Secret Projects is running a community share offer to raise investment to scale its business in India, UK, Europe and USA.
by Fritha Mason in Guildford, England, United Kingdom
Girls and women have the right to thrive. Secret Projects is a social business designed to make this happen. Through the making and selling of clothing and homeware, Secret Projects works with trained women in India who other wise would not be generating their own income. The overall aim is to empower Makers by increasing their confidence and resources so they can drive their own micro enterprises.
A world where all women have the confidence and resourses to make their own choices for themselves and their children.
Palakad is a picturesque rural district in Kerala, in south-west India. But its long winding roads, lush leafy forests and dramatic waterfalls are the backdrop for hardship. More than 30% of its 817,000 inhabitants are from marginalised communities. This is where, back in Summer 2013, when I was a charity fundraiser, I was travelling around on a motorbike with my boyfriend and visiting local finance charities.
I visited a women's group there and I couldn't believe how they made a living. They spent hours upon hours every day tying rose buds together for people to give as a daily offering to the Hindu Gods. Money wise, they made next to nothing.
I saw a sewing machine in the corner of the house, and I asked the women why they did not make things to sell at the local market. Their response was telling: they wanted to, but said that no one had the money to buy them.
This was my epiphany moment.
A week before the trip began, I'd given my friend who was getting married, a gift of a 'secret pillow' I'd made myself with brightly patterned fabric that folds out into a blanket. It was based on one I'd had growing up that had been made by the amazing mother of one of my childhood school girlfriends.
My friend who'd received the gift was so charmed by it she told me that I should be selling them, but I dismissed the idea. I mean, why on earth would I start a homeware company? But the thought of those pillows returned as I stood in front of the women, who were desperate to make something people would pay for.
It suddenly seemed obvious, I could teach the women how to make the pillows and then sell them to an international market, making sure they got a good price. And Secret Projects was born!
Everything we sell is handmade in India by women who have received training in how to make our products. We call them our 'Makers'. We've gone on to train more than 500 women to make Secret Pillows since 2014, and those women get 70% of the profit generated by each item sold. We've expanded into making Secret Sari Dresses - wraparound dresses made from second-hand saris - as a way of preventing young women from being trafficked.
But we've reached a turning point in the business. We've got this far thanks to lots of hard, hard work, much of it unpaid by a whole host of people who are totally committed to what we're doing. But we're at a crossroads, where we have to choose whether we turn this into a proper business, or not, because we can't keep on relying on people's freely given time. It's less a choice between staying where are or getting bigger as going hard, or going home. And I don't want to go home.
Instead, I'm giving this business away. Secret Projects began life as a company owned by me and now it's a Community Benefit Society which will be owned by me and all of you who invest to help us take Secret Projects to another level. We'll all have an equal say in how things work and you get to own a thriving business that's bringing about real change in some of the most challenged communities in the world, and make a small return on your investment. So please join us to help make our little secret a whole lot bigger.
Editorial gifted by Hannah Keegan, Stylist Magazine in connection with Prix Clarins With Heart Award 2018.
A Community Benefit Society is an enterprise run by the community for the benefit of the community. In the case of Secret Projects Community Benefit Society, the community benefiting from our activities is the women (and their children) in India who are part of our Maker Network.
Community Benefit Societies sell community shares to people that care about the community being benefited. Watch this video to understand more...
In the case of Secret Projects Community Benefit Society, the people buying community shares will be our customers and social investors, who share our vision for women.
We run Maker Networks in 5 Indian states: West Bengal | Andhra Pradesh | Karnataka | Tamil Nadu | Kerala. Our Women's Empowerment Programme is called Training For Empowerment. It has 4 Stages : Training | Professionalism | Enterprise Development | Leadership
Throughout India there are millions of women who have been trained to stitch by local NGOs and through government training programmes. However, they are still unable to earn an income from stitching. We have identified 3 main reasons for this:
1. Women play a number of roles in the home; mother, carer, farmer and they can't leave to work each day in factories outside of their communities
2. Whilst trained to stitch, they don't have the business skills to open up income generating activities for themselves locally. Without the skills and the confidence to set up their own business, women are relucant to take the micro finance loans available to them.
3. Women or those that trained them, don't have access to domestic or international markets to sell the products they make.
Secret Projects is a business designed to overcome these challenges and support women to drive their own micro enterprises and generate their own income.
Shylaja is the leader of Banakashari Maker group. She has been through the 4 Stages of our Empowerment Programme. She now runs her own tailoring unit and employs women from her local community.
At 14, Shylaja's family circumstances meant that she had to drop out of school. She married some years later, but again found herself living with very little money. Having learned to sew as a girl, she began working long hours in a garment factory to support her husband and 2 young sons, but this began to take a toll on her health. As the leader of a women's self help group called Banashankari in her community, Shylaja learned about Secret Projects and their work to empower women in India. She completed Secret Projects 4 Stage Empowerment Programme and has gone on to train the other women in her group and set up a successful sewing and training unit of her own. She now earns enough income to send her sons to school and live much more comfortably, as well as providing women in her community with an opportunity to earn their own incomes.
To read Shylaja's full story and an interview with her, click here,
Click here to meet other Secret Projects Maker Groups.
This is a community share issue, which is a much snappier name for their offical title of ‘withdrawable shares in a community benefit society’.
Community shares are a form of investment that offer both social and financial returns to investors. They have been widely used by UK communities to raise funds to save pubs, sports clubs and arts venues, as well as to set up new business ventures such as wind farms, solar panels and even a whisky distillery.
Unlike shares in companies, you’ll not get a dividend nor are you able to sell them to someone else. Withdrawable shares work a lot more like a bank account, as you get your money back through withdrawing it from the society. However, the society can only give it back to you if we’re doing well as a business. (We have to have sufficient trading surpluses and ready cash to enable it to give you your investment back in legal terms).
Like a bank account, we pay interest each year on the investment, which we plan to be 3% minimum in year 2, rising to 4% in year 3 and thereafter. Interest rates can be revised downwards in light of trading circumstances, but cannot rise in the event of better-than-projected circumstances, and must never be at a level greater than that required to secure investment.
We will pay the interest to you directly every year or you can choose to leave the interest with us to be withdrawn in a lump sum when you withdraw your initial investment at some point in the future. We will start calculating interest due from the date we start trading, so the first interest payment might only relate to a part of a year.
Each year, the Board will decide how much interest to pay, whether they can afford to allow shares to be withdrawn, and if so, how many. If we aren’t doing well financially, we can suspend the right to withdraw shares until such time as we’ve turned a corner. Our projections lead us to be confident we can allow between 5%-10% of total capital to be available for withdrawal, but no-one will be able to withdraw for the first three years as a condition of this offer being eligible for tax relief.
The other way to get your money back is though new investor members joining and giving us their money in a separate share issue. We do plan to open up the share offer to new members but that won’t be for a few years after this first share issue.
Either way, the best way to get your money back is to continue to support our business and crucially, persuade other people to support us too. That’s the real secret of community ownership – we make the rewards of our success something we can share with the people who matter the most to us.
We won’t have external shareholders or lenders looking to take a cut of our success, and instead will be ploughing the fruits of that success back into the society.
The founders of the society are the people who have been running Secret Projects since it was formed. As the founding Directors, they will serve until a meeting of all members is held by April 2020, enabling a Board to be elected with the confidence and legitimacy of being democratically elected by our members.
Existing Directors can stand for re-election, as can any member who can be nominated. Voting in elections, like all votes in the society, is on a one-member, one-vote basis, so regardless of how much you invest, every member is united in their ability to influence what we do.
Whilst the Board are legally empowered by our rules to make decisions on behalf of the business, members also have the opportunity to set our strategy at our General Meetings. We have one Annual General Meeting each year, but the Board may call more meetings to get members’ views, and 10% of our members may also call a special meeting at any time.
And, because we’re going to have owners all over the world, the primary way we’ll communicate with you all will be online, and that’s also going to be the main way we conduct our governance, so our meetings will be things you participate in online, rather than attend in person.
They are responsible for leading Secret Projects Community Benefit Society in the future.
Secret Projects Community Benefit Society is selling £150,000 of community shares from 13 November 2019. We invite you to join us and buy shares. 1 share is £10.
To read our full share offer, please download the document at the bottom of this page.
The rules of Secret Projects Community Benefit Society can be downloaded below. These rules state that the following people can join:
For anyone that wants to be involved but does not want to be a shareholder, there is an option to contribute to the costs of running our Training For Empowerment Programme. Click here to find out more.
Every investor becomes an owner of Secret Projects Community Benefit Society and will receive:
They are an opportunity for the social change makers of the future to share their ideas and take mentorship from the social change experts that run and are connected to Secret Projects Community Benefit Society. The sessions can be booked in advance on 2 different dates in a calender year (dates will be released in Janaury 2020). Members can take up the session themselves or give the opportunity to somebody they know. The sessions are 45 mintues long via live stream starting with a formal pitch to the panel of the social change idea, followed by questions from the panel. The session finishes with a comment from each panel member to the change maker on where to go next, what to try, who to meet or something motivational.
These sessions are inspired by Secret Projects POWER Mantra - we believe in our ourselves, we support one another, we persist, we take pride in everything we do, we think, we trust our instinct, we work with joy, and we build our confidence to take risks.
With your investment, we will be able to develop the three legs of our development plan
Once we have full certification we will be able to audit our Maker Groups againist the WFTO criteria enabling all products made by the group and sold by Secret Projects to carry the Fairtrade logo. This will attract a whole new audience of customers through retail and wholesale, not to mention the pride of having certification from a world renowed organisation.
Choose from one of the rewards down the right hand side of the screen to become a shareholder. Please download and read our Community Shares Offer below for a deeper look at investment. There is a jam packed frequently asked questions section.