While a wide variety of social enterprises are being created these days, coming across a new one truly never seems to get old. Each tells its own inspiring narrative in a completely individual way - and Bright Books is no exception. We were so glad to hear more from Amy O’Shea, Bright Books founder and CEO, about how she uses her journals to help a massive global need, the mental health practices she incorporates into her routine, and how we can all make an effective impact.
Tell us a little bit about Bright Books. What is it and what do you do?
Bright Books is a social enterprise with the vision of alleviating energy poverty. We sell high-quality journals, and for every pair sold, we donate one solar light to a child in need.
As it stands, nearly 1.2 billion people lack access to basic electricity.
It’s a big problem with not enough attention, but I am confident our generation can work towards an equitable solution. Bright Books’ mission is centered around quality and consciousness: to provide beautiful, sustainably made goods for our customers and to raise awareness about energy access.
A lot of our members struggle with the financial side of business, especially when getting started. How did you initially fund your business and get the capital needed to invest in Bright Books?
This is the trickiest part, isn’t it? I explored several options and decided on a crowdfunding campaign. For me, it was the best option because it served the purpose of securing funding while raising awareness about the brand. Plus, it was a great excuse for a launch party! The campaign was also a good test run to determine if this is a product people want to buy, and how much they would be willing to pay. I will say that a crowdfunding campaign is not easy, but the good news is there are lots of resources available. Tim Ferriss has some awesome advice. There are also some great blog posts and YouTube videos that were helpful.
You’re running Bright Books while working a full time job, how do you stay sane? Do you have any mental health practices that help you through hectic times?
Managing day and “night” jobs comes with a fair share of sacrifice, but I have found some tricks that make it more manageable. I am also very fortunate to have a strong support system. (True story: my dad is my strongest sales rep!)
On a practical level, the most beneficial thing I do for sanity is outsource things that are not my strengths.
I have learned to delegate and trust other people with certain parts of Bright Books, and I’m really pleased with the results. I have also taken advantage of the subscription life, like meal delivery service (thanks, Vegetable and Butcher) and Amazon Prime. These are some other concepts that have helped me along the way:
Journaling: I know, as a journal company CEO, this sounds really self-promoting - but honestly it is so important! As a generally analytical person, I’m always mulling things over and this can expend a lot of mental energy. Getting my thoughts down on paper gives me a sense of reprieve and more energy to focus on what is next. Studies show journaling can help reduce anxiety and improve mental health. It is also a great way to develop habits and help you focus, which is so crucial when you are juggling multiple projects.
Focus: I have given up on to-do lists and started making priority lists to narrow my focus. Instead of writing down all 10 things I need to accomplish in a day, I just write down my top 3 priorities. A laundry list of things to do can be overwhelming and counter-productive. If I just pick a topic to tackle, the other to-do’s happen naturally and I can skip the guilt-ridden procrastination phase from not knowing where to start!
Give yourself some you time: Every month or two, I have a mini treat-yo-self day and get a massage, or my nails done, or a fancy dinner with friends. I’m more of a Leslie Knoppe than a Tom Haverford, so this is not super intuitive for me. But I’ve learned doing something that feels indulgent for yourself once in a while is so necessary. When you skip self-care, your body knows it and you just aren’t yourself. Giving yourself time to recharge and unwind is essential for mental health and will boost productivity in the long run.
Prayer: My faith is an important part of my life and weekly routine, especially in times of stress. When I catch myself getting so caught up in something, I am reminded to be mindful and reflect on what is really important.
Yoga: If I can give myself an hour to sweat and meditate every day, I feel on top of the world! Thank goodness for Yoga with Adrienne and my pop-socket so I can practice in my living room when I miss class.
Bright Books has an incredible give back model. Can you share a bit about what it is and how it works?
For every pair of journals sold, we donate one solar light to a child in need. We give Nokero personal solar lights that charge in the sun during the day, and provide 5 hours of light at night. Our incredible non-profit partners help us distribute the lights to people who need it most. Thus far, we have donated in Uganda with the Arlington Academy of Hope, and in a Syrian Refugee camp with the Lighthouse Peace Corp. We are also in the process of sending several hundred lights to Puerto Rico through Casa Pueblo to help aid in recovery efforts post-hurricane. On the ground teams have some flexibility to put lights where they will be most useful.
Donating responsibly is very important to our mission.
I am careful to select organizations that will make sure lights get to those most in need, and that will not donate in places where freebies would wipe out competition. In my experience, public schools and refugee camps are not subject to either of those concerns, and truly represent those most in need.
How have you developed a relationship with the people you work with in other countries? What does that relationship look like when you’re so far away physically?
I have personal relationships with everyone in our “giving chain”, so things actually move pretty smoothly at this point. We have worked out a good system where volunteers carry lights, review my proposal for how lights should be distributed, and either go with it or come back with other suggestions. We communicate over phone and email, and sometimes through social media videos. Seeing photos of children using our lights is without question the best part about Bright Books!
Your journals help create sustainable energy for others. How is Bright Books working to help increase energy access? Why was this cause so important to you?
As mentioned, nearly 1.2 billion people currently lack access to basic electricity. It is a serious hindrance for this population to help themselves out of poverty. With access to renewable energy, I think we can turn the tides for people living in the developing world and do so without adding to climate change.
I started Bright Books out of a strong desire to get solar lights to this one village in Uganda where I spent a summer volunteering at a school called the Arlington Academy of Hope. One of the most shocking things I encountered that summer in Bumwalukani was something I observed in my time volunteering at the medical clinic next to the school. The most frequent illness of patients visiting the clinic wasn’t AIDS or malaria as I expected, it was upper respiratory infections. People poured in with these terrible coughs and chronic breathing problems. I did some research and talked with experts to uncover why this problem seemed so persistent, and see if it existed in other parts of the developing world.
I discovered that indoor air pollution, caused from cooking indoors and using kerosene lamps, is a major contributor to these chronic illnesses people are suffering from.
In the absence of electricity, kerosene lamps are used to light the interior of homes. Kerosene emits toxic fumes, poses a fire hazard, and emits climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions. Not only is it bad for human health and the environment, it is costly. People spend about 20% of their annual income on kerosene, buying small quantities at a time. Lack of access to energy for lighting and cooking disproportionately affects women and children, who spend more time in doors and are often tasked with fetching fuel.
By donating a solar light, we can reduce exposure to kerosene lamps and reduce the financial burden of buying a solar light upfront. Personal solar lights are just the beginning- our vision includes plans to fund larger renewable energy projects, including solar cookstoves, for those in need.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“One thing at a time.” My mom frequently recited this to my siblings and I growing up, and it has become my mantra when I feel myself getting overwhelmed.
What is the one thing you would want to tell a female social entrepreneur who’s just starting out?
Get those domain names and social media handles, quick! (Jk, but seriously.)
Find the place where your passion, strengths, and what the world needs align - that is where you will be most effective.
Do your homework, research the market, and seek help along the way. Be prepared to work hard and stand up for yourself - nobody else is going to do it for you. Know your numbers. And lastly, have fun! You get to be an entrepreneur - how cool is that?! Enjoy the experience and remember why you started.
Photos courtesy of Bright Books