We talked to Natul Middlebrook, Executive Director of Hand Up Global Goods, about charities using free market enterprise to solve poverty and societal issues in third world countries.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to Texas Business Radio. I’m your host Matt Register. Jay Curry had to step up for a little bit. Go ahead and get your calls in, 844-814-8144 is our 24 hour call in line. Get your calls in, get them in at three o’clock in the morning. I don’t really care, it’s a 24 hour line. Get your questions in, we’re going to get the experts in here to answer them. If you’ve listened to this show for any length of time, you realize how important we feel that charity is in your business. To whom much is given, much is expected. And Charity has to be a big part. We have some guys in here that I’m particularly fond of. That have a concept and have a charity, a nonprofit that is helping young men out of poverty by using commerce and capitalism. Right? As a, as a very powerful tool for transforming individual men and therefore transforming society. Natul Middlebrook is the executive director of Hands Up Global Goods, joins us here in the studio. Natul, thank you for joining us.
Natul Middlebrook: Thank you for having us here. It’s, it’s exciting to have people like yourself take interest in social enterprises like ourselves. We believe in the power of giving people living in impoverished communities a hand up and not a handout. Because we’re looking for sustainable solutions. I like to tell people, no one ever climbed out of poverty with their hands out and open. We do it through innovation, ingenuity and a strong work ethic.
Matt Register: No. Exactly and I tell you what, especially in some impoverished countries, I think some of the well-meaning charity work that we do as, as a country, as United States, charitable giving to some of these. It ends up causing more harm than, than, than good. Anything that you supplement, you get more of. Right? if you supplement poverty you are going to get more of it.
Natul Middlebrook: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s exactly right. And create a mentality that, that relies on handouts. So much of these communities is, it’s not just financial poverty but it’s a mental poverty. That we can be really well-intentioned people. Right? We’re doing good things. I mean feeding orphans and starting schools. But if we’re not changing the mentality of the people, we’re really not creating sustainable change.
Matt Register: Well, talk to me a little bit about how this got started because this is currently operating in Haiti. Tell us a little bit about what it is and how you got this rolling.
Natul Middlebrook: Absolutely. So in 2014 my husband and I were foster parents. We’re, we’re involved in that orphan care community here locally and we wanted to take a look of what that would look like in Haiti. And so we went in and visited an orphanage. It’s called Grong Gu and they’re mainly a boys home that work with street boys. That they bring them in. And we thought we were going to work with the children there. But really what touched our hearts was the story of the young men who had aged out of the orphanage. They’re sort of the forgotten in Haiti. A lot of people go to help the children and the moms. But what happens to these teens when they’re outside of the, of the walls of the orphanage that has provided for them. And so these young men were struggling and they were trying to figure out how to make these bracelets and sell them on the street. And when Dan went on his first visit, he of course bought as many of the bracelets as he could and he brought them to me. And I was looking through them and I thought this shows talent. This shows a work ethic. And I said “let’s create a marketplace for them here and let’s take these, what we were calling survival souvenirs and turned them into tokens of success”. And that’s exactly what we’ve been able to do. Our four cornerstones are job creation, spiritual discipleship, vocational training and financial literacy. You know, guys who have never had money in their pockets, it’s going to flow right out just as quickly as it came. So we…
Matt Register: Sure.
Natul Middlebrook: We learned pretty quickly that we needed to teach them how to manage this money and be responsible with it.
Matt Register: Well, it’s interesting because the trickle down effect, there’s, there’s a lot of organizations out there to help them.
Natul Middlebrook: Absolutely.
Matt Register: So there’s a lot of organizations out there to help kids. Real transformation in a society starts with the men and works its way down. Right? The transformation of the women and kids happens if you can get the men gainfully employed. If you can get them giving back to their community. If you can give them a hand up and they turn around and give the others behind them a hand up. Absolutely fascinating concept. And I love it. Now, what is it you’re actually selling because it’s jewelry, it’s, it’s earrings and…
Natul Middlebrook: Yes. And so, what makes this unique, we don’t just throw beads on a string. These young men actually have the skills of macrame. Which, you know, it’s a throwback to the 70s. You remember the macrame plant hangers and the wall hangings. This is, we like to call it macrame with a modern twist. You know, the boho chic movement is really popular right now. So it’s kind of a beachy vibe. But it’s knotting skills that we’ve added metal. We had a friends say “people likes shiny stuff. Americans like shiny stuff”. So we’ve blended this ancient art of macrame with trendy beads to create a unique jewelry that is quite fashionable and we’re really proud of it. We’re proud of the guys skills. It’s not jewelry that’s easy to knock off because it takes, actually a great amount of patience to do the micro-knots that’s involved in the work that they do.
Matt Register: Sure. Takes a lot of skill, takes a lot of effort.
Natul Middlebrook: Absolutely. Yes.
Matt Register: So these things are being… OK. This is a nonprofit.
Natul Middlebrook: Correct.
Matt Register: This is a, this is a nonprofit with for profit operations. Right? I mean, you’re actually selling these things on the market but all the proceeds go to supporting these guys, training these guys, getting and… You’re not quite to the point where this is, you know, making a surplus of money. Right? Your still needing some donation?
Natul Middlebrook: Yes. Yes. We rely… although our long term goal is to be sustainable with the sales of the product that the young men make.
Matt Register: Right.
Natul Middlebrook: If you think about it, the backbone of our organization is, is young men who were raised on the streets and not a lot has been poured into them. So we’ve had to spend a lot of our efforts building them up, character development, work place expectations. Things that, if I wanted to start a business here. I wouldn’t have to invest and all that time. And so all of those efforts are quite costly and we’re just, small still. And so we do rely on donations and for that reason we… It’s interesting, when we go speak at places, we do a pop at Marketplace. So we never ask for donations because we try to abide by the same concept of hand up, not a hand out. So we always ask people if we can sell the product there. But the two times that we do ask for donations is through our events. We have one in the fall and then we have one in the spring.
Matt Register: Well and you have one in the fall, coming up. We’re going to cover that here in just a minute. But in the meantime, there’s a couple of ways folks can help you. Right?
Natul Middlebrook: Yes.
Matt Register: One of them is a donation. You’d love to take a donation that would help to, to fund this as it is getting launched and continues to grow, until the point that it can can support itself. Right?
Natul Middlebrook: Yes. And you bring up a good point as far as growth goes. The original group was eight guys but this summer we had 10 more teens age out of our partner orphanage. And we just do not have the demand to give them the jobs. And so in the meantime, what do we do with these teens in transition as they are waiting for an opportunity to open up for them to get a job. So, it still requires resources. Right? Pouring into them, getting housing, getting their education and so “Bringing It Home”, the event that we’re having in October. The purpose of that event is to, to fully fund these 10 teens that are aging out this summer. To be able to provide programming for them and opportunities to start an apprenticeship with Hand Up Global Goods.
Matt Register: Got it. So “Bring It Home” is the event. It’s happening in The Woodlands, Texas, just north, on the north end of Houston, on October 26th. You can go to handupglobalgoods.org. You can go to Texasbusinessradio.com and we will have links directly there. So go buy a ticket, go support these guys, they are doing good stuff. There’s one other thing I want to make sure that we talk about because we have a lot of business owners that listen to the show. Guys, if you have a boutique, if you have a retail store, seriously consider having some of their products in your store. This is, you know, nobody’s getting rich off of this. This is absolutely helping folks that need help, overseas. So this is something that, you know, if you want help in getting connected, feel free to contact us. Feel free to contact them directly. But if this is something you want to be able to sell these products in your store and in your company. I think that’s a great idea. Right?
Natul Middlebrook: Yes. We love to hear that. You know, we understand you can buy beautiful jewelry anywhere but jewelry that has a powerful story behind it, that’s a win, win situation. Like I said earlier, our jewelry is absolutely beautiful. It demonstrates the skill of these young men. And when you open up the packaging, you get to learn about the artisan who made that particular piece of jewelry. So it’s a real meaningful gift to give as well.
Matt Register: No doubt. Hand-up Global Goods. Handupglobalgoods.org. Natul Middlebrook, executive director, thank you very much for joining us.
Natul Middlebrook: Thank you for having us.
Matt Register: And this has been fun but we are completely out of time. We’re going to go pay a couple of bill. We’ll be back right after this. Don’t go anywhere.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.