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Choosing to Be Change Agents

Two social startup founders share their journey from successful careers in corporate Canada to the uncertainty of launching a business with a mandate to do good.

In August 2013, Richa Gupta left a successful career as a corporate marketing executive to create Good Frood for Good, a line of healthy organic sauces and condiments made without refined sugars and preservatives. Having learned about the one-for-one social entrepreneurship model while earning an MBA, Gupta donates one meal to people in need for each bottle of her products sold. Her overarching mission is twofold: to help people eat healthier and to end hunger.

In November 2016, Jenn Harper launched Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics a made-in-Canada natural cosmetics company that celebrates Indigenous women and uses a portion of its profits to address the education gap that exists for Indigenous youth. Harper, who built a successful 25-year-career in sales and marketing in the food industry was still working full-time when she launched. In August 2019, she left her job to dedicate herself to Cheekbone Beauty.

For both Gupta and Harper the pull to make a difference was stronger than the risk of leaving behind the security of successful careers. Both social enterprises struck a chord with Desjardins and its GoodSpark program. Good Food for Good received $70,000 from Desjardins to support its business model while Cheekbone Beauty received $50,000 to support scholarships for First Nations children.

Originally from India, Gupta was working as a buyer with a major retailer when she became pregnant with her daughter and realized "I don’t want to live my life fighting over buttons and thread." She earned her MBA during her maternity leave with the plan to "do something meaningful." An internship with a multinational firm temporarily steered her away from that goal. "My daughter was four when that feeling started creeping back: This is not what you’re meant to do," says Gupta.

She decided to combine her personal need to feed her family healthy foods and her passion to help others. In 2017, with the launch of its certified organic ketchup, the business started scaling. Today, Good Food for Good products are available in 1,500 stores in Canada and 100 in California and Hawaii and the company has donated more than 225,000 meals. "For me, there are no Monday blues. The excitement is not comparable to anything I've ever done," says Gupta.

Harper credits her sobriety with leading her to become a social entrepreneur. "My grandmother was a residential school survivor but I didn't really understand what that meant. When I began learning about my own alcoholism, I started researching that part of our family's history." This included reading the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. "When you learn the truth, you have to do something. There was no turning back." A dream about Indigenous girls wearing lip gloss gave Harper the idea to start her own makeup company and direct a portion of sales to create scholarships for Indigenous youth in her grandmother’s name.

Now that she is working full-time on the business, Harper is ready to build Cheekbone Beauty into the major cosmetic brand she has dreamed about and help more Indigenous youth empower themselves through education. The plan is to start the fund in June 2020, but from day one, pre-profitability, Harper and Cheekbone Beauty have been supporting Indigenous youth by donating to the First Nations Child Family Caring Society. "My life has never been richer. It’s the joy of knowing I am making an impact on indigenous youths' lives."

Learn more about social enterprise, Desjardins and the GoodSpark program here.