Amongst social entrepreneurs, there are often many similarities – passion, tenacity, and a desire to contribute to creating substantial social impact. But each of these visionaries has a different story to tell, and we want to share them with you.
This week, we chatted with Dave Spandorfer, co-founder and president of a growing social enterprise called Janji. Janji, which means “promise” in Malay, is a running apparel company that provides clean water to those who need it in countries all over the world. Here’s how it works: A portion of the proceeds from each piece of Janji running apparel goes toward providing clean water to communities in a specific country. The piece is crafted with that country in mind, and its design is based on the country’s flag. This way, those who are interested in supporting a project in a particular country can choose their apparel accordingly.
Both long-time runners, Spandorfer and co-founder Mike Bernstein built Janji so that they could combine two things that they’re both passionate about – running and making an impact in the lives of others. Two years after its launch, Janji is a full-fledged operation with five full-time employees, and has helped to provide clean water to people in six countries – Haiti, Kenya, Peru, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the United States. Here’s what Dave has to say about his experience as a social entrepreneur:
Why did you decide to start Janji?
We started Janji after graduating from college, but the idea was born a few years earlier.
Mike and I were at an NCAA track meet in college, and it was just brutally hot. During the meet, we felt so fortunate to have clean water – we were being sprayed down with it on one side, and getting cups of water on the other. As runners, I feel like we’re really in tune with our own personal experience, and I realized that I 100% would have passed out without the water that we received that day. It struck us that having that water was so vital, and made us really think. We started the business plan for Janji right then and there, and launched in 2012.
Why did you choose the for-profit social enterprise model for your business?
We knew that in order to have the greatest impact, we would need to grow Janji to be as big as possible. People don’t buy running apparel because it’s for a good cause – they buy it because they’re looking for high quality gear. So we didn’t want to be strictly for-profit or non-profit; we just wanted to make sure that we were producing great gear that is also for an important cause.
What would you say have been the most difficult aspects of building a social enterprise?
I would say that just getting the name out there has been the hardest part. People know Adidas, Under Armour – and people are drawn to brands that they know. So our biggest challenge has been figuring out how we get people to know that when they’re seeing Janji in a running store, that it’s going to be for something bigger than themselves. How do we make sure that people know that they’re getting really, really great gear when they buy Janji products?
To address that problem, we do a lot of events where we can show people our products, a lot of social media engagement, we were recently featured in the Boston Business Journal…anything we can do to spread the word about Janji. Because once people know what Janji is all about, then they start to spread the word to their friends and that’s really impactful.
What has been the most rewarding part of your experience as a social entrepreneur?
I would say that there are two things that have been the most rewarding parts of building Janji: Giving back – actually writing checks to our partners and seeing the impact that we’re making firsthand – that really does create an incredibly rewarding experience.
Also, when someone comes back and just raves about their experience with their Janji gear – that’s huge. We put a lot of work into it; we craft each piece of gear, and spend months and months perfecting it, so it’s really rewarding to hear that someone is really happy with it.
When someone really enjoys their experience with the gear and then they find out that it’s also going toward a good cause – that’s really, really cool.
How do you envision Janji growing over the next 5 years?
We definitely want to keep expanding on the great product lines that we already have and continue to grow. This week, we actually launched our first-ever crowdfunding campaign for a new shirt that we’re developing. Once we hit our fundraising goal, we launch right then and there. With the development of this shirt, we’ll be able to provide clean water to 350 people in Uganda. At 40 hours into the campaign, we’re already at 50% of our goal, so we’re really excited about it.
Is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started Janji?
Part of me wishes that I knew how difficult it would be, but on the other hand, it’s been such a journey. It’s crazy all of the things that you need to think about – from things as small as how you get a particular pair of shorts to fit perfectly for all different body types. I have to say, before starting Janji, I wasn’t the most passionate about the fit of women’s tights, but now I know all about it and it’s important to me.
All in all, it’s been a journey that I feel really lucky to be a part of.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting his/her own social enterprise?
To be honest, I don’t think it should just be ‘follow your passion.’ I think that’s important – I started Janji because I’m passionate about great running apparel and giving back – but I also think it’s really important that you make sure that there’s a market for what you want to do before you get started.
I also think it’s really important to know what you’re getting yourself into – you have to devote 100 hours a week to your work, which most people don’t know. It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s fun, and it’s worth it.
I couldn’t be more fortunate to be doing what I’m doing, and now I just want other people to be part of the Janji community.
You can check out Janji’s apparel here. Whether or not you’re a runner, you can support Janji’s efforts to provide clean water by spreading the word about what they do – so check them out on Facebook and Twitter. And you can help them hit their fundraising goal, and provide 350 people in Uganda with clean drinking water by clicking here.