students who are selected will continue to be coached and mentored at an annual conference in Nairobi. We also offer supplemental training for each student to further enhance and ensure she finds work quickly after finishing her degree. This can range from professional courses in IT, e-Commerce, to in-depth entrepreneurial training, as well as internship training and placement. We literally don’t let go of our students from the time we meet them in Grade 9 until they start earning an income in a career of their choosing. That’s pretty unique in our industry and it ensures we don’t just pay for her education, we try to set her up to become a leader, so that one girl can pay-it-forward for other young women in her community."

That’s pretty unique in our industry and it ensures we don’t just pay for her education, we try to set her up to become a leader, so that one girl can pay-it-forward for other young women in her community.

How does building One Girl Can compare to founding AG back in 1989?

Davis: "It’s uncanny how similar it was for me and continues to be. I was terrified about starting a not-for-profit in Africa - I had no experience in this field whatsoever. But I quickly learned that there’s no difference between this and building a for-profit business. In order for any company to be successful you need to make sure you have a unique model that fills a significant demand in the market. One Girl Can did that in spades. We measure our impact against gender inequality, by the number of bright young women that we’re able to support to become financially independent. 

"We developed clear KPI’s and hired the best people to execute on these. And like any entrepreneurial business, we confronted the roadblocks to our success every day and relentlessly applied ourselves to creating solutions."

As a mother of daughters, a leader in the beauty industry, and the founder of a charitable organization, what legacy are you hoping to leave behind?

Davis: "I want to ensure that One Girl Can lives on and that other women take ownership of something that I merely started, and use their skills and networks to build it into a global entity. 

"Many charitable organizations are looking for scale, trying to impact as many people as possible to create change quickly, but I believe our model is far more sustainable and can have a more profound impact on gender inequality. We aren’t just providing a pathway to jobs, we are equipping the individual with skills over the course of many years. We do this by instilling young women with confidence through a framework of personal and structural support. This is what is needed to start changing and balancing the gender gap in business and help bring an end to poverty in disadvantaged countries. One Girl Can’s legacy will be that personal investment each of us makes in one girl until she’s able to stand alone, lead, and begin investing in another girl herself."

Next week will be International Day of the Girl, how do you plan to celebrate? 

Davis: "One Girl Can is launching a proactive social campaign in partnership with Go Goat Sports to commemorate International Day of the Girl on October 11 to bring attention to the urgent gender inequalities that happen globally. Go Goat Sports is a digital podcast company, who advocate for female participation, representation, and parity in sports. Our goal is to urge people to take action, fight for gender equality and human rights, and showcase how they can help to make a real change in their community and beyond.

"In the weeks leading up to October 11, together, we will launch a global call-to-action through an interactive social media campaign, where people are encouraged to share how they are #HereForHerFuture on their social channels. Go Goat Sports will donate $1 for every post using #HereForHerFuture with all funds going directly to supporting university scholarships for girls.

"We have also partnered with local Vancouver brand, Gentle Fawn, who designed a limited edition exclusive Gentle Fawn x One Girl Can Day of the Girl scarf with partial proceeds donated to support scholarships for university students. The scarf is available online beginning October 11."

This article is sponsored by AG.