How a honey business changed this teen’s life — and is transforming a poverty-stricken community
Bee-Life Brand isn’t your average small business. It’s empowering youth in poverty.
Edgar held the registration form in his hands, considering his options. Of the four workshops outlined on the form that were offered by his Compassion centre, one in particular caught his eye. Edgar checked the box next to the honey products workshop, unaware of the impact it would have on his life.
“I won’t lie, when I saw Edgar’s name on the honey product workshop list, I was a bit worried,” says Isaac, the director of Edgar’s Compassion centre. “I didn’t know how he’d do.”
In fact, Edgar had a reputation amongst the Compassion centre staff for his mischief and notoriously short attention span. But Isaac and his team were committed to Edgar’s development, as they are with every child and youth registered in Compassion’s program.
An innovative new idea
Historically, the bakery workshop had been the most successful workshop offered by this Compassion centre in Mexico. While it was tempting to continue only with what was working, Compassion staff decided to innovate and try new and unique initiatives that could have a social impact on their community. So, they started offering a honey product workshop with the goal of making products to sell. They received guidance from specialists and invested in beekeeping. Before long, Bee-Life Brand was born.
Bee-Life started two years ago with four Compassion-sponsored youth, including Edgar and his younger sister, Estrella. They met in a small room with a stainless-steel table, a stove and a refrigerator, where Isaac taught them each step involved in creating the products. They began by making honey hand soaps and attended courses run by dermatologists and relevant technicians. As their knowledge grew through the various training sessions, they refined their products to become more and more specialized with specific skincare benefits.
“We wanted to create a product that had a positive impact on our society and that could be used on a daily basis,” says Isaac.
After two years, their list of products has grown to include a variety of soaps, as well as honey candies and a propolis product (an antiseptic). They’ve created a print and digital catalogue of all their products and hope to continue to expand the business.
In two years, Bee-Life has sold around 500 hand soaps, using most of the profit to reinvest in the business. It’s also provided income for the four teens to help support their families.
It’s an encouraging example of how youth entrepreneurship can help lift youth and their families out of poverty. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 8 is to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. It includes a sub-target to “promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises”. Promoting youth entrepreneurship is an important part of progress towards these goals.
Compassion youth entrepreneurship initiatives like Bee-Life are particularly effective because of their local contextualization. Because everything Compassion does is done with and by local church partners, a local mindset is always central to any Compassion program. A 2020 report on youth entrepreneurship by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs highlights the importance of this:
“There is an increasing global recognition that we need to explore the nuances of the environments in which these entrepreneurs live. … Youth entrepreneurs can experience complex and variable barriers, challenges and opportunities to youth entrepreneurship. These are shaped depending upon their own context.”
When developing Bee-Life two years ago, Compassion staff considered the existing local economy, which revolves around farming and agriculture, as well as the needs and gaps in the local community. Having local staff to walk with them through their entrepreneurship journey has made a huge difference for Edgar, Estrela and their peers.
Read more about Compassion’s income generation initiatives.
A bright future in the midst of COVID-19
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bee-Life has become even more important to Edgar, his family and his community. “It’s a blessing to be part of church during these difficult times. Thanks to Bee-Life, my sister and I can work and feel useful. I feel calm and safe,” Edgar says.
Bee-Life is currently in the process of developing even more products, such as hand cream, lip balm and hair products. With the business growing, so is interest amongst the community — many other teens want to be trained to participate in the business. Soon, Edgar and Estrella will begin training new members of the project.
In fact, Edgar has transformed from being notorious for his mischief, to becoming a disciplined and responsible teammate and leader amongst his peers.
“Everything changed in me, especially my attitude towards others and life. I’m very grateful to Isaac for not giving up on me,” Edgar says.
“I told Edgar that when he becomes older, his testimony of being transformed through the program will encourage many, and he will take the lead in forming the next generation,” says Isaac.
Indeed, everything Isaac and his staff do, they do with the goal of sowing a bright future for children and youth in poverty. “My intention is to prepare them as much as possible so that they can become leaders for future generations,” Isaac says.
Teens like Edgar are catching the vision: “This is just the beginning of something greater that will bring good results for me and many others.”
Alyssa Esparaz works for Compassion Canada, telling stories that inform and inspire Canadians towards compassionate action for children living in poverty around the world.
Field reporting by Daniela Velasco, Compassion International.