In the last 10 years, more people have died worldwide from diarrhea as a result of unclean water than all the lives lost in armed conflict since World War II. In fact, today while you read this there will be another 6,000 lives lost due to unsafe drinking water and 90% of those victims will be under the age of 5. I have 3 daughters; ages 6, 3 and 1 month old. If we lived in a developing nation it is highly likely they would be part of this statistic. And the statistics go on and on. They are the headlines to the stories of human lives lost, and I cannot deafen their sounds any longer.
My journey starts in Hereford, Texas, as the son of a hard working, successful entrepreneur who sent me to the college of my choice: Texas A&M University. I am the first Merrick to graduate from college, let alone go to college, in all the generations in my family’s historyâ€”an accomplishment I don’t often forget as it was a very challenging task for me to finish. I pursued various start up businesses during college and realized consumer goods was the arena where I wanted to earn a living. The years passed and I got to be part of selling numerous products, having many a failures and a couple of successes. I had all I could ask for and more, but something was missing from my life.
Then it happened. A couple of years ago, I was at lunch one day with a friend, bending his ear about this personal void in my life. This was the moment when I first learned what a Social Entrepreneur was. It was one of those “slide show” moments in life that I’ll never forget. It was like a street magician had written my name on a piece of paper before he met me and surprised the audience with his tell. How did he do that? How did that just happen? I felt like someone just put clothes around this dream I’d been chasing for all these years in my head. I had a vision for my life. I would use business as a way to work towards resolving social problems.
My vision isn’t just a personal calling, but one shared by many. It’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for your fellow man. So I started a business that hopes to call on society to do just that. My company, Project 7 (www.project7.com) makes consumer products that people use everyday. Through the sales of these products, we raise money and awareness for the seven most critical areas of need in our world. Those seven initiatives are:
- Heal the Sick
- Feed the Hungry
- House the Homeless
- Build the Future
- Hope for Peace
- Save the Earth
- Help those in Need
It may sound like a daunting task, and it is. We can’t do it by ourselves, but we can inspire, be a voice, conduit and way for those wishing to make a difference in the world to do exactly that. We connect consumers with the nonprofits who are already trying to make a difference but need financial resources to continue to do good works. We have adapted our business model to compliment the American lifestyle. We have all watched a movie or 60 Minutes piece that inspired us to do something good, yet, by the time the snooze button has been hit we are back to our self-absorbed way of life. We came up with a business that uses everyday extraordinary products as a daily interruption or reminder that society can and should help out those in need. We draw attention to and educate about social issues through our packaging, with the cause being the “visual star.” The consumer picks the cause they wish to support with the respective funds going toward changing that specific need.
We offer our quality products at a comparable price and keep our overhead lower to ensure we give away as much money as possible each year to the selected non-profits. We ask nonprofits that are making a difference in these seven areas of need to apply for our funds. We then select finalists on an annual basis and ask our consumers to vote on our site for their final nonprofit selection for each cause. We offer a level of transparency for our consumers, showing the progress being made in each of the projects we fund. We want people to know that the funding they wish to pass on is getting into the appropriate hands. This provides credibility to our business model.
I am a capitalist, but I believe we should use our gifts for good and not evil. We have all seen the byproducts of professionals who have become drunk on their own success while neglecting the needs of those that have less. So I pose the question, what if we all used our God-given talents to not only make a living for ourselves but to help solve real world problems like clean water availability?
And, I’m not the only one who has been asking this question. Big business and consumers have helped us validate this thought with the growth we’ve seen in our first year of selling product. In December, we will give away our first round of funds the amount of $105,000. By the end of this year, our products will be in over 2,000 retail doors across the country. We have wonderful partners like Caribou Coffee, the 2nd largest coffee chain in the U.S., who exclusively sell our bottled water, chewing gum and breath mints. We’re in Whole Foods, Books-A-Million, and Java City nationally and in various grocery chains, drug stores, coffee shops, and gift stores on a regional level. We have a clothing line that is made out of organic cotton and five recycled plastic bottles. This October we will debut our new “bio bottle” bottled water around the country. This bottle is something very exciting for us as it increases the sustainability of our product, naturally breaking down in 1-5 years and at the same time it is also recyclable.
I am proud to be a part of a school and group of people such as Texas A&M that fosters an environment of serving your fellow man. What if an Aggie engineer helped lead the fight for economical clean water drilling technology or a water purification system for developing nations? What if an Aggie architect became the pioneer in green or LEED housing? How about an Aggie Ag Sciences professional who helped developing nations create a hardy crop that was more drought resistant creating a renewable food supply? There are many Aggies that have done great things that we are all proud of along with the quiet servants that nobody ever sees. It is my hope that someone reads this article and has “clothes put around their dream.”