Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Jennifer Owens, Founder of Forai, Inc., located in St. Louis, MO, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are passionate about providing home-based income generation for resettled refugee women! Forai is a nonprofit based in St. Louis, Missouri, seeking to foster and support dignity, empowerment, and community among refugee women in the St. Louis area through the production of high-quality jewelry and textiles. Our customers love ethically-produced goods, supporting newcomers, and beautiful products! They believe, like we do, that "hope is a beautiful thing!"
Tell us about yourself
It all began with Thanksgiving. In 2008, two Bhutanese families sat around my dining room table, sharing our family's Thanksgiving meal. After fleeing persecution in Bhutan and living in refugee camps in Nepal for sixteen years, the two families had only been in the United States for two weeks. Hearing their stories of being forgotten in refugee camps in Nepal for over fifteen years after being forced to leave their home in Bhutan in the early 90s, left us all both shocked and humbled. Having lived overseas for five years, I couldn't stop thinking about what it might be like to try to support my children alone in a foreign country without a language, education, or connections, so I began to pray about what I could do. The idea of women working with their hands began to form, and God began bringing together people and ideas for a business partnering with refugee and immigrant women.
Less than a year later, in October 2009, our vision for empowering refugee women, enabling them to earn additional income for their families while producing marketable handcrafts, came together in Forai (Friends of Refugees and Immigrants) as we held our first gathering of American volunteers and women from Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Togo, and Kenya. Thirteen years later, I am still motivated daily by a deep sense that as a follower of Christ, I am undeniably called to act justly toward and love refugees and immigrants in our land. I also absolutely love to see the face of one of our women light up when she walks in the door for a class, learns a new skill, tries something for the first time, completes a new project, or makes a higher score on her English test!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
The Forai model is holistic, seeing the whole person, meeting practical needs for income generation and English acquisition while also meeting needs for community and friendship. My greatest sense of accomplishment has been seeing the artisans in our program do more than they thought possible.
When Lun began with Forai, she didn't know how to sew or speak English. A recent refugee from Burma, she learned to sew with a baby strapped to her back and gradually learned to speak English through our bi-weekly visits and English classes here and there. A few years later, Lun became Forai's best seamstress and acquired enough English to be promoted to a teaching role. Next, through her Artisan Admin role with Forai, she gained proficiency in using a computer. Having fled Burma with only a 10th-grade education and living undocumented for several years in Malaysia, Lun never dreamed that she and her husband would one day have their own business, but that's exactly what they did. Lun says that Forai gave her the confidence she needed to take such a huge step! Our artisan's accomplishments are my greatest accomplishments!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Maintaining the big picture while managing both the program and business side of Forai with a myriad of details presents the greatest challenge for me as the Executive Director. I'm a detail-oriented person, so it's easy for me to get caught up in those details and pulled into what feels urgent rather than what is actually strategic for the organization.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Understand your vision and stick with it while also maintaining enough flexibility to make adjustments as needed.
- Lean into your gifts and talents rather than trying to be someone else.
- Be generous toward others without worrying about what you might get out of it.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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